Authorities in Xinjiang Continue to Stifle Ramadan, Secularize Islam

Muslims around the world celebrated Eid-al-Fitr this week, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The month is normally observed through daily fasting, prayer, and community service, but in Xinjiang, many of these traditions were stifled by authorities, as was the case in previous years. Accounts from various parts of the region reveal the CCP’s increasingly successful efforts to secularize Islam while rendering Uyghur Muslims into caricatures for external propaganda.

David Rennie, author of The Economist’s Chaguan column, spent the final days of Ramadan in Xinjiang, where he observed, “Several times ordinary Uyghurs signalled that this has been a distressing Ramadan, during which it was risky to be caught fasting.” In Urumqi, he described several tense encounters with locals who indicated that practices related to fasting had been banned:

Over several hours one evening, your columnist watched hundreds of worshippers enter the Baida Si, or Great White Mosque, in the capital, Urumqi, for sunset and late-night prayers. After the session at sunset, those worshippers filed silently out, with no sign of the iftar supper that the mosque formerly served to believers, ending that day’s fast. As recently as 2015 those suppers were praised by official media. Newspapers photographed mosque workers preparing platters of lamb, flatbread and watermelon. Not this year, locals said. The iftar suppers are “no more”.

Many mosques have simply closed. Such limits to piety are called expressions of choice. Chaguan asked mosque guards, staff and men who appeared to wield authority, though they declined to identify themselves, to explain why he could see many Uyghurs eating during Ramadan. They can choose to fast or not, came the unvarying reply, because “our government guarantees religious freedom.” The very question annoyed a security guard in a former mosque. When people’s bellies are empty they will eat, he scoffed.

[…] To be clear, for all the boasts about choice, options for the pious are narrowing. Independent reporting in Xinjiang carries constant risks of harming Uyghurs. Plain-clothes agents followed Chaguan on foot and by car during his visit. Still, on four occasions it was possible to ask Uyghurs (including a police officer) whether Ramadan fasts were allowed this year, without being overheard. Their replies were almost identical. “Bu hao shuo,” they said, or “Bu gan shuo,” meaning that it is difficult to say or they dared not say. Asked if fasting is banned, one silently nodded. [Source]

On Sunday, CDT Chinese editors documented that various phrases related to fasting have been censored on the Chinese internet. These include search terms such as: “Muslim + extermination; Islam + terror; China restricts Muslims; restricts Muslims + fasting.” Such censorship may be connected to government measures to restrict religious practices in areas with relatively high concentrations of Muslims. As Ke Lin reported for VOA last week, authorities issued emergency measures targeting youth in Henan and Yunnan in order to prevent them from engaging in traditional religious practices

A day after the religious holiday began, the Yuxi Municipal Government in southwestern Yunnan Province issued an emergency notice. According to the notice, party committees, governments and education departments at all levels were required to comprehensively investigate and strictly prohibit Muslim members of the Communist Party of China (CCP) and minors from participating in religious activities such as fasting.

Although the document states that fasting is one of the religious practices of Islam, it adds that to maintain political discipline, CCP members should be firm Marxist atheists and are not allowed to participate in religious activities.

The document emphasizes the principle of separation of education and religion, noting that schools and training institutions are strictly prohibited from providing services for minors to participate in religious activities. It also says individuals or organizations that violate the restrictions will be severely punished.

[…] Yuxi’s public primary schools also conducted a questionnaire for lower-grade students, asking whether anyone in the family fasted or prayed.

[…] The Yuxi government’s move is not an isolated incident. Zhoukou, Luoyang, Zhumadian, Jiaozuo and other places in Henan Province have all received notices that minors are prohibited from entering mosques. Some mosques have posted signs prohibiting minors from entering at the door. [Source]

These restrictions were also enforced in Xinjiang. A police officer in Ghulja told RFA: “It is prohibited to do iftar together and prayer together. We tell them fasting is not allowed. We also pay attention [to see] if they are visiting their relatives during iftar.” Shohret Hoshur at RFA described the evolution of Chinese government restrictions on religious practice during Ramadan over the past decade:

Chinese authorities began banning Muslims in Xinjiang from fasting during Ramadan in 2017, when they began arbitrarily detaining an estimated 1.7 million Uyghurs in “re-education” camps amid larger efforts to diminish their culture, language and religion.

