BEIJING - In new stifling restrictions on China's Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan, Muslim officials and students in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have been banned from fasting during the dawn-to-dusk month.
"The county committee has issued comprehensive policies on maintaining social stability during the Ramadan period, read a statement from Zonglang township in Xinjiang's Kashgar district cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday, August 1.
"It is forbidden for Communist Party cadres, civil officials (including those who have retired) and students to participate in Ramadan religious activities."
The statement, posted on the Xinjiang government website, urged party leaders to bring "gifts" of food to local village leaders to ensure that they were eating during Ramadan.
Similar orders on curbing Muslims from participating in Ramadan activities were also posted on other local government websites.
A statement posted on the website of the educational bureau of Wensu county called on schools to ensure that students do not enter mosques during Ramadan.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, began in Xinjiang on July 20.
The orders to curb religious activities were sent out across the region at different times, some before the start of Ramadan and some afterwards.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.
Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.
The new restrictions have prompted warnings of a new unrest in the Muslims-majority province.
"By banning fasting during Ramadan, China is using administrative methods to force the Uighur people to eat in an effort to break the fasting," Dilshat Rexit, spokesman of the World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement.
He warned that the restrictions would force "the Uighur people to resist (Chinese rule) even further."
Xinjiang saw its worst ethnic violence in recent times in July, 2009, when Uighurs attacked members of the nation's dominant Han ethnic group in the city of Urumqi.
In the following days, mobs of angry Han took to the streets looking for revenge in the worst ethnic violence that China had seen in decades.
The unrest left nearly 200 dead and 1,700 injured, according to government figures. But Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority of ten million, say the toll was much higher and mainly from their community.
China's authorities have convicted about 200 people, mostly Uighurs, over the riots and sentenced 26 of them to death.
Xinjiang has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in the name of counter terrorism.
Muslims accuses the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
Analysts say the policy of transferring Han Chinese to Xinjiang to consolidate Beijing's authority has increased the proportion of Han in the region from five percent in the 1940s to more than 40 percent now.Beijing views the vast region of Xinjiang as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.