BEIJING (AP) — Liu Shoupeng, a 74-year-old retired electrical engineer, is a devout Muslim in China, where he says his practice of Islam has not only been protected, but also respected.
Arranged through local government officials, Liu told The Associated Press on Saturday on the day following the end of the holy month of Ramadan that his country's stability is of paramount importance to his religious belief.
"We must support this country. Only with a stable country can we better engage in our religious life," said Liu, at a time when China has come under attack for placing restrictions on Islam, including banning party cadres and government workers from participating in Ramadan in the far west region of Xinjiang.
The region is home to the Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic minority Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs), who have long complained of repressive religious and cultural policies by the majority Han. Hundreds of people have been killed in violence involving Uighurs, although Beijing blames the violence on terrorism and argues that it fully protects religious freedom and promotes ethnic unity.
On Saturday, Liu — who resides in Beijing's Muslim neighborhood of Niujie and belongs to the Muslim minority group of Hui — told a story that hews to the official line.
In a white prayer cap and a beige Chinese shirt, Liu was helping move the busy foot traffic into the neighborhood mosque, arrange racks of shoes and escort an imam into the prayer hall. It was Eid al-Fitr, the festive holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. The mosque was filled with at least 1,000 people.
"Ramadan is quite lively here in the Muslim neighborhood in Beijing, with people from all over the country and foreign friends coming here to worship and to participate in Ramadan," Liu said. "It's getting more and more vibrant by the year."
Liu said he's never far from a mosque where he can pray, noting that there are 72 mosques in Beijing. He also said Muslims get along well with their non-Muslim neighbors.
"We are part of the 56 ethnic groups under the leadership of the Communist Party," he said. "I have non-Muslim friends, and our relationships are close. They also love our food. For example, we have fried dough on the fast-breaking day, and I offered them the fried dough. It's a very harmonic relationship."