A Pakistani delegation has left for China to verify media reports that Chinese authorities have banned fasting during the holy month of Ramzan in Muslim-majority Xinjiang province.
China formally requested the Pakistan government to send a delegation to Xinjiang to ascertain the facts regarding the observance of Ramzan in the province, an official of the religious affairs ministry was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune.
The request was made after an international news agency reported Chinese authorities had outlawed fasting in the region.
The delegation from the religious affairs ministry includes the director general for research and the chief cleric of Islamabad's Faisal Mosque. It will stay in Xinjiang for four days and ascertain facts regarding the reported ban. Earlier, it was reported that Chinese authorities marked the start of Ramzan with a customary ban on fasting for civil servants, students and children in Xinjiang.
However, the Chinese government rejected these reports as baseless. Chinese officials said they did not force Muslims in Xinjiang to break their fast during Ramzan because the constitution guarantees religious freedom.
China formally requested the Pakistan government to send a team so that this controversy could be ended, the newspaper reported. China has approximately 20 million Muslims, and the far-western region of Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighur Muslims.
The official said the delegation will meet people of Xinjiang and clerics of mosques. “It’s a kind of visit in which formal statements of the Muslim population would be recorded as it is a state visit on the request of the Chinese government,” the official said. The delegation will submit its report to the secretary of the religious affairs ministry.
The reported attempt to ban fasting among Uighur Muslims every year has attracted widespread criticism from rights groups.
It was earlier reported that China had has also ordered restaurants in Xinjiang to stay open during Ramzan. “Food service workplaces will operate normal hours during Ramzan,” read a notice posted in June on the website of the state Food and Drug Administration in Xinjiang’s Jinghe county.
Officials in the region’s Bole county were told not to “engage in fasting, vigils or other religious activities”, according to a government website’s report of a meeting. Uighur rights groups say China’s restrictions on Islam in Xinjiang have added to ethnic tensions in the region, where clashes have killed hundreds in recent years.