China has banned a community of ethnic Muslims from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
In several parts of the far western Xinjiang district, Uyghur Muslim party members, civil servants, students and teachers are being forced to eat and drink during the day. In fact, Reuters reports, officials have been asked to swear, orally and in writing, "guaranteeing they have no faith, will not attend religious activities and will lead the way in not fasting over Ramadan."
Some halal restaurants have also been told to stay open during day hours in Ramadan or face closure.
But this isn’t news.
Prohibiting Uyghur Muslims from fasting is just one part of a broad harassment campaign, especially in Xinjiang where a majority of Uyghur reside.
Even as China lets Hui Muslims – who are considered more assimilated into the society, practice Islam freely – the communist government for several years has been persecuting the Uyghur Muslims in the name of counterterrorism measures.
While Hui Muslims are permitted to run religious schools, “government policies bar Uyghur women and anyone under age 18 from attending mosques,” according to Radio Free Asia. “Uyghur parents are forbidden to teach religion to their children at home, and private religious education is subject to harsh crackdowns.”
In fact, an anonymous Uyghur farmer told RFA that six teenage Uyghur boys were arrested and sentenced to eight to 14 years in jail in Xinjiang for studying the Quran on their own after school.
In December 2014, China banned wearing Islamic veiled robes in public in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.
Just last month, Uyghur Muslim retailers and restaurant owners were ordered in a Xinjiang village to sell alcohol and cigarettes – while promoting them in “eye-catching displays” – in what was seen as an attempt to “weaken” Islam’s hold on local residents.
It’s believed China treats its two Muslim groups differently because Uyghur, unlike Hui, have refused to abandon their conservative practices.
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The Draconian policy toward the group has – obviously – exacerbated tensions in the country.
The Muslim Uyghur group makes up about 45 percent of Xinjiang’s population while the other 40 percent are Han Chinese.
After ethnic violence broke out between the two communities in Urumqi in July 2009, claiming almost 200 lives, the Chinese government launched a "strike hard and punish" drive in a bid to suppress terrorism. The security campaign became even more intense following last year’s shocking stabbing spree at a southern Chinese train station– an incident that authorities blamed on Xinjiang separatists.
However, as has been the case with such persecution campaigns, the Chinese authorities have not been able to root out terrorism. They have, instead, further marginalized the embattled Uyghur community.
Case in point: With regard to the prolonged ban on fasting, the Uyghur leader, Dilxat Raxit, just warned that the restrictions would force his people to resist the rule of the Chinese government even more.
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Apart from China, some primary schools in the U.K. have also banned fasting during the month of Ramadan this year.
While the school authorities claim the decision was made due to concerns over students' health, many see it as a part of religious profiling of Muslim children by the British government.