The Chinese government has officially banned citizens from observing Ramadan in the mainly-Muslim northwest Xinjiang region. Ramandan is a traditional month of fasting and prayer for adult Muslims around the world. From dawn until dusk, observers are required to fast during one of the most important holidays of the Muslim calendar year.
Chinese authorities have made significant efforts this week, including making impromptu house checks and providing free meals to citizens, to make it challenging for the ethnically Turkic Uighur Muslims to fulfill their religious obligations to observe the fasting holiday.
Broadcast across television and news outlets, the ban prohibits Chinese citizens from observing the Ramadan fast. Authorities also posted signs on school and government agency websites, reminding students and civil servants that their institutions cannot be used to promote religion.
For example, Turfan’s Commercial Affairs Bureau posed on its website that “civil servants and students cannot take part in fasting and other religious activities," according to the South China Morning Post.. Another elementary school posted on its website that "no teacher can participate in religious activities, instill religious thoughts in students or coerce students into religious activities." Last year Chinese authorities claimed that while they do not force people to eat during Ramadan, there are serious health risks to fasting that impede citizens' ability to work and study.
This year’s ban on Ramadan is just one instance in an increasing trend of oppression against this community. Due to a spike in gruesome nationalistic terrorist attacks committed by Uighur extremists, there have been harsher measures taken against the Uighur community.
Among the list of grievances include: the destruction of the historic Old Town of Kashgar, the demotion of the status of the Uighur language, heavy policy brutality and mass arrests in response to protests, and frequent disappearances of Uighur citizens.
Some experts believe, however, that this crackdown is not simply an effort to combat terrorism in the region but rather a means to limit religious and cultural freedoms. As an officially atheist country, Chinese persecution of religious practices and observances is not a new issue—especially to Uighur Muslims in the country. Religious gatherings have frequently been monitored or banned in China because of a fear that they will serve as a community-backed space to voice of opposition to one-party rule.
With increasing rhetoric blaming all Uighurs for extremists' actions, the ban is likely to be perceived by many Muslims as a direct attack on their identities and connection to Islam and could result in more violence.
On Wednesday July 9th, Secretary Kerry gave his opening remarks at the China-United States Strategic and Economic Dialogue. He stressed the importance of dialogue and cooperation between the two nations on bilateral, regional, and global challenges. Over the next two days, many expect the United States will press China about its recent policies targeting the Uighur population in Xinjiang region. Perhaps this dialogue will serve as a launching point for further conversation and ultimately change for Chinese Uighur Muslims.