China bans Islamic names in Muslim-populated Xinjiang region

In an effort to dilute religious influence and prevent the infiltration of Radical Islam, China has banned a list of Muslim names for newborns in the Uyghur Muslim-populated region. 

Authorities in China’s western Xinjiang region are prohibiting parents from giving children some Islamic names in the latest effort to dilute the influence of religion on life in the ethnic Uyghur minority heartland.

“Muhammad,” ”Jihad” and “Islam” are among at least 29 names now banned in the heavily Muslim region, according to a list distributed by overseas Uyghur activists.

A child given one of the forbidden names will be denied government benefits.

An official at a county-level public security office in Kashgar, a hub in southern Xinjiang with strong Islamic influences, says some names were banned because they had a “religious background.” It is unclear how widespread the ban is or whether it is tightly enforced. The official refused to identify herself, as is common with Chinese officials.

The naming restrictions are part of a broader government effort to secularize Xinjiang, which is home to roughly 10 million Uyghurs, a Turkic people who mostly follow Sunni Islam. Top officials including Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief have publicly said that radical Islamic thought has infiltrated the region from Central Asia, protracting a bloody, years-long insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives.

Earlier this month, China banned traditional Muslim clothing, including burqas and veils, as well as “abnormal” beards in Xinjiang. Government-linked commentators have also called for bans of mosques with domes or other Middle Eastern architectural styles.

Government-linked scholars and high-ranking officials, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, have urged local governments to better assimilate their Muslim minorities into the majority Han Chinese culture, and many ethnic policy hardliners have decried a trend of so-called “Arabization” affecting China’s 21 million Muslims.

Will New Restrictions Promote Radicalization?

Uyghur activists and human rights groups say that radical thought had never gained widespread traction, but restrictions on religious expression are fueling a cycle of radicalization and violence.

The names listed on the government document disseminated by Uyghur groups include “Imam,” ”Hajj,” ”Turknaz,” ”Azhar” and “Wahhab” are on the list, as are “Saddam,” ”Arafat,” Medina” and “Cairo.”

The decision over which names are deemed “overly religious” will be made by local government officials, according to Radio Free Asia, the US.-funded radio service which first reported the naming directive.

For instance, “Mehmet,” the widely seen Turkic version of “Muhammad,” is considered “mainstream” in Xinjiang and would likely be permitted, RFA reported.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the overseas World Uyghur Congress activist group, called the naming directive a policy bearing a “hostile attitude” toward the traditionally peaceful Uyghurs.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff