Archive for ‘religion’

08/05/2017

The bullies of Urumqi: The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims | The Economist

CHINESE officials describe the far western province of Xinjiang as a “core area” in the vast swathe of territory covered by the country’s grandiose “Belt and Road Initiative” to boost economic ties with Central Asia and regions beyond.

They hope that wealth generated by the scheme will help to make Xinjiang more stable—for years it has been plagued by separatist violence which China says is being fed by global jihadism. But the authorities are not waiting. In recent months they have intensified their efforts to stifle the Islamic identity of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighurs, fearful that any public display of their religious belief could morph into militancy.Xinjiang’s 10m Uighurs (nearly half of its population) have long been used to heavy-handed curbs: a ban on unauthorised pilgrimages to Mecca, orders to students not to fast during Ramadan, tough restrictions on Islamic garb (women with face-covering veils are sometimes not allowed on buses), no entry to many mosques for people under 18, and so on.

But since he took over last August as Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief, Chen Quanguo has launched even harsher measures—pleased, apparently, by his crushing of dissent in Tibet where he previously served as leader. As in Tibet, many Xinjiang residents have been told to hand their passports to police and seek permission to travel abroad. In one part of Xinjiang all vehicles have been ordered to install satellite tracking-devices. There have been several shows of what officials call “thunderous power”, involving thousands of paramilitary troops parading through streets.

Last month, new rules came into effect that banned “abnormal” beards (such as the one worn by the man pictured in front of the main mosque in Kashgar in south-western Xinjiang). They also called on transport workers to report women wearing face veils or full-body coverings to the police, and prohibited “naming of children to exaggerate religious fervour”. A leaked list of banned names includes Muhammad, Mecca and Saddam. Parents may not be able to obtain vital household-registration papers for children with unapproved names, meaning they could be denied free schooling and health care.

Residents have also been asked to spy on each other. In Urumqi, the region’s capital, locals can report security threats via a new mobile app. People living in Altay in northern Xinjiang have been promised rewards of up to 5m yuan ($720,000) for tip-offs that help capture militants—over 200 times the local income per person.

Across Xinjiang residents have been asked to inform the authorities of any religious activities, including weddings and circumcisions. The government is also testing its own people’s loyalty. In March an official in Hotan in southern Xinjiang was demoted for “timidity” in “fighting against religious extremism” because he chose not to smoke in front of a group of mullahs.

Mr Chen is widely rumoured to be a contender for a seat in the ruling Politburo in a reshuffle due late this year. Displays of toughness may help to ingratiate him with China’s president, Xi Jinping, who has called for “a great wall of iron” to safeguard Xinjiang. Spending on security in Xinjiang was nearly 20% higher in 2016 than the year before. Adverts for security-related jobs there increased more than threefold last year, reckon James Leibold of La Trobe University and Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology at Korntal, Germany.

Uighurs have been blamed for several recent attacks in Xinjiang. In one of them in February, in the southern prefecture of Hotan, three knife-wielding men killed five people and injured several others before being shot dead by police (local reports suggested the violence occurred after a Uighur family was punished for holding a prayer session at home). Officials may be congratulating themselves on the success of their tactics; reported large-scale attacks by Uighurs inside and outside Xinjiang have abated in the past 18 months. Yet as in Tibet, intrusive surveillance and curbs on cultural expression have fuelled people’s desperation. “A community is like a fruit,” says a Uighur driver from Kashgar. “Squash it too hard and it will burst.”

Source: The bullies of Urumqi: The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims | The Economist

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07/04/2017

Gujarat: India state approves life term for killing cows – BBC News

The western Indian state of Gujarat has passed a law making the slaughter of cows punishable with life imprisonment.

Under an amendment to the state’s Animal Preservation Act, those found guilty of transporting beef will also be jailed for 10 years.

The cow is considered sacred by India’s Hindu majority, and killing cows is illegal in many states.

But the new amendment means Gujarat now has the toughest laws on the issue in the country.

Offenders will face heavy fines, as well as time behind bars. The penalty for either act has been doubled from 50,000 rupees ($771; £618) to 100,000 rupees.

Why India man was lynched over beef rumours

Why the humble cow is India’s most polarising animal

India meat traders strike over closures

Gujarat Minister of State Pradipsinh Jadeja told reporters that the cow was a symbol of Indian culture and the amendments to the act had been made “in consultation with the people”.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has also spoken repeatedly of “harsh” punishment for those who kill cows.

The new laws will come into effect from Saturday.

