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including pictures of guests wearing traditional ing or Islamic architecture, especially the SinoArab Axis. The Sino-Arab Axis is a scenic spot in Yinchuan erected to commemorate the good relationship between China and the Arab world. At the Axis, a crescent moon sculpture and Islamic-style pavilions are juxtaposed with traditional Chinese architecture. Liu, who does business with firms based in Arab countries, said that he supports the local government’s measures to counter the pan-halal tendency but hopes they will not influence Ningxia’s exchanges with the outside world. “After all, as an inland region, opening up to the outside would boost local development,” Liu said. A Hui resident of Yinchuan told the Global Times that people outside Ningxia may not understand daily life in the region clearly. “Halal food as well as Islamicstyle architecture is normal for a region with many Hui. And instead of causing troubles, the situation in Ningxia has actually enhanced ethnic unity,” he said.
The anonymous resident said that he noticed that the guideboards once written in Arabic and Chinese were removed, which is “unnecessary” since Arabic was simply there for communication, not religious reasons.
He said he understands people’s worries about religious extremism but said that any attempt to change Ningxia’s current situation will fail.
While many Ningxia residents do not seem overly worried about the role Islam is playing in public life there, several controversies have led some outside observers to worry about where this trend may end.
The controversy triggered by halal canteens in Ningxia University pushed the pan-halal tendency in the region into the limelight. Many netizens posted data on the growing number of mosques in the region and a video of Hui children reciting the Koran at a kindergarten graduation performance was shared repeatedly.
Xi Wuyi, an expert on Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who has been a staunch critic of the pan-halal tendency, has been closely following the situation in Ningxia.
She told the Global Times that she was alarmed when heard about proposed legislation on the production and management of halal food.
The State Council first tasked the Ethnic Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) to draft a national regulation on halal food in 2002. The committee suggested speeding up the passage of the legislation in 2012 and 2015, saying that the legislation was “reasonable and necessary” as it is related to “national unity and social stability.”
The drafting of a law on halal food was not listed in China’s legislative work plan for 2016, after meeting a mixed reaction from the public and many scholars.
The national legislation on halal food “violates the principle of separation of State and religion” and if the bill is enacted, it will interfere with the practices of religious followers in different regions and may threaten “China’s national security strategy,” Xi said, adding the legislation on halal food might also lead the pan-halal tendency to extend nationally.
Xi warned that pan-halal is the first step toward religious extremism. “Religious extremism gradually permeates into society by influencing people’s basic way of life. It will gradually strengthen religious fundamentalism, promote the pan-halal tendency and eventually realize the politicizing of religion,” she said.
“It is not easy to define the generalization tendency in a religion. But there should be some limits on a religion when it enters into a society. Once a religion invades public life too much, it shows the generalization tendency. For example, if a Buddhist asked all nonBuddhists to become vegetarian, we could call it pan-Buddhism,” Li Xiangping, a religious studies professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai, told the Global Times.
Li Xiangping said that the expansion of any religion in society might hurt other groups’ interests and cause confrontation. “But the current discussions on religious issues in China lack reasonable interactions,” he said.
“Netizens who make anti-Muslim comments during the discussions about the pan-halal tendency have misunderstandings about the religion, including linking it to extremism and terrorism. And the stigmatization of Islam is wrong,” an expert on religious studies who asked for anonymity told the Global Times.
The expert said that there is an increasing tide of Islamophobia, especially on social media, with some netizens calling Islam the “green disaster.”
“Islam is not terrorism. It is not the religion’s problem, it is because some terrorists and extremists are using the religion to instigate believers to commit terrorist attacks,” he said.
Visitors walk in front of the Yinchuan Nanguan Mosque in Northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.