Employees at 11 restaurants and shops in Beijing selling halal products said officials had told them to remove images associated with Islam, such as the crescent moon and the word “halal” written in Arabic, from signs.
Government workers from various offices told one manager of a Beijing noodle shop to cover up the “halal” in Arabic on his shop’s sign, and then watched him do it.
“They said this is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture,” said the manager of the restaurant.
The campaign against Arabic script and Islamic images marks a new phase of a drive that has gained momentum since 2016, aimed at ensuring religions conform with mainstream Chinese culture.
The campaign has included the removal of Middle Eastern-style domes on many mosques around the country in favour of Chinese-style pagodas.
China, home to 20 million Muslims, officially guarantees freedom of religion, but the government has campaigned to bring the faithful into line with Communist Party ideology.
It’s not just Muslims who have come under scrutiny. Authorities have shut down many underground Christian churches, and torn down crosses of some churches deemed illegal by the government.
China is facing intense criticism from Western nations and rights groups over its policies, in particular mass detentions and surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslims there.
“Arabic is seen as a foreign language and knowledge of it is now seen as something outside of the control of the state,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Washington who studies Xinjiang.
Beijing is home to at least 1,000 halal shops and restaurants, according to the Meituan Dianping food delivery app, spread across the city’s historic Muslim quarter as well as in other neighbourhoods.
It was not clear if every such restaurant in Beijing has been told to cover Arabic script and Muslim symbols. One manager at a restaurant still displaying Arabic said he’d been ordered to remove it but was waiting for his new signs.
Several bigger shops replaced their signs with the Chinese term for halal - “qing zhen” - while others merely covered up the Arabic and Islamic imagery with tape or stickers.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk