According to a report in the New York Times, the Chinese authorities have added another layer of restriction on the Muslims of the Xinjiang region, its westernmost province that borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and India and is home to some 11 million Uighur Muslims and other small groups of ethnic Muslims among Tajik, Kazakh and Mongolian communities.
The New York Times report claims to have a copy of the “List of Banned Ethnic Minority Names” that has asked the Muslim parents to desist from choosing names like Muhammad, Medina, Mecca, Islam, Quran, Imam, Hajj, Jihad, Arafat and Mujahid. The directive has banned over two dozen such names which may be used to fan religious and divisive agenda. The list further expands the one notified in 2015 which banned names like Saddam, Hussein, Laden, Fatima, Amanet, Muslime among others.
The New York Times report, quoting Xinjiang officials, says the directive is “part of an effort to “curb religious fervour” in Xinjiang.”
A report in the Financial Times gives more details into this. It says that the Muslim families not complying with this directive will not get ‘hukou’, the registration of their households that gives them access to state benefits of childcare, health, education and employment. According to the report, the municipal authorities in Xinjiang have issued a notice which prohibits “overly religious or splittist names” for newborns. The directive doesn’t stop at naming the newborns only. It further says that “if your family has circumstances like this, you should change your child’s name.”
Organizations like the Human Rights Watch and Uighur representatives living in exile have condemned this order. The Human Rights Watch has termed it the “latest absurd restriction imposed on people of Xinjiang” while the World Uyghur Congress has termed “China’s policies increasingly hostile”.
Xinjiang, China’s North-western province, that is also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, borders eight countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. It came on the radar of the Chinese authorities, especially after the widespread riots in its capital city Urumqi in July 2009 between the Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese that saw around 200 dead and some 2000 injured. Ethnic Han Chinese are around 40 percent of Xinxiang’s population. China now considers Islamic terrorism emanating from Xinjiang destructive enough to convert into a full blown separatist movement and does all to curb its spread, especially after reports that the Islamic State (ISIS) is eyeing the region to recruit fighters and expand its base.
According to Amnesty International, mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, shooting and torture followed the Urumqi riots. China maintains a strong vigil in the region with large rallies of security forces to intimidate the minds who dare to think otherwise. It has banned its civil servants in the region from taking part in religious activities, even if it means fasting during Ramadan, a ban that was extended to students as well. Muslim attire like veils and symbols like keeping beard are already banned.