by Syarif Hidayat
        While the Christian majority countries in the West and the other non-Muslim countries around the world give their Muslim citizens freedom to perform fasting in the holy month of Ramadan and observe the other  religious rites, the Communist China is the only country on this planet that bans its citizens from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
       It’s not exactly breaking news that China has serious issues with freedom of religion and as an officially Atheist state is often very repressive against those observing religious rites. China has once again leveled restrictions on the persecuted Uighurs when it comes to practicing Ramadan. Unlike millions of Muslims around the world, Uighur students returning for summer vacations in northwestern China are banned from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
        Chinese authorities in the northwestern province of Xinjiang have banned Muslim officials and students from fasting during the month of Ramadan, prompting an exiled rights group to warn of new violence. Guidance posted on numerous government websites called on Communist Party leaders to restrict Muslim religious activities during the holy month, including fasting and visiting mosques.
      Concerning the problem that Muslims are facing in performing religious obligations in China and the world, the God Almighty Allah has warned in Al Qur’an. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. They intend to put out the Light of Allâh (i.e. the Religion of Islâm, this Qur’ân, and the Prophet Muhammad SAW) with their mouths. But Allâh will bring His Light to perfection even though the disbelievers hate (it). He it is Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad SAW) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islâmic Monotheism) to make it victorious over all (other) religions even though the Mushrikûn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allâh and in His Messenger Muhammed SAW) hate (it). (Al Qur’an, Surah Surah As-Saff, Verses 8-9)
       Xinjiang is home to about nine million Uighurs, largely a Muslim ethnic minority, many of whom accuse China’s leaders of religious and political persecution. The region has been rocked by repeated outbreaks of ethnic violence, but China denies claims of repression and relies on tens of thousands of Uighur officials to help it govern the province.
       A statement from Zonglang township in Xinjiang’s Kashgar district said that “the county committee has issued comprehensive policies on maintaining social stability during the Ramadan period. “It is forbidden for Communist Party cadres, civil officials (including those who have retired) and students to participate in Ramadan religious activities.”
       The statement, posted on the Xinjiang government website, urged party leaders to bring “gifts” of food to local village leaders to ensure that they were eating during Ramadan. Similar orders on curbing Ramadan activities were posted on other local government websites, with the educational bureau of Wensu county urging schools to ensure that students do not enter mosques during Ramadan.
‘Administrative methods’
        During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more closer to God, pious and charitable. An exiled rights group, the World Uyghur Congress, warned the policy would force “the Uighur people to resist [Chinese rule] even further.” “By banning fasting during Ramadan, China is using administrative methods to force the Uighur people to eat in an effort to break the fasting,” said group spokesman Dilshat Rexit in a statement.
        Xinjiang saw its worst ethnic violence in recent times in July, 2009, when Uighurs attacked members of the nation’s dominant Han ethnic group in the city of Urumqi, sparking clashes in which 200 people from both sides died, according to the government.
Uighur Muslims are suffering
        Amid fresh arrests, restrictions on fasting and prayers at mosques, Uighur Muslims are suffering under the latest episode of Chinese government crackdown on their ethnic minority in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. “If any religious figure discusses Ramadan during the course of religious activities, or encourages people to take part, then they will lose their license to practice,” Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uighur Congress, told Eurasia Review.
      “The more serious cases will result in arrests for incitement to engage in illegal religious activity,” he said. A day before the start of the holy fasting month for China’s Muslims, at least 11 people were killed in a series of attacks in the north-western region of Xinjiang. Chinese authorities blamed the attacks to the ethnic minority, after which the Chinese police shot dead two Muslims. The attacks came less than two weeks after 18 people were killed in an attack in the restive Xinjiang region.
       Following the unrest, more than 100 uighurs were detained by Chinese authorities. Most of those detained as suspects were committed Muslims who attended mosque and whose wives wore veils, residents say. Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, was the scene of deadly violence in July 2009 when the mainly Muslim Uighur minority vented resentment over Chinese restrictions in the region.
       In the following days, mobs of angry Han took to the streets looking for revenge in the worst ethnic violence that China had seen in decades. The unrest left nearly 200 dead and 1,700 injured, according to government figures. But Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, say the toll was much higher and mainly from their community. China’s authorities have convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.
No Fasting
        Beijing slapped severe restrictions on Chinese Muslims as the holy fasting month of Ramadan started. As for Muslim members of the government throughout Xinjiang, the government forced them to sign “letters of responsibility” promising to avoid fasting, evening prayers, or other religious activities.
       “Fasting during Ramadan is a traditional ethnic custom, and they are allowed to do that,” an employee who answered the phone at a local government neighborhood committee office in the regional capital Urumqi said confirming the restrictions. “But they aren’t allowed to hold any religious activities during Ramadan,” she added. “Party members are not allowed to fast for Ramadan, and neither are civil servants.”
