China has a population of over 1.4 billion people ; there are more than 21 million Muslims in china, making up 1.6% of the population. Although there are a significant number of Muslims spread out throughout China, majority of Muslims live in the Xinjiang province, which borders Pakistan, Kazakhstan and other Muslim majority countries. 46% of Xinjiang’s population is compromised of the Turkic ethnic group, the Uyghur people, majority of whom are Muslims.
However in recent years there have been increasing government issued restrictions and discrimination placed upon Muslims in the Xinjiang region in particular. China,is a communist atheist country which ‘officially’ guarantees freedom of religion, however, has issued measures in recent years to tackle what it perceives as a ‘rise in extremism and terrorism’.
Some of these measures included banning Muslims who worked in government departments, including teachers, doctors and nurses working in government institutions, from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and forcing restaurants to remain open during Ramadan. Burqas, veils and garments that fully cover a woman’s body, as well as the ‘abnormal growing of beards’ were banned in Xinjiang, and government workers in railway stations, airports and other public spaces were required to prevent them from entering and to report them. The bans also extended to childrens names, with names that ‘exaggerate religious fervour’ such as Muhammad, and also using religious procedures to marry over legal procedures.
More recently however, Uyghur Muslims have been ordered by authorities to hand over their copies of the Qur’an and their prayer mats, and all over religious items or else face harsh punishment.
Last year there was an increase in travel restrictions for Uyghur Muslims, when passports were suddenly recalled, with the government requiring them to provide DNA samples, fingerprints, voice recording and a three dimensional image.
Another example of some of the restrictions placed, relate to the banning of children from participating in religious activities – parents and guardians are not allowed to organise or encourage children to do so. People are being encouraged to report their relatives, friends and neighbours to the authorities if they suspect they are encouraging their children to partake in religious activities. If parents don’t comply, then their children will not allowed to remain in school, and will be required to be sent to specialist schools to receive ‘rectification’.
The Chinese government claims that all of these measures are part of it’s campaign against rising religious extremism. There has been tensions between the Uyghur people and the Chinese ethnic group of Han people, that has boiled to violence in which hundreds have died due to conflict between separatists and the Chinese government in Xinjiang province.
Authorities blame the surge of conflict and violence on the rise of ‘Islamist militants’, however separatists have a different view. They say that the region has been illegally occupied by China since 1949, and they want independence from China. Several rights organisations say that the violence is in response to repressive policies placed upon people in the region.
Living in the west has granted us Muslims many religious freedoms, despite the fact that so many Muslims in other countries, such as the Uyghurs in China, have their religious freedom repressed everyday. It’s time to use our religious freedoms to speak up for those who are having their right to practise their religion freely witheld from them.
Israa is a Creative writing and English literature graduate, and currently volunteers for a few charities. In between her routine of nerding out over Dungeons and Dragons, and obsessively eating strawberries, she spends her time writing as much as she can.