By Shaahima Fahim- MM Correspondent covering Sri Lanka and the GCC
The city of Dambulla in Sri Lanka, more known for its representation in tourism brochures as a registered heritage destination for culturally-inclined tourists to the island, made headlines of a less-idyllic nature on the afternoon of Friday the 20th of April – when Buddhist monks led a 2000-strong protest against a local mosque. Intimidation in the form of marching picket-wielders, fire-bombs being hurled and emotionally-driven chants demanding the demolition of Masjidul Khaira led to the cancellation of Jumaah prayers at the masjid, the evacuation of worshipers and effective cordoning off of the premises.
Said protestors claim that the land on which the mosque is built is of reverential value and sacred to their faith, the reason for which the ‘illegal structure’ must go. The Muslim community of Dambulla has countered the allegations stating that the mosque has in fact been lawfully registered and operational for the past 50 years.
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Muslims in Sri Lanka make up roughly 8% of the 21.5 million-strong population, a percentage tying them in third place with their Christian counterparts, after Buddhism and Hinduism. A statistic that also has them tagged a ‘minority’ in the Sinhala Buddhist dominated (70% of population) nation.
Surprisingly (as is not usually the norm with these type of targeted attacks) the majority of immediate public reaction exchanged over social media and online forums was not of reactionary animosity directed towards Buddhism and the Buddhist community as an entity, but rather a collectively-acknowledged finger of disapproval pointing in the direction of another sort of minority – the minority of radical trouble-makers representing the very anathema of what Buddhism entails.
Aside from a negligible faction of ideological individuals out to instill and fester strained Muslim-Buddhist relations, true Buddhists embarrassed at this misrepresentation sympathized with the Muslim community, and the Muslims though understandably upset at being targeted in such a fashion, in turn acknowledged that the attacks were not definitive of general public sentiment.
All ears however were directed to the then-silent government, at the time yet to take a stand on the issue.
On Sunday the 22nd of April, the Prime Minister’s office released a statement ordering for the mosque’s closure, but ‘assuring ‘ the Muslim community that they would be provided with the necessary facilities to facilitate the relocation of Masjidul Khairah to a safer location. The decision claimed to have been collectively made with the consent of the country’s Muslim leaders, but the ministers in question have denied having had any say at the time.
This portrays the Sri Lankan government in a very negative light both internally and across international waters, especially to the Muslim countries who voted in support of Sri Lanka in the recent US-backed UNHRC resolution last month.
Despite a history in the island dating as far back as the 8th century, Sri Lankan Muslims feel they’ve been plated an unfair share of occasions to feel targeted, especially over the last couple of years. What with a similar incident in September 2011, and when earlier this year more than a hundred visiting Islamic preachers were asked to leave on grounds relating to flouting Sri Lanka’s immigration laws – this sentiment is not without argument.
The nationalization and politicization of Buddhism as a state religion has always been a cause for concern among the religious minorities, having the potential to hinder any balanced decision making that can serve to suitably placate all parties concerned.
The ethnic minorities have however proven their mettle in tolerance (not mere complacence) in light of recent events, but the minority in question that needs to be dealt with more pressingly, is this new surge of religious radicals set out to widen the divide on peaceful co-existence.
At the point of this going to print, the repercussions of this ordered move was only just getting started with a volley of words exchanged between the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka and the so-called ‘Buddhists’ behind the attacks.
The Muslim community of Sri Lanka seems to have now resorted to placing greater expectancies on the well-positioned Muslim parliamentarians (a considerably large representation in the current regime) than in the government as a whole. That in exercising their rights as MPs and leaders they will be dutifully positioning the well-being of the Muslim community before personal fears of potentially risking their political footing on the boards they represent.
If there is anything productive to come out of all of this, it is the exposition of the not-so-lesser-evil of the religious extremist. For like the hate-driven Breivik murders in Norway earlier this year, the exhibitionist tendencies of these misfits in question are being broadcast (and received) for what they truly are. A pandemic not just for the governments of Asia, Europe or America to learn to quash effectively long-term, but also a pressure test for the targeted groups to come out of it better represented than when they went in.
