A group of six Chinese Muslims left their village suddenly, changing their appearance at the airport to evade scrutiny, in pursuit of completing the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. NPR followed their journey, revealing China’s strict measures to halt its citizens from undertaking the Hajj and the pilgrims’ resourcefulness in circumventing them.
China tightly controls religious practices, including demolishing mosques and surveilling religious leaders. This year, authorities have intensified efforts to prevent Muslims from traveling abroad, fearing radicalisation and religious fervour upon their return. Public security officers monitor outbound travellers to Islamic countries, coercing those already abroad to return. Individuals privately completing Hajj outside state-approved tours are detained upon reentry.
Securing travel documents is the first challenge, particularly for China’s 20 to 30 million Muslims. Passport issuance is restricted, similar to Xinjiang’s practices. Chinese Muslims managed to embark on the Hajj by evading controls, using indirect flights to Southeast Asia and Saudi Arabia.
During their Hajj journey, these Chinese Muslims had to navigate threats, surveillance, and challenges, reflecting the lengths they are willing to go to fulfil their religious duty.