The restriction was partially relaxed in 2021 and 2022, allowing people over 65 to fast, and police reduced the number of home searches and street patrol activities. But in 2023, authorities ordered all Muslims in Xinjiang to not fast and even used spies to report on those who did. [Source]

Uyghur leaders in the diaspora brought attention to the abuses that their Muslim communities were suffering around the world, particularly in Xinjiang. In her Ramadan statement this week, Rushan Abbas, the executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs, said: “Today, we must internalize that our Uyghur Muslim brothers and sisters are fighting for survival, stripped of their faith and livelihood. The essence of our religion is being distorted in the CCP’s brutal genocidal campaign. China must be held accountable for its crimes on the world stage.” Kawsar Yasin, a Uyghur student at Harvard University, wrote an op-ed at The Crimson last week titled “Ramadan Mubarak: A Call for Collective Liberation,” in which he drew parallels between restrictions on religious practice and freedom faced by Uyghurs in Xinjiang and Palestinians in Gaza:

As an Uyghur, my father too remains exiled from his homeland — for him, the landscapes of East Turkistan exist solely in memory. As an homage to their shared displacement, the Palestinian man gave my father a keffiyeh on one of the final nights of I’tikaf [“the practice of living in a mosque for an extended period of time”]; my family continues to wrap our copies of the Holy Quran in that very keffiyeh to this day.

[… M]ore important than religious identity is the solidarity felt across all oppressed groups, exemplified by the bond forged between my father and the Palestinian man so many years ago in a remote Texas mosque. The two found comfort in their parallel hopes of homecoming, of a return to their lands, freed from occupation.

[…] This Ramadan, I can’t help but think of Muslims across the world experiencing some of the most difficult days of their lives.

Uyghurs in occupied East Turkistan can’t fast for risk of being detained for religious extremism — some have even been forced to eat pork in direct violation of their faith. Amid a landscape of starvation, sickness, and death, Palestinians in Gaza have no choice but to break their fast with blades of grass picked from the rubble of their homes.

For these reasons, I will always shout “free East Turkistan” and “free Palestine” in the same breath. [Source]

Meanwhile, the Chinese government and state media worked to instrumentalize Ramadan for propaganda purposes. CGTN highlighted Eid-al-Fitr by showing videos of dancing Uyghurs in Xinjiang and describing Muslim traditions without any mention of fasting or breaking the fast. The day after Ramadan ended, Chinese government officials held an event in Beijing where “foreign ambassadors shared their personal experiences traveling in Xinjiang, praising the beautiful landscape, friendly people, and regional development,” as CGTN reported. Yuanyue Dang from the South China Morning Post provided more detail on the large audience of diplomats who lined up to hear and amplify Chinese government talking points about Islam in Xinjiang:

While attending a reception in Beijing on Wednesday, the ambassadors from South Africa, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Syria and Turkey told Xinjiang authorities that they hoped to strengthen economic ties with the region.

More than 50 diplomats from 49 countries, including 21 ambassadors, attended the reception. It was the largest of several similar events organised by Xinjiang officials in recent years.

[…] Erkin Tuniyaz, Xinjiang’s regional government chairman and one of the officials sanctioned by the US for alleged human rights abuses, said the region had protected religious freedom, particularly the “healthy and orderly development” of Islam. [Source]


Subscribe to CDT


Browsers Unbounded by Lantern

Now, you can combat internet censorship in a new way: by toggling the switch below while browsing China Digital Times, you can provide a secure "bridge" for people who want to freely access information. This open-source project is powered by Lantern, know more about this project.

Google Ads 1

Giving Assistant

Google Ads 2

Anti-censorship Tools

Life Without Walls

Click on the image to download Firefly for circumvention

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.