BEIJING – Unlike millions of Muslims around the world, Uighur students returning for summer vacations in northwestern China are banned from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
“They are extracting guarantees from parents, promising that their children won’t fast on Ramadan,” Dilxat Raxit, Sweden-based spokesman for the exile World Uighur Congress (WUC), told Radio Free Asia on Thursday, June 13.
Chinese authorities have reportedly imposed restrictions on Uighur Muslim students returning for summer vacations in the northwestern region of Xinjiang ahead of Ramadan.
Under the restrictions, Uighur students under 18 are banned from fasting during Ramadan or taking part in religious activities.
Students defying the restrictions are being reported to authorities for punishment.
“They have also made groups of 10 households responsible for spying on each other, so that if a single child from one family fasts for Ramadan, or takes part in religious activities, then all 10 families will be fined,” Raxit said.
“It’s called a 10-household guarantee system.”
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, is set to start next month.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur’an.
Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.
Religious officials have confirmed that Ramadan fasting is banned for Uighur Muslim students.
“[Fasting] is not allowed,” an official at a religious affairs bureau in Hotan’s Yutian County told Radio Free Asia.
“The students and the teachers have to report to their schools every Friday, even during the vacation.
“It’s like regular lessons,” he said, adding that the students would also be eating there.
Activists have also complained that Uighur students are being stripped off their mobile phones ahead of Ramadan.
“After the students get back to their hometowns, those with cell phones and computers must hand them in to the police for searching,” said Raxit.
“If they don’t hand them over and are reported or caught by the authorities, then they will have to bear the consequences.”
The pre-Ramadan restrictions come ahead of the fourth anniversary of deadly riots in Xinjiang, which left nearly 200 people dead.
Chinese authorities have convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.
Xinjiang has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in the name of counter terrorism.
Muslims accuses the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
Analysts say the policy of transferring Han Chinese to Xinjiang to consolidate Beijing’s authority has increased the proportion of Han in the region from five percent in the 1940s to more than 40 percent now.
Beijing views the vast region of Xinjiang as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.