Following a request from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Apple has taken down one of the most popular Quran apps in China from the App Store. Quran Majeed, an app with approximately 150,000 views, was removed because it allegedly hosted illegal religious texts.
The app, developed and owned by Pakistan Data Management Services (PDMS), was one of the most popular apps in China with close to a million users. Worldwide, the app has 35 million users.
Quran Majeed offers an online version of the Quran in Arabic, along with translations in multiple languages. It also includes prayer time alarms, various Quran reciters, a compass for finding qibla, the direction of Islamic prayer, and a mosque finder.
Apple Censorship, a watchdog that keeps track of Apple’s App Store globally, was the first to notice the deletion of the Quran Majeed app.
PDMS was advised by Apple to contact the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s internet regulator and censor. In an interview with Middle East Eye, Hasan Shafiq Ahmed, PDMS’ head of growth, said that they are trying to get in touch with CAC to restore the app.
“As per our understanding, Chinese law requires additional documentation for some apps to be available on the App Store on the Chinese mainland… Apps with book and magazine content must secure an internet publishing permit from China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA),” Hasan said.
When the BBC questioned Apple on the issue, the company refused to give a clear answer and instead directed the media outlet to its human rights policy, which states that the firm is “required to comply with local laws, and at times there are complex issues about which we may disagree with governments.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook has been criticized by U.S. politicians who accuse him of hypocrisy. Mr. Cook had previously criticized former U.S. President Donald Trump for banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries in 2017. However, he has not been vocal about China’s treatment of its Muslim minorities.
Over the years, Apple has faced criticism for blindly following local rules. According to critics, many local content-focused regulations result in censorship, but Apple still readily chooses to comply with them.
“Currently Apple is being turned into the censorship bureau of Beijing. They need to do the right thing, and then face whatever the reaction is of the Chinese government,” Benjamin Ismail, project director at Apple Censorship, said to BBC.
An NYT report states that Apple has created an “internal bureaucracy” that proactively removes apps that might conflict with Beijing’s interests. The company uses special software to detect and censor any content too sensitive for the CCP, like the push for independence in Tibet and Taiwan, Tiananmen Square, the Dalai Lama, and the popular Chinese spiritual practice, Falun Gong.
China is Apple’s third-largest market in sales after the U.S. and Europe. The company is heavily invested and dependent on the country to keep its supply chain running.