China orders shops to remove Islamic symbols and Arabic from signs

Officials in Beijing have ordered all shops to cover up any Arabic signs or Islamic symbols, in the latest phase of the government’s crackdown on Muslims. Restaurants, cafes and food stalls which serve halal produce have been visited by government officials in recent weeks and told to remove not just the word “halal” in Arabic but also any images associated with Islam, such as crescent moons.

The campaign against visible signs of Islamic identity began in 2016 as an attempt to ensure China’s 20 million Muslims more closely confirm to mainstream Chinese culture. The crackdown has been most severe in the province of Xinjiang, where the state security forces have imposed a deeply authoritarian assault on the freedoms of the Uighur Muslim minority, including detaining as many as two million people in what it claims are re-education camps.

One manager at a Beijing noodle shop told Reuters news agency government workers watched as he was made to cover up a “halal” sign. “They said this is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture,” the manager said, declining to give his name for fear of reprisals.

One employee at a halal butchers said the new ruling would “erase” Islamic culture. “They are always talking about national unity, they’re always talking about China being international. Is this national unity?” There are at least 1,000 halal shops and restaurants in the Chinese capital. Some have chosen to replace the Arabic halal signs with ones which use Chinese characters, while others visited by Reuters have simple taped over their Islamic symbols.

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