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Mecca pilgrimages face tighter control to prevent corruption
2015-01-22        source:  Chinadaily        author:  

Pilgrimages are now under stricter management and supervision in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

A new regulation, which took effect on Jan 1, requires that Muslims who want to travel to Mecca, the most holy city of Islam, must do so as part of a State-organized tour.

The regulation is part of an effort to prevent corruption from spreading, a top religious-affairs official in the region said.

Earlier this month, 32 officials were investigated and punished for arranging Muslim pilgrimages for unqualified people. They violated Party discipline and were guilt of dereliction of duty, abuse of power for personal gain and power-for-money deals, according to information from the Xinjiang anti-graft watchdog.

"Those cases happened before 2012. Since then, the authorities have made reforms to make sure procedures are strictly followed," said Wei Xinhui, Party chief and deputy director of the Xinjiang Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau. He is also a deputy to the 11th Xinjiang regional committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the annual session of which started on Monday in Urumqi, the region's capital.

The region, inhabited by more than 13 million Muslims, has a long waiting list of applicants for the government-organized trip. Going to Mecca at least once in one's lifetime is a religious duty for Muslims.

In 2014, China organized 14,000 Chinese pilgrims, 3,200 of whom were from Xinjiang.

"The quota is almost the same every year, far short of the number of applicants in the region," Wei said.

Applications are submitted to the State Administration of Religious Affairs. The information is not open to the public, but applicants can see the list on the administration's website and know how many people are ahead of them, so they can forecast when they can go based on the quotas given to different areas, he said.

The officials who were investigated allegedly took bribes to arrange for people to jump ahead on the list. Openings occur because some people who were approved initially are not able to go for health or other personal reasons.

After the corruption cases surfaced in 2012, officials in charge of organizing the pilgrimage at the regional and prefectural levels lost their authority to alter the waiting list, Wei said.

According to the new regulation - which is intended to help curb the spread of extremism - people are not allowed to complete the pilgrimage by themselves but must join the organized trip.

Before the regulation was introduced, the administration of religious affairs in Xinjiang was already working under different rules, as the old regulation was already outdated, Wei said.

"No one could judge whether it was enforced properly. Now the law has established a clear line. We just need to follow it," he said.

"Religion must be separated from terrorism. We must manage religious affairs well to prevent extremists, separatists and terrorists from doing wrong in the name of religion and ethnicity."

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