Islamophobia clearly remains alive and well in China as Huawei was hit recently with a rather bizarre bit of online backlash, as Chinese netizens accused the company of “favoring Muslims” because of its new phone’s alarm function.
Last week, net users happened to notice that one Chinese advertisement for Huawei’s new Mate 10 Pro showed off the phone’s Muslim-friendly alarm feature that reminds users when to pray each day and even helps them to locate nearby mosques.
While the feature might seem innocuous enough, some apparently took it as a religious attack, accusing Huawei of giving “preferential treatment” to Muslims and even calling for a boycott against China’s largest smartphone maker.
According to Sixth Tone, the whole shebang was set off by a popular Weibo account that regularly posts anti-Islam content. The account shared a screenshot of the ad and simply captioned it “Very halal,” wracking up the shares and vitriolic comments.
That post has since been deleted from Weibo along with all discussion of the controversial Muslim prayer function. In addition, the Sixth Tone article which goes on to detail a rising tide of Islamophobia on Chinese social media has also been deleted without explanation (though you can still read it in cached form).
Meanwhile, the ad itself has been deleted from Huawei’s website, as well as from online shopping sites like JD.com and Taobao.
On Thursday, Huawei issued a statement responding to the controversy, which explained that the Muslim prayer alarm function was only designed for customers overseas and was not available for those in China — which has population of more than 20 million Muslims.
Huawei then went on to accuse the Mate 10 backlash of being manufactured by the “shuijun” (水军), a term referring to a group of online commenters that are paid to stir up trouble on social media against a company. For having deliberately distorted facts and having fanned the flames of discontent, Huawei said that it was planning to pursue legal action against these commenters.
However, according to What’s on Weibo, some net users warned Huawei not to blame the shuijun for real concerns that were coming from its Chinese customers. At the same time, others asked why the Muslim prayer function was being advertised in China in Chinese if it is not actually available in the country.
Huawei is not the first company to spark an online uproar in China for trying to market to Muslim consumers. Earlier this year, some angry netizens began deleting the popular food delivery app Meituan en masse after learning that the company’s couriers were now armed with two delivery boxes, a normal one for non-halal food and a smaller one for halal food.
Net users condemned the company’s logistics change as “discriminating against” non-Muslims, while also worrying about the “rise of Islam” in their country. A rise that apparently comes along with bans on beards, veils, and “overly religious” baby names.