For India’s Muslims, palpable fear of what another Modi term brings

Of note:

Last week, as results started trickling in from India’s election, I was in Stockholm, delivering a keynote speech on the power of journalism in India. I was speaking to a crowd of 400 Swedish journalists and academics about Indian democracy, its secular character and the importance of investigative journalism under a strongman such as Narendra Modi, when my phone started to beep.

It was a text from my brother: “Modi has won with a massive majority.”

My thoughts drifted as I gazed at the audience, wondering if my words – or career as a journalist in this country – had any significance. As an investigative reporter, covering the politics of Mr. Modi for more than a decade, I have had a front-row seat watching him dehumanize India’s Muslim population.

In 2002, roughly 1,000 Muslims were butchered in the Hindu-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat, which was under Mr. Modi’s leadership.

As a 19-year-old relief worker at the time, I spent days in the relief camps after the riots, watching women who had been traumatized by rape, children who had witnessed the blood bath of their family members. Each relief camp was representative of the hate that had been peddled by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party leading to the carnage. In one of his speeches, Mr. Modi spokeabout dismantling the relief camps: “Should we run relief camps, open child-producing centres?” The question was a direct reference to Muslim women and children who were affected by the anti-Muslim riots.

In a verdict in one of the riot cases, the Supreme Court of India called the Modi government “modern-day Neros” who “looked the other way as innocent children and women were butchered.” The United States later refused a visa to Mr. Modi after human-rights organizations protested his entry into the country because of his anti-Muslim track record during the riots.

In 2005, I covered the involvement of Amit Shah, the first serving Home Minister of State of Gujarat, in connection to the deaths of two Muslims: Mr. Shah was initially charged with murder and later acquitted.

He has now been reinstated as the president of the ruling party and is now the second-most powerful man in India, after Mr. Modi. In the run-up to the 2019 general election, he not-so-subtly insulted one specific group of migrants – Muslims. In a campaign rally, Mr. Shah said, “the BJP would find these termites and throw them out,” adding that citizenship would, however, be granted to every Hindu and Buddhist refugee. That, of course, leaves just one group to fall into the “termite” category.

But this country’s Muslims have always been acutely aware of how Mr. Modi feels about them.

In 2010, I went undercover to expose complicity of the state in the violence against Muslims. I posed as a Hindu nationalist from the United States, as an American filmmaker seeking to glorify Mr. Modi for an American audience. In a span of eight months I met some of the top bureaucrats, officials who worked under Mr. Modi in 2002. They confessed his complicity in the Gujarat riots; one bragged to me that Mr. Modi let the violence worsen, so it would help him in his re-election.

The last person I met, disguised as Maithili Tyagi (my undercover name) was Narendra Modi. I praised his international image in United States; he blushed. He directed my attention to a copy of a book on Barack Obama and said, “Maithili, one day I want to be like him.” Of course, his political career has proven otherwise.

In 2014, Mr. Modi was voted in as the 14th Prime Minister of India, a campaign he fought the basis of Sabka saath Sabka Vikaas (inclusive leadership for all). Skeptics who had observed his political career were not convinced; Mr. Modi did not disappoint. In the five years of Modi rule, India has turned into a nightmare for Muslims, with routine lynchings for alleged consumption of beef; Mr. Modi’s cabinet minister, Jayant Sinha, has been criticized for garlanding a group of men who had been convicted of murdering a Muslim man.

Further, in the run-up to the elections, Mr. Modi’s party fielded Pragya Thakur, a priestess who has been charged with plotting a bomb attack in a Muslim-dominated area, a bombing that took 10 lives. Recently, she won the parliamentary seat, and will enter the Indian government after a campaign focused on anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The attempts made in the past five years have made Indians fear for the secular character of our republic: a leader with absolute majority, drunk on power and reckless disregard of institutions, with dreams of being a right-wing mascot a generation that is swaying to his majoritarian utopia.

Indians pride themselves on being a diverse country of 1.3 billion, with a culture that has refused nationalist influence, despite attempts by various right wing ideologies. The world’s largest democracy has remained resilient to authoritarian regimes, and yet retained its essential syncretic character envisaged by the founding fathers of independent India.

The Modi regime could choose to restore the cracks it has caused, if the Prime Minister would reveal a moral compass that aims to unite. If he continues to revel in this majoritarian and hyper-nationalist malaise that afflicted his previous term, the wound will fester and the cracks could be well beyond repair.

Source: For India’s Muslims, palpable fear of what another Modi term brings Rana Ayyub

Almost 5000 immigrants to the US every year are clergy or religious

Small number compared to the total number of immigrants (1.1 million in 2017). Haven’t seen a breakdown for non-Christian religious leaders. For Canada, opendata doesn’t provide a breakdown, grouping charitable and religious temporary residents together, about 5,000 in 2015:

Much has been written, and for many years, about immigration and its various policy and practical aspects.

But what about that “weekend associate” at your parish? Or that group of nuns who reopened the old convent? They, too, may be immigrants.

There are close to 5,000 people from all denominations hailing from other countries who come to the United States each year as “religious workers.” Among Catholics, they are usually clergy, sisters and brothers, but there are lay missioners, some of them married and with families. U.S. immigration law makes provisions for them to carry out their ministry through the R-1 visa.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINC) has a hand in about 800 cases each year, according to Miguel Naranjo, director of CLINIC’s Religious Immigration Services. It was one of CLINIC’s first programs, established more than 30 years ago, and the numbers suggest it remains a valued initiative. “We certainly have a very busy practice,” Naranjo told Catholic News Service.

CLINIC works with nearly half of U.S. dioceses in doing the visa work for religious workers. The remainder, according to Naranjo, either are connected with attorneys who can guide the process for immigrant clergy and religious, or work through a local Catholic Charities affiliate or similar agency on sponsorship issues. “We work more with religious orders. There is a large number of religious orders in the United States,” he said.

Naranjo, who has been with CLINIC for 13 years and has led its Religious Immigration Services division for about half that time, walked through the process.

“This is a program that did undergo some changes a decade ago. They changed it to make it similar to other visas. What they require — which they did not require 10 years ago — was to file a petition. They have to file a petition with the Immigration Service: The organization’s legit; it has the financial means to sponsor the person they want to sponsor,” he said.

For someone who qualifies as a religious worker, he says they “could fall under a traditional religious occupation, somehow involved in promoting the belief system of the denomination. You need a lot of documentation. The standard the immigration service will use is that the documentation must be verifiable. We can submit affidavits. You’re looking at 3-6 months to prepare the petition,” Naranjo noted.

“There is a site visit the immigration service will conduct. And there’s a fraud investigator that makes sure everything you said you were going to do in the petition was true. It’s certainly not a simple process,” he added.

Organizations calling CLINIC on religious immigration issues “express some frustration how the process can take a lot of time. Inevitably, there comes a time when you have to troubleshoot issues. Immigration service will request further evidence — evidence on why this person is qualified, or do you have the means to support.

“Like people who use an accountant to prepare their taxes,” Naranjo said, “with immigration you can do it yourself, or you can use a service like ours.”

