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How China Banned Ramadan

How China Banned Ramadan – Beijing’s PREVENT Strategy

Today, there can be little doubt that Islam and its symbols are under attack all over the world. Islam and Muslims are being demonised, their persecution legalised, the spilling of their blood is justified, and in some parts of the world, the very worship of Allah is being criminalised.

The de-legitimisation of worship is a tool which has been used since time immemorial to place pressure on believing communities in order to achieve any given political objective. Today this practice is exhibited in various forms around the world. Each government is approaching the issue of Islam among its citizens from a unique angle, some adopting more insidious means than others.

Also read: “Extremism” Disruption Orders: Protecting freedom by removing it

In France, and now Chad and Myanmar, wearing the veil has become an illegal offence, forcing women who don the symbol of modesty out of public life.[1] In the United Kingdom, the government’s unnerving Prevent initiative, has ruthlessly attempted to instil particular views including liberal sexual orientation on young children.[2] However China has adopted a rather straightforward approach. In the Xinjiang province of China, Ramadan has been banned outright.[3]

There are roughly 25 million Muslims in China, compared to the United Kingdom’s 3 million. Xinjiang is a vast autonomous region which is home to the Uyghur people, the second largest Muslim ethnic group in China. On a yearly basis, Uyghur Muslims are being prevented from observing the month of Ramadan. In the past, Chinese authorities have banned fasting during the blessed month in schools and public places. This year reports indicate that measures have become somewhat more extreme.[4]

This year and in the past the Atheist Chinese government has forbidden fasting in Ramadan, for government employees, civil servants, students and teachers.[5] [6] However commentators closely watching events in the region have said that in practice the ban against fasting is a generic ban and that even elderly people are regularly monitored by others so see if they are fasting.

Nury Turkel, a legal advisor for the World Uyghur Congress, explained in an interview with Islam Channel that the ban was not solely imposed against public officials. He also described restrictions placed on mosques in Xinjiang which prevented certain attendees from entering for prayer,

“In the last few years the Chinese government has been attacking Uyghur religious identity not only in the government official level but in the wide spectrum… If you go to some mosques in the Uyghur homeland you see a sign at the mosque entrance that specifically states that Uyghur women, children under 18, students [and] government employees are not allowed to enter the mosque.”[7]

Preventing people from entering mosques has sadly been a norm under a range of oppressive regimes throughout time, the most notable example of this in the current era being the attempts of the Israeli invaders to prevent the faithful from entering al-Aqsa Masjid. However what is truly incredible about the banning of Ramadan is the act of banning fasting itself. Fasting is not an action that is so easy to monitor let alone prohibit.

With today’s technology an oppressive state can easily monitor what people do; it can use force or other forms of cohesion to prevent prayer or congregation or certain religious dress in public; it can even aggressively defame thoughts and ideas which it finds challenging, and place pressure on those who hold them. But the act of fasting is a passive act. How can a police state ensure that you are not, not eating? For a government to impose a ban on fasting, and to actually enforce it, authorities must go to astonishing lengths in curtailing privacy and religious freedom.

Nury Turkel describes the truly extraordinary lengths taken by the Chinese in order to crackdown on religious freedom,

“The Chinese government has a very specific targeted and deliberate policy for supressing Uyghurs’ religious freedom… They hand out free lunches at schools, candies and water, identifying students who are fasting… In the neighbourhoods they have set up something called ‘neighbourhood watch group.’ They walk around and observe whose light is on in the early morning hours… It is very difficult to monitor Ramadhan, but the Chinese government has been also very specific and purposeful in its efforts to prevent Uyghurs from fasting.”[8]

The efforts of the Chinese government in preventing the free practice of Islam in Xinjiang clearly require manpower, administration and significant financial resources. However, what China stands to gain from such a cruel and costly endeavour is not something that is immediately obvious.

Tensions in Xinjiang have led to occasional violence in the region in which hundreds are reported to have died. Rather than recognising its role in the mounting pressure, Beijing blames these attacks on Islamist Militants.[9] Since 11th September 2001 governments around the world have portrayed their issues with Muslims from a terrorism and security perspective. However Nury Turkel says that the Chinese government has effectively manipulated its media and by extension world opinion in order to deter sympathy from the Uyghur people.[10]

In general the world’s media has managed to manufacture and perpetuate an almost hysterical fear of Muslims. People everywhere have been continually fed media depicting Islam and Muslims in an exclusively villainous light. Relentless coverage of black-clad militant groups has caused beheadings and terror to become exclusively associated with Islam. This has led many to believe that any person or practice related to Islam is a threat to security and even civilisation itself. In this constructed atmosphere, the de-legitimisation of genuine Islamic causes and concerns becomes incredibly easy. Politicians and other interest groups merely need to make vague references to Islamic “extremism” in order to undermine any Muslim narrative they may take issue with.

