Ramadan essentially banned in Muslim majority region of China

Students and civil servants in China’s Muslim northwest, where the government is currently enforcing a security crackdown following unrest, have been ordered to avoid taking part in traditional fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Statements posted today on websites of schools, government agencies, and local party branches in the remote Xinjiang region said the ban was aimed at protecting students and preventing use of schools and government offices to promote religion. Statements on the websites of local party organizations said that members of the officially atheist party should avoid fasting for religious purposes.

“No teacher can participate in religious activities, instill religious thoughts in students or coerce students into religious activities,” said a statement on the website of a local Grade School in Ruoqiang County.

Similar bans have been imposed in the past on fasting for Ramadan, which began at sundown this past Saturday. This year is unusually sensitive because the province is under tight security following attacks that the government blames on extremists with foreign terrorist ties in Islamic regions.

Violence has escalated in recent years in the Xinjiang province. The government blames the Islamists and the local population blames the ruling government.

An attack on May 22 in the regional capital of Urumqi by people who threw bombs in a vegetable market killed 43 people. On June 22, police in Kashgar in the far west said they killed 13 people who drove into a police building and set off explosives, injuring three. Authorities have blamed two other attacks at train stations in Urumqi and in China’s southwest on extremists.

The government responded with a crackdown that resulted in about 380 arrests in one month and rallies to announce sentences.

The ruling party is wary of religious activities because it worries that it might serve as a rallying point for opposition to one-party rule. Controls on worship are especially sensitive in Xinjiang and in nearby and remote Tibet, where religious faith plays a large role in local cultures.

On Tuesday, authorities in some communities in Xinjiang held celebrations of the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party and served food to test whether Muslim guests were actually fasting.

“This will lead to more conflicts if China uses coercive measures to rule and to challenge Uighur beliefs,” said Dilxat Raxit.

The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate and students should not be subject to religious influences. That rule is not enforced for children of Han Chinese, who, if they have a religion, are mostly Buddhist, Daoist, or Christian in religious preference.

“Students shall not participate in religious activities; they shall not study scripts or read poems at script and choir classes; they shall not wear any religious emblems; and no parent or others can force students to have religious beliefs or partake in religious activities,” said the statement on the website of the grade school in Ruoqiang County.

In Bole, retired teachers from the Wutubulage Middle School were called in to stand guard at mosques and prevent students from entering. Also, the Bozhou University of Radio and Television said it held a meeting with working and retired minority teachers on the first day of the Ramadan to remind them of the fasting ban.

The forestry bureau in Xinjiang’s Zhaosu county held an event the day before Ramadan at which people signed a pledge that they and their relatives would “firmly resist fasting.” The Moyu Weather Bureau in Hotan said on its website that Muslim employees, both active and retired, were required to sign a letter promising not to fast. The commercial bureau for Turpan said in a statement that civil servants are “strictly forbidden” to fast or perform the Salat prayer ritual in a mosque.