With the commencement of Ramadan earlier this week, the Chinese government has issued its annual set of restrictions on the holiday’s festivities and religious practices for its cadres and young people.
In a posting on the official website for the city of Korla in Xinjiang, local officials warned: “Party members, cadres, civil servants, students and minors must not fast for Ramadan and must not take part in religious activities.” Moreover, officials in Korla were instructed to “resolutely stop party members, civil servants, students and minors from entering mosques for religious activities,” the AFP reported.
“Ramadan is good for us Muslims to purify the heart, strengthen the mind and contemplate over doctrine. But non-Muslim residents of the neighborhood also need our cakes and services,” Mayis Hagei, a hotcake maker in Gansu province, told China Daily. Restaurants and shop owners are being told to continue business as usual during the month of Ramadan.
China has approximately 20 million practicing Muslims and the far-western region of Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighur Muslims. Ethnically Turkic Muslim, the Uighur minority has faced considerable restrictions in China after Xinjiang was reabsorbed into China in 1949. While mosques and places of religious practice are permitted in China, cultural and religious customs like wearing headscarves, beards and the establishment of Uighur-language schools have been heavily controlled. Not to mention mobile service.
Last year, the Chinese government urged shops in Xinjiang to sell alcohol and cigarettes or be shut down, a move that was also seen as an attempt to undermine the Muslim religion in the region.
With the inflow of Han Chinese into Xinjiang over the last decade in particular, the Uighur population is no longer the majority ethnic group. Disregard for Uighur customs and culture has contributed to an increase in resentment among the minority population and violent outbursts. Most notably the 2014 Kunming Railway Station stabbings and the bombing in Bangkok last year — both of which have been linked to Uighur militants.
Meanwhile, Beijing has blamed groups of Islamic militants and extremists for problems in the region, trying to fight the problem with flamethrowers, dance and angry stares.
According to Xinhua News, Xinjiang’s top Communist Party official Zhang Chuanxian and other party officials hope that the Ramadan season will be a peaceful celebration during which Chinese Muslims will “become model[s] of integrity and fight against extremism.”
Zhang also bid the region a happy Ramadan and the State Council released a white paper praising the “unprecedented” amount of religious freedom in Xinjiang last Thursday. “During the month of Ramadan, Muslim restaurants can decide whether they want to do business. There will be no interference…Local governments ensure that all religious activities during Ramadan go on in an orderly manner,” Zhang said.
Dilax Raxit, spokesperson for the exiled group World Uyghur Congress, disagrees with such harmonious cooperation, “China thinks that the Islamic faith of Uighurs threatens the rule of the Beijing leadership,” he said, according to the Independent. Uighurs in Xinjiang still face considerable discrimination, most recently DNA samples when applying for passports to travel abroad.
By Mary Rosea