Understanding Islam: Persecution of Uighur Muslims by China

Understanding Islam by Muhajid Navarra

We are way past the middle of the month of Ramadhan for this year, yet many Muslims are not celebrating this blessed month the way some Muslims around the world do. Social media is often the only way we hear about the plight of the Muslims in Palestine, Syria, Burma and every Muslim conflict area in the area in the world as most Mainstream Media would rather deliver news about celebrities than the real plight of fellow human beings around the world. The need to entertain and be entertained has overtaken our need for humanity just like during the times of the decadent Rome when spectacles such as gladiatorial fights in huge coliseums are built in order for the people to forget the plague of human problems around them.

Muslim die each day of bombs and even weapons of mass destruction while others die in a modern-day famine which is really unbelievable for the thriving human society we have today as economists claim. All these grim glimpses of the bad situation of Muslims around the world is being made worse by the fact that Muslims are already over reported as terrorists but under-reported as victims. Sympathy towards Muslims is something that is rare because it is rarely too that people are being made aware.

But of all modern day atrocities towards Muslims, there is one that has caught the attention of some mainstream media because of its peculiarity. Unlike being an open war just like what is happening around the Muslim world, China is quietly, systematically and effectively oppressing the Uyghur Muslim minority. Early reports mention of Uyghurs being forced to attend indoctrination of the Chinese ideology to the point that they are being made to abandon their religion by having any Islamic religious act outlawed. This religious persecution meant that Uyghurs women could not wear veils or the Uyghur population, in general, could not read the Quran, attend regular prayers or even fast during Ramadhan.

The Uyghurs is an ethnic minority in China whose populations is more related to the Turkic people of Central Asia like Kazakhstan than the ethnic Han Chinese of mainland China. They have their own language, culture, and religion that is different from the majority of the Chinese. This is due to the fact that the area they now occupy, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region northwest of China, was once a sovereign state known as the Dzungar Khanate and is a remnant of the Mongol Empire. In 1933, the area is known as the Islamic Republic of East Turkistan but it was occupied by China in 1934. In 1944, the Soviet Union backed the creation of a smaller East Turkistan Republic at the edge of the Xinjiang province near Russia but the Soviet Union ceded this too to China in 1949 when China became communist. It has been under China ever since.

Since 1949, China has kept the Uighurs in check in order to foil any independence movement whose small spark may cause a civil war that China could not afford to happen let alone fight as the Xinjiang province is very strategic economically, politically and militarily.

Xinjiang has 40% of China’s coal reserves and 20% of its oil, gas and wind energy.  China is very well aware of a Uighur nationalistic pride shall undoubtedly prosper in a region that is technically a country of its own and they really wanted to keep this in check. Any form of defiance in the Xinjiang province by the Uighurs shall mean large scale conflict in the region as any armed movement there would be very formidable thanks to its available resources and China will find itself in a long, protracted and costly war that it could not afford.

China began to dilute any possibility of a solid Uighur Muslim identity in the region by helping Han Chinese migrate from mainland China to the Xinjiang province. In 1946 there was only 6.2% Han Chinese and 82.7% Uighur in the region, but in 2008, 39.2% of the region is already Han Chinese and only 46% Uighur. As the Xinjiang province progressed, Uighurs are left discriminated and marginalized in every field of work and opportunities. This injustice ignited bloody riots and one of these is in 2009, killing 200 people.  This led to more Chinese crackdown on the Uighurs and the establishment of Muslim internment camps in the region. 

International media has made investigations on the matter that reveals huge internment camps for Muslims, about the size of modern cities, that have gotten bigger over the years through satellite imagery. The Chinese government is least cooperative on the matter claiming that those were vocational schools and factories, but satellite imagery reveals very high perimeter walls and guard towers that cast long shadows that you would most likely find in a prison, not in a school or a factory. It’s an internment camp for ethnic cleansing. An ethnic cleansing that China could not keep secret for so long.

Soon, China renames these vocational schools as re-education centers after relenting to some pressure especially from western media who visited China in order to investigate the plight of the Uighurs in these internment camps. China is now playing to the tune of curbing international terrorism as their main reason for this religious persecution.

Xinjiang province is also at the crossroads between mainland China and other neighboring countries. It is also the best land route to Europe. Conflict arising in these areas would negatively affect China’s economic policies such as their belt and road initiative on their way to global trade supremacy as they are currently in a literal trade war with rest of the world.

Upon hearing about this, we are quick to make parallels between the Jewish holocaust during World War II under the Nazis but most independent investigations made reveal that China has a different set of motives other than pure religious hatred of the Muslims. China is purely economic and political in all these atrocities as they say. But still, any kind of atrocity in any kind of motive is still an atrocity. May Allah help the Muslims around the world.