Uyghur Muslims located in the northwest of China have been ordered to cease their observance of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that necessitates taking part in fasting during the day.
According to the Associated Press, statements about the ban have been posted on the websites of government agencies, organizations, and schools in the Xinjiang region. Chinese officials said the Ramadan ban was being instituted to protect the well-being of students, and to protect them from schools and government offices that wanted to promote the Islamic faith.
“No teacher can participate in religious activities, instill religious thoughts in students or coerce students into religious activities,” said a post on a school’s website.
Another grade school website said, “Students shall not participate in religious activities; they shall not study scripts or read poems at script and choir classes; they shall not wear any religious emblems; and no parent or others can force students to have religious beliefs or partake in religious activities.”
Xinjiang is under tight security guidelines following recent attacks from Uyghur Muslim extremists. Violence has dramatically upticked in the past couple months. Chinese officials largely blame Islamist extremists for the escalation, but the Uyghur community blames the ruling party for discriminating against them as a subjugated minority.
On May 22, Islamist militants threw bombs into a crowded market in the regional capital of Urumqi, killing 43 people.
On June 22, police clashed with attackers who drove into a barracks armed with explosives.
Chinese officials have also blamed two other recent attacks on train stations in southwest China on Islamist extremists.
China recently instituted a massive crackdown on Islamists within its country; the government arrested more than 380 people in just one month.
While aware of the likelihood of foreign jihadi influence, Chinese government officials under President Xi Jinping have had trouble tracking and pinpointing from where the foreign assistance to the Uyghur groups was coming. Fifteen other incidents have been attributed to the Uyghur Muslims since 2011.
The Jamestown Foundation’s Jacob Zenn said the East Turkestan Islamic movement, supported by the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), a Pakistan-based group, seeks an Islamic state in Xinjiang, a region of 21 million in northwest China. The group shares the flag of Jihad, which is also used by al-Qaeda.
“The TIP’s main value added in Xinjiang is mostly providing training to Uyghurs who travel abroad or, likely more importantly, the clandestine distribution of jihadist ideological and training materials in Xinjiang by way of various Uyghur, Pakistani or Central Asian traders,” Zenn said of the Islamist groups’ connections. He added, “On the international front, the TIP has become an influential promoter and ‘spokesperson’ for Uyghur militants in China and issues praise of virtually every violent incident between Uyghur and Chinese police or Han civilians.”
Zenn worried that the continued radicalization of Uyghur militants has turned them into an al-Qaeda-like force in China with international support. “It is likely that [Uyghur] militancy will come to resemble al-Qaeda’s militant operations elsewhere in the world as knowledge-transfer takes place with in-person training in Afghanistan and Pakistan or Syria or simply online or in jihadist videos,” he stated.