Source: Gujarat: India state approves life term for killing cows – BBC News

08/03/2017

The partition of India: “Viceroy’s House” is an antidote to colonial triumphalism | The Economist

THE fetishisation of British Imperialism is inescapable. Last December, Theresa May cited the East India Company as an example of Britain’s historical trading prowess. Contestants on a recent season of “The Apprentice”, an entrepreneurial reality show, created batches of “Colony Gin”; Marks & Spencer, a retailer, included an “Empire Pie” as part of its Gastropub collection. This nostalgia is borne out by a YouGov poll from 2016, which found that 44% of respondents are proud of Britain’s colonial history.

Those colonised, though, see the empire rather differently. A charge sheet of Britain’s efforts in India—and every territory colonised can produce an equivalent—might list partition, the man-made Bengal famine in 1943 (which resulted in an estimated 3m deaths), the wretched labour system of indenture and the looting of state wealth. Partition alone resulted in 1m deaths and created 15m refugees in a matter of weeks; Hindus and Sikhs fled their homes in what was the become the Muslim state of Pakistan, while Muslims in India took flight in the opposite direction.

“Viceroy’s House”, a new film written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, seeks to document Britain’s role in partition and the cleaving of the Punjab region. In the final months of the Raj, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) arrives to oversee the transfer of power to Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), and reconcile the demands of independence leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru with those of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow)—who had never set foot in India before—is drafted in to assess how 175,000 square miles, home to 88m people, should be split. Ms Chadha carefully balances high politics with its impact on ordinary citizens; relations between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim staff become tense as the prospect of annexing India’s Muslim-majority regions emerges.

The film is good in exposing the Machiavellian motives behind this rushed decision, as well as the gut-wrenching suffering that followed (the house, which “makes Buckingham Palace look like a bungalow”, becomes a camp for the displaced). It is not perfect, however. “Viceroy’s House” absolves everyone—Lord Mountbatten, the British, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims—of blame for the suffering. Some critics have complained that it does not give any attention to the Indian independence struggle, or catalogue the horrors of British rule. These are deserving of films in their own right; Ms Chadha’s decision to focus her lens solely on how partition unfolded is a wise one.

With millions of people involved in the story of partition, “Viceroy’s House” was always going to be a tricky undertaking, likely to be deemed unsatisfactory by many. Ms Chadha tells the story of this multifaceted moment in the region’s history through the lens of one building, framing it as the tale of “the people’s partition” rather than dealing in factionalism and blame. She has subverted the period-drama genre—how many period dramas close on a shot of a desperate refugee camp?—to produce something akin to a “Dummy’s Guide to partition”.

Yet even as a superficial primer, “Viceroy’s House” fills a gap in Britain’s collective consciousness and cultural memory. In the canon of modern British films about India, partition features in “Gandhi” (1982) and “Midnight’s Children” (2012) but gets scant treatment elsewhere. “Viceroy’s House” stands out from these offerings as a British film narrated with heart, soul and profound sadness by a Punjabi film-maker with a personal investment in the story: the closing credits reveal that Ms Chadha’s grandmother lost a child to starvation while fleeing to India.

It will be hard for some to maintain a sense of nostalgia and triumphalism for Britain’s empire after watching “Viceroy’s House”: Ms Chadha intersperses the drama with Pathé news footage of communal violence and Churchill’s dejected newscasts explaining the collapse of law and order. The film has ensured that partition, which is rarely taught in British high schools, has a place in the nation’s shared public culture again. Too right. Partition is as much a part of modern Britain—home to 700,000 Indian and Pakistani Punjabis, many of whom are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of partition—as butter chicken, saag paneer, naan, bhangra and Bollywood.

Source: The partition of India: “Viceroy’s House” is an antidote to colonial triumphalism | The Economist

02/11/2016

China’s Alibaba in ‘flying pig’ controversy – BBC News

A Chinese Muslim‘s call for e-commerce giant Alibaba to rename one of its services because it uses the word “pig” has sparked a backlash in China.

It all began when Alibaba changed the name of its popular travel booking app from Alitrip to one that means “Flying Pig” in Chinese. Its English name is Fliggy.

Over the weekend, Uighur businessman Adil Memettur criticised this decision on popular microblogging network Sina Weibo, where he has hundreds of thousands of followers.

He noted that the app is popular among minorities because it lets people whose names have unusual spellings make bookings.

“But now that Alitrip has changed its name to Flying Pig, I can only uninstall it, and maybe all my Muslim friends too, because the word “pig” is taboo to Muslims all over the world. Alibaba is an international corporation, could it take Muslim taboos into consideration?” he said.

