The government of China has prohibited parents in the Muslim-majority Uighur region from naming their children Islamic names in the latest effort “to dilute the influence of religion on life”.
According to a list distributed by overseas Uighur activists, “Muhammad,” ”Jihad” and “Islam” are among at least 29 names now banned in the heavily Muslim region.
It is understood that if a parent chooses one of the barred names, the child will be denied government benefits.
The names listed on the government document disseminated by Uighur groups include several related to historic religious or political figures and some place names.
An official at a county-level public security office who spoke on the condition of anonymity said some names were banned because they had a “religious background”.
“Imam,” ”Hajj,” ”Turknaz,” ”Azhar” and “Wahhab” are on the list, as are “Saddam,” ”Arafat,” Medina” and “Cairo.”
Judgment calls about which names are deemed to be “overly religious” will be made by local government officials, according to Radio Free Asia, the U.S.-funded radio service which first reported the naming directive.
It remains unclear how widespread the ban is or whether it is tightly enforced.
The naming restrictions are part of a broader government effort to secularize Xinjiang, which is home to roughly 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic people who mostly follow Sunni Islam.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the overseas World Uighur Congress activist group, called the naming directive a policy bearing a “hostile attitude” toward Uighurs.
“Han parents choosing Western names are considered trendy but Uighurs have to accept Chinese regulations or else be accused of being separatists or terrorists,” he said.
Human Rights Watch also said the latest “absurd” prohibition was 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 Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s director for China.
“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 Uighurs.”