Before delving into the issue regarding Ramadan restrictions in Xinjiang I wanted to clarify some terminology which most people outside of China get wrong. Thus for example the media often uses the term “Chinese Muslims” as if there is a monolith of 25 million people in China, or when the media announcs the restrictions on Chinese Muslims – as if the restrictions are on all Chinese Muslims. A word of caution is in order here. Here are some clarifications which will may be helpful for people to interpret the news in the future insha’Allah. Firstly even the term Chinese is not always well defined. It can mean a person who is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China (and Taiwan) and thus can be from one of the 56 recogonized nationaliities in China. Thus the millions of Koreans and Monglians of China would be Chinese in this sense. On the other hand the word Chinese can be synnonymous with the Han Chinese ethnic group in China which accounts for 90% of Chinese citizens. The amount to which the minorities of China identify with China depends upon the minority and how many people of their own ethnicity live outside of China. In the same vein the word Chiese Muslim can also be problemetic. The most general definition would of course anyone who believes in Islam and is a citizen of People’s Republic of China or the Republic of China (Taiwan). Out of the 56 ethnic groups 10 ethnic groups have majority Muslim populations. Out of these 10 the two that account for more than 90 percent of all Muslims are the Hui who are spread throughout China and the Uiygar who are mainly concentrated in the Northwestern province of Xinjiang. Historically the word Chinese Muslim has been synonymous with the Huis. They are the descendents of Arab and Persian Muslims who intermarried with the local Chinese population plus Han Chinese converts. At the begininning of the twentieth century all Chinese Muslim regardless of their background who did not have a seperate language and spoke any dialect of the Chinese language as their mother tongue were declared as a single ethnic group called the Hui. Historically the relations between the Hui Muslims and the Uiygar Muslims have varied and have not always been good. The Huis are sometime preceived as being “More Han Chiense than the Han Chinese” by the Uiygar. One of the reasons is that Hui Muslims have historically conceived of themselves as Chinese Muslims. They have not thought of themselves as something seperate but rather an integral part of China and the Chinese nation while the Uiygar are Turkish in origin. The terminology is even more complicated becasue there are hundreds or even thousands of Huis who are not even Muslims anymore but are counted as such. At the same time there are many Han Chinese Muslim converts who are not considered Huis but they would have been considered so if they lived a couple of hundred years ago. The category of Hui and Chinese Muslims is thus very complicated. More on this in another post in the future insha’Allah.
Now onto the recent restrictions regarding Ramadan. I am sure most people would have read about it by now in New York Times. These restrictions are not on all Chinese Muslims but to the best of my knowledge only in the province of Xinjiang. Chinese Muslims in other provinces are free to observe Ramadan. The same applies to foreign Muslims in China i.e., they are also free to observe Ramadan. Also the conflict in Ramadan should not be viewed as a conflict in religious terms but rather it is an ethnic conflict. What do I mean by this? In Westen media any news story about Xinjiang usually starts with “Muslim extremists in China.” However if one reads the same story in Chinese or even from Chinese sources in English, they use the term “Uiygar seperatists.” So what is the point of this post? We are not stating that there is no discrimination or restrictions in Xinjiang but rather that this is not the case in all of China and we should not look at it as a religious conflict. We can always pray for all these people that may Allah make it easy for them and may Allah show our non-Muslim Chinese friends the right path to Islam. Ameen!