Chinese university suspends Islamic culture class after complaints

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Beijing:

A Chinese university suspended an Islamic culture class taught by a Pakistani student following criticism that it is spreading religious beliefs to students, a state-run media report said on Thursday.

Nanjing Agricultural University in East China's Jiangsu Province denied that the course had spread religious beliefs to students, amid online criticism that the university failed to separate education from religion, state-run Global Times daily reported.

The university said the course "Islamic culture," which was opened to undergraduates in the College of Engineering, was suspended half a year ago.

"It was suspended after the school discovered in late 2017 that the course instructor, a Pakistani student who is seeking a PhD degree in our university, was unqualified to teach in Chinese universities," a university employee surnamed Huang told the paper.

The university said in a separate online statement that it has begun investigating the incident, and will hold relevant people accountable.  The course was meant to introduce students to Islamic culture, history and festivals, and also to introduce Muslim conventions. The university said it did not find any evidence that the instructor had guided students to engage in religious practices during and outside the class, the report said.

The university responded after Xi Wuyi, an expert on Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote on her Sina Weibo on May 30 that the university, in a clear violation of law, spread religious beliefs in class.

China's Education Law stipulates that education should be separated from religion. Xi's post sparked heated discussions online.

"We did not practice religion in the course and were not asked to memorise any religious texts," an anonymous student, who attended the course, told the paper.   She said that many people chose this course because it's easy to pass, and the "teacher" conducts lectures in English, "so many students believe the course can improve their English skills."

"Universities are allowed to offer courses on religion. However, actions such as building religious sites, religious practices and advocating religious dogma in schools are strictly forbidden," Shen Guiping, a religious expert at the Central Institute of Socialism in Beijing, told the paper.

China's newly revised regulation on religious affairs, which took effect in February, bans religious practices and activities in schools and other educational institutions, except at religious schools. However, Shen noted that a fine line exists between introducing religions to students and guiding them to practice religions.

The university said it sticks to the ethnic equality principle and encourages cross-cultural exchanges. It also vowed to strengthen scrutiny over its courses and prevent religion from infiltrating the campus.

In May, Northwest Minzu University in Northwest China's Gansu Province stressed a ban on religious activities on campus during Ramadan, amid a clamour to regulate religious practices and make sure they do not "disturb public order."

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