Image copyrightSINA WEIBO / ADIL MEMETTUR. Mr Memettur is an Uighur Chinese who runs a cake business

His post quickly sparked condemnation and ridicule from other Chinese online, with some asking if this meant China had to expunge all references to pigs in popular culture and literature.

“We each have our own way of life; we do not force you to live according to our rules, but you cannot force us to change the law,” said Weibo user Fireflyinred.

Mr Memettur quickly took down the post and on Sunday night he posted an apology.

Alibaba told the BBC that they decided to rebrand the app to appeal to a younger demographic. “We embrace diversity and respect all creeds and religions. The name change is meant to reflect the demographic’s aspirations to pursue dreams, sit back and enjoy life,” said the spokesman.

The visceral pushback stems from the fact that the pig occupies an important place in Chinese culture.

Pork is not only a staple of Chinese cuisine – the government keeps a national reserve of pork in case of market shortages – but the pig is also celebrated in folklore and the Chinese zodiac.

Online, the reaction to Mr Memettur has been intense, often descending into derogatory comments and insulting jokes about Muslims and Uighur culture.

It has also highlighted how gaps in understanding between Muslim minorities and the Han Chinese majority can arise.

Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES – The Uighurs are one of China’s biggest Muslim minorities

Because of their relatively small numbers, concentrated mostly in the West, Muslims still do not figure largely in Chinese public discourse.

China’s 21 million Muslims, comprising minority ethnic groups such as the Huis and Uighurs, make up only 1.6% of the population, with the rest from the Han ethnic majority and they have mostly co-existed peacefully.

The western province of Xinjiang, home to many Chinese Uighurs, has seen unrest with residents saying they have been economically and culturally displaced by a growing influx of Han migrants. Violence there has been attributed by the authorities to Islamist militants and separatists – rights groups point to increasingly tight control by Beijing.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES- Xinjiang cities like Kashgar are home to Muslim minorities such as the Uighurs

In this instance some online, like blogger Han Dongyan, have called for respect and calm.”Don’t extend this to all Muslims… (Mr Memettur) has made a mistake and he can be criticised, but don’t respond to an extreme with another extreme and tar them all with the same brush, this is wrong too!” he wrote in one popular post.

Source: China’s Alibaba in ‘flying pig’ controversy – BBC News

31/10/2016

An uncertain community | The Economist

FOR a community of 172m, almost 15% of the population, Muslims at first glance appear oddly absent from the pages of India’s newspapers. In fact, they crop up a lot, but not by name.

Instead, reporters coyly refer to “a certain community”. The clumsy circumlocution is a way of avoiding any hint of stoking sectarian unrest. The aim is understandable in a country that was born amid ferocious communal clashes and which has suffered all too many reprises. But the dainty phrase also hints at something else. Since India’s independence in 1947, the estrangement of Muslims has slowly grown.

India’s Muslims have not, it is true, been officially persecuted, hounded into exile or systematically targeted by terrorists, as have minorities in other parts of the subcontinent, such as the Ahmadi sect in Pakistan. But although violence against them has been only sporadic, they have struggled in other ways. In 2006 a hefty report detailed Muslims’ growing disadvantages. It found that very few army officers were Muslim; their share in the higher ranks of the police was “minuscule”. Muslims were in general poorer, more prone to sex discrimination and less literate than the general population (see chart). At postgraduate level in elite universities, Muslims were a scant 2% of students.

A decade later, with most of the committee’s recommendations quietly shelved, those numbers are unlikely to have improved. Indeed, since the landslide election win by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014, some gaps have widened. There are fewer Muslim ministers now in the national government—just two out of 75—than at any time since independence, even though the Muslim share of the population has grown.

India remains a secular country, yet some laws proposed by the BJP bear a disturbingly sectarian tint. One bill would allow immigrants from nearby countries who happen to be Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Buddhist to apply for citizenship, while specifically barring Muslims. Another would retroactively block any legal challenge to past seizures of property from people deemed Pakistani “enemies”, even if their descendants have nothing to do with Pakistan and are Indian citizens. Courts have repeatedly ruled in favour of such claimants—all of them Muslim—but their families could now be stripped of any rights in perpetuity.

Far more than such legislative slights, what frightens ordinary Muslims is the government’s silence in the face of starker assaults. A year ago many were shocked when a mob in a village near Delhi, the capital, beat to death a Muslim father of three on mere suspicion that he had eaten beef. Earlier this month, after one of his alleged killers died of disease while in police custody, a BJP minister attended the suspect’s funeral, at which the casket was draped, like a hero’s, with the Indian flag.