Image Courtesy: Associated Press
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رد على الشيخ حبيب علي الجفري
بداية نود الاعتراف بوجوب احترام وتقديرهؤلاء الأفراد الذين كرسوا حياتهم لخدمة التمكين الديني والروحي للآخرين. فغالبًا ما تعمل قيادتهم العلمية والأخلاقية كمنارات للتوجيه ومصدر محاكاة للأمة. ومن المتوقع، لما لدورهم من أهمية بالغة، أن يتحدثوا ويتصرفوا وفقًا لأعلى مستويات الصدق والنزاهة الأخلاقية. لذلك فإن من المخيب للآمال، بشكل خاص، أن تصدر تعليقات خاطئة من عالم يجب أن يكون جزءًا من تراث الصرامة الفكرية العالية والسلوك الأخلاقي المتفوق. الأمر الأكثر إشكالية هو أن هذه التصريحات غير اللائقة تتعلق بمجموعة من إخوانهم المسلمين الذين يتعرضون لإكراه غير مسبوق للتخلي عن دينهم وهويتهم.
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ومن المؤسف أن الشيخ حبيب علي الجفري، وهو عالم مشهور في العالم العربي، أساء استخدام محاضرته الأخيرة بنشر معلومات غير صحيحة أو متحيزة سياسياً أو تضر بحياة أمة مسلمة بأكملها مستعمرة ومضطهدة من قبل الصين. وعلى الرغم من أنه يقر بأن الصين قد ارتكبت خطأً تجاه الأويغور وأنها ليست بريئة تمامًا، إلا أن الكثير من ادعاءاته لا تزال غير دقيقة وتحتاج إلى لفت انتباهه وانتباه تلاميذه. وتحاول هذه المقالة استعراض بعض هذه المغالطات وتصحيح هذه الادعاءات التي تنزع الشرعية عن الحقيقة البائسة للأويغور والشعب التركي الآخر في تركستان الشرقية (والتي أعيد تسميتها ويشار إليها باسم سينجيان) .
وقد ظهر الحضور الصوفي الكبير في تركستان الشرقية من خلال مزاراتها الصوفية – التي تم التخلي عن معظمها بشكل منهجي أو تدميرها أو قطع أوصالها بأسلاك شائكة من قبل الحزب الشيوعي الصيني.
وتسلط المخطوطات القرآنية القديمة من المنطقة، وكذلك المخطوطات من القرنين التاسع عشر والعشرين، الضوء على الحفاظ على هذه التقاليد الإسلامية وأهميتها. وكثيراً من آلاف المساجد الجميلة المشيدة على الأرض، قام الحزب الشيوعي الصيني في الآونة الأخيرة بتدميرها. ونؤكد، لو أنها لم تكن أماكن زيارة وذات أهمية تاريخية، فلماذا قام الحزب الشيوعي الصيني بتجريفها؟ أصبحت كاشغر، عاصمة سلطنة الكراخانية و “جوهرة” طريق الحرير، مركزًا تعليميًا بارزًا للإسلام ومركزًا يعرض ماضي الأويغور الغني.
ومن الواضح الآن أن الغالبية العظمى من الأويغور ليسوا مسلمين منذ القرن الحادي عشر فحسب ، بل أيضًا لا يمكن فصل تاريخ تركستان الشرقية عن تاريخ العالم الإسلامي. يتبع الأويغور بشكل موحد التيار السائد لأهل السنة حسب مدرسة الحنفية ، ولديهم حب كبير لأهل البيت النبيل (عائلة وأحفاد النبي ﷺ) – من الذي يدعي حبيب علي جفري أيضًا أصله – مثل جميع المسلمين الأتراك. وكان الأويغور قد أقاموا مقامًا لعالم من القرن الثامن وحفيد للنبي ﷺ ، الإمام جعفر الصادق ، بالقرب من خوتان من تركستان الشرقية، والذي تم تدميره الآن من قبل نظام الحزب الشيوعي الصيني.
إذا كانت شرائح من مجتمع الأويغور لا تمارس الاسلام اليوم ، فهذا يرجع في الغالب إلى القمع الايديولوجي الشيوعي منذ الحرب العالمية الثانية ، مثل سقوط محو الأمية الدينية والممارسات التي حدثت تحت الحكم السوفياتي في الجمهوريات التركية المجاورة. ومع ذلك ، فمن الجدير بالذكر أن نرى بعض جمهوريات آسيا الوسطى تشهد حاليًا إحياءً تدريجيًا للاحتفال الإسلامي بفضل زوال السياسات القمعية ، ملمحًا إلى الكيفية التي