One priest who used CLINIC is Fr. Marinaldo Batista, a Brazilian priest with dual Italian citizenship who ministered in Victoria, British Columbia, for 13 years before arriving last year in Bristol, Rhode Island. He needed some CLINIC troubleshooting.

“My coming was a little bit complicated last year,” Batista told CNS. “I faced some trouble because I came and there was a lawyer who was supposed to take care of my immigration process. So then things went not good with him. I was here already, working,” he said, laughing afterward. “But everything was by mistake. … I was relying on the Diocese of Providence, because they are the ones who called me here.”

Batista said, “Things were stuck. I spoke to the diocese: ‘We have to solve it, otherwise I’m going back, because I’m not going to be here this way.’ “

A priest he knew in New Hampshire gave him Naranjo’s name. “I knew he was working with Catholic immigration, but I was not sure if he was working with CLINIC. So then I spoke to the bishop, [Providence Auxiliary] Bishop [Robert] Evans, and he told me to have a conversation with CLINIC. That is when things started with him and the diocese. They started the process, the petition, everything. So then, I think, it took like, two months if I’m not mistaken. Two months. It was faster than I thought.”

Since he had business in Italy, he flew to Rome and made an appointment for an immigration interview. He left Dec. 5 and was able to return to the United States, visa in hand, before Christmas. “So, no, I didn’t have any complications in this regard,” Batista said.

“I am here because I know that there is a need in this parish. There is a need for these people. And these people are God’s people. They need my ministry. That’s why I’m here,” Batista said he told the diocesan chancellor. “Otherwise, I don’t need this travel. I can go back to where I was. To have this move in our lives is not easy.”

The experience of immigrant sisters

Venturing to new territory is the subject of a new book, Migration for Mission, published in April and co-written by Sr. Mary Johnson, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who teaches at Trinity Washington University; Sr. Patricia Wittberg, a Sister of Charity; Sr. Thu T. Do, a Lover of the Holy Cross-Hanoi; and Mary Gauthier. They are staffers at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in Washington.

The book included results from a survey of nearly 1,000 immigrant sisters. The average age of the sisters is 58, making them much younger than U.S.-born sisters, whose average age is in the high 70s.

“Most of the sisters are satisfied with the practical aspects of their living situation in the United States: their housing, food, health care, transportation and financial support. But there are age and ethnic differences,” the book said, and the sisters’ lives weren’t entirely free of trials and tribulations.

“The percentage of sisters who say they are very satisfied with these aspects is higher among the Europeans, Australians and Canadians than it is among the respondents form other parts of the world, and among older respondents than among younger respondents. These patterns may be related, since many of the sisters from Europe tend to be older and to have lived in their own, U.S.-based institutes for many years,” the book said. “The sisters’ satisfaction depends, to some extent, on their living arrangements,” with more dissatisfaction reported if they are not living with other members of their own order.

When asked, “In your experience, what is most needed to improve the life and ministry of international women religious?” practical aspects received scant attention: Financial difficulties were mentioned by 5.3 percent, health insurance by 2.5 percent, housing by 2.2 percent, food by 1.5 percent, and there were just six mentions of transportation. Nuns from Europe, Canada and Australia more likely to mention health care,” the book said, “which might be expected, given their older median age.”

Some sisters’ comments were printed in the book, although identifying information was not included.

“In my own country, we don’t pay the rent, we don’t talk about the rent. So we don’t know how to pay rent. If we tell [our superiors in our home country], they don’t believe it, that you have to pay rent here yourself,” one sister said.

Another said, “Some of [our sisters], when they came here, they saw how we live in simple houses. And they said, ‘Oh, I expected more luxury,’ and everything. … So, actually, we live in old convents. We don’t have luxury.”

“It is often hard to attend daily or Sunday Mass due to lack of transportation. There is no public transport in some places, and this makes it hard for international women religious to carry out their mission or studies effectively,” a third sister said. “Depending on rides sometimes does not work.”

The sisters’ experience with the U.S. health care system was eye-opening.

“Doctors!” exclaimed one nun. “It was difficult because I was sick, but when I tried to make a doctor’s appointment, they wanted $304 up front before they would even see me.”

“I feel so afraid to go and see a doctor,” another sister said. “I was informed if I want to have a CT or MRI, ‘You should go and take a flight to [country] because seeing a doctor will be cheaper than if you do it here.’ ”

“Currently, my religious community provides health care for me, but it is very expensive. I would wish for some kind of program for international religious in the United States, when health care could be made more affordable.”

In other survey questions, routinely three out of four sisters reported being “very satisfied” with the social aspects of their life in the United States.

“When I came to the airport, I didn’t know anybody. … They had told me, ‘You have to meet other sisters over there. They will be waiting for you.’ So when I came, I saw somebody holding a sign saying, ‘Welcome Sister X.’ So I just went to them and they were so thoughtful,” one sister reported. “They said, ‘We know that you are so lonely and we are here for you. Just make yourself at home. And if you need anything, please let us know.’ So I felt like I was at home.”

When asked what could be improved about the sisters’ lives, one sister replied: “It would be helpful if the members of the dominant culture would treat the members of the minority culture with mutuality and encourage the minority culture to preserve the richness of one’s native tongue and culture. Forced enculturation for the sake of uniformity is a very violent experience of ‘colonization.’ ”

Another sister answered, “I cannot recall being fully welcomed and supported by the diocese. There are situations of feeling isolated because of my accent. I offered help in situations I knew I can help, but there was not a response from the diocesan staff.”

Source: Almost 5000 immigrants to the US every year are clergy or religious

Why old, false claims about Canadian Muslims are resurfacing online

Of note:

In the summer of 2017, signs that seemed engineered to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment first appeared in a city park in Pitt Meadows, B.C.

“Many Muslims live in this area and dogs are considered filthy in Islam,” said the signs, which included the city’s logo. “Please keep your dogs on a leash and away from the Muslims who live in this community.”

After a spate of media coverage questioning their authenticity — and a statement from Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker that the city didn’t make them — the signs were discredited and largely forgotten.

But almost two years later, a mix of right-wing American websites, Russian state media, and Canadian Facebook groups have made them go viral again, unleashing hateful comments and claims that Muslims are trying to “colonize” Western society.

The revival of this story shows how false, even discredited claims about Muslims in Canada find an eager audience in Facebook groups and on websites originating on both sides of the border, and how easily misinformation can be recirculated as the federal election approaches.

“Many people who harbour (or have been encouraged to hold) anti-Muslim feelings are looking for information to confirm their view that these people aren’t like them. This story plays into this,” Danah Boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft and the founder of Data & Society, a non-profit research institute that studies disinformation and media manipulation, wrote in an email.

Boyd said a dubious story like this keeps recirculating “because the underlying fear and hate-oriented sentiment hasn’t faded.”

Daniel Funke, a reporter covering misinformation for the International Fact-Checking Network, said old stories with anti-Muslim aspects also recirculated after the recent fire at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

“Social media users took real newspaper articles out of their original context, often years after they were first published, to falsely claim that the culprits behind the fire were Muslims,” he said. “The same thing has happened with health misinformation, when real news stories about product recalls or disease outbreaks go viral years after they were originally published.”

