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China Ramadan ban has made Uighur Muslims more observant of Islam
Sunday July 6, 2014 8:41 PM, Agencies

The Uighur Muslims not only defied the ban by the Chinese authorities on Ramadan fast but said the the restrictions have backfired and thye have become more observant of Islamic practices with many finding ways to flaunt Chinese laws restricting everything from who may attend the mosque, to which copies of the Quran are read, a media report said.

Uighur Muslims

"That is Mao ZeDong," Aljazeera quoted Omar, a taxi driver as saying who was pointing to a 24m-tall statue of the founder of the People's Republic of China, as he navigates his taxi through traffic across People's Square.

"He brought all the Chinese here," he added, out of earshot of the soldiers lining up across the street.

A few minutes later, the soldiers pile into trucks and move to the city's commercial centre down the road, where police frisk shoppers at the entrance to a shopping mall. Across Kashgar, security forces have been deployed to thwart potential attacks by Uighur militants seeking to wrestle control of Xinjiang province from Beijing.

Home to some of China's largest deposits of oil, natural gas, and coal, Xinjiang has a majority Muslim Uighur population - a Turkic ethnic group with a language and culture closer to Central Asia.

Before the region was absorbed into the People's Republic of China in 1949, almost everyone here was Uighur, but the numbers have have since declined, dropping to below half by the year 2000, as tens of millions of Han Chinese - the majority population of mainland China - were encouraged to settle here by the government.

That demographic shift, which accelerated in the 1990s as Beijing began to develop Xinjiang, combined with Chinese laws restricting Islamic practices by Uighurs and the 1997 execution of 30 Uighur separatists by Chinese authorities, triggered a wave of violence by militants that has left hundreds of people dead, mostly civilians, Al Jazeera said in a report.

Last month, a suicide bomber killed 39 people in the provincial capitol of Urumqi, and police claimed to have killed 13 men who attempted to ram an explosives-laden vehicle into their office near Kashgar.

The deadly violence - including an attack by knife-wielding men at a train station in Kuming that killed 29 in March - has sparked a massive crackdown by Beijing, with authorities announcing the convictions of more than 400 people across Xinjiang. Last Wednesday, Kashgar authorities announced 113 people had been sentenced for crimes, including supporting terrorism and inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination.

"The government says every Uighur, if they have a beard or wear a hijab, they are a terrorist," said Abdul Majid, who owns a mobile phone shop near People's Square. He says the last time tensions were this high was in 2009, after 184 people died in clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Urumqi.

Yet, Abdul Razzak and other Uighurs said the attempt to clamp down on religious expression has backfired in Kashgar, with more and more locals flaunting the restrictions.

Nearly every business in Kashgar's old city is closed during the hottest part of the afternoon when Al Jazeera visited this week during Ramadan.

In the evening, throngs of young women in headscarves or full face veils pass signs posted at Kashgar's main hospital reminding them veiled women cannot enter.

Along with government employees, children under the age of 18 are barred from attending mosques, yet dozens of men attending night prayers at one of Kashgar's medieval mosques have brought along their children. Toddlers line up next to the adults, imitating their movements during prayers.

"Sure, it's against the law to bring kids to the masjid [mosque], but we do it anyway," said Ghulam Abbas, a middle-aged Uighur man who makes a living selling fried fish on the main boulevard in the old city.

He added that, for centuries, parents sent their children to maktaps, part-time schools at the mosque, where they memorised the Quran - but this practise, along with most organised religious instruction, is now prohibited in Xinjiang.

Asked if Uighurs are forgetting how to recite the Quran as a result, Abbas called his eight-year-old son over and, after some coaxing, convinced him to recite a chapter from memory. "They want to cut our children off from Islam," Abbas said. "We are not allowed to teach them the Quran, but we do, at home - secretly."




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