Officials in an autonomous region of northwest mainland China intended to demolish a mosque on Friday, but were met by hundreds of protesters. The move comes amid a nation-wide effort to clamp down on free religious expression.

Due to the protests, the local government has agreed not to demolish the mosque, but does insist on remodelling it in a more Chinese, and less Arabic, style, according to Nectar Gan of the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong daily.

Officials had said Aug. 3 that the mosque would be demolished, on the grounds that it has not been granted the proper planning and construction permits. Protesters gathered in the mosque Aug. 9-10 to prevent its destruction.

Construction of the mosque had taken two years, and was not stopped by government officials.

The Weizhou Grand Mosque is located in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, more than 100 miles south of Yinchuan. Ningxia is a region set up for the Hui people, a Muslim ethnoreligious group.

The US Commission on International Religion wrote in its 2018 report that last year China "advanced its so-called 'sinicization' of religion, a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with 'Chinese characteristics.'"

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners have all been affected.

Earlier this year, widespread rumors suggested that the Vatican and the Chinese government were on the verge of regularizing the status of the Church in China and ending the split between the state-sponsored Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, whose leaders include illicitly-consecrated bishops, and the underground Church.

In Ningxia, sinicization has meant the removal from buildings of Islamic icons and Arabic signs, the South China Morning Post reported, as well as the removal of domes from mosques.

More in Asia - Pacific

After scrapping the plan to demolish Weizhou mosque, officials first called for its domes to be replaced with pagodas, then for the removal of eight of its nine domes. Both have been rejected by the Hui.

Many mosques in Ningxia had been built in a Chinese style, but were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong. They have increasingly been replaced by more Arabic-looking buildings.

In neighboring Gansu province, local officials in Linxia banned children in January from attending religious events during winter break. Many Hui also live in Gansu.

In July, AFP reported that Communist Party officials in Linxia had banned children under 16 from religious activity or study. They have also restricted the number of students over 16 allowed to study at mosques and the certification process for new imams. Mosques have been instructed to display the Chinese flag and not to transmit calls to prayer.

"They want to secularise Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots," an imam told AFP. "These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: only in Communism and the party."

The AP reported in May about the existence of re-education camps for Muslims in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The region, which borders Gansu's west, is home to the Uyghurs, another Muslim ethnoreligious group.

According to the AP, authorities in Xinjiang "have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese – and even foreign citizens – in mass internment camps."

(Story continues below)

A UN human rights committee heard Aug. 10 that these camps hold more than 1 million Uyghurs.

In August 2014 officials in Karamay, a city of Xinjiang, banned "youths with long beards" and anyone wearing headscarves, veils, burqas, or clothes with the crescent moon and star symbol from using public transit. That May, universities across the region banned fasting during Ramadan.

Chinese president Xi Jinping announced in October 2017 that he wants to tighten Beijing's strict government controls on religion. At the National Congress of the Communist Party, he said religions not sufficiently conformed to communist ideals pose a threat to the country's government, and therefore must become more "Chinese-oriented."

In March 2018 the Chinese Communist Party became directly responsible for government oversight of religion.

Catholics and other Christians have had their church buildings demolished in numerous Chinese provinces in recent years, including Shandong, Henan, Zhejiang, and Shaanxi.

On March, Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin, who ministers to the underground Church, loyal to Rome and not the state, was detained for refusing to concelebrate a Chrism Mass with an illicitly consecrated, state-backed bishop. He was then released but forbidden from celebrating his own Chrism Mass.