BEIJING – In the latest episode of China’s crackdown on religious freedoms, Beijing has banned Islamic baby names in the Muslim dominant province of Xinjiang, only weeks after banning the so-called “abnormal” beards and hijabs.
Any babies with “overly religious” names will be barred from the hukou household registration system governing access to healthcare and education, a police official in the regional capital of Urumqi told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
“You’re not allowed to give names with a strong religious flavour, such as Jihad or names like that,” he added.
“The most important thing here is the connotations of the name… [it mustn’t have] connotations of holy war or of separatism.”
The new restrictions were announced in a document entitled “Naming Rules for Ethnic Minorities”, which prohibits names used by Muslim parents around the world including Imam, Hajj, Islam, Qur’an, Saddam, Medina and Islam.
It applies to the Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, where the Communist Party has been imposing ever tighter restrictions on religion in its claimed battle against “extremism.”
According to official data, China has 23 million Muslims, most of them are concentrated in Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions and provinces.
Unofficially, Muslim groups say the number is even higher, stating that there are from 65-100 million Muslims in China — up to 7.5 percent of the population.
Roughly half of Muslims live in Xinjiang, an oil-rich expanse of Central Asia where a cycle of violence and government repression has alarmed human rights advocates and unnerved Beijing over worries about the spread of extremism.
Human Rights Watch denounced the latest “absurd” prohibition as part of a slew of new regulations “restricting religious freedom in the name of countering ‘extremism’.
“These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression,” said China director Sophie Richardson.
“Violent incidents and ethnic tensions in Xinjiang have been on the rise in recent years, but the government’s farcically repressive policies and punishments are hardly solutions.
“Instead, they are only going to deepen resentment among Uyghurs.”
Chinese authorities impose restrictions on Uighur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, especially during Ramadan.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
China regularly vows to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.