The signs about dogs first appeared in Hoffman Park in September 2017, and were designed to look official. They carried the logo of the city of Pitt Meadows and that of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a U.S. Muslim advocacy organization.

Media outlets reported on them after an image of one sign was shared online. Many noted that the city logo was falsely used and there was no evidence that actual Muslims were behind the messages.

A representative for CAIR told CBC News in 2017 that his organization had no involvement in the B.C. signs, but he did have an idea about why they were created.

“We see this on occasion where people try to be kind of an agent provocateur and use these kinds of messages to promote hostility towards Muslims and Islam,” Ibrahim Hooper said in an interview with CBC. “Sometimes people use the direct bigoted approach — we see that all too often in America and Canada, unfortunately — but other times they try and be a little more sophisticated or subtle.”

The Muslims of Vancouver Facebook page had a similar view, labelling it a case of “Bigots attempting to incite resentment and hatred towards Muslims.”

After the initial frenzy of articles about the signs, the story died down — until last week, when an American conservative website called The Stream published a story. It cited a 2017 report from CTV Vancouver, without noting that the incident was almost two years old.

“No Dogs: It Offends the Muslims,” read the headline on a story that cited the signs as an example of Muslims not integrating into Western society.

“That sign in the Canadian dog park tells us much that we’d rather not think about. That kind of sign notifies you when your country has been colonized,” John Zmirak wrote.

Zmirak’s post was soon summarized by state-funded Russian website Sputnik, and picked up by American conservative site Red State. Writing in Red State, Elizabeth Vaughn said “Muslims cannot expect Americans or Brits or anybody else to change their ways of life to accommodate them.” Conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted the Red State link to her 2.14 million followers, and the story was also cited by the right-wing website WND.

The Stream and Red State did not respond to emailed requests for comment. A spokesperson for Sputnik said its story made it clear to readers that the original incident happened in 2017. “I would like to stress that Sputnik has never mentioned that the flyers in question were created by Muslims, Sputnik just reported facts and indicated the sources,” Dmitry Borschevsky wrote in an email.

Nonetheless, the three stories generated more than 60,000 shares, reactions and comments on Facebook in less than a week. Some of that engagement also came thanks to right-wing Canadian Facebook groups and pages, bringing the dubious tale back to its original Canadian audience.

“Dogs can pick out evil! That’s why Death Cult adherents despise these lil canine truth detectors!” wrote one person in the “Canadians 1st Movement” Facebook group after seeing the Red State link.

“How about no muslims!” wrote one person after the Sputnik story was shared in the Canadian Combat Coalition National Facebook group. Another commenter in the group said he’d prefer to see Muslims “put down” instead of dogs.

On the page of anti-Muslim organization Pegida Canada, one commenter wrote, “I will take any dog over these animals.”

Those reactions were likely intended by whoever created the signs, according to Boyd, and it wasn’t the first incident of this type. In July 2016, flyers appeared in Manchester, England that asked residents to “limit the presence of dogs in the public sphere” out of sensitivity to the area’s “large Muslim community.”

The origin of the flyers was equally dubious, with evidence suggesting the idea may have been part of a campaign hatched on the anonymous message board 4chan. That’s where internet trolls often plan online harassment and disinformation campaigns aimed at generating outrage and media coverage.

“At this point, actors in 4chan have a lot of different motives, but there is no doubt that there are some who hold white nationalist attitudes and espouse racist anti-Muslim views,” Boyd said.

“There are also trolls who relish playing on political antagonisms to increase hostility and polarization. At the end of the day, the motivation doesn’t matter as much as the impact. And the impact is clear: these posters — and the conspiracists who amplify them — help intensify anti-Muslim sentiment in a way that is destructive to democracy.”

Source: Why old, false claims about Canadian Muslims are resurfacing online

In a survey of American Muslims, 0% identified as lesbian or gay. Here’s the story behind that statistic

Interesting:

In the United States, you could count the number of mosques like Masjid al-Rabia on two hands. It’s a small community built on “five pillars of inclusivity,” including pledges to be “women-centered,” anti-racist LGBTQ-affirming and welcoming to a variety of Islamic traditions.

Mahdia Lynn, a transgender woman, helped found the mosque in Chicago in 2016.
For several years, Lynn attended a mosque in a small conservative Muslim community in Oklahoma, where people believed she was a straight, cisgender woman.

“There was always the risk of being outed,” said Lynn, a Shiite Muslim. “But at the time, I just wanted to focus on my faith.”

There are a few mosques like Masjid al-Rabia around the world, notably in Berlin and Toronto. But the number of LGBT-affirming mosques and Islamic centers in the United States remains small.

Muslims for Progressive Values has eight “inclusive communities” in the United States, from Atlanta to San Francisco. Berkeley’s Qal-bu Maryam Women’s Mosque, which calls itself “America’s first all-inclusive mosque,” opened in 2017. Other like-minded mosques have struggled to find consistent congregants in recent years and closed down.

Imam Daiyiee Abdullah, 65, is one of the few openly gay Muslim clerics. For four years, he labored to build a mosque for LGBT Muslims in Washington, DC.

Frustrated, tired and running out of money, Abdullah gave up and moved to the mountains of Colorado, where the nearest inclusive mosque is an eight-hour drive away.

Liberal Muslims say there are hints of change. The percentage of American Muslims who said society should accept homosexuality has doubled in the last decade, to 52%, and is even higher among Millennials.

Still, for many LGBT Muslims, coming out of the closet to their families and religious communities can be a fraught decision.

Ani Zonneveld says she receives calls regularly from young gay and lesbian Muslims who have been threatened by their family or are afraid to reveal their sexual identity.

“I tell them that, unless you have a fantastic relationship with your parents, keep it in the closet until you finish high school and can leave the house,” said Zonneveld, who heads Muslims for Progressive Values.

Religious spaces can be just as alienating, Zonneveld said. “What we have seen is that LGBT Muslims are not comfortable going to a mosque, and if they do, they definitely keep closeted.”

They may even be reluctant to tell anonymous pollsters. According to a recent survey of more than 800 American Muslims, 0% identified as gay or lesbian.

‘Islam is too important to leave anyone behind’

Muslims in the United States are among the most diverse religious communities in the world. While 82% are American citizens, nearly a third have been in the country for less than two decades. A plurality (41%) are white, but no racial or ethnic group makes up a majority of Muslim American adults.

That diversity also applies to attitudes towards gay, lesbian and transgender people. According to a recent survey by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 31% of Muslim-Americans said they hold a favorable opinion of LGBT people, 23% said “unfavorable” and 45% said they had “no opinion.”

Among the Catholics, Jews and Protestants polled, only white evangelicals held less favorable views of LGBT people, the survey found.

Some Muslims have, like Lynn, hidden aspects of their identity for fear of being alienated or even endangered. But she said bigotry is no worse among American Muslims than in society at large.

“To act as if discrimination is unique to American Muslims is to buy into the Islamophobic narrative pushed by the right wing in this country, which is ironic, because it’s the right wing that is systematically erasing transgender people’s rights.”