In China there are many groups of Muslims other than the Uyghurs, including Hui Muslims, Kazakhs, Dongxiangs, Uzbeks, Salar, Tajiks, Tatars, Tibetans and others. Yet with the exception of Tibetan Muslims, the other groups do not seem to be facing similar levels of blatant persecution. Although they too are Muslims, one is unlikely to see signs on the doors of mosques in Beijing, Shanghai and Shiyan preventing certain people from entering.

This exposes the propaganda of the Chinese government, revealing that their objectives are not linked with anti-terror or security concerns. Islam promotes change and challenges corruption. Since the time of Noah (‘alayhi al-Salām) the change brought by Islam has been a threat to the political, economic or social ambitions of corrupt rulers. Often times, rather than challenge the ideas and principals of Islam head on, many simply choose to use force and coercion to achieve their goals dismissing the Islamic message.

Regarding the true motives of the Chinese government, Turkel said,

“China’s constitutional autonomy law and all types of propaganda material [misleadingly] guarantee [Muslims their] rights to worship, but the Chinese government see Uyghur Islam as a source of resentment, disloyalty or a source of nationalism.”

The truth is that the source of China’s concern is not theological, nor is it rooted in any genuine concern about terror or extremism as is often claimed. What troubles the Chinese government about Xinjiang and its Muslim population, is the potential for free political thought and an independent identity.

To the Chinese government, Uyghur Islam stands in the way of the speedy and forcible melding of Chinese identity. Beijing strives to forge a unified Chinese nation, in which cultural diversity is not seen as a positive. This leads the government to view Xinjiang as well as Tibet and any other cultural dissident, as a major threat to the implementation of the forced assimilation process.

Conceptually I would argue that there is little difference between China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, and the assimilationist policies some are pushing here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Revealing similar motivations as the Chinese, David Cameron said in 2011 that state multiculturalism had failed,[11] showing slightly more subtlety than France’s Marine La Pen who openly campaigned for Muslim children in schools to be forced to eat pork or go hungry. [12] These people do not really care about culture or what you eat or drink, rather they care about any threat to the homogenous, disempowered, easy to control, docile society which every authoritarian power structure desires. What is really being said here is that there is no room divergent political thought or challenges to the status quo.

The UK, China and all nations with minority Muslim populations need to consider that no nation in history has been able to command the loyalty of its citizens through persecution and the policing of thought. Restricting the political rights and freedoms of minorities undermines progress, creating a tense, fractured society. Democratic nations in particular need to pay heed, as no true democracy can exist when laws are passed which restrict thought, freedom and identity. The only path to harmony is to listen to the legitimate concerns of minority groups and to address them, not to marginalise or criminalise their narrative as is the case today.

It is not just Islam that China has a problem with. Several other religious minorities are repressed in the country. Until recently China’s Christian population were under severe pressure from the government; churches where demolished, communities spied upon and leaders arrested and imprisoned.[13] Yet as China’s economy emerges as a global giant, it grows increasingly dependent on economic and diplomatic relations with the West in order to expand its market for production and technology.

Generally speaking the West sympathises with Christian populations around the world. As China realised that its restrictions against Christians were hampering relationships with the West, it understood that it needed to change. Gradually some of the restrictions on Chinese Christians began to ease as this was a major concern for Christians and humanitarians in the West. Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang on the other hand, do not enjoy this kind of support and solidarity.

Muslim nations have no shortage of leverage, with control over vital global shipping routes, massive energy resources and other strengths. Yet the only Muslim nation to voice any concern at all for the Uyghur people has been Turkey.[14] On the 30th of June Turkey told Bejing that it was concerned about the banning of worship in Ramadan. However China promptly played dumb and aside from some diplomatic give and take and a few angry protests, very little was done to ease the condition of Muslims in Xinjiang.[15] The fact is Turkey alone cannot create the necessary pressure to deter China from mistreating its Muslim inhabitants. China knows this and so long as the remainder of the Muslim world remains silent and their populous unconcerned about other Muslims, Uyghurs stay an easy and vulnerable target.

The Prophet Mohammad (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:

The similitude of believers in regard to mutul love, affection and compassion is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and feaver.” [16]

Here the noble Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) is teaching us that the entire Muslim Ummah should be as one living body. If part of that body is in pain, the whole body should feel that pain and seek to put an end to it. But collectively our response to the plight of the Uyghurs and indeed other voiceless oppressed Muslims around the world has been far from agonised.