        As for private companies, Uighur Muslim employees were offered lunches during fasting hours. Anyone who refuses to eat could lose their annual bonus, or even their job, Raxit added. Officials have also targeted Muslim schoolchildren, providing them with free lunches during the fasting period. A Uighur resident of Beijing said students under 18 are forbidden from fasting during Ramadan.
       Moreover, government campaigns forced restaurants in the Muslim majority region to stay open all day. More restrictions were also imposed on people trying to attend prayers at mosques. Everyone attending prayers has to register with their national identity card, he added. “They have to register,” he said. “[After prayers] they aren’t allowed to [congregate and] talk to each other.”
        In Ramadan, adult Muslims should abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset. The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks. Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
“It was totally backwards” for Muslims in China
        At a teachers college in far northwestern China, students were irritated to find that their professors were escorting them to lunch in the fasting month of Ramadan— an odd occurrence since they were more than capable of finding the cafeteria themselves. There was an ulterior motive, students told travelers who recently visited the city of Kashgar: The college wanted to make sure that the students, most of them Muslims, were eating rather than fasting in daylight hours during the holy month of Ramadan.
        Then, something even stranger happened, the students said. When the last Ramadan ended last year, launching the three-day Eid al-Fitr feast, all the restaurants and the cafeteria on campus were shut down. Students were barred from leaving the campus. On the next two days of the holiday, the cafeteria was open, but the students were locked in, unable to leave to celebrate with their families.
      “It was totally backwards,” complained a 20-year-old Muslim student who was forced to skip the holiday. In the aftermath of violent protests this year by Uighurs, the ethnic Turkic and Muslim minority living in northwestern China, authorities have deepened their campaign against religious practices — particularly during Ramadan.
       For years, China has restricted observance of Ramadan for Communist Party members and government cadres. On one website for an agricultural bureau, for instance, employees were reminded “not to practice any religion, not to attend religious events and not to fast.”
       This year, the local Communist Party also ordered restaurants to remain open during the day, even though chefs and most of their potential customers were fasting. Failure to keep their doors open made restaurants subject to fines of up to $780, the equivalent of several months’ salary.
So restaurateurs made token gestures, assigning one waiter to sit in the doorway and a chef to make a single dish that would be either eaten cold at night or discarded.
       In Kashgar, across from the Id Kah Mosque, the largest in China, travelers described a bored teenage waiter in a Muslim skullcap sitting in the doorway of a darkened restaurant looking out onto the dusty sidewalk as if waiting for the customers he knew wouldn’t come. Along the entire strip, restaurants were similarly unlit and empty, with none of the usual smells of roasting lamb wafting from the kitchens.
      “They just offer what they can to avoid trouble,” said a doctor in his late 20s, who asked not to be quoted by name for fear of retaliation. He described the compromise at one of his favorite restaurants, where the chef made only rice pilaf. “The chefs can’t even taste the food to make sure it is delicious.”
       The policy extended deeper into Xinjiang province than just Kashgar. In Aksu, 250 miles to the northeast, the municipal website warned that restaurant owners “who close without reason during the ‘Ramadan period’ will be severely dealt with according to the relevant regulations.”
       Residents of Xinjiang province say that Chinese policies regarding Ramadan have become steadily more draconian over the years.
“It has been bad since 1993 and it is getting worse,” said Tursun Ghupur, 33, who comes from Kashgar but has been living in Beijing. “Usually for ordinary people it is OK. You can pray and you can observe Ramadan. But if you go to school and have a job with the government, you can’t be religious.”
      Political scientists say the government’s strategy is likely to backfire. “Particularly with the government crackdown on religion in Xinjiang, this has made more people see religion as a form of resistance rather than personal piety,” said Dru Gladney, a professor of anthropology at Pomona College specializing in Central Asia. “From the authorities’ standpoint, it’s really counterproductive.”
       In recent months, Xinjiang has witnessed the deadliest ethnic violence since huge riots in the regional capital, Urumqi, in 2009. On the last weekend in July, the eve of Ramadan, Uighur protesters staged a series of ambushes directed against Chinese authorities, leaving 22 people dead. At the very least, the restrictions on Ramadan undermine personal relations between Uighurs and Han Chinese.
      The Kashgar doctor related an incident involving his nephew, a student at a junior high school. During the holiday, the boy was given a piece of candy by his teacher, who is Han Chinese. “I’m doing well in school. The teacher likes me. She gave me candy,” the boy told his father late that day. The father scoffed at the explanation. “She is only trying to tell if you’re fasting for Ramadan.”
