Xinjiang affirms religious freedom ahead of Ramadan

By Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2016-6-3 0:48:01

White paper opposes attempt to politicize religion

China on Thursday released a white paper on freedom of religious beliefs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which analysts believe would dispel possible misinterpretations on China's Xinjiang policy before this year's Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday.

"[China] fully respects its citizens' religious needs. During the month of Ramadan, Muslim restaurants can decide whether they want to do business. There will be no interference," read the white paper, which was released by the State Council Information Office.

It claims that the freedom of religious beliefs in Xinjiang today "cannot be matched by any other  period in history," and that the Chinese government firmly opposes any attempt to politicize religious issues or use religious issues as an excuse to interfere in other countries' domestic affairs.

Xinjiang last year called on Party members, civil servants and underage students not to fast.

The ban, though not imposed on practicing Muslims, was misinterpreted and sparked a protest in Istanbul, and a statement from Turkey's foreign ministry said the Turks are "saddened by reports of Uyghurs being banned from fasting."

The statement was later rebuked by China's foreign ministry, which said Uyghurs enjoy religious freedom under the Constitution.

Pan Zhiping, a research fellow at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the white paper shows "an effort by the Chinese government to face up to possible misinterpretation and challenges from certain countries."

China has clearly provided for decades in its political discipline that members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are atheists and cannot profess a religion.

"The rules are not going to change, but Muslims without political obligations are free to fast," Xu Jianying, a research fellow at the Research Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

As for civil servants, Pan said those who are not Party members are allowed to practice a religion, but they are asked to give up on fasting due to work responsibilities.

"If they fast, which means they cannot eat or drink for at least 13 hours in a day, it is not possible for them to carry out their duties. As civil servants, they are asked to place their obligations to the country before themselves," Pan said.

Both Pan and Xu said the rules reflect the spirit of China as a secular country, which means religion and politics are separate.

As for students under the age of 18, Xinjiang laws stipulate that no organization or person is allowed to induce or force minors to participate in religious activities. China's Education Law also states that education and religion should be separate, and that religion should not interfere in educational activities. 

Shewket Imin, a member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Xinjiang committee, said Thursday that "judging by national and regional laws, underage students should not participate in religious activities."

Religion as excuse

The white paper said Xinjiang currently has 24,800 religious venues, including 24,400 mosques, 59 Buddhist temples, 227 Protestant churches, 26 Catholic churches and three Orthodox churches. The autonomous region is home to 29,300 clerical personnel, including 29,000 imams, 280 Buddhist monks and 26 Protestant pastors.

The region also has eight religious schools and 112 religious organizations. The training of clerical personnel has been strengthened, the white paper said. 

Jerla Isamudinhe, Xinjiang vice chairman, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that the Xinjiang Islamic Scripture Institute, a key religious school for training imams, is expected to enroll two to three times more students by 2017.

The school currently has 160 students, according to the China Islamic Association website.

The white paper said that since 2001, the region has sent over 70 clerical personnel and religious students for studies at prominent universities such as Egypt's Al-Azhar University.

Shewket Imin said that 93 percent of the clerical personnel enjoy a special government stipend.

The white paper also stressed that Xinjiang has been managing its religious affairs by law.

The document said religious extremism has been spreading in Xinjiang in recent years, which has turned some people into extremists or terrorists involved in a series of deadly terror attacks.

Xinjiang has been cracking down on illegal practices and secessionist activities in the name of religion.

The paper added that religious extremism is not a religion at all, and Xinjiang's campaign to counter the influence of extremism is a "justifiable move to defend the country's fundamental interests."

It called for active guidance to adapt religions within the socialist society and to firmly prevent any form of interference in administrative, judiciary and educational affairs in the name of religion.

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