01/14/2022 China (International Christian Concern) – According to a release by the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs, the United Front Working Department (UFWD) of Zhejiang has spent the last two days pressing the province’s religious leaders on their crucial role in furthering the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) agenda through religion and acting as the ‘bridge’ between people of faith and the CCP.
The UFWD is the propaganda arm that manages the CCP’s public face domestically and internationally. Under their authority is the State Administration of Religious Affairs, which has the sole authority to sanction acceptable religious practices in China. Sanctioned religions in China are ordained through five organizations: the Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Taoist Association, Islamic Association of China, the Three-Self Patriotic Christian Movement, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. By these organization, China attempts to demonstrate its respect for religious liberty, however to its contrary, China currently operates one of the most sophisticated forms of religious surveillance, manipulation, and persecution. Through these approved religious groups, China enforces a ‘Sinicized’ version of faith that puts the national interests of the Chinese state at the heart of all believer’s values.
At this series of lectures, the UFWD made its purpose clear, “to study and implement the spirit of the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.” Here, over 45 Chinese religious leaders were instructed on their need to promote the further Sinicization of religion in China and urged them to be at the forefront of this movement. Church leaders should, “hold high the banner of loving the country and religion and set an example by stepping forward with the party and the government in one heart and one mind.” Religious leaders were then reminded, that if you are not at the forefront of this movement, you may be seen as a risk – a sentiment similar to last year’s new guidelines for the clergy requiring the promotion of national unity and allegiance to the CCP.
Religious leaders were urged that, ‘If any religion wants to survive and develop, it must adapt to the society in which it is located” – a threatening sentiment, given what we know about China’s handling of religious individuals who step out of line with the CCP’s tenets of state-sanctioned faith.
Finally, they were informed that they will be expected to foster a warm welcome of the incoming 20th National Congress of the Communist Party, which will be elected in October of this year – a likely indicator of success for the truly ‘patriotic’ religious leaders in China.
These engagements between the Chinese Government and religious groups continue to increase across China, as the CCP has continued to increase its influence over religious people. This follows news of a similar meetings being held in Jiangsu and a more significant engagement which took place in Hong Kong in October, marking the first time Chinese religious administrators had met with a Hong Kong’s religious leaders formally. Each time the CCP works to influence the Church though its state-sponsored version of faith, it shrinks the space for Chinese Christians and other people of faith to practice according to their conscience and the tenets of their faith, not the tenets of the CCP’s doctrine alone.
For interviews, please contact Addison Parker: [email protected]
Islamic State Coordinated Onslaught in Syria Continues
01/28/2022 Syria (International Christian Concern) – After a premature announcement that fighting had ended, clashes between the Islamic State and the Syrian Democratic Forces resumed on January 27. The attack on al-Sinaa prison began on the evening of January 20, led by Islamic State militants both inside and outside the prison, and has left an unclear number dead, injured, and unaccounted for. The ongoing conflict is the largest attack in Syria by the Islamic State since their territorial defeat in March 2019 at the Battle of Baghouz.
On the evening of January 20, Islamic State militants set off car bombs while prisoners inside started a riot and attacked prison personnel in a coordinated attack between the captives and outside sleeper cells. The attack was reportedly the efforts of a previously-thwarted plan in November 2021. In the past few months, Islamic State cells have been notably quiet, leading analysts to presume correctly about an impending larger-scale attack, as the group saved ammunition and weapons.
The prison held between 3,000 and 5,000 prisoners, including a number of IS militants who surrendered at the last battle. Inmates at Sinaa prison included several hundred minors, some as young as 12 and some of whom have never been officially charged with or committed any crimes, outside of having guardians affiliated with the Islamic State. After six days of fighting, the SDF announced that the battle was over after the prisoners surrendered. However, a group of 60 to 90 IS militants inside the prison were found on Thursday who were holding out. The SDF announced that 3,500 prisoners had been rearrested and estimated that around 200 people were killed, leaving an unclear number escaped or unaccounted for.
Sinaa prison is located nearby Ghweiran District, an area with some IS sympathizers and other Syrian civilians. Some fled to escape the clashes while others hunkered down with whatever supplies they had on hand, as their city was ravaged yet again by war. Seemingly coordinated attacks across Northeast Syria also destabilized the recovering Syrian people, including attacks by other Islamic State militants and Turkish-backed factions.
The large-scale resurgence of the Islamic State, not even three years since their declared defeat in Syria, leaves Christians and minorities concerned about their safety and protection from the terrorist group.
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More Islamic Studies Concern Malaysian Parents
01/28/2022 Malaysia (International Christian Concern) – A Malaysian father’s recent tweet went viral after he questioned the hours of Islamic studies in his daughter’s weekly schedule.
The father was shocked when he found out that his daughter’s primary school had allocated more hours for Islamic studies and other related classes than for mathematics and science classes combined.
According to his tweet, there are 5.5 hours of Pendidikan Agama Islam (PAI) and other related classes in a week, whereas English has the same amount, and math and science combined — at 2.5 hours and 1.5 hours respectively — are still less.
He noted that his daughter’s school is not a religious school but a public school. While he is not opposed to religious studies, he does not want them to be taught at the expense of mathematics and science.
Many non-Muslim netizens agree with his view that school should not be a place to teach religion and instead should teach the subject outside official school hours.
In response, Minister of Religious Affairs Idris Ahmad said at a recent event that he found the complaint “strange” as the matter had never appeared. “However, it is normal in our large community (for some people to complain). Perhaps, it is because they don’t understand or do not want to understand,” he said.
Although Malaysia is a secular country and hosts several ethnicities, its official religion is Islam, and ethnic Malay are presumed to be Muslims. Analysts are noticing the creeping Islamization of the Southeast Asian country in recent years and how that could threaten religious liberty in Malaysia.
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