China Bans Popular Islamic Names, Including Mohammed, in Heavily Muslim Region

Chinese officials say radical Islamic thought has infiltrated the Xinjiang region from Central Asia, and are pushing to secularize the population

The Associated Press
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Ethnic Uighurs sit near a statue of China's late Chairman Mao in the Xinjiang region on March 23, 2017.
Ethnic Uighurs sit near a statue of China's late Chairman Mao in the Xinjiang region on March 23, 2017.Credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS
The Associated Press

Authorities in China's Xinjiang region are prohibiting parents from giving children some Islamic names in the latest move to control various aspects of life in the ethnic Uighur minority heartland.

Government directives distributed by overseas Uighur activists show that "Mohammed," ''Jihad," and "Islam" are on a list of at least 29 names now restricted in the heavily Muslim region.

According to a report in Radio Free Asia, an employee at a police station in the regional capital Urumqi confirmed over the phone that any babies registered with such names would be barred from the "hukou" household registration system that gives access to health care and education.

Asked if names of Islamic scholars were acceptable, the employee replied: "Get him to change it; it's the sort of thing that [could be regarded as] promoting terror and evil cults."

Asked if Yultuzay, a reference to the star and moon symbol of the Islamic faith, was acceptable, he said: "Actually the star and moon are a pagan symbol."

An official at a county-level public security office in Kashgar says some names were banned because they had a "religious background."

Chinese officials pushing to secularize Xinjiang, including its new Communist Party chief, say radical Islamic thought has infiltrated the region from Central Asia.

Last month, Xinjiang authorities fired an ethnic Uyghur official for holding her wedding ceremony at home according to Islamic traditions instead of at a government-sanctioned venue, according to Radio Free Asia. Local residents said the woman was relieved of her duties for taking her marriage vows—known as “nikah” in Muslim culture—in her own home.

Uighur activists and human rights groups say that restrictions on religious expression are fueling radicalization.