Thu, Oct 05, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Celebrating the Muslim holiday under the Communist Party

China's 21 million Muslims are allowed to celebrate Ramadan, but Beijing is keeping an eye out for the `three evil forces' of extremism, separatism and terrorism

By Bill Smith  /  DPA , BEIJING

A bare-chested Chinese man glanced through a restaurant window at three women in headscarves as he ambled, under the midday sun, through an alley near Beijing's 500-year-old Dongsi Mosque.

Although now into the second week of Ramadan, the Uighur women enjoyed a lunch of lamb kebabs and pilau rice inside the Crescent Moon Xinjiang Restaurant, as they chatted in their throaty Central Asian language with two male companions.

Several more groups of Uighur men and women ate lunch while three young Chinese men gorged themselves on lamb and beer.

Despite the traditional Muslim requirement to fast between sunrise and sunset during the holy month, daytime business continued as normal at the Crescent Moon, as at other Uighur restaurants in the Chinese capital.

The Crescent Moon sells wine and liquor produced 3,000km away in the Uighurs' home in Xinjiang, a vast Chinese-named region that borders Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The walls are decorated with photographs of Xinjiang overlaid with white Arabic script. In one picture, a suspiciously bright red flag hangs above a crowd outside an ancient mosque, seemingly emphasizing the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over religious activity.

The restaurant will open for lunch throughout Ramadan, the Uighur owner, Anniwan, said with a smile and a shrug of his shoulders.

After 20 years in Beijing, Anniwan says he still misses Xinjiang, where many Uighurs do observe Ramadan and other traditional festivals.

"I do miss it, but my mother is here," he says.

The liberal atmosphere that reigns in what Anniwan calls a "Uighur new-style restaurant" suits the party, which tries to assimilate ethnic and religious minorities into mainstream Chinese culture.

China officially has 21 million Muslims, about half of them from the Hui group which predominates in poor northwestern areas but is spread across the country. Approximately 7.5 million Uighurs form the largest minority in Xinjiang.

After all religion was forcibly suppressed during the communist fundamentalism of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, the state protected "normal religious activities" in its 1982 constitution.

The government also gives concessions to ethnic minorities under its "one child" family planning policy and has recruited more officials from minorities.

But controls remain over religious activity and all mosques must register with the government supervisory body, the Islamic Association of China.

The party closely monitors activities at mosques in Xinjiang, where it wages a public battle against what it terms the "three evil forces" of religious extremism, separatism and terrorism.

In parts of Xinjiang, the hostility of Uighurs towards Chinese people is palpable. Many Uighurs complain of cultural and religious repression and claim ethnic Chinese migrants enjoy the main benefits of development in the oil-rich but economically backward region.

Some Uighurs favor independence from China and have staged small-scale terrorist attacks in the past. The government said terrorists were responsible for 200 incidents that killed 162 people in Xinjiang from 1990 to 2001, but almost no terrorism-related incidents have been reported there in recent years.

Feng Jinyuan, an ethnic Hui researcher on religion at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, claims that some pro-independence Uighurs are "controlled by foreign organizations, especially some US groups."

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