Millions of Muslims are fasting in this holy month of Ramadan. Even for those of us who are not fasting here, in Jakarta, Ramadan is still omnipresent.
There is a sense of piety floating in the air at my office, and when the call to prayer marks that it’s 6 o’clock, there are bolts to the kitchen to grab the mountains of food stowed away in the fridge. The joy of breaking the fast can be heard from the other side of the office in laughter, singing and exaltation. But…
Some 5,000 kilometres northeast of this scene at my office is China’s Xinjiang Province, home to more than 7 million Uighurs, a Muslim Turkic people. In Xingjiang Province, the laughter and exaltation is muffled. Muslims have to hide the fact that they are fasting, as it has been banned this year by the Chinese government, according to government websites.
Women in the province are not allowed to wear veils, even if they do every other month of the year. Men must shave off their beards and government officials are banned from observing Ramadan in any way.
Teachers and students are also barred from observing Ramadan altogether. Mass prayers are prohibited.
The government has not disclosed how it is enforcing the bans. Enforcing a ban on fasting would be an arduous task, yet Muslims are hiding their practices in fear of being arrested.
Restaurants that usually close during the day in the month of Ramadan are being forced to stay open, or they risk being closed down altogether.
The Chinese government claims it is enforcing the bans to “maintain social order”, in response to bombings in the region on Aug. 10.
I can’t say I’m surprised – this is but one of the many human rights violations the Chinese government is guilty of. But what role do other countries have in bringing about change in China? China’s history is a complex one of dynasties and dictatorships and it’s not as simple as pointing the finger and saying “bad China”.
I often wonder what the next step is. Protesting during the Olympics and criticizing the government were important symbols. But what should the rest of the world be doing?