Earlier this month, too, newspapers reported a disturbing discrepancy between the fates of two men arrested for allegedly spreading religiously insulting material via social media. One of the men, a member of a right-wing Hindu group in the BJP-run state of Madhya Pradesh, was quickly released from custody after the customary beating. The arresting officers have been charged with assault; their superiors up to the district level transferred. In the other case, in the state of Jharkhand, a Muslim villager was arrested for posting pictures implying he had slaughtered a cow. Police claimed he died of encephalitis following his arrest. A court-ordered autopsy revealed he had been beaten to death. To date, no police officers have been charged.

The BJP’s handling of a popular uprising in India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, has also raised Muslim concern. Four months into the unrest, in which dozens of civilians have been killed and hundreds injured, with continuous curfews and strikes keeping schools and shops closed, the government still refuses to talk to any but the most supine local politicians. “You don’t understand,” snaps a cabinet minister, “It’s a violent movement to build an Islamic theocracy. No democracy can tolerate that.”

Omair Ahmad, a writer on Muslim affairs, scoffs at this. The problem, he says, is that Indian governments insist on treating Kashmir as a “Muslim issue” when the real question is one of democratic representation. Yet most Indian Muslims tend to toe the official line, either from a desire to appear loyal or because they genuinely feel only a faint bond with Kashmir.

The fact is that India’s Muslims are divided, not only between dominant Sunnis and a large Shia minority but also between starkly different social classes and regions: a Muslim in Bengal is likely to share no language and few traditions with a co-religionist far to the south in steamy Kerala. The divisions may soon get deeper. Both India’s supreme court and the national law commission, a state body charged with legal reform, are deliberating whether laws governing such things as divorce and inheritance should remain different for different religious groups, or should be harmonised in a uniform national code, as the constitution urges. Spotting another “Muslim issue”, past governments have let conservative clerics control family law. As a result India, unlike most Muslim-majority countries, still allows men to divorce simply by pronouncing the word three times.

The BJP, however, is calling for sweeping reform, with Narendra Modi, the prime minister, painting the issue as a straightforward question of women’s rights. Much as many Muslims heartily agree that change is long overdue, suspicions linger that the BJP’s aim is less to generate reform than to spark inevitable protests by Muslim conservatives, so uniting Hindus in opposition to Muslim “backwardness”.

This question may play out in elections this winter in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, nearly 40m of whose 200m people are Muslim. The state has witnessed repeated communal clashes since the destruction by Hindu activists, in 1992, of a medieval mosque said to have been built over an ancient temple marking the birthplace of Rama, a Hindu deity. Many expect the BJP to play the “Muslim card” in an effort to rally Hindu votes.

There is hope: a similar ploy flopped last year in the neighbouring state of Bihar. Whatever the outcome, India’s Muslims feel increasingly like spectators in their own land. “They called it a secular state, which is why many who had a choice at partition wanted to stay here,” says Saeed Naqvi, a journalist whose recent book, “Being the Other”, chronicles the growing alienation of India’s Muslims. “But what really happened was that we seamlessly glided from British Raj to Hindu Raj.”

Source: An uncertain community | The Economist

07/10/2016

Keeping pure and true | The Economist

CHINA’S cities abound with restaurants and food stalls catering to Muslims as well as to the many other Chinese who relish the distinctive cuisines for which the country’s Muslims are renowned.

So popular are kebabs cooked by Muslim Uighurs on the streets of Beijing that the city banned outdoor grills in 2014 in order to reduce smoke, which officials said was exacerbating the capital’s notorious smog (the air today is hardly less noxious).

Often such food is claimed to be qing zhen, meaning “pure and true”, or halal, prepared according to traditional Islamic regulations. But who can tell? Last year angry Muslims besieged a halal bakery in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, after pork sausages were found in the shop’s delivery van. There have been several scandals in recent years involving rat meat or pork being sold as lamb. These have spread Muslim mistrust of domestically produced halal products.

In response, some local governments have introduced regulations requiring food purporting to be halal to be just that (though not going into detail of what halal means, such as the slaughter of animals with a knife by a Muslim). Earlier this year, however, the national legislature suspended its work on a bill that would apply such stipulations countrywide.

There is much demand for one. Local rules are often poorly enforced. Advocates of a national law say a lack of unified standards is hampering exports to Muslim countries. According to Wang Guoliang of the Islamic Association of China, the country’s halal food industry makes up a negligible 0.1% of the global market.

The government began drafting a national halal law in 2002. But Muslim communities in China have varying definitions of the term. Work on the bill was slow. Each year, during the legislature’s annual session in March, Muslim delegates called for faster progress. But there were opponents, too. Some scholars argued that the government should not regulate on matters relating to religious faith. Others said that by giving in to the Muslims’ demands, China would encourage them to press for more concessions and ultimately form their own enclaves run by sharia.

