Perceptions of and Policies towards Muslim Dressing in China’s Muslim Autonomous Regions: From Sign of Fundamentalism to Symbol of Fashion

Posted: 2011年08月29日 in Original Thoughts

Muslim dressing has become a political issue in many non-Muslims countries where relations between Muslims and non-Muslims is deteriorating. France is to some extent a vanguard of anti-Muslim dressing, especially by banning wearing of the hijab in public schools and niqab in public. China is another country forcing Muslim women to undress in Uyghur-populated Xinjiang. In doing so, it has launched a campaign to “encourage” local Muslim women there to take off their hijabs and niqabs in fear that “black widows” may carry out bombings and other violent acts as found in Chechnya. Neighborhood and street committees and other organizations advise Uyghur Muslims to take off their veils, hijabs, burqas, or other ethnic or religious headscarves and to show off their beautiful faces and hairs. More critically, local governments in Xinjiang often take coward and barbarous actions to burn women’s dresses (http://www.aboluowang.com/news/2010/0611/%E6%96%B0%E7%96%86%E5%BA%93%E8%BD%A6%E5%8E%BF%E6%B8%85%E6%9F%A5%E5%AE%A3%E4%BC%A0%E5%93%81%20%E9%94%80%E6%AF%81%E7%BB%B4%E5%90%BE%E5%B0%94%E6%97%8F%E5%A6%87%E5%A5%B3%E6%9C%8D%E9%A5%B0-101746.html).

It is not surprising that some reports even attribute the recent violence in Xinjiang to the state prohibition of wearing headscarves (http://topics.scmp.com/news/china-news-watch/article/Ban-on-Islamic-dress-sparked-Uygur-attack). In addition to ethnic cultural centralism of immigrant Han to Xinjiang, it should be kept in mind that contemporary Xinjiang policy towards Uyghur dressing indicates the short period of Han interaction with the Uyghur population and shallow Han perception of rich Uyghur cultures. Given the fact that the Han migrating to Xinjiang are state-sponsored and therefore are much powerful and wealthier, taking off Uyghur women’s headscarf represents Han bourgeois attitudes towards Uyghur women’s dressing. Just like the European bourgeois attempt to “liberate” women from the medieval ages by prescribing certain styles, newly rising Han bourgeois are defining “progress” and “enlightenment” in Xinjiang in the name of security and sovereignty. This political and cultural effort to undress Uyghur women actually fits Samuel Huntington’s hypothesis of the clash of civilization that Han officials and intellectuals are tarkgeting Uyghur Muslims as enemy.

However, this is only one side of Chinese policy and approach to Muslim headscarf. In the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningxia, Muslim dressing has not been targeted, at least not publicly, as the symbol of backwardness, conservativeness, and even fundamentalism. Rather, contrary to Xinjiang’s isolation of Uyghurs from the Islamic culture and the Islamic world, Ningxia has recently reached out to Arab countries by using the advantage of Muslim cultural and religious connection with the Islamic world. Together with building world Islamic Village (see another article on Xinjiangreview.com and xinjiangreview.wordpress.com), holding Sino-Arab Economic Forum, certifying Halal food and exporting Halal products to the Muslim world, Ningxia government’s patronage of Muslim women’s dress as fashion indicates that Muslim dressing can be an opportunity for business and friendship. After a thousand of years of advent of Islam into China, Han perception and patronage of Muslim dress (e.g. Hijab) in Ningxia and other interior regions as fashion promises China’s tolerance towards Muslims, multi-culturalism, and cosmopolitanism in future.

When China is actively reaching out to the world by engaging in civilizational dialogue, its approach to Uyghur dressing, especially headdress, is adversely pushing China back to a Han Chauvinist country, without respecting basic Chinese reality and constitution that China is constituted by 56 ethnic groups with their distinct cultures. While Ningxia’s approach to Muslim dress, on the other hand, nicely bridges Muslim tradition and modernity, economy and culture, China and the Islamic World, promising a peace and prosperity between Muslims and Han.

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