Lynn transitioned as a teenager, and converted to Islam later on, during a particularly painful period. Islam’s spiritual regimens and rules for living offered a scaffolding on which to rebuild her life, the 31-year-old said.

“Islam saved my life, so I made the decision to give my life over to Islam.”

She founded Masjid al-Rabia with two other Muslims in 2016.

“Part of our role as a community center is to create a space for those healing from spiritual violence,” Lynn said.

This year, it’s celebrating its first Ramadan as a fully operational community center.

Lynn described her community as both idealistic and incremental. It’s small — Friday prayers draw about a dozen worshipers to its downtown Chicago space — but its very existence makes a radical statement.

While pushing for greater inclusivity in American mosques, she said it also provides a hospitable space where Muslims can practice their faith openly, regardless of race, gender, sect or sexual identity.

“We believe that everyone has a right to come to Islam as they are. Islam is too important to leave anyone behind.”

Support in society, but not in mosques

Muslims disagree on how to interpret the Pew survey that showed an increasing acceptance of homosexuality.

Some said it signals growing support for LGBT political rights, but not in religious spaces like mosques and Islamic centers.

LGBT activists have broadly supported Muslim-Americans, rallying to their side in recent years to protest Trump administration policies. Prominent Muslim activists have argued that they need all the political allies they can muster.

“I will fight for anyone who fights for our community,” activist Linda Sarsour said during a contentious panel discussion at an Islamic convention last year.

“And everybody is created by Allah and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. That is how we Muslims have to show up in these United States of America.”

But Yasir Qadhi, an influential scholar and dean of academic affairs at the new Islamic Seminary of America in Dallas, said pro-LGBT-rights political activists are confusing young Muslims.

“You are sending a mixed message,” he said at the Islamic conference. “Because at the end of the day, we do not believe that it is morally healthy to engage in intercourse outside of the bonds of marriage.”

Contentious questions

In a recent interview, Qadhi said that he is grateful for LGBT Americans’ political support. While he hasn’t changed his theological views, he said he has softened his rhetoric.

“I will be the first to admit that we were overly harsh and perhaps we did marginalize people and make them feel as if they were not human or worthy of love,” the scholar said.

Now, Qadhi often prefaces his remarks about homosexuality by noting that “feelings and inclinations” are not themselves sinful, and that homosexual acts should not be singled out for special condemnation.

LGBTQ Muslims should be welcomed at mosques, he said, but should not push for changes in Islamic theology or practice on mosque grounds.

“Whatever anyone does in their private life is not our business,” Qadhi said. “I am never going to single out anyone in sermons for any sinful conduct. At the same time, in the mosque I am a part of, there is a clear red line: They cannot preach onto others that this is part of Islam, the same way I would not let a person sell liquor on our property.”

The Fiqh Council of North America, a body of scholars who issue legal opinions based on Islamic texts, will take up transgenderism this year, said Qadhi, a council-member. Sexual reassignment surgery is permitted in Shiite Islam, but not among Sunnis, who comprise the majority American Muslims.

In most mosques, the genders are separated, and there have been conflicts about where Muslims in the process of gender transition should sit, Qadhi said. “Gender identity issues will be the big questions for the next several years.”

But external and internal tensions can make it hard for Muslim-Americans to directly address contentious questions, said Dalia Mogahed, director of research for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

“This is a huge source of division in the community right now,” she said. “There are a lot of different opinions and, frankly, there is a lack of space to discuss it.”

“When you have a community that is so under the microscope and being subjected to litmus tests for civility and tolerance, people become afraid and self-censoring”

Mogahed herself came under attack several years ago after a Gallup survey showed that no British Muslims — as in, 0% — said homosexuality was morally acceptable. Right wing provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos seized on the survey to portray Muslims as a threat to gays and lesbians.

But Muslims in the United States and Britain have not mounted political or social campaigns against the LGBT community, Mogahed said.

“To conflate a religious belief with one community being a threat to another is unfair.”

Behind the 0%

Like a lot of pro-LGBT Muslims, Imam Abdullah has migrated to online projects. He now runs the Mecca Institute, an Internet-based program to train a new generation of likeminded clerics. The program has three part-time students.

Because of media attention on his life and work, he said he draws attention when he visits American mosques.

“Sometimes people make derogatory remarks, like: There’s that gay imam,” Abdullah said.

“I’ve been asked in different parts of the country to leave the mosque, which is fine. I’m not going in to any mosque to try to change them. I am going there to pray.”

In Washington, DC, weeks would go by without anyone showing up at his former mosque. Some closeted LGBT Muslims feared of being associated with “the gay mosque,” he said.

“The personal trauma that so many went through made it hard for them to be public about their identity,” Abdullah said.

The ISPU survey provides statistical backing for that sentiment. Of the 804 American Muslims polled, not one identified as gay or lesbian. Four percent identified as bisexual, 2% said they were “something else” and another 2% refused to answer the question.

Asked about the 0% statistic, Mogahed offered a nuanced interpretation. If 92% of American Muslims identified as straight, she said, then the remaining 8% may be lesbian or gay, even if they’re reluctant say so.

“The fact that there is a segment of Muslims who identify as something other than straight means that, even though they may not be acting on that inclination or orientation, they have negotiated a space where they can still be Muslim,” Mogahed said.

“There is enough space within the theology to be able to do that.”

Angus Reid 2019 Crisis of Faith? Even practicing Catholics say Church has done a poor job handling sexual abuse issue

Of interest given the greater shifts of net favourability with respect to Roman Catholics, Sikhs and to a lessor extent, Muslims:

There has been slightly more variation in Canadians’ views of specific religious groups between 2015 and today. Looking at “net positivity” – the percentage of Canadians saying they have a positive view of each group minus the percentage who say they have a negative one – shows Canadians feeling more warmly in 2019 than they did in 2015 toward six of the nine faith groups asked about in this survey.

There has been slightly more variation in Canadians’ views of specific religious groups between 2015 and today. Looking at “net positivity” – the percentage of Canadians saying they have a positive view of each group minus the percentage who say they have a negative one – shows Canadians feeling more warmly in 2019 than they did in 2015 toward six of the nine faith groups asked about in this survey.

The three who are viewed more negatively today are Catholics (a net +26, down from +36 in 2015), Protestants (+33, down from +36), and Buddhists (+32, down from +35). That said, it’s notable that each of these groups is consistently more likely to be viewed positively than negatively, overall.

Indeed, only one religious group – Muslims (-22, up from -29 in 2015) – has a net negative score overall. As seen in the graph that follows, net perceptions of Jews, Hindus, atheists, Evangelical Christians, and Sikhs are all more positive than negative, and have improved at least slightly since 2015.

Source: Crisis of Faith? Even practicing Catholics say Church has done a poor job handling sexual abuse issue

How The Fight For Religious Freedom Has Fallen Victim To The Culture Wars

Yet another effect of increased polarization, even if issues related to the balance of religious freedom and other rights is often not straighforward:

The promotion of religious freedom in America, a cause that not long ago had near unanimous support on Capitol Hill, has fallen victim to the culture wars.