Such views may have given pause to China’s leaders. In April, at a high-level meeting on religious affairs, President Xi Jinping said religion should be prevented from interfering with the law. That month Wang Zhengwei, a Muslim official who had been pushing for halal legislation, was removed from his post as the head of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission.

Also in April, the Communist Party chief of Ningxia urged officials to “sharpen [their] vigilance” against the use of halal labels on products such as toilet paper, toothpaste and cosmetics. And the government of Qinghai province ordered the inspection of Muslim-only toilets and hospital rooms, as well as shops catering to Muslims, to make sure that halal symbols were being used only on food. Xinjiang, the far-western region that is home to the Uighurs, recently introduced an anti-terrorism law threatening punishment of those who “overextend” halal rules. Officials clearly worry that those who do so might be the same sort of people who embrace jihad.

Ismael An, a Muslim writer, says this is overreacting. “Supporters of the halal law are not the so-called extremists, because real extremists don’t make demands through legislation,” he says. On the internet, however, a small but vocal group of Islamophobes has been calling for a boycott of halal-certified products. They say the price of such goods factors in payments to Islamic groups that grant the certificates—they do not want to give the religion even indirect support. Ironically, it is the non-Muslim love of Muslim food that will ensure the campaign will not succeed.

Source: Keeping pure and true | The Economist

07/10/2016

China’s other Muslims | The Economist

THE faithful are returning from the haj. Waiting for prayers outside the Great Mosque in Tongxin, a remote town in the western province of Ningxia, Li Yuchuan calls his pilgrimage a liberation: “Our prayers are just homework for it.” His 84-year-old friend (pictured, right) leaps up and twists himself with lithe agility into the shape of a pretzel. “We Muslims pray five times a day,” he says. “We are flexible and tough.” China’s Muslims need to be.

China has a richly deserved reputation for religious intolerance. Buddhists in Tibet, Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang and Christians in Zhejiang province on the coast have all been harassed or arrested and their places of worship vandalised. In Xinjiang the government seems to equate Islam with terrorism. Women there have been ordered not to wear veils on their faces. Muslims in official positions have been forced to break the Ramadan fast. But there is a remarkable exception to this grim picture of repression: the Hui.

China has two big Muslim groups, the Uighur of Xinjiang and the more obscure Hui. Though drops in the ocean of China’s population, they each have about 10m people, the size of Tunisia. But while the Uighur suffer, the Hui are thriving.

The number of mosques in Ningxia (cradle of the Hui, as one of their number puts it) has more than doubled since 1958, from 1,900 to 4,000, says Ma Ping, a retired professor at Northern Nationalities University. New ones are being built across the province. The Hui are economically successful. They are rarely victims of Islamophobia. Few Muslim minorities anywhere in the world can say as much.

The Hui’s religious practices reflect the waves of Islam that have washed over China. According to Ma Tong, a Hui scholar, just over half of them follow the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, which was brought to China centuries ago. At the Najiahu mosque south of Yinchuan, Ningxia’s capital, banners adorn the entrance saying “ancient and authentic religion” and “cleave to the original path”. A fifth of the Hui follow the more austere code of Wahhabism brought to China in the 19th century (there are also a handful of more extreme Salafist converts resulting from recent contacts through the haj). And a fifth follow one of three Sufi schools of Islam, an esoteric and mystical branch derided as apostate by hardline Salafists. The Hui’s religious diversity makes it easier for the party to tolerate them. Divide and rule.

But the real secret of the Hui’s success lies in the ways they differ from the Uighur. The Uighur, of Turkic origin, are ethnically distinct. They speak their own language, related to Turkish and Uzbek. They have a homeland: the vast majority live in Xinjiang. A wall of discrimination separates them from the Han Chinese. If they have jobs in state-owned enterprises, they are usually menial.

In contrast, the Hui are counted as an ethnic minority only because it says so on their hukou (household-registration) documents and because centuries ago their ancestors came as missionaries and merchants from Persia, the Mongol courts or South-East Asia. Having intermarried with the Han for generations, they look and speak Chinese. They are scattered throughout China (see map); only one-fifth live in Ningxia.

Unlike the Uighur and Tibetans, they have taken the path of assimilation.

At the new Qiao Nan mosque in Tongxin, the congregation is celebrating the life of an important local figure in the mosque’s history. The ceremony begins with a sermon by the ahong (imam). Then come prayers chanted in Arabic. At the house of the local worthy’s grandson, the worshippers read from the Koran, then visit the tomb. But the afternoon ends very differently, with a reading from an 18-metre-long scroll written by the grandson, Ma Jinlong. This consists of excerpts from eighth-century classical Chinese poetry, illustrated with his own delicate water-colours. Mr Ma is both a stalwart of the mosque and a Chinese gentleman-scholar.

