Uighur Muslims Face Ramadan Trials
03 July 2015
By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Many of us are blessed to live in countries that allow a degree of religious
freedom, one that enables us to practice our faith. But for the Uighur
Muslims living in the far western Xinjiang region of China such a freedom has
been increasingly curtailed by the central government.
The Uighurs in China, who at the turn of the 21st century numbered an
estimated 10 million, are Muslims in a country where Buddhism has the widest
influence with Taoism and Confucianism as the other major religions. Islam
and Christianity are followed by a minority in a population of over 1.3
billion. Muslims make up the majority of the native population of the
sparsely populated western province.
The month of Ramadan has often been referred to as the "best of times". It is
also widely believed that the Holy Qur'an was first revealed to Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him) during this holy month. In the hot summer
months, it is indeed a trial for the fasting Muslim who is deprived of all
food and water from before sunrise until the setting of the sun in the
evening. The Chinese Uighurs, however, have to contend with additional
trials. Chinese officials have banned Muslim party members, civil servants,
students and teachers from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Restrictions on Islamic religious freedom have come under attack by minority
leaders in recent years and have fueled a rise in militancy against what is
often perceived as targeted oppression. Prior to the advent of the holy month
for all Muslims, Dilxat Raxit, spokesperson for the World Uighur Congress (WUC)
– a group that lives in exile – charged that "China is increasing its bans
and monitoring as Ramadan approaches. The faith of the Uighurs has been
highly politicized, and the increase in controls could cause sharp
resistance. This is another attempt by China to control their Islamic faith.
It can only have dire consequences as such restrictions would force the
Uighur people to resist Chinese rule even further."
Raxit, who is the Swedish based spokesperson for the WUC, told the media that
among other tactics, the Chinese government "are extracting guarantees from
parents, promising that their children won't fast in Ramadan. China's goal in
prohibiting fasting is to forcibly move Uighurs away from their Muslim
culture during Ramadan. Such policies that prohibit religious fasting are a
provocation and will invariably only lead to instability and conflict."
The government has not been discreet about their intentions either. The state
media reports that Muslim officials are required "to give verbal as well as
written assurances guaranteeing they have no faith, will not attend religious
activities and will lead the way in not fasting in Ramadan."
Just prior to the beginning of Ramadan, the education bureau in the city of
Tarbaghatay in the northern part of Xinjiang ordered schools to communicate
to students that "during Ramadan, ethnic minority students do not fast, do
not enter mosques, and do not attend religious activities," with threats of
strict disciplinary action if such rules were violated.
Muslim-run shops and restaurants have also been ordered to be open during
fasting hours and sell tobacco products and alcohol or be shut down. In late
December 2014, China banned the wearing of the Islamic veil in public in the
capital city of Urumqi, which lies in the predominantly Muslim region.
Meanwhile, William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, said
that what is happening within China's borders is worrying. He accused the
Chinese government of heavy-handed tactics, saying that "the public wearing
of veils, beards and T-shirts featuring the Islamic crescent has been banned
in many cities across Xinjiang. Students have been restricted from observing
Ramadan, and there have been reports of force-feeding those who insist on
fasting. Others have been disciplined for openly worshipping or downloading
Such restrictions against religious practices are bound to give fuel to a
rise in militancy, just the thing the Beijing government should want to
avoid. "Any religious practice that is not state-sanctioned is then
characterized by the government as participating in religious extremism," Nee
Ramadan is much more than just abstaining from eating and drinking. It is
also about caring for the welfare of others. In this Ramadan, let us remember
the brave Chinese Uighurs in our prayers for their steadfast devotion to the
faith, and also pray that the Beijing government sees the wisdom of removing
all restrictions from the Uighurs in pursuing their spiritual duties. Let us
also pray for the religiously oppressed everywhere, no matter what their
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.