Most mosques open in Urumqi, but few risk coming to pray

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 July, 2009, 12:00am

Most mosques in Urumqi were open to worshippers yesterday and planned to be open for Friday lunchtime prayers, but staff said attendance continued to be well below average.

However, mosques run by the Hui Muslim community appeared to remain closed, 11 days after China's worst racial violence in living memory broke out on July 5.

The Friday prayers are the most important of the week for Muslims, and the session is widely seen as a crunch point in the city's recovery.

Mosques were officially closed at this point last week but several opened after crowds of Uygurs demanded to be allowed inside.

The rioting by Uygurs on July 5 and reprisals by Han Chinese two days later claimed at least 192 lives and put 1,721 people in hospital, according to official figures.

Although the security presence on the streets appeared to have been slightly reduced yesterday, tensions remained high. Main roads were still closed to vehicles in the main Uygur district around Erdaoqiao - where police gunned down two armed men and injured a third on Monday afternoon - and some paramilitary forces were still patrolling with bayonets fixed and unsheathed.

Dong Kuruk Bridge Mosque, the largest in the city, was open but staff said turnout was low.

'There are about 200 people here today, but that is much less than there normally would be. Before the violence, we regularly had 500 to 600 coming on an ordinary day,' said Isamutin, a minor cleric sitting outside the mosque. 'People are still very afraid and many do not dare to come to worship.'

When asked what was keeping the faithful at home, he declined to explain further. 'I am sure you understand,' he said.

At the nearby White Mosque - outside which Monday's shooting had taken place directly after lunchtime prayers - the gates were half open and several dozen worshippers were praying on carpets beneath an awning outside. Khasim, a member of the mosque's staff stationed inside the gate, said they were not going inside due to the 'hot weather'.

'During summer we often pray outside,' he said. 'Come back tomorrow, there will be many more people praying here then.'

A Xinhua report on Tuesday quoted an unnamed imam as saying that Monday's shooting had followed an attempt by the three Uygurs to incite worshippers in the mosque to start a jihad, or holy war. However, witnesses said the three had been attacking the police, and wounded at least one.

Shortly after last Friday's lunchtime prayers, another riot police officer was stabbed in the neighbourhood in a surprise attack. Although there has been no confirmation that this was related to the worshipping, security measures are noticeably tightened during the early afternoon.

Several mosques in the city do remain closed, particularly those catering to the Hui Muslim community.

The Qinghai Mosque has apparently not opened since the violence erupted. A notice on the door dated July 6 told worshippers to return home and 'pray alone'.

'We will not open for Friday prayers,' said a member of staff outside the door, who did not give his name. 'We received a notification from above that we should close the mosque.' He declined to explain who had issued the closure order.

Some Uygur mosques have also been closed. Earlier this week the doors to Bahuliang Mosque on the edge of the rundown, Uygur-dominated Saimachang district had been padlocked and nearby residents said it had not opened since the riots.

The gates were still locked yesterday afternoon, but a security guard on duty said it had been open for prayer earlier in the day. 'The mosque was open but nobody came,' said Li Xuezhi .