Fortunate Muslims everywhere spend a lot of time and energy campaigning for many causes of those in need. All of these charities and movements are without doubt deserving of our support. But often we seem to undertake the causes which are seen as popular or are well known, while so many suffering Muslims enjoy neither our support nor even our awareness. Perhaps as Ramadan comes to a close, we should ask ourselves how much we care about our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunties around the world. We should ask ourselves how much of our lives we commit to alleviating their suffering, and compare that with the time we spend perusing our own happiness.

The reason China can ban Ramadan is the same reason the Burmese can persecute Muslims. It is the same reason Israel can mock international law and the rights of Palestinians. It is the same reason that the rights of Muslims in the West are slowly being stripped from them. It is because somehow, 1.5 billion Muslim men and women around the world still find themselves to be a minority. This reminds us of the famous hadith in which the Messenger of Allah (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) prophesised that “It is near that the nations will call one another against you just as the eaters call one another to their dishes.”

The companions asked whether it would be because of our small numbers, but the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) replied, “Nay, that day you shall be numerous, but you will be like the foam of the sea, and Allāh will take the fear of you away from your enemies and place a weakness into your hearts.” When someone asked what this weakness would be, the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) concluded,

“The love of this world, and the hatred of death.” [17]

Each one of us has the ability to do something to help the suffering around the world, such as those brothers and sisters in China. Let no single one of us neglect to beseech Allāh to aid them—especially whilst we are in this sacred month—and to forgive us for our shortcomings. Du’ā is the weapon of the believer and should not be underestimated. Furthermore Allāh will judge each and every one of us based on what we do in our power to aid the oppressed, whether we have money to raise awareness, political or economic influence here or in other countries, and so on. No single one of us has the permission to sit idly by and do nothing. [18]

All we have to do is care first, then Allāh will make a way for us to help. Do we?

Source: www.islam21c.com

The Chinese Embassy in the UK was contacted and given one week to comment on this story but it did not respond.

Notes:

[1]http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/03/france-muslim-women-home-working

http://mgafrica.com/article/2015-06-21-chads-ban-on-islamic-veil-after-attacks-divides-muslims

[2]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11709442/Children-who-say-homosexuality-is-wrong-could-be-viewed-as-extremist-threat-Education-Secretary.html

[3]http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/06/china-bans-ramadan-fasting-muslim-region-150618070016245.html

[4] The Report, Islam Channel, 1st July 2015

[5] http://www.ibtimes.com/ramadan-2015-fasting-banned-china-muslim-government-employees-students-teachers-1975294

[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/11683976/Beijing-bans-Muslim-officials-from-fasting-in-Ramadan-in-parts-of-Xinjiang.html

[7] Turkel, Nury Legal Advisor for the Uyghur World Congress, The Report, Islam Channel, 1st July 2015

[8] Turkel, Nury Legal Advisor for the Uyghur World Congress, The Report, Islam Channel, 1st July 2015

[9] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/02/china-attack-idUSL3N0LY0A120140302

[10] Turkel, Nury Legal Advisor for the Uyghur World Congress, The Report, Islam Channel, 1st July 2015

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12371994

[12] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/15/le-pen-pig-whistle-politics

[13] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/05/china-christianity-wenzhou-zhejiang-churches

[14] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/30/us-turkey-china-religion-idUSKCN0PA15L20150630

[15] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-33440998

[16] Bukhāri & Muslim

[17] Abū Dāwūd

[18] https://www.islam21c.com/politics/do-you-care-about-general-election-2015/

About Ahmad Chaker Jomaa

Ahmad has a BA in International Relations and Journalism and an MA in International Security Studies, during which he spent a year as the Head of Media for a national student organisation. He presented the findings of his undergraduate research at the House of Lords, on the representation of Muslim students in the British press. He has a wide range of media experience having written for several online and print publications as well engaging in television and radio interviews. He is an active member of Islam21c's Middle-East Current Affairs Team.

One comment

  1. Abdulrahaman Tajudeen

    Assalam alaekum,
    may the peace of Almighty ALLAH be with us all, almost all immoral had been legalized to prevent Islam from prevailing still the ALLAH religion stands…..! subuhanallah.
    My contribution to this issue as a Muslim is that the concerned individuals all round the world should organise a protest against this act, we should use social media to organise or any means, as for me peaceful protest is the answer.
    Maa Salam.

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