China has prohibited parents in the Muslim-majority Uighur region from giving their children Islamic names.
The ban is perceived as the latest effort by government in the region “to dilute the influence of religion on life”.
NAN reports that if a parent chooses one of the barred names, the child will be denied government benefits.
The names listed on the government document distributed by Uighur activist groups include several related to historic religious or political figures and some place names.
An official at a county-level public security office which spoke on the condition of anonymity said some names were banned because they had a “religious background”.
“Muhammad,” ”Jihad” and “Islam” are among at least 29 names.
“Imam,” ”Hajj,” ”Turknaz,” ”Azhar,” “Wahhab,” “Saddam,” ”Arafat,” Medina” and “Cairo,” are also on the list according to the documents.
Judgment calls about which names are deemed to be “overly religious” will be made by local government officials, according to Radio Free Asia, the US-funded radio service which first reported the naming directive.
It is unclear how widespread the ban is or whether it is tightly enforced.
The naming restrictions are reportedly part of a broader government effort to secularise Xinjiang, which is home to roughly 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic people who mostly follow Sunni Islam.
Xi Jinping, Chinese President, and other government-linked scholars and high-ranking officials have reportedly urged local governments to better assimilate their Muslim minorities into the majority Han Chinese culture.
Top officials including Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief have also said that radical Islamic thought has infiltrated the region from Central Asia, “protracting a bloody, years long insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives”.
But the activists and human rights groups have debunked the claim.
They say that radical thought “had never gained widespread traction,” and that “restrictions on religious expression are fueling a cycle of radicalisation and violence”.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesperson 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,” Raxit said.
Aside from the prohibition on Islamic names, local Xinjiang officials have, at times, “strongly discouraged or prohibited Islamic veils”.
Government-linked commentators have called for bans of mosques with domes or other middle eastern architectural styles as well.