Chinese government authorities in the northwestern Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang have banned parents from giving their children dozens of ‘extreme’ Islamic names, as part of an ongoing crackdown on alleged ‘extremism’ in the area.
An official list of banned names had previously been circulated in Hotan, south Xinjiang, as early as 2015, sources told Radio Free Asia.
Published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party as ‘Naming Rules For Ethnic Minorities’, the document’s rules now appear to be enforced throughout the region, which is home to the biggest Muslim population in China.
Names with overly religious connotations – such as Jihad, Imam, Mecca, Saddam and Hajj – are banned for supposedly ‘exaggerating religious fervour’, despite being popular choices for Muslim parents all over the world.
Any babies who are found to be registered under the listed names will be barred from the hukou household registration system used throughout China – effectively denying them access to public healthcare and education.
“I think it is possible, according to China’s anti-terror law, [that] there are several names forbidden to give to new-born babies, such as Jihad, which means holy war,” said a Xinjiang government official surnamed Li, based in the regional capital of Urumqi.
“It is absolutely forbidden to get registered with this name.”
Xinjiang province sits on the extreme northwest of China, bordering Mongolia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tibet.
Around half of its 20 million-strong inhabitants are Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority group hailing from Central Asia, who have distinct cultural differences from the Han Chinese who make up the majority of China’s population.
The Chinese government have been increasingly tightening religious restrictions in the area as part of its war on what it claims to be religious extremism.
Authorities regularly conduct raids on Uighur households, and introduced a ban on wearing face veils and growing long beards only weeks before the new naming regulations.
Several violent incidents have broken out in the troubled area in recent years, claiming hundreds of lives in total. These include a knife attack in February that left eight people dead, as well as an attempted terrorist attack in December which saw four assailants drive a car full of explosives into a government building.
Beijing regularly blames ethnic Uighurs for stoking up regional tensions and causing civil unrest in Xinjiang, while social media-fuelled Islamophobia is on the rise throughout the country.
A long-running separatist conflict has been brewing in the far-west area for decades, with regional groups wanting independence from the People’s Republic. They claim that the territory has been occupied illegally since 1949.
Dilxat Raxit, a Uighur spokesman, claimed that the Chinese government is continuing to suppress traditional Uighur culture using these new rules.
“In setting limits on the naming of Uighurs, the Chinese government is in fact engaging in political persecution under another guise,” Mr Raxit told Radio Free Asia.
“These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression,” said Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch.