A local government in the predominantly Muslim southern part of China’s Xinjiang region has hosted a “beer competition” ahead of Ramadan, which an exiled ethnic group has called blatant incitement to the Islamic faith. The beer festival took place last week just before the start of the important religious holiday in a village in Niya County, which many Muslim Uighur people call home, Reuters reported.
Ramadan, which began June 17, is a holy month of fasting and reflection for practicing Muslims. The Quran prohibits the consumption of alcohol. The beer festival was the latest reflection of swelling ethnic tensions in the country between the predominant Han Chinese and Uighur Muslims. Xinjiang, in China’s far west, has seen an uptick in attacks over the past three years in which hundreds have died.
The Niya local government posted pictures of the beer competition on its website, showing women dancing in front of a stage where a line of men chugged as much beer as they could in one minute. Competition winners took home cash awards of up to 1,000 yuan, or $161. More than 60 young farmers and herders attended the festival, which was “varied and entertaining,” the government website said, according to Reuters.
Over the weekend, the regional government’s news website wrote an article on the event, saying “its aim was to use modern culture to brighten up the village’s cultural life, squeeze the space for illegal religious promotion … and guarantee the village’s harmony and stability.”
However, Dilxat Raxis, a spokesman for the exiled group the World Uyghur Congress, blasted the beer competition. “This is an open provocation to the Islamic faith,” Raxis said in an email statement obtained by Reuters.
China, which has around 20 million Muslims throughout the country, also has imposed a ban on fasting during the holiday for government employees, students and teachers in the heavily Muslim Uighur region of Xinjiang. Last month, Chinese authorities ordered Muslim shops and restaurants in Laskuy township to sell alcohol and cigarettes in an effort to weaken Islam’s hold on residents in Xinjiang region. In some areas, women are banned from wearing face-covering veils and men discouraged from growing long bears, the Washington Post reported.