A close connection with Chinese society is characteristic of the Hui. Some of the most famous historical figures were Hui, though few Chinese are aware of it. They include Zheng He, China’s equivalent of Columbus, who commanded voyages of discovery around 1400. Recently, the party chief in Jiangsu province as well as the head of the Ethnic Affairs Commission, a government body, were Hui.

Relations with the Han have not always been good. The so-called Dungan revolt by the Hui in the 1860s and 1870s was a bloodbath. But since the death of Mao in 1976, the two sides have reached an accommodation. Dru Gladney, of Pomona College in California, says a hallmark of the Hui is their skill at negotiating around the grey areas of China’s political system.

Thanks to this, they have been successful economically. They dominate halal food production. They are emerging as the favoured middlemen between state enterprises and firms in Central Asia and the Gulf. China’s largest school of Arabic is a private college, set up and partly financed by Hui, on the outskirts of Yinchuan. Most students are training to be corporate interpreters.

One sign of how far the government tolerates the Hui is that they are even able to practice Islamic (sharia) law to a limited extent. Sharia is not recognised by the Chinese legal code. Yet at the Najiahu mosque, the ahong and the local county court share the same mediation office. Every week or so, the ahong adjudicates in family disputes usingsharia. Only if he fails do civil officials step in.

Surprisingly, the Hui have not lost their religion or identity despite centuries of assimilation. Mr Ma, the retired professor, says Hui people often form close-knit communities and pursue similar occupations; restaurants and taxis in many cities are run by Hui. But their religion is “still the most important binding factor”, he says. The Hui maintain a delicate balance. They can practise their religion undisturbed thanks to assimilation. But it is their religion that makes them distinct.

This is a fine line, and it means the Hui are vulnerable to China’s shifting religious attitudes. They have so far mostly escaped Islamophobia. But bigotry is becoming more common on social media. “The greens” (a significant colour in Islam) has become an online term of abuse. So far the government has tolerated the Hui’s culture. But in Ningxia in July, Xi Jinping, the president, told his audience to “resolutely guard against illegal infiltration”—even though there is little sign of any. His government has become more repressive towards many religious groups. The Hui could be next.

But the lessons offered by the Hui’s experience are largely positive. Islam, the Hui show, are not the threat that party leaders sometimes imply it is. They show that you can be both Chinese and Muslim. At Yinchuan airport, a returning pilgrim is waiting for his luggage. He wears a white robe with “Chinese pilgrimage to Mecca” stitched in green Arabic letters below a Chinese flag embroidered in red, the symbol of an atheist party-state. “It was the experience of a lifetime,” he says of the haj—and disappears into a sea of white hats worn by hundreds of cheering fellow Muslims who fill the arrivals hall to welcome him home.

Source: China’s other Muslims | The Economist

17/09/2016

India’s Craze for Ayurveda Is Producing Billionaires – India Real Time – WSJ

A yoga teacher clad in white robes and often seen meditating on the banks of the Ganges is the latest to join the billionaires club in India.

But Acharya Balkrishna is no ordinary yoga teacher. He controls Patanjali Ayurved Ltd., the consumer-products company founded by his guru, Baba Ramdev, and whose Ayurvedic soaps, shampoos and food supplements are increasingly becoming staples in middle-class Indian homes. Indians’ craze for the company’s Ayurvedic formulations has seen Mr. Acharya’s net worth skyrocket to $3.8 billion, according to Hurun’s India Rich List for 2016. That puts him at number 25 in Hurun’s list of richest Indians, ahead of industrialists like Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej and Anand Mahindra.

Such is the demand for Patanjali, which sells creams, cleaners and hair conditioners rooted in Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of medicine, that the world’s biggest consumer-products makers are tweaking their products to compete. India’s traditional system of medicine encourages therapies like yoga and believes everything from the common cold to diabetes can be fixed by certain herbs, foods and oils.

Colgate Palmolive last month launched a toothpaste flavored with basil, clove and lemon. L’Oréal SA in June launched a new range of shampoos infused with eucalyptus, green tea and henna, an Indian herb Patanjali also packs in its shampoo. Unilever PLC recently purchased an Ayurvedic hair-care company.

Mr. Balkrishna is a reclusive figure next to Mr. Ramdev, one of India’s best-known yoga teachers who founded Patanjali in 2006 and has since transformed it into a multi-million dollar consumer goods empire. Mr. Balkrishna controls the business because Mr. Ramdev has sworn off most trappings of wealth.

