But in the past two years, even in Sanya, the authorities have pushed to limit overt expressions of faith and links to the Arab world.

Local mosque leaders said they were told to remove loudspeakers that broadcast the call to prayer from the tops of minarets and place them on the ground — and, more recently, to turn down the volume as well. Construction of a new mosque was halted in a dispute over its imposing dimensions and supposedly “Arab” architectural elements; its concrete skeleton now gathers dust. The city has barred children under 18 from studying Arabic, residents said.

Utsul residents said they wanted to learn Arabic not only to better understand Islamic texts, but also to communicate with Arab tourists who, before the pandemic, came to their restaurants, hotels and mosques. Some residents expressed frustration with the new restrictions, saying they called into question China’s promise to respect its 56 officially recognized ethnic groups.

A local religious leader who studied for five years in Saudi Arabia said the community had been told that they were no longer allowed to build domes.