A high point came in 1993, when Congress overwhelmingly passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, meant to overturn a Supreme Court decision that limited Americans’ right to exercise their religion freely.

Those days are gone. The consensus surrounding religious freedom issues has been weakened by deep disputes over whether Americans should be free to exercise a religious objection to same sex marriage or artificial contraception and whether the U.S. Constitution mandates strict church-state separation.

“It is more difficult to get a broad coalition on religious freedom efforts now,” says Holly Hollman, general counsel at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “People have a bad taste in their mouth about what they think the other side thinks of religious freedom.”

“It’s a divisive issue,” says Todd McFarland, associate general counsel at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, a denomination historically known for its advocacy of religious freedom. “For a long time in the country we kept it down to a dull roar. When that’s no longer possible, it’s a problem.”

The religious freedom question could arise again in the months ahead, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to take new cases that involve the limits on Americans’ religious rights.

In theory, the commitment to religious freedom is straightforward. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars Congress from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Most of the attention, especially in recent decades, has focused on the “free exercise” clause. An important case involved Adele Sherbet, a Seventh-day Adventist, who was fired for refusing to work on Saturdays and then denied unemployment benefits. In a 1963 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Sherbet’s free exercise right had been violated.

In a 1990 decision, however, the Court significantly narrowed the Sherbet precedent, ruling against a Native American man, Alfred Smith, who was dismissed from his job because he had illegally ingested peyote as part of a religious ritual.

The Court’s Smith ruling met with bipartisan outrage in the U.S. Congress and led to passage of the RFRA legislation. Among the sponsors was a first-term liberal Democrat from New York, Jerrold Nadler.

“Unless the Smith decision is overturned,” Nadler argued on the House floor, “the fundamental right of all Americans to keep the Sabbath, observe religious dietary laws, to worship as their consciences dictate, will remain threatened.” The bill passed the House unanimously and was approved in the Senate by a vote of 97-3.

Religious freedom politicized

In the years since, however, the religious freedom cause has been politicized, with conservatives claiming it for their purposes and liberals shying away from it for reasons of their own.

When liberals started pushing for expanded protections for the LGBT population, conservatives grew alarmed, arguing that practices such as same-sex weddings go against biblical teaching. They’ve argued that religious freedom should mean they can’t be forced to accommodate something they don’t believe in. Liberals portrayed that stance simply as discriminatory and argued it should be illegal.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, made the issue a major theme of his campaign when he ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

“We’re a nation that was founded on religious liberty,” Cruz told an interviewer, “and the liberal intolerance we see trying to persecute those who as a matter of faith follow a biblical definition of marriage is fundamentally wrong.”

When the conservative Heritage Foundation celebrated the 25th anniversary of the RFRA passage earlier this year, the organization’s president, Kay Cole James, blamed “the left” for the erosion of the original consensus.

“I wish we could get that kind of bipartisan support today,” she said. “The political left has actively worked to undercut our freedoms.”

Religious freedom and discrimination

As conservatives focused the religious freedom debate narrowly around issues of sexuality and marriage, progressives doubled down on the promotion of LGBT rights. The Democrat-controlled House this month approved the “Equality Act,” which would prohibit virtually all discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. One provision actually singles out the RFRA law, prohibiting its use as a defense against discrimination allegations.

Rep. Nadler, having originally been a RFRA backer, co-sponsored the new “Equality” legislation as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Religion is no excuse for discrimination in the public sphere, as we have long recognized when it comes to race, color, sex, and national origin,” Nadler argued in a committee markup hearing, “and it should not be an excuse when it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

When the bill came up on the House floor, another co-sponsor, Democrat Bobby Scott of Virginia, explained why it may seem that progressives have turned cool on the Religious Freedom act.

“RFRA was originally enacted to serve as a safeguard for religious freedom,” he said, “but recently it’s been used a sword, to cut down the civil rights of too many individuals.”

Some traditional advocates of religious freedom issues are dismayed by how the debate has evolved among both conservatives and liberals.

“When you [tell people] you work for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, they want to know, ‘What kind of religious liberty?'” says Hollman. She is evenhanded in her assessment of responsibility for the breakdown of bipartisan sentiment around the issue.

“It is unfortunate that some on the right will use religious freedom in order to advance a particular partisan issue,” she says. “I think it is problematic on the left to cede arguments about religious freedom, to just say, ‘Oh, people will use that now to advance an anti-LGBT perspective.’ These are tough issues to work on, and religious freedom should not take the fall.”

Fired for observing the Sabbath

One current religious freedom case, in fact, is similar to those that led to the court fights of the last century. In 2005, a Seventh-day Adventist named Darrell Patterson interviewed for a trainer job at Walgreens in Orlando, Fla.

“I was completely up front with them that I observed the Sabbath and that the Sabbath was important to me,” Patterson told NPR.

He got the job, and six years passed without a problem. But one Friday afternoon he was told to report to work the next morning.

“The Sabbath is a beautiful, beautiful day,” Patterson said, explaining why working Saturdays is for him unthinkable. “If you were to come to my house on the Sabbath, you would find that our house is in order. There is a peaceful, serene atmosphere. My wife and my family spend time in prayer. We sing hymns together.”

Patterson skipped work that Saturday. When he went in the following Monday, he was called into a supervisor’s office and told that he was fired.

He sued.

In a statement to NPR, Walgreens says it is “committed to respecting and accommodating the religious practices of its employees” and “reasonably accommodated” Patterson’s requested scheduling, but that doing more would have imposed “an undue hardship on our business.” The Eleventh Circuit court ruled in favor of Walgreens, but Patterson is appealing.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to hear the case and revisit, yet again, the question of what religious freedom means.

McFarland from the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is tracking the case closely. He expects Patterson to be broadly supported, but he also recognizes that the politics around religious freedom issues have shifted in recent decades.

“One of the most unfortunate things is that religious liberty has become the issue of one party,” he says. “For Democrats, it’s viewed as a divisive issue, especially in a primary context. [They say] ‘how is this going to help me?’ They used to feel that being on the right side of religious liberty was an important value, and they don’t anymore.”

Like the Baptist Joint Committee, however, the Seventh-day Adventists fault Republicans and Democrats alike for the politicization of religious freedom issues in recent years. The Adventists are bothered by the apparent reluctance of Republicans to embrace the “establishment’ clause in the First Amendment, barring government from endorsing a religion. Conservatives have pushed for prayer and Bible readings in public schools and government funding for some religious institutions. Some have even suggested the United States be identified as a Christian nation.

“We have a strong interest in having a vigorous establishment clause,” McFarland says. “That’s something evangelicals and other conservative churches historically have not been as interested in. We are not trying to see the U.S. government impose any type of ideology. We have concerns about that. We have long believed that government and church need to stay in their separate spheres.”

The Adventists’ support for the establishment clause has allied them on various occasions with the American Civil Liberties Union, an unlikely partnership for other conservative Christian denominations.

The two parts of the freedom of religion provision in the First Amendment are sometimes seen as conflicting: Is the government in favor of religion or against it? But traditional American religious freedom advocates say the two clauses can also be read as complementary: The free exercise of religion is guaranteed only if it applies to all faiths. That can happen only if government does not take sides.

