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Monday, 14 June 2021

Muslims in China face obstacles in observing Ramadan

As the fast begins, the Communist Party is encouraging members and public servants not to participate

Miro Guzzini , Thursday 18 Jun 2015
Chinese Muslims sitting outside the Niujie Mosque, the oldest and largest mosque in Beijing, China. (Photo: AP)

The local government of the Xinjiang province in northwestern China has attempted to tighten its control over the province's Muslim population by imposing restrictions on the observance of the fast during Ramadan, AFP reports.

The province, also known as the Uyghur Autonomous Region, is home to a substantial Muslim population, most of whom belong to the Turkic-language speaking Uyghur people. There are also Muslim Kazakh and Hui minorities.

State media has been demanding that party members, civil servants and schools in particular do not observe Ramadan -- a demand that was made last year as well, according to Reuters.

The government has already taken some concrete action, with the Food and Drug Administration threatening to reduce its inspections of halal restaurants that do not remain open during the daytime, and with party officials having to make official statements that they will not fast or attend any religious activities during Ramadan, Reuters reported.

Bole county authorities, for example, quoted an elderly Uyghur Communist Party member's promise not to fast and not to "enter a mosque in order to consciously resist religious and superstitious ideas", AFP writes.

In another county, schools were told to communicate to students that observing the fast during Ramadan, as well as attending other religious activities, is proscribed.

For years, the officially atheist Chinese government has restricted Islamic practice in the country, which Uyghur rights groups say has fuelled ethnic tensions in the region.

"The faith of the Uyghurs has been highly politicised," Dilxat Rexit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement according to Reuters. "Policies that prohibit religious fasting are a provocation, and will only lead to instability and conflict," he further told AFP.

The past three years have seen a spike in militant attacks that Chinese authorities blame on Islamists. The most infamous attack came last year, when Uyghur separatists stabbed 31 people to death in an attack on the Kunming railway station in southern China.

While the Communist Party says it respects religious freedom, Chinese authorities tightly control religious activities, and only officially sanctioned institutions are allowed to operate, according to Reuters. 

Pressure is thus likely to remain high on China's Muslim population of about 20 million people, only a portion of which are Uyghur.

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