China bans ‘overly religious’ Muslim baby names in Xinjiang province | world-news | Hindustan Times
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China bans ‘overly religious’ Muslim baby names in Xinjiang province

A list accessed by Hindustan Times puts the number of banned names at 29. According to the new ruling by the Communist Party of China, names such as Islam, Saddam, Medina and Imam have been deemed “overly religious” and banned.

world Updated: May 11, 2017 15:19 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Names such as Islam, Saddam, Medina and Imam have been deemed “overly religious” and banned.
Names such as Islam, Saddam, Medina and Imam have been deemed “overly religious” and banned.(REUTERS FILE)

Picking names for babies just got tougher in China’s restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, with authorities issuing a list of banned names for Muslim newborns whose use could deprive children of government benefits.

A list accessed by Hindustan Times puts the number of banned names at 29. According to the new ruling by the Communist Party of China, names such as Islam, Saddam, Medina and Imam have been deemed “overly religious” and banned.

Names which connote the star and moon, symbols widely used in Islam, too were banned.

Critics have called the rule “absurd” and part of a wider and increasingly intense crackdown on the Muslim Uyghur minority, including restrictions on beards and veils. Some members of the community have been accused of fomenting separatism, violence and terrorism.

Xinjiang is home to some 10 million Muslim Uyghurs, a little less than half of China’s 23 million Muslims.

Children with the banned names will not be given a “hukou” or local household registration, without which there is no access to civic amenities such as education and healthcare.

“You're not allowed to give names with a strong religious flavour, such as Jihad or names like that. The most important thing here is the connotations of the name... (it mustn't have) connotations of holy war or of splittism (Xinjiang independence),” an unnamed official told Radio Free Asia.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, told Hindustan Times in an email: “This is another example of an extremely hostile attitude towards the Uyghur community. If the Uyghurs don’t accept (the rules) there will be allegations and punishment.”

Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said in a statement, “This is just the latest in a slew of new regulations restricting religious freedom in the name of countering ‘religious extremism.’ On April 1, Xinjiang authorities imposed new rules prohibiting the wearing of ‘abnormal’ beards or veils in public places, and imposing punishments for refusing to watch state TV or radio programs.

“These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression,” she said.

Rights groups say the religious and cultural rights of Uyghurs in Xinjiang are severely restricted, leading to alienation among the ethnic community. Incidents of violence are a result of government policies rather than part of a movement towards a separate country, they say.

Besides restrictions on “abnormal” beards and wearing veils in public, the crackdown has led to other decisions some would describe as bizarre. Last month, a Uyghur official in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture was demoted for not smoking in front of religious figures. He didn’t have “a resolute political stance”, reports said.