China bans Ramadan observance in Muslim region

Uyghur people of northwest Xinjiang province caught fasting ‘will be dealt with,’ as officials try to stamp out Islam

Muslims in China's Xinjiang province gather for prayers during Ramadan, May 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Muslims in China's Xinjiang province gather for prayers during Ramadan, May 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Authorities in China’s predominantly Muslim province have enacted a series of measures to prevent observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with one official saying that those caught fasting “will be dealt with.”

An official government notice stated that the region has adopted many measures to “ensure social peace and harmony,” including ordering all restaurants to remain open for Ramadan, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) website reported on Monday.

An official from the Zawa township, speaking on condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying that teachers, public servants and employees in the service sector are “not allowed to fast” during Ramadan.

“It is strictly prohibited and if they are found fasting during this period, they will be dealt with,” he said.

Communist China has tried for decades to replace religious observance with allegiance to the party, particularly among the Uyghur people, most of whom are Muslim, and who live in the Xinjiang province of northwest China.

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The region also borders several Muslim-majority countries including Afghanistan and Pakistan where Islamic terrorist groups have strongholds. Islamic State have recruited terrorists from within the Chinese province.

The “2017 Work Conclusion on the Stability Maintenance of Xinjiang during the Ramadan Period” notice warns that the Industrial and Commercial Bureau of Aksu which regulates business and alcohol licenses for restaurants, will “strengthen leadership,” “control,” and “inspection” in the county, and “widen the scope of propaganda [to] focus on prevention,” the site reported.

In addition, the authorities are forcing party activists to do marathon shifts, requiring them to “stand on 24-hour uninterrupted guard,” making fasting all but impossible.

In the neighboring Hotan county, students will gather on Fridays, the day when many Muslims attend prayer services in the mosque, and will “collectively study, watch red [communist propaganda] films, and conduct sports activities” in a way to “enrich their social life during the summer vacation,” according to the notice.

An official refused to answer whether the measures were specifically targeting Muslims observing Ramadan. “I cannot give you any details on this matter,” the official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “You’d better inquire about it with the public security sectors.”

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam during which Muslims are supposed to devote themselves to praying, giving to charity and fasting from dawn to dusk.

It is sacred because tradition says the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during that month.

Ramadan is a month generally marked by piety and sacrifice, and during which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk.

AFP contributed to this report.

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