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China Bans ‘Muhammad’ and ‘Jihad’ as Baby Names in Heavily Muslim Region

chinese-muslim-brothersBEIJING — The Chinese government, further tightening its grip on Muslims in western China, has prohibited parents from choosing names like “Muhammad,” “Arafat” and “Jihad” for their children.

Officials described the ban, introduced this month, as part of an effort to “curb religious fervor” in the western region of Xinjiang, home to more than 10 million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority group.

The government considers Xinjiang a hotbed of Islamic extremism, violence and separatist thought. But many Uighurs say the government’s strict limits on worship and speech are responsible for tensions in the region.

The list of names, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times by Uighur activists, is titled, “List of Banned Ethnic Minority Names.” It bans more than two dozen names, including “Mujahid” and “Medina.”

Security officials in Urumqi and other cities in Xinjiang confirmed the ban. Some said in interviews that if residents did not comply, they risked forfeiting critical benefits for their children, including education and health care.

Rights advocates said the ban showed the lengths to which the government would go to limit the civil liberties of Uighurs in the name of fighting terrorism.

“China’s policies are increasingly hostile,” said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, a group in Munich that advocates self-determination for Xinjiang. “Uighur people have to be cautious if they want to give their children names they are happy with, and at the same time avoid punishment from the government.”

Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch, said that choosing baby names should be a “joyful, private discussion.”

“This is the latest absurd restriction that the Chinese government has imposed on people in Xinjiang,” she wrote in an email.

To combat what officials describe as extremism in Xinjiang, the Chinese government has put in place a series of restrictions in recent years. Earlier this month, for example, security officials imposed bans on long beards and veils in public places.

This year, officials held large rallies of paramilitary and police forces as a show of force in Xinjiang. The region has struggled with clashes between residents and security officials and occasional acts of domestic terrorism. -NYT

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