A Chinese province’s ban on the observance of the Ramadan fast among Muslim university students ignores the importance that religion can have for its followers, an American Muslim religious freedom advocate said.
“Religion is a fundamental human right. It is a fundamental aspect of humanity that gives our lives meaning,” Asma Uddin, legal counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said July 16.
“Religion informs what we do and how we do it,” she told CNA. “For many people it’s a question of their deepest relationship of all.”
“This strong, fundamental relevance of religion should be accommodated everywhere possible by government,” she added.
Three Muslim students told BBC News that they have been forced to have meals with professors to ensure they are not fasting. Those who refuse to eat risk punishment and official warnings that could affect their future careers or deny them their degrees.
“Most of us would like to fast,” one student told BBC News. “But with the current situation most of us have decided against it.”
The students said that the ban is in force at all universities across China’s western Xinjiang region.
Several government departments have also imposed a ban on Ramadan fasting.
Uddin said that the ban is “unfortunate” because fasting is “a huge part of the Muslim faith.”
She explained the fast is one of the five pillars of the religion. Fasting helps Muslims reflect “not just on their spiritual state but also on the physical sufferings people all over the world go through every day,” she said.
The Ramadan observance is also accompanied by charitable acts and events.
Xinjiang province is the home of the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority.
The bans come at a time when the Chinese government is blaming Muslim extremists and foreign terrorist groups for violent attacks in the region
Uddin said that Chinese restrictions on Muslims are not new and often go “much further” than a ban on fasting. Access to mosques is at times restricted under the rationale of fighting extremism. She said this is motivated by the belief that these restrictions will preclude religious gatherings “that can serve as a rallying point for different types of political opposition.”
However, she said this strategy is counterproductive.
“Where religious practice is suppressed, it actually leads to more unrest and public disorder, as opposed to creating the order that the government thinks it can achieve,” she said.
“The best way to prevent extremism and violence is to allow for a healthy public version of religious exercise.”