The Atheist state is often very repressive against Muslims
         It’s not exactly breaking news that China has serious issues with freedom of religion and as an officially Atheist state is often very repressive against those observing religious rites. China has once again leveled restrictions on the persecuted Uighurs when it comes to practicing Ramadan. Unlike millions of Muslims around the world, Uighur students returning for summer vacations in northwestern China are banned from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
        “They are extracting guarantees from parents, promising that their children won’t fast on Ramadan,” Dilxat Raxit, Sweden-based spokesman for the exile World Uighur Congress (WUC), told Radio Free Asia on Thursday, June 13. Chinese authorities have reportedly imposed restrictions on Uighur Muslim students returning for summer vacations in the northwestern region of Xinjiang ahead of Ramadan.
        Under the restrictions, Uighur students under 18 are banned from fasting during Ramadan or taking part in religious activities. Students defying the restrictions are being reported to authorities for punishment.
“They have also made groups of 10 households responsible for spying on each other, so that if a single child from one family fasts for Ramadan, or takes part in religious activities, then all 10 families will be fined,” Raxit said.
“It’s called a 10-household guarantee system.”
       Religious officials have confirmed that Ramadan fasting is banned for Uighur Muslim students. “[Fasting] is not allowed,” an official at a religious affairs bureau in Hotan’s Yutian County told Radio Free Asia. “The students and the teachers have to report to their schools every Friday, even during the vacation. “It’s like regular lessons,” he said, adding that the students would also be eating there. Activists have also complained that Uighur students are being stripped off their mobile phones ahead of Ramadan.
       “After the students get back to their hometowns, those with cell phones and computers must hand them in to the police for searching,” said Raxit.
“If they don’t hand them over and are reported or caught by the authorities, then they will have to bear the consequences.” The pre-Ramadan restrictions come ahead of the fourth anniversary of deadly riots in Xinjiang, which left nearly 200 people dead. Chinese authorities have convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.
China Restrictions Stifle Uighurs’ Ramadan
        Restricting the entry of Uighur Muslims to mosques and interfering with their requisite daytime fasting, Chinese restrictions during the holy month of Ramadan are inviting the outrage of human rights groups. “Launched in the name of stability and security, Beijing’s campaigns of repression against Uighur Muslims include the targeting of peaceful private gatherings for religious study and devotion,” Dr Katrina Lantos Swett, of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), was quoted as saying by The Muslim Village on Monday, July 15.
        “These abuses predictably have led to neither stability nor security, but rather instability and insecurity.” Ahead of the start of Ramadan, Chinese authorities have imposed restrictions on Muslim prayers at mosques and interfered with their requisite daytime fasting. According to World Uighur Congress spokesman Dilxadi Rexiti, the government officials have repeatedly entered Uighur homes to provide them with fruit and drinks during daylight hours to force them to break their Ramadan fast.
        Rexiti accused the authorities of banning organized study of religious texts and placed religious venues under close watch, including an “around-the-clock” monitoring of mosques in the northern city of Karamay, the Karamay Daily reported. The worrying restrictions were confirmed in the USCIRF’s annual report which said many Uighur Muslims served prison terms for engaging in independent religious activity.
        Government employees, professors and students were also fined if they observe the fast. Another report by the Washington-based Uighur American Association (UAA) in April cited a Muslim restaurant owner from Hotan as saying that any restaurant closing, even for repairs, during the holy fasting month, is fined. “The extremely aggressive and intrusive religious restrictions even into the private lives of Uighurs by the Chinese state will only further provoke the anger of the Uighur people,” UAA president Alim Seytoff said.
       “Violence may erupt again due to such systematic repressive measures.”
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, started last Wednesday, July 10. In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset. The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks. Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
Identity Struggle
        Struggling with the Chinese government to guarantee religious freedoms, Islamic practices were becoming a symbol of Uighur identity.
“These measures will only solidify the distance between the ethnicities in Xinjiang,” Dr Reza Hasmath, an Oxford researcher with a focus on China’s ethnic minorities, said. Other experts warn that the situation in Xinjiang is more than a localized security issue.
       “China needs to manage its minorities better,” said Ronan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore. “At this point, threats to the government comes primarily from its ethnicities.” By cracking down repeatedly on Uighur Muslim identity, China has entered a “vicious circle” that only created more resentment.
       “Over the past few weeks, the central leadership has had only one idea – to use as much security as possible,” said Kerry Brown, director of Sydney University’s China Studies Centre. “And it’s a very questionable strategy.
“The government has a paranoid mindset, but this is a real problem that has nothing to do with outsiders,” he said. These measures were actually threatening mass uprising with potential to spill over on a regional, or even national, level. “China could explode anywhere, but Xinjiang is at the forefront,” said Brown.
“It’s the perfect storm.”
        Uighur Muslims are a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million in the northwestern Xinjiang region. Xinjiang, which activists call East Turkestan, has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities. Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.
       Muslims accuse the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
Analysts say the policy of transferring Han Chinese to Xinjiang to consolidate Beijing’s authority has increased the proportion of Han in the region from five percent in the 1940s to more than 40 percent now.  (HSH)

5.International news agencies

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