Apple has taken down an app that allowed users to read the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in China, according to a new report from the BBC. The app, known as Quran Majeed, is incredibly popular around the world and is currently ranked 51 in Google’s U.S. App Store for reference materials.
The Quran app was removed in China after government officials made a request, according to the BBC, but it’s not clear why the ruling Chinese Communist Party would want the app removed. Apple did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for clarification early Friday.
As the BBC notes, the Chinese Communist Party recognizes Islam as a valid religion in the country, but the officially atheist Chinese government has faced criticism worldwide for its treatment of the Muslim-majority Uyghur population in the northwest province of Xinjiang. Anywhere from 1-3 million Uighurs have reportedly been detained in concentration camps over the past few years, though recent reports suggest most have been released and now live much freer lives than they did even a year ago.
From a recent article by the Associated Press:
It’s hard to know why Chinese authorities have shifted to subtler methods of controlling the region. It may be that searing criticism from the West, along with punishing political and commercial sanctions, have pushed authorities to lighten up. Or it may simply be that China judges it has come far enough in its goal of subduing the Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities to relax its grip.
Uyghur activists abroad accuse the Chinese government of genocide, pointing to plunging birthrates and the mass detentions. The authorities say their goal is not to eliminate Uyghurs but to integrate them, and that harsh measures are necessary to curb extremism.
China’s embassy in the U.S. did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday. Curiously, the Chinese embassy spokesperson has a Gmail account, which is a bit odd, given China’s aversion to Silicon Valley and Big Tech’s close ties to U.S. intelligence agencies.
The U.S. intelligence community has previously purchased information from private data brokers to learn more about people who use Muslim prayer apps and Quran apps, according to a report last year from Vice. The data includes locations of individual users, according to the report.
There’s no suggestion thus far that China’s concern over the Koran app has anything to do with U.S. intelligence, but it wouldn’t be the weirdest reason, given everything that’s currently happening with the New Cold War. We’ll update this post if we hear back from Apple or the Chinese embassy in the U.S.