In Orlando, Fla., Darrell Patterson went back to school after being fired from Walgreens. He is now working as a mental health therapist. His campaign for the right to rest on the Sabbath, now possibly headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, no longer has to do with his own work situation.

“It’s about other people that are going to come after me,” Patterson says “that deserve to be able to practice their religious faith and conviction without putting their livelihoods in jeopardy.”

Source: How The Fight For Religious Freedom Has Fallen Victim To The Culture Wars

Backlash over the Women’s Mosque of Canada is predictable – and misplaced

Of note:

Across the country, makeshift mosques are popping up in various towns and cities. Many Canadian Muslims are observing Ramadan and renting out community centres, or taking up space in each other’s living rooms, basements and local dining halls to join in congregational prayers before breaking fast or to perform extra evening prayers.

There isn’t anything controversial about these gatherings. As meals are set out on tables, patterned prayer rugs, large colourful linens or simple mats are laid out nearby. Men, women and children eventually line up together in prayer.

Yet, one such pop-up gathering has received particular attention – and not all of it positive. A few weeks before Ramadan, a group of women launched the Women’s Mosque of Canada. The inaugural Friday prayers were held inside Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church in Toronto. Roughly 40 Muslim women and allies from various faith traditions listened to co-founder Farheen Khan give the sermon.

While the prayers proceeded in tranquility, reaction to the event was less calm. The debate that emerged once again symbolizes the divide that continues to exist in our communities when it comes to the place of women in traditional sacred spaces.

Why do we need this, wondered people writing in an online discussion group of more than 300 Toronto Muslim activists, leaders and scholars and posting to the Women’s Mosque’s Facebook page. One community leader admonished the effort, saying there was nothing in Islamic tradition to support the notion of a women-only mosque. Others suggested the effort would only divide people and would reinforce harmful stereotypes about the oppression of women.

Then there were the supporters, including several men who have themselves witnessed the unequal treatment of women and girls. They are sometimes banished to cramped rooms and poorly maintained areas, or made invisible behind barriers – physically and spiritually separated from a wider community in which they expect to belong.

“It’s been 30 years. How long should I tell my daughters to wait before they get taken as equal partners where they worship?” asked Naeem Siddiqui, a long-time community advocate.

Many women have decided they’ve already waited long enough.

Ms. Khan, herself deeply tied to the traditional mosque environment, was hoping to avoid any backlash. She simply aims to provide an opportunity for women and girls to regularly gather for Friday prayers and together reclaim their religious inheritance.

“Like many women, I grew up in a religious family and attended mosque. In fact, my father was one of the founders of the first mosque in Mississauga, so faith is an essential part of my life,” she wrote in a recent essay for NOW Magazine. “But as I got older I felt less connected to the experience. I didn’t see myself reflected in the scholarship, in the language and in the programming offered to women. Women’s Mosque of Canada is an attempt to engage women, like myself, to reconnect with their religion in a space with other women.”

That Muslim women, often facing the brunt of Islamophobia, need a place to heal is not lost on many. “Sadly, the reality today is that many women feel welcome everywhere except in what we believe are the best places on Earth, the mosques,” Ottawa Imam Sikander Hashemi acknowledged in an e-mail.

Indeed, a 2016 Environics survey of Muslims in Canada confirmed that women were much less likely to attend places of worship than their male counterparts.

Canadian filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz chronicled the growing alienation she felt in her own local community in a 2005 National Film Board documentary, Me and the Mosque. Little has changed since then, although many continue to push for better representation of all levels of mosque governance and participation.

Following in-depth studies of American mosques titled Re-Imagining Muslim Spaces, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding launched a toolkit in 2017 to encourage religious leaders to nurture more welcoming spaces. Other American national institutions have similarly called for more inclusion and provided advice on how to achieve it. Last year, the Muslim Council of Britain launched a six-month program to train women to become mosque leaders.

“Muslim women, Muslim male allies and non-Muslim supporters of mosque reform are participating in one of the most significant struggles presently happening in our global Islamic communities,” Canadian researcher Fatimah Jackson-Best wrote in 2014 for the magazine Aquila Style. “Mosque reform is not some fringe movement or a bunch of troublemakers trying to jeopardize the image of Islam. This is about spiritual equality and destroying archaic notions that are based in culture and custom and have little to do with the religion.”

Growing alienation has sparked the UnMosqued movement in which women, young people and converts eschew traditional institutions, including multimillion-dollar mosques, in search for alternatives or third spaces. These are formal and informal gatherings outside of traditional religious centres and homes, where there is often less rigidity and an authentic embrace of diversity.

Those anxious about the Women’s Mosque of Canada should be less concerned with the thought of women reconnecting with their faith and instead commit to addressing the schism that drove them out of the mosques in the first place.

Source: Backlash over the Women’s Mosque of Canada is predictable – and misplaced Amira Elghawaby

Limiting Muslim immigration is patriotic, US cardinal says

??? Pope Francis has his challenges:

Limiting the number of Muslims allowed to immigrate to traditionally Christian nations would be a prudent decision on the part of politicians, said U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke.

During a pro-life and pro-family conference in Rome May 17, the day before Italy’s March for Life, Burke outlined his views on immigration.

“To resist large-scale Muslim immigration in my judgment is to be responsible,” Burke said, responding to a written question.

Islam “believes itself to be destined to rule the world,” he said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what has happened in Europe,” the cardinal said, citing the large Muslim immigrant populations in France, Germany and Italy.

Burke’s comments are the latest addition to a debate among Catholics regarding the application of Gospel precepts to the large numbers of migrants arriving in Western nations from Africa and the Middle East.

In early May, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope’s almoner, told a reporter that the Vatican would refuse a papal blessing to Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, who is known for his restrictive immigration policies.

Burke said that the while the Church must be generous to “individuals that are not able to find a way of living in their own country,” this is not the case for many Muslim migrants, “who are opportunists.”

The cardinal mentioned the book No Go Zones: How Sharia Law is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You, written by former Breitbart News reporter Raheem Kassam, as evidence that Muslim immigration is having an effect even in the United States.

Pope Francis has made a generous attitude toward migrants a cornerstone of his pontificate, underlining the Christian duty to “welcome the stranger” over political or demographic considerations, although he repeatedly has added that government leaders have a responsibility to assess how many migrants their countries truly can integrate. Such an assessment should include the financial costs of helping immigrants learn the local language and customs, the pope has said.

Answering the written question from a conference participant, Burke said Christian nations’ abandonment of traditional moral norms has been a cause of Europe’s Muslim influx.

“Muslims have said that they are able today to accomplish what they were not able to accomplish in the past with armaments because Christians no longer are ready to defend their faith, what they believe; they are no longer ready to defend the moral law,” the cardinal said.

Another reason for the demographic shift, the cardinal said, is that “Christians are not reproducing themselves,” referring to the widespread use of contraceptives.

In this context, Catholics have a duty to instruct migrants on “what is bankrupt in the culture” into which they are received. To the extent possible, Catholics should even to try to work with them “to recover what is true culture,” which includes a recognition of the dignity of life, respect for sexual morality and proper worship of God, the cardinal said.