Messrs. Ramdev and Balkrishna are regularly seen practicing yoga on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar, the Hindu holy city where Patanjali is based and where they run an ashram.

Ayurveda has produced other billionaires, too. The Burman family which runs Dabur India, another consumer-goods maker that draws inspiration from traditional Indian medicine, is 13th on Hurun’s India rich list.

Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, is the richest Indian with a net worth of $24 billion. Dilip Shanghvi, who heads generics-drug maker Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, is second with $18 billion in his kitty.

Source: India’s Craze for Ayurveda Is Producing Billionaires – India Real Time – WSJ

20/08/2016

The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

Near my childhood home in Kunming (昆明), Yunnan (雲南) province, is a park dedicated to its most famous son: Admiral Zheng He.

Our teacher would take us to pay tribute to the great eunuch of the Ming dynasty, recounting his legendary seven expeditions that brought glory to the motherland.

The marble bust of Zheng He shows the face of a typical Chinese, with a square chin, brushy eyebrows and a flat nose. My father joked it more resembled comrade Lei Feng than the admiral. Not until years later did I realise how true this was.

A statue of Zheng He in Nanjing, where his armada was built. File photo

The statue was erected in 1979 – a year after Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) launched his open-door policy. Zheng, barely mentioned during the Cultural Revolution, was plucked from obscurity and hailed as a national hero who embodied China’s open spirit. A park near his ancestral home was dedicated to him. The same craftsmen who churned out revolutionary statues were employed to build his.

In real life, Zheng probably looked very different. My school textbook mentioned only that he was a Hui minority (Muslim Chinese). In fact, the admiral was a descendent of a powerful Persian family. Records discovered in 1913 trace his lineage to Sayyid Ajall, who was sent by Kublai Khan to conquer Yunnan and became its first governor. In 2014, Chinese scientists at Fudan University in Shanghai put the theory to test. They examined DNA samples collected from descendents of the admiral’s close kin and found they originated from Persia, modern-day Iran. In addition to Zheng He, most senior officers of the storied Ming armada were also Muslims.

Beijing follows the route well travelled by Admiral Zheng He in its belt and road initiative

Over the past decades, researchers have concluded Zhang and his armada were the key force behind Islam’s spread in Southeast Asia. The Arabs established settlements in Southeast Asia from the eighth century. But Islam did not become dominant there until the 15th century – around the time Admiral Zheng began to sail in the South China Sea. Historians found evidence of Zheng’s missionary work in documents discovered in Semarang, Indonesia, by Dutch officials in 1925. This prompted Indonesian religious leader Hamka to write in 1961: “The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He.

”A crowning moment of Zheng’s expedition was converting the King of Malacca, Parameswara, to Islam shortly after he paid homage to the Yongle Emperor in Beijing in 1411. The conversion played a crucial role in the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia, according to Professor Xiao Xian of Yunnan University.

A replica of a ship used by Ming Dynasty eunuch explorer Zheng He, in Nanjing. Photo: Reuters

Xiao was one of the scholars who presented research work on Zheng He at an international symposium in 2005. They painted a vivid picture of the Ming armada, which had all the elements of a multinational enterprise.

The 300 ships – many twice as big as the largest European vessels of the time – were constructed in dry docks in Nanjing ( 南京 ), Jiangsu ( 江蘇 ) province. Building materials were sourced from across the Ming Empire. The 27,000-strong crew included Han Chinese, Muslim Hui, Arabs, Persians, and peoples from Central and East Asia. The lingua franca was Persian or Sogdian – a language used for centuries by merchants of the ancient Silk Road, according to Professor Liu Yingsheng of Nanjing University.

Size was not the only difference between Zheng’s fleet and that of Christopher Columbus 70 years later. The Europeans aboard the Santa Maria were exclusively Catholic – the Ming fleet was culturally and religiously diverse. Zheng was a Muslim but he was fluent in the teachings of Confucius, Buddhism and classic Chinese philosophy. The fleet included many Buddhist missionaries. Many regard his expeditions as the high-water mark of Chinese civilization. The Ming armada’s true greatness lay not in its size or sophistication but in its diversity and tolerance.

A statue of famed Chinese navigator Zheng He overlooks the city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Photo: AFP

After the Yongle Emperor’s death, the Ming court lost its global vision. Power was in the hands of the Confucius gentry-class, who jealously guarded against other schools of thoughts. China became increasingly introspective and insulated. The court stopped further expeditions and banned seafaring. The Chinese civilization gradually lost its vigour and started a long decline.

