Top Muslim body condemns China's Ramadan restriction

CAIRO - The leading Sunni Muslim seat of learning, Al-Azhar, condemned China Friday for imposing restriction on fasting in its mainly Muslim Xinjiang region during the holy month of Ramadan.

China has banned civil servants, students and teachers in Xinjiang from fasting during Ramadan which began on Thursday, and ordered restaurants to stay open.

"Al-Azhar and its grand imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, condemn the Chinese authorities' ban on Muslims from fasting and practising their religious rituals during Ramadan in some parts of the western Xinjiang region," said a statement from the Cairo-based Al-Azhar.

"Al-Azhar rejects all forms of oppression practised against Uighur Muslims in China that affect their religious rights and personal freedoms," said the prestigious institution, demanding that the international community, the United Nations and human rights groups end these violations.

Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, but China's ruling Communist Party is officially atheist and for years has restricted the practice in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

China says it faces a terrorist threat in Xinjiang, with officials blaming "religious extremism" for growing violence.

Uighur rights groups say China's restrictions on Islam in Xinjiang have added to ethnic tensions there, where clashes have killed hundreds in recent years.

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