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On a Friday evening, the call to prayer sounds throughout Mamichang, in southwest China, calling worshipers to the old mosque next to the village square. It sounds five times every day, each time drawing these devout Muslims through the square and past a Chinese flag and meter-high characters in traditional script: 愛國愛教. “Love your country, love your religion.”

After prayer, a handful of those men wind their way back through Mamichang’s narrow alleyways, a labyrinth of mud-brick walls that finally opens up into a large courtyard lined with cars and motorcycles. There, under an empty sky and an unfurled Chinese flag, they roll out three royal blue carpets, each one 20 feet long. The 12 men and one little girl slip off their shoes and face westward toward Mecca. Adjacent to the courtyard is their “house mosque,” a nondescript residential building with doors chained shut and sealed by official tape that reads “Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau.”

Members of the house mosque subscribe to a different sect of Islam and so choose to worship separately from the officially registered and government-approved mosque in the village square. In late December, police closed down their house mosque, and tonight, one week later, government officials have forced eight of the men to worship at the registered mosque—and forced the registered mosque to welcome them. Their duty to the state complete, they’ve now come to perform their duty to God; their prayers begin again. For these Hui Muslims, loving one’s country and loving one’s religion is increasingly complicated.

With re-education camps for as many as a million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, demolition threats for a Hui Muslim mosque in Ningxia, and the closing of Protestant “mega-house churches” in Beijing, Chengdu, and Guangzhou, the Chinese Communist Party is limiting religious freedoms across the country. The campaign hit a formal milestone on Jan. 5, when China passed a five-year plan to Sinicize Islam. Read more