In view of these considerations, limiting “large-scale Muslim immigration is in fact, as far as I’m concerned, a responsible exercise of one’s patriotism,” Burke said.

In April, Burke contributed a foreword to a book titled, Love for the Papacy and Filial Resistance to the Pope in the History of the Church, by Roberto de Mattei, an Italian historian.

“At a time of profoundest spiritual and moral crisis, the Catholic Church needs more than ever before to recall her sacred tradition, unbroken from the time of the apostles,” the cardinal wrote.

Burke, 70, is perhaps best known as one of four cardinals who, opposed to the possibility that some divorced and civilly remarried couples might eventually be readmitted to the sacraments, wrote a series of “dubia” or doubts about Francis’s 2016 exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia.

Source: Limiting Muslim immigration is patriotic, US cardinal says

Laïcité: la consultation qualifiée de mascarade par des groupes religieux

Valid points by the groups not being invited to testify:

Le refus du gouvernement Legault d’entendre les groupes religieux directement visés par le projet de loi sur la laïcité démontre, selon ceux-ci, que son lit est déjà fait et que les consultations l’entourant ne sont qu’une mascarade.

Des représentants d’organisations juives, musulmanes, sikhes et même de l’Église unie du Canada ont vivement dénoncé, mardi à Montréal, le mutisme du gouvernement caquiste qui, à leurs demandes d’être entendus aux audiences de la commission parlementaire sur le projet de loi 21, n’a répondu que par des accusés de réception sans invitation.

«Le gouvernement voit cette loi comme un fait accompli», a déclaré Avi Finegold, porte-parole du Conseil des rabbins de Montréal, alors que les consultations s’entamaient à Québec.

«On dirait qu’ils essaient simplement de masquer le tout avec quelques journées de consultations, pour une loi aussi majeure», a-t-il déploré.

Déficit d’ouverture et d’inclusion

Pour ces organisations, il est inconcevable que les personnes directement touchées par cette loi soient ainsi ignorées.

«Le fait qu’on ne soit même pas invités aux consultations fait en sorte que notre opinion, pour eux, n’est même pas valide», a pour sa part avancé la porte-parole du Conseil national des musulmans canadiens, Sara Abou-Bakr, qui ne s’est pas gênée pour faire la leçon au gouvernement caquiste sur la notion d’inclusion.

«C’est sûr qu’ils ont pris cette décision-là sans même avoir l’idée d’avoir un Québec inclusif et sans même inclure tous les citoyens du Québec. L’ouverture, c’est d’inclure tout le monde. L’ouverture, ce n’est pas d’inclure les personnes (..) dont on sait qu’elles vont déjà être de notre avis. L’ouverture, c’est donner à tout le monde la chance égale de parler que ce soit pro-loi ou contre la loi.»

Cette exclusion des groupes directement touchés est particulièrement mal accueillie par Samaa Elibyari, du Conseil canadien des femmes musulmanes.

«Les femmes voilées, c’est-à-dire celles qui portent le hijab, seront les premières victimes. Il est donc déplorable que notre voix ne soit pas entendue à ce sujet», a-t-elle dit.

Selon elle, l’exclusion imposée par le gouvernement Legault «trahit un esprit de parti pris».

«Comment pouvez-vous justifier que les personnes qui sont les plus touchées ne sont pas représentées ?» demande-t-elle, faisant valoir que «ce n’est pas seulement les femmes qui seront affectées, c’est toute la famille, c’est toute la communauté» puisque la restriction à l’emploi devient une conséquence matérielle tangible.

Le voile comme signe d’inclusion

Les organisations font valoir que le discours d’ouverture à la diversité du gouvernement caquiste peut difficilement être soutenu dans les faits s’il est incapable de faire preuve d’ouverture pour l’étude de son projet de loi.

Plus encore, souligne Sara Abou-Bakr, le port d’un signe religieux pourrait s’avérer un puissant argument en faveur de l’inclusion.

«Le fait que je porterais un symbole religieux en travaillant pour le gouvernement mettrait l’emphase sur le fait qu’on vit dans un Québec inclusif», avance-t-elle.

Sur le fond, les organisations ne s’en cachent pas : elles perçoivent toutes le projet de loi 21 comme un instrument de discrimination.

«Nous estimons qu’il s’agit d’une discrimination encouragée par l’État, une légalisation de la discrimination, et ça affectera tout le monde», a de son côté déclaré l’imam Musabbir Alam, de l’Alliance musulmane canadienne.

«La loi 21 est une loi qui va renforcer la division de la société québécoise», a renchéri Sara Abou-Bakr.

Avi Finegold, de son côté, a cherché à contrer les discours de peur qui entourent ce débat.

«Nous ne devrions pas avoir peur de la religion. Nous n’essayons pas de convertir qui que ce soit. Nous sommes ici pour vivre nos vies et pour avoir notre foi religieuse exprimée de la manière dont nous le voulons l’exprimer», a-t-il dit.

Les organisations n’écartent pas la possibilité d’aller vers des recours juridiques pour contrer l’éventuelle loi et préparent également des activités de soutien à leurs revendications.

Source: Laïcité: la consultation qualifiée de mascarade par des groupes religieux

Revealed: new evidence of China’s mission to raze the mosques of Xinjiang

Dramatic and reprehensible:

Around this time of the year, the edge of the Taklamakan desert in far western China should be overflowing with people. For decades, every spring thousands of Uighur Muslims would converge on the Imam Asim shrine, a group of buildings and fences surrounding a small mud tomb believed to contain the remains of a holy warrior from the eighth century.

Pilgrims from across the Hotan oasis would come seeking healing, fertility, and absolution, trekking through the sand in the footsteps of those ahead of them. It was one of the largest shrine festivals in the region. People left offerings and tied pieces of cloth to branches, markers of their prayers.

Visiting a sacred shrine three times, it was believed, was as good as completing the hajj, a journey many in underdeveloped southern Xinjiang could not afford.

Before and after images of the Imam Asim Shrine. Credit: Digital Globe/ Planet Labs

But this year, the Imam Asim shrine is empty. Its mosque, khaniqah, a place for Sufi rituals, and other buildings have been torn down, leaving only the tomb. The offerings and flags have disappeared. Pilgrims no longer visit.

It is one of more than two dozen Islamic religious sites that have been partly or completely demolished in Xinjiang since 2016, according to an investigation by the Guardian and open-source journalism site Bellingcat that offers new evidence of large-scale mosque razing in the Chinese territory where rights groups say Muslim minorities suffer severe religious repression.

Using satellite imagery, the Guardian and Bellingcat open-source analyst Nick Waters checked the locations of 100 mosques and shrines identified by former residents, researchers, and crowdsourced mapping tools.

Out of 91 sites analysed, 31 mosques and two major shrines, including the Imam Asim complex and another site, suffered significant structural damage between 2016 and 2018.

Of those, 15 mosques and both shrines appear to have been completely or almost completely razed. The rest of the damaged mosques had gatehouses, domes, and minarets removed.

