Sunni Muslim Turkic Uyghurs in Urumqui Xinjiang Province Northwest China
The Chinese government has issued directives banning daytime fasting during Ramadan affecting 20 million Uyghurs and Hui Muslims. The Uyghurs constitute the majority in Xinjiang Province while the Hui are concentrated in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region . The Beijing central government has also ordered Muslim shopkeepers to sell alcohol during the month long observance of the Muslim holy period. This may further inflame the Uyghur fundamentalism that has been the subject of counter terrorism actions against sectarian Muslim irredentism in China’s resource rich northwestern Xinjiang province contending with this Turkic speaking minority. The Daily Caller reported:
According to Reuters, Chinese authorities are making Muslim officials in Xinjiang swear oaths, “guaranteeing they have no faith” and that they will not fast during the holy month. The requirement also extends to teachers and students in government-run schools.
County governments in Xinjiang have published advisories to “not engage in fasting, vigils or other religious activities,” and instructing students: “do not fast, do not enter mosques … and do not attend religious activities.” One county government cited a 90-year-old man who said that “to consciously resist religious and superstitious ideas,” he would avoid fasting and visiting mosques.
Likewise, restaurants will be required to stay open during the day, and those who do not comply face the threat of increased food-safety inspections.
China claims its restrictive policies toward religious expression are meant to curb “religious extremism.” Public terrorist attacks by Uyghur separatists have increased in recent years, and officials have responded in various parts of Xinjiang by increasing security and restricting various forms of Muslim cultural expression.
The country also severely restricts and controls free expression of Christianity, Buddhism and various new religious movements.
Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, the thousand-year-old scholarly institution of Sunni Islam, issued a statement Friday condemning “the Chinese authorities’ ban on Muslims from fasting and practicing their religious rituals during Ramadan.”
Ramadan lasts from mid-June to mid-July this year. The observance commemorates the month during which Muslims say Muhammad received his first revelation of the Qur’an.
Fasting and sexual abstinence during daylight in Ramadan is obligatory for all capable adult Muslims. It is one of Islam’s “five pillars,” or core mandates, together with belief in Allah and Muhammad, daily prayer, charitable giving and pilgrimage to Mecca.
In our January 2015 New English Review interview with Dr. Harold Rhode on “China’s Islamist Separatist Threat,” he noted the concerns that China has regarding the restive Uyghurs:
They consider the terrorism sourced in Xinjiang to be very serious. Xinjiang is the Northwest Territories of China historically inhabited by a people called the Uyghurs who are a Turkic Sunni Muslim people. The Uyghurs number approximately 10 million people. Xinjiang is about 1/6th the land mass of China, and is rich in natural resources which the Chinese need. There are apparently more Han Chinese now in Xinjiang than there are Uyghurs. These Han were brought in to settle the province. The Chinese certainly have the people to do that. The Uyghurs are a Turkic people. Their language and their culture are very much related to the language and culture of the other Turkic peoples in the world including, the Turks of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and a few others. It is one language group, one family and the Chinese have this particular Muslim group in Xinjiang. There are other Muslim groups in China.
China has a terrorist problem relating to this particular group of people, the Uyghurs. Not all Uyghurs, of course, are terrorists by any stretch of the imagination. But Uyghurs are involved with The Islamic State (ISIS/IS), in Iraq and Syria; some of them hold important positions in ISIS/IS.
In Xinjiang where the Uyghurs live, both Sunni Turkey and Shi’ite Iran are fanning the flames of dissent and discord in that area, and are creating problems for the Chinese government. I would hope the Chinese government would be more concerned about Turkish and Iranian involvement in China’s Uyghur fundamentalist movement than it seems to be.
The problematic Uyghur Muslim extremist separatism and fundamentalism is apparently not reflected in another Muslim group in China, the Hui Muslims who number 11 million. The Hui can be found throughout China but are concentrated in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The Hui people are ethnic Han Chinese who were converted by or intermarried with Persian and Arab traders who brought Islam to the Eternal Kingdom. The Hui have also fought and subjugated Uyghur rebellions. The short lived First East Turkestan Republic was ironically crushed by the 36th Hui Muslim Nationalist Division in battles at Kashgar in 1933 and 1934 led by Hui Generals, Ma Shaowu, General Ma Zhancang and General Ma Fuyuan. (Ma means Mohammed in Chinese). Clearly, the Hui people have evinced more loyalty to China than to Islamic Jihad imperatives. There is a reason for it. The Hui adopted their Islamic practices to fit the Confucian-influenced Chinese culture to the extent that their mosques have “traditional Chinese dynastic architecture with Islamic motifs. “ Dr. Rhode noted the difference between the heterodox Hui versus Sunni fundamentalist Uyghur Muslims in China:
Over the centuries, the Hui seem to have figured out a way to get along with their non-Muslim rulers; this is, in a Western sense, compromise. Maybe these Hui Muslims have the answer. Maybe they could be a model for the Sunni world at large. There is only one problem. Most of Hui, when they travel to the Muslim world – i.e., to the Arab world, to Turkey, to Afghanistan – if they start talking the way they do they would be labeled as non-Muslims.
The People’s Republic of China doesn’t adhere to standards of religious tolerance that democracies in the West espouse. The ban on obligatory Ramadan fasting directed at the problematic Uyghurs in Sinkiang Province is meant to ensure that observances which heighten Muslim fundamentalism do not enourage sectarian violence against the Han population or lead to more recruits leaving to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.