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Halal canteens at Chinese university spark national debate over affirmative action

Halal street food in Muslim Quarter, Xi'an, China. Source: Parichart Patricia Wong / Shutterstock

Chinese netizens have engaged in an online debate around whether the country treats its minority groups too well, after a social media post about a lack of non-halal canteens at a university in the country’s northwest went viral.

A Ningxia University student complained via his Weibo about his school providing too many halal eating options, which was shared thousands of times and drew mixed reactions online, reported the Communist Party’s English-language newspaper Global Times.

The student, himself of the majority Han Chinese ethnicity and not a Muslim, claimed this was reverse discrimination in favour of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region’s Hui ethnicity who are predominantly Muslim.

The controversy escalated when another supposed student posted instant message screenshots where a Han student bragged he would eat pork his dormitory around Muslims, to which a Hui student said: “If you do that, I will definitely slash you with a knife.”

The Global Times said that after the posts went viral in China, “Islamophobic reactions [were] common.”

“This is religious extremism and terrorism under the disguise of ethnic unity,” said one critic as quoted by the newspaper. “You require respect from others, but do not give the same in return.”

Female students in a public university practice tai chi chuan on physical education in Changchun, Jilin, China in 2015. Source: Shutterstock

“This kind of university will sooner or later be a home base for terrorism,” said another.

China’s Muslim community faces significant discrimination from the ruling Communist Party, who in recent years have banned names deemed “too Islamic”, beards and the wearing of head scarves in public in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, home to its Uighur Muslim minority.

The Global Times report highlighted increasing Islamophobia on Chinese social media, including the coining of the term “Green Religion” to refer to Islam which many claim has overrun Europe.

“We should respect an ethnic group’s dietary customs, but such customs should not be forced onto other ethnic groups … if a secular, State college’s dietary customs only advocates halal customs, then it’s a phenomenon of the pal-halal tendency,” one “expert on Marxism” told the newpaper.

“When Han students, which make up the majority of the student body, cannot choose non-halal diets, it erodes the school’s secular culture and harms the foundation of the unity of the Chinese people.”

Last month, a number of students of Muslim background were arrested and deported from Egypt at the behest of Beijing.

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