Chinese authorities have issued a ban on 22 Muslim names in Hotan prefecture in northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in an apparent bid to discourage extremism among the region's Uyghur residents, threatening to forbid children with such names from attending school unless their parents change them, according to local police and residents.
A Uyghur woman named Turakhan who lives in a suburban village of Niya (in Chinese, Minfeng) county in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture told RFA’s Uyghur Service on Wednesday that the village chief and police had informed all residents about “the list of forbidden Muslim names.”
“My daughter’s name is Muslime, so the village police came to our house and told us that we must change our daughter’s name as soon as possible,” she said. “The police explained to us that a name such as Muslime was officially forbidden. Under such circumstances, we were forced to change our daughter’s name.”
The police also told Turakhan: "It is the decision of the township and village authorities. Don’t ask any foolish questions.”
Turakhan later found out that authorities were forbidding children whose parents did not change their names from attending kindergarten and elementary school, she said.
A photo of the official announcement banning 15 popular Muslim first names for males and seven for females first appeared on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and was widely circulated via the messaging app WeChat.
The announcement was issued by the Tokhola (Tuohula) Village Communist Party Committee and village administration in Hotan prefecture.
The banned male names are Bin Laden, Saddam, Hussein, Arafat, Mujahid, Mujahidulla, Asadulla, Abdul’aziz, Seyfulla, Guldulla, Seyfiddin, Zikrulla, Nesrulla, Shemshiddin and Pakhirdin.
The banned female names are Amanet, Muslime, Mukhlise, Munise, Aishe, Fatima, Khadicha.
A Uyghur policeman at the Tokhola township police station in Qaraqash (Moyu) county told RFA on Wednesday that officers had received the announcement, but he could not read the document over the phone.
“We are all very busy, because today is the [Muslim] sacrifice festival, Eid al-Adha, so we must remain on duty,” he said.
He also said the head of a special office called the Political and Law Enforcement Office at the Township Party Committee was the person who informed residents and imams about which names were forbidden.
When Uyghurs have children, they invite an imam to the naming ceremony to give the child a Muslim name.
“Village party secretaries or village police have already informed the imams that they must obey the township authority’s restriction on some Islamic names,” the policeman said. “So in the Hoten region, everybody, including the imams and residents, know which names are legal and which names are forbidden.”
RFA also contacted the Layqa (Layika) township police station in Lop (Luopu) county, as well as the Kachong (Kaqiong) township police station in neighboring Kashgar (Kashi) prefecture's Yarkand (Shache) county, following reports the policy had also been rolled out there, but police refused to answer questions about the name ban.
‘A foolish decision’
Ilshat Hesen, vice president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association, called the name ban a “foolish decision,” violation of human rights, and an example of Chinese authorities’ extreme assimilation policy for Muslim Uyghurs.
“Giving children religious or ethnic names is a basic human right,” he told RFA. “Even in China’s constitution and regional ethnic autonomy laws, there exists no such forbidding of names.”
Hesen noted that some high-raking, pro-China and pro-communist Uyghur officials have had typical Muslim names, such as Seyfiddin Azizi, Isma’il Ahmed, Nur Bakri, since the Chinese revolution in 1949.
“More than 80 percent of Uyghur traditional names are Islamic names that come directly from the Quran and other Islamic texts,” he said. “There have been no authorities or governments in China’s history, including the Manchu Qing Dynasty or nationalist government, which have forbidden Uyghur names.”
Rights groups routinely 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.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.