By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
June 23, 2015
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 unsanctioned
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,"
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
Uyghurs in pursuing their spiritual duties.
Let us also pray for the religiously oppressed everywhere, no matter
what their faith.