Children under 16 told ‘overly religious’ names such as Saddam, Hajj and Jihad must be changed amid pro-Communist rallies across Xinjiang region
Muslim children in China’s far western Xinjiang region are being forced to change their “religious” names and adults are being coerced into attending rallies showing devotion to the officially atheist Communist party.
During Ramadan, the authorities in Xinjiang have ordered all children under 16 to change names where police have determined they are “overly religious”.
As many as 15 names have been banned, including Islam, Quran, Mecca, Jihad, Imam, Saddam, Hajj, Medina and Arafat, according to Radio Free Asia.
The order coincided with millions gathering at 50,000 individual rallies across Xinjiang this week to pledge allegiance to the Communist party.
More than a quarter of the region’s population sang the national anthem at 9am on 29 May and pledged allegiance to the Communist party, according to state media reports.
Xinjiang’s Muslims mostly belonging to the Uighur ethnic group, a Turkic people.
The region has occasionally seen sporadic violence which China blames on international terrorist groups.
But overseas observers say the vast majority of incidents are a result of local grievances.
Human rights groups accuse China of restricting Uighurs’ freedom of religion and expression and authorities routinely deny passports to members of the ethnic group.
The government has also encourages mass migration by Han Chinese to the area and they now make up roughly 45% of the population.
In recent months authorities began confiscating Qur’ans published before August 2012, declaring them illegal for containing “extremist content”, according to a report by US-funded Radio Free Asia.
On the same day as the mass rallies, officials in Xinjiang announced they had expelled a Communist party member for attending religious activities at a local mosque.
It was not clear if the man was a government official or simply a private citizen who was also a party member.
Rules announced last year also forbid retired officials from attending religious ceremonies and ban them from holding and beliefs.