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China Bans Uighur Muslims From Ramadan Fast


Ethnic Uighurs prepare for their Friday prayers outside a mosque in Urumqi, China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, Friday, May 23, 2014.

Ethnic Uighurs prepare for their Friday prayers outside a mosque in Urumqi, China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, Friday, May 23, 2014.

Some local governments and organizations have published notices in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. They are barring students and government workers from taking part in traditional fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Some China experts say the ban on fasting is not new, but it could fuel tensions in Xinjiang. Christopher Cruise has more on the story.

Muslims around the world -- including Uighurs in Xinjiang -- are observing Ramadan. During the month, they are not supposed to eat between sunrise and sunset. But many in Xinjiang have been told they must eat during the day. They include government workers, teachers and students.

June Teufel Dreyer teaches political science at Miami University. She says Chinese officials often say they are enforcing the ban on fasting for health reasons.

“I am aware that it is actually nothing new. They have prohibited this before during Ramadan, and it is always presented as a health issue -- that you shouldn’t deprive yourself of food, students need to keep their energy up to study, and civil servants need to keep their energy up to, to do their jobs properly and so on.”

Professor Teufel Dreyer says the ban has become a sensitive issue, partly because of the recent violence in Xinjiang.

Reza Hasmath is with Oxford University in England. He has published several books about China’s ethnic minorities. He says the ban will worsen problems in Xinjiang.

“There is heightened tensions in Xinjiang among Uighurs, particularly given the ethnic violence that has been occurring in the last year and a bit. And so this just reinforces more antagonism if anything.”

Alim Seytoff is the president of the Uyghur-American Association. He was born in Xinjiang. He believes the ban will worsen tensions. He says it violates China’s statements that it does not restrict the beliefs of ethnic and religious minorities.

“In fact, it means China does not have any preferential policy. It actually opposes Uihgers’ religious belief. It is an anti-religion policy. So many Uihgurs -- including myself – dislike this policy very much.”

There has been conflict between Uighurs and China’s majority Han Chinese for many years. But it has worsened recently. In May, two cars that many believed were driven by Uighurs drove through a crowded market in Urumqi. People in the cars threw explosives at the crowd. At least 39 people died and more than 100 were injured.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This report was written from a story by reporter Li Ya.

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