A further nine locations identified by former Xinjiang residents as mosques, but where buildings did not have obvious indicators of being a mosque such as minarets or domes, also appeared to have been destroyed.

Uprooted, broken, desecrated

In the name of containing religious extremism, China has overseen an intensifying state campaign of mass surveillance and policing of Muslim minorities — many of them Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking group that often have more in common with their Central Asian neighbours than their Han Chinese compatriots. Researchers say as many as 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims have been involuntarily sent to internment or re-education camps, claims that Beijing rejects.

Campaigners and researchers believe authorities have bulldozed hundreds, possibly thousands of mosques as part of the campaign. But a lack of records of these sites — many are small village mosques and shrines — difficulties police give journalists and researchers traveling independently in Xinjiang, and widespread surveillance of residents have made it difficult to confirm reports of their destruction.

The locations found by the Guardian and Bellingcat corroborate previous reports as well as signal a new escalation in the current security clampdown: the razing of shrines. While closed years ago, major shrines have not been previously reported as demolished. Researchers say the destruction of shrines that were once sites of mass pilgrimages, a key practice for Uighur Muslims, represent a new form of assault on their culture.

Three-way composite of Jafari Sadiq shrine.
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Three-way composite of Jafari Sadiq shrine. Photograph: Planet Labs

“The images of Imam Asim in ruins are quite shocking. For the more devoted pilgrims, they would be heartbreaking,” said Rian Thum, a historian of Islamat the University of Nottingham.

Before the crackdown, pilgrims also trekked 70km into the desert to reach the Jafari Sadiq shrine, honouring Jafari Sadiq, a holy warrior whose spirit was believed to have travelled to Xinjiang to help bring Islam to the region. The tomb, on a precipice in the desert, appears to have been torn down in March 2018. Buildings for housing the pilgrims in a nearby complex are also gone, according to satellite imagery captured this month.

Before and after imagery of the Jafari Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019.
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Before and after imagery of the Jafari Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019. Photograph: Google Earth/ Planet Labs

“Nothing could say more clearly to the Uighurs that the Chinese state wants to uproot their culture and break their connection to the land than the desecration of their ancestors’ graves, the sacred shrines that are the landmarks of Uighur history,” said Thum.

‘When they grow up, this will be foreign to them’

The Kargilik mosque, at the centre of the old town of Kargilik in southern Xinjiang, was the largest mosque in the area. People from various villages gathered there every week. Visitors remember its tall towers, impressive entryway, and flowers and trees that formed an indoor garden.

The mosque, previously identified by online activist Shawn Zhang, appears to have been almost completely razed at some point in 2018, with its gatehouse and other buildings removed, according to satellite images analysed by the Guardian and Bellingcat.

Three locals, staff at nearby restaurants and a hotel, told the Guardian that the mosque had been torn down within the last half year. “It is gone. It was the biggest in Kargilik,” one restaurant worker said.

Another major community mosque, the Yutian Aitika mosque near Hotan, appears to have been removed in March of last year. As the largest in its district, locals would gather here on Islamic festivals. The mosque’s history dates back to 1200.

Despite being included on a list of national historical and cultural sites, its gatehouse and other buildings were removed in late 2018, according to satellite images analysed by Zhang and confirmed by Waters. The demolished buildings were likely structures that had been renovated in the 1990s.

Two local residents who worked near the mosque, the owner of a hotel and a restaurant employee, told the Guardian the mosque had been torn down. One resident said she had heard the mosque would be rebuilt but smaller, to make room for new shops.

“Many mosques are gone. In the past, in every village like in Yutian county would have had one,” said a Han Chinese restaurant owner in Yutian, who estimated that as much as 80% had been torn down.

“Before, mosques were places for Muslims to pray, have social gatherings. In recent years, they were all cancelled. It’s not only in Yutian, but the whole Hotan area, It’s all the same … it’s all been corrected,” he said.

Activists say the destruction of these historical sites is a way to assimilate the next generation of Uighurs. According to former residents, most Uighurs in Xinjiang had already stopped going to mosques, which are often equipped with surveillance systems. Most require visitors to register their IDs. Mass shrine festivals like the one at Imam Asim had been stopped for years.

Removing the structures, critics said, would make it harder for young Uighurs growing up in China to remember their distinctive background.

“If the current generation, you take away their parents and on the other hand you destroy the cultural heritage that reminds them of their origin … when they grow up, this will be foreign to them,” said a former resident of Hotan, referring to the number of Uighurs believed detained in camps, many of them separated from their families for months, sometimes years.

“Mosques being torn down is one of the few things we can see physically. What other things are happening that are hidden, that we don’t know about? That is what is scary,” he said.

The ‘sinicisation’ of Islam

China denies allegations it targets Muslim minorities, constrains their religious and cultural practices, or sends them to re-education camps. In response to questions about razed mosques, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was “not aware of the situation mentioned”.

“China practices freedom of religion and firmly opposes and combats religious extremist thought… There are more than 20 million Muslims and more than 35,000 mosques in China. The vast majority of believers can freely engage in religious activities according to the law,” he said in a faxed statement to the Guardian.

Demolished mosque in the old town of Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China.
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A demolished mosque in the old town of Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, China. Photograph: Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

But Beijing is open about its goal of “sinicising” religions like Islam and Christianity to better fit China’s “national conditions”. In January, China passed a five-year plan to “guide Islam to be compatible with socialism”. In a speech in late March, party secretary Chen Quanguo who has overseen the crackdown since 2016 said the government in Xinjiang must “improve the conditions of religious places to guide “religion and socialism to adapt to each other”.

Removing Islamic buildings or features is one way of doing that, according to researchers.

“The Islamic architecture of Xinjiang, closely related to Indian and Central Asian styles, puts on public display the region’s links to the wider Islamic world,” said David Brophy, a historian of Xinjiang at the University of Sydney. “Destroying this architecture serves to smooth the path for efforts to shape a new ‘sinicised’ Uighur Islam.”

Experts say the razing of religious sites marks a return to extreme practices not seen since the Cultural Revolution when mosques and shrines were burned, or in the 1950s when major shrines were turned into museums as a way to desacralise them.

Today, officials describe any changes to mosques as an effort to “improve” them. In Xinjiang, various policies to update the mosques include adding electricity, roads, news broadcasts, radios and televisions, “cultural bookstores,” and toilets. Another includes equipping mosques with computers, air conditioning units, and lockers.

“That is code to allow them to demolish places that they deem to be in the way of progress or unsafe, to progressively yet steadily try to eradicate many of the places of worship for Uighurs and Muslim minorities,” said James Leibold, an associate professor at La Trobe University focusing on ethnic relations.

Critics say authorities are trying to remove even the history of the shrines. Rahile Dawut, a prominent Uighur academic who documented shrines across Xinjiang, disappeared in 2017. Her former colleagues and relatives believe she has been detained because of her work preserving Uighur traditions.

Dawut said in an interview in 2012: “If one were to remove these … shrines, the Uighur people would lose contact with earth. They would no longer have a personal, cultural, and spiritual history. After a few years we would not have a memory of why we live here or where we belong.”

Source: Revealed: new evidence of China’s mission to raze the mosques of Xinjiang