Ramadan is not a freedom shared by all… By Noura Abughris

IICulture Asia, Culture and Arts

By Noura Abughris:

Noura is an LLB student at SOAS, University of London.  She is particularly passionate about international law, human right issues and the political and financial scene of South East Asia & the Middle Eastern and North African region.

Ramadan is not a freedom shared by all

Suspected Uighurs from China's troubled far-western region of Xinjiang, sit inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hat Yai, Songkla March 14, 2014. About 200 people rescued by police from a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand on Wednesday are suspected Uighur Muslims from China's troubled far-western region of Xinjiang, say Thai police.  (REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha)

Suspected Uighurs from China’s troubled far-western region of Xinjiang, sit inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hat Yai, Songkla March 14, 2014. About 200 people rescued by police from a human smuggling camp in southern Thailand on Wednesday are suspected Uighur Muslims from China’s troubled far-western region of Xinjiang, say Thai police.
(REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha)

In a move by the Chinese government to crack down on ‘religious extremism’ and maintain ‘social stability’, China has officially banned Ramadan in the Muslim majority district of Xinjiang. Civil servants, teachers and students are being banned from fasting, entering mosques or attending any form of religious activity during the Islamic holy month. The education bureau of Tarbaghatay city in the Xinjiang district has ordered schools to communicate to students that ‘during Ramadan students (should) not fast, enter mosques or attend religious activities’. Meanwhile, local restaurants are being encouraged to stay open while state run media outlets are running editorials on the health dangers of fasting.

The controversial move by the Chinese government as part of its so called ‘people’s war on terror’, has sparked outrage in the international community. Human rights groups criticised the move describing it as ‘religious repression’ and have accused the Chinese government of systematically violating the Uighur’s right to freedom of worship under articles 2, 18, 22 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which China is a signatory).

Dilxat Rexit of the exiled World Uyghur Congress, described the ban as an attempt by the Chinese government to ‘to forcibly move Uighurs away from their Muslim culture during Ramadan.’ While the self-proclaimed atheist Chinese government insists in maintaining a policy that encourages the separation of religion and education – claiming that religious activities are a rallying point for opposition to its one party rule; it should be noted that this policy is rarely enforced on the Han Chinese population who are pre-dominantly either Buddhist, Christian or Daoist.

In fact, this is not the first time that the Chinese government has attempted to politicise the Islamic faith of the Uighurs. Earlier this year, residents in Xinjiang were banned from wearing the burqa, while under-18’s are currently forbidden from entering mosques.

The reality of the situation is that the Chinese governments increasingly Islamophobic stance is only serving to radicalise the Muslim youth and is encouraging the Uighurs to resist the rule of the Chinese government. It is difficult to understand the Chinese perspective which appears to take the view that a group of Muslims abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset and peacefully attempting to reconnect with their spiritual selves through prayer and charity work can as a major threat to the Communist one party rule. Measures including banning basic obligatory acts such as fasting during the month of Ramadan, praying in mosques or the freedom of women to dress as they wish can only be described as extreme, pedantic and perverse. More so, in a state where over 157 million people live on less than $1.25 a day and which suffers from an increasingly marginalised educational policy, it is difficult to understand what threat the Chinese perceive from fasting Muslims. One can only wonder the panic that will ensue should the Uighur Muslims begin to openly implement the Zakat and donate 2.5% of their wealth to the poor. Oh the horror…

Ramadan is considered as one of the holiest months of the year in Islam. It is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting and spiritual reflection. It is also one of the Five Pillars of Islam – the five basic practises which are obligatory for all Muslims and form the foundation of Muslim life.

By Noura Abughris