Today as the new “Silk Road” and “soft power” become China’s new catchphrases, it is important to remember what makes the Chinese civilization unique in the first place. Its greatest strength lies in its people’s amazing ability to absorb, adopt and assimilate different cultures.

Buddhism, which originated in India, flourished in China. The Zen school – a hybrid of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism – spread to East Asia by monks in the Tang dynasty and became mainstream. Islam arrived from Central Asia and the Middle East during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. It took root in western China before spreading to Southeast Asia with Zhang’s fleet. We should remember that until 100 years ago, China was not a nation state in the Westphalian sense. Narrow-minded nationalism and xenophobia are the exception rather than the norm of the world’s oldest surviving civilization.

Source: The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

19/08/2016

Cowboys and Indians | The Economist

CLOSE your eyes and you could be in a farmyard: a docile heifer slurps a grassy lunch off your hand, mooing appreciatively. Now open your eyes to the relentless bustle of a huge city: the cow is tied to a lamp-post, cars swerve to avoid it and its keeper demands a few rupees for providing it with the snack.

Across Mumbai, an estimated 4,000 such cow-handlers, most of them women, offer passing Hindus a convenient way to please the gods. In a country where three-quarters of citizens hold cows to be sacred, they form part of an unusual bovine economy mixing business, politics and religion.India is home to some 200m cows and more than 100m water buffaloes. The distinction is crucial. India now rivals Brazil and Australia as the world’s biggest exporter of beef, earning around $4 billion a year. But the “beef” is nearly all buffalo; most of India’s 29 states now ban or restrict the slaughter of cows. With such strictures multiplying under the government of Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, entrepreneurs have sought new ways to profit.

One promising line of business has been to become a gau rakshak, or cow protector. Some of these run charitably funded retirement homes for ageing cows, including rural, ranch-style facilities advertised on television. Other rakshaks have proven more concerned with punishing anyone suspected of harming cows or trading in their meat. Such vigilantes have gained notoriety in recent years as attacks on meat-eating Muslims or on lower-caste Hindus working in the leather trade have led to several deaths. A mob assaulted a group of Dalits (the castes formerly known as untouchables) last month in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat, thinking they had killed a cow. In fact they were skinning a carcass they had bought legitimately; Dalits traditionally dispose of dead cows.

More commonly, India’s less scrupulous cowboys simply demand protection money from people who handle cattle. An investigation by the Indian Express, a newspaper, found that cattle breeders in the northern state of Punjab were forced to pay some 200 rupees ($3) a cow to ensure that trucks transporting livestock could proceed unmolested. Under pressure from the rakshaks, the state government had also made it harder to get permits to transport cattle.

Earlier this month Mr Modi broke a long silence on the issue. Risking the ire of his Hindu-nationalist base, the prime minister blasted “fake” gau rakshaks for giving a good cause a bad name. If they really cared about cows, he said, they should stop attacking other people and instead stop cows that munch on rubbish from ingesting plastic, a leading cause of death.

In any case, vigilantism and the beef trade generate minuscule incomes compared with India’s $60 billion dairy industry. The country’s cows and buffaloes produce a fifth of all the world’s milk. As Indian incomes rise and consumers opt for costlier packaged brands, sales of dairy products are rising by 15% a year. But although a milk cow can generate anywhere from 400 to 1,100 rupees a day, this still leaves the question of what to do with male animals, as well as old and unproductive females.

Not all can be taken in by organised shelters. This makes the urban cow-petting business a useful retirement strategy. A good patch (outside a temple, say) can generate around 500 rupees a day from passers-by. Feed costs just 20 rupees a day, says Raju Gaaywala, a third-generation cow attendant whose surname, not coincidentally, translates as cow-handler.

He inherited his patch in Mulund, a northern suburb of Mumbai, when his father passed away in 1998. His latest cow, Lakshmi, cost him 4,000 rupees around three years ago and generates around 40 times that every year, enough to send his three children to English-language schools and, he hopes, to set them up in a different form of entrepreneurship.

The handlers fear their days may be limited. A nationwide cleanliness drive has targeted urban cow-handlers, who are in theory liable for fines of 10,000 rupees. In practice the resurgent Hindu sentiment under Mr Modi should help leave the cattle on the streets. It may kick up other opportunities, too. Shankar Lal, an ideological ally of the prime minister’s, in an interview with the Indian Express extolled the many health merits of cow dung. Spreading a bit on the back of a smartphone, as he does every week, apparently protects against harmful radiation. Usefully for Indian farmers, only local cows can be used, not Western breeds such as Holsteins or Jerseys, he warns: “Their dung and milk are nothing but poison.”

Source: Cowboys and Indians | The Economist

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