By Anne Kader
During Ramadan, Uyghurs used to assemble after sunset to break the daytime fast with an 'Iftar' meal. It used to be a joyful event: Delicious foods had been prepared throughout the day, and families would sit together for a meal after the evening prayers. A few years ago, the communist regime abolished this tradition in the Uyghurs' homeland. These days, in fear of retribution, it takes courage and innovation to observe the tradition.
One cannot have the lights on late at night so that the local cadres would not think that an Uyghur family might be eating after the sunset. For a bribe, neighbors and acquaintances are encouraged to act as informants and expose those found fasting or praying. Fear dominates the neighborhoods.
The families have to eat the iftar and the pre-dawn zoluk in dim torchlight under the images of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping. The mother prepares the meal in advance to make it look like a regular supper.
There seems to be nothing to celebrate. Family members or relatives have passed away in the concentrations camps, and many have physical ailments after their release. Many walk out with a limp.
The communist regime does everything to crush the Uyghurs' will. They are forced to worship the head of the party, Xi Jinping, and abandon their ancestral faith. Fearing further punishment, no one dares to talk about their ordeals. Children have been removed from their families, sometimes even in cases when the parents are at home. One needs to obtain a letter from the local hospital to be able to travel out of the province.
The government officials had visited the house of an elderly Uyghur to check that he was not eating at midnight. Anything to do with the Islamic faith has to be done in secret: prayers, fasting, and meals. Surveillance cameras outside spy on the families when no officials are around. The red communist flags outside each house are a daily reminder that Beijing controls. The secretive prayers go on in the darkness: Prayers for freedom, health, and happiness.