ISLAMABAD: A high-powered delegation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs left for China on Tuesday to check the veracity of media reports that Chinese authorities have banned fasting in the holy month of Ramazan in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, The Express Tribune has learnt.
China had formally requested the Pakistan government to send a delegation to Xinjiang to ascertain facts regarding observance of Ramazan in the Muslim-populated province, said an official of the religious affairs ministry.
China restricts Ramazan fasting in Muslim region
The request was made after an international news agency reported that Chinese authorities had outlawed fasting in the region.
The delegation includes Director General (Research) Noor Islam Shah and Faisal Mosque chief cleric Ziaur Rehman. It will stay in Xinjiang for four days and ascertain facts regarding the reported fasting ban. Earlier it was reported that Chinese authorities had marked the start of Ramazan with a customary ban on civil servants, students and children in the mainly-Muslim region to fast.
However, the Chinese government rejected the reports as baseless. Chinese officials claim they did not force Muslims in Xinjiang to break their fast during Ramazan because the country’s constitution guarantees religious freedom.
China formally approached the Pakistan government with a request to send a team so that this controversy could be ended, said the official privy to the development. China has approximately 20 million-strong Muslim population, and the far-western region of Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighur Muslims.
While sharing details, the official said the delegation would meet people of that province as well clerics of different mosques. “It’s a kind of visit in which formal statements of the Muslim population would be recorded as it is a state visit on the request of the Chinese government,” the official said, adding that after the visit the delegation would submit its report to the secretary of the religious affairs ministry.
China’s ruling Communist party is officially atheist and has for years restricted the practice in Xinjiang – home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, according to several international media outlets.
The authorities attempt to ban fasting among Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang every year, attracting widespread criticism from rights groups.
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This year as well, China has banned civil servants, students and teachers in the Xinjiang region from fasting during Ramazan and ordered restaurants to stay open.
“Food service workplaces will operate normal hours during Ramazan,” read a notice posted earlier in June on the website of the state Food and Drug Administration in Xinjiang’s Jinghe county.
Officials in the region’s Bole county were told: “During Ramazan do not engage in fasting, vigils or other religious activities,” according to a local government website report of a meeting.
Uighur rights groups claim China’s restrictions on Islam in Xinjiang have added to ethnic tensions in the region, where clashes have killed hundreds in recent years.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2016.