Promoting a peaceful outlook
With the advent of the holy month of Ramadan, all national dailies and other media outlets started printing news claiming that the Chinese government had put a ban on fasting for Muslims in the country.
The same question intrigued me last year and I decided to visit China to understand how an elected government of one of the most developed nations could interfere in the religious freedom of the second largest ethnic group there.
After interactions with the local residents of China, it was revealed that the so-called “ban on fasting” was not a blanket ban for all Muslims across China. In fact, there hasn’t been any official communication from the federal government to enforce this ban. The only point where this ban is seen being implemented is in certain schools and some government buildings in the Muslim-majority Xingjian autonomous region.
Some officials in Xinjiang province say that no such ban has been officially enforced. Also, most of the Muslims in Ürümqi and Kashgar, with whom I spoke, mentioned that they faced no such obstruction in fasting and neither have they been prohibited or reprimanded.
During my visit to the main Eidgah Mosque in the city of Kashgar, a traditional business centre in Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang province, I saw some people offering prayers
During my visit to the main Eidgah Mosque in the city of Kashgar, a traditional business centre in Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang province, I saw some people offering prayers. The mosque is the largest in the country and attracts more than 10,000 Muslims on important religious occasions.
When asked about the alleged ban on fasting, Mohammad, who works in the ministry of foreign affairs, China, brushed aside such allegations.
“There is no ban on citizens observing fasting during Ramzan. Religious freedom is protected under the constitution in China, which the government strictly abides by. In case of minorities especially, the constitution is strictly followed to ensure harmony, peace and tranquillity among people from various faiths and beliefs,” he added.
Mohammad said President Xi Jinping strongly believes in implementing the constitution in letter and spirit and he has given specific directions to government authorities to ensure that Muslim citizens enjoy religious freedom.
“Chinese government never believed in putting curbs on ethnic minorities. Fasting ban in China is a false propaganda. This issue is actually being confused by some media organisations who don’t understand the system in China,” asserted Mohammad.
Asked to explain, Mohammad said that all government employees were members of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Since communists do not follow the teachings of Islam, they also do not observe fast. So the notices put in some government buildings are meant for government employees who are guided not to fast as the ruling party does not encourage any religious activities, Mohammad said.
Mohammad said that since he has also joined Communist Party of China he does not fast but some members of his family do and there were no restrictions on Muslims anywhere in the country.
Asked whether there was any ban on students and teachers, Mohammad responded in the affirmative, stating that fasting ban on children was aimed at ensuring their growth and nourishment as fasting may harm their mental and physical growth.
“Even Islam allows children, old and the ill not to fast as it may hamper their recovery and physical and mental growth,” he added.
Abdel Ghani, a Uyghur Muslim from Shufu County in southern Xinjiang, said Muslims from various ethnic groups were happy over the arrangements made by the Chinese government. “We are happy for the arrangements made by the authorities here,” said Ghani who joined prayers with other faithful in a crowded main Mosque. He said Muslims are peaceful and he prayed to Allah for the wellbeing, health and prosperity of his family and friends.
Noor Ahmed, an ethnic Hui Muslim from Ürümqi, also said there was no ban on fasting during the holy month.
It is important to understand that China itself is an atheist, secular society and the state does not promote any faith. Over many centuries, Chinese society has also been influenced by the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism
“Xinjiang authorities have made elaborate arrangements for the fasting month. Mosques have been cleaned by government authorities and a special night bazaar has been set up in Ürümqi to facilitate eating for Muslims at night. Shops remain open at night for Sehr and Iftar,” he added.
Furqan Rao, a Pakistani journalist studying in Renmin University, Beijing, China, told DNA that there was no ban whatsoever for Muslims observe fast.
“I am here with my fellow journalists from Pakistan and other countries who are completing our diploma in New Media and Communications. We are fasting and there is no problem whatsoever for any Muslim to observe fast,” he said.
Rao said that there was no fasting ban for Muslims in China and the so-called advisory issued in Xinjiang province was only meant for Communist party members and students.
“This is a venomous and false propaganda to harm the image of China internationally. I am saying it on the basis of my own experience and the interaction I have with the Muslim students here,” maintained Furqan Rao.
It is important to understand that China itself is an atheist, secular society and the state does not promote any faith. Over many centuries, Chinese society has also been influenced by the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. However, the ruling Communist Party of China discourages any faith — from Buddhism to Islam. Therefore, this ban is not entirely unprecedented.
However, despite a negative propaganda against the Muslims across the globe, the Chinese government has adopted a policy of tolerance, restraint and accommodation towards Muslims despite an insurgency launched by Muslim separatists in China. This policy helps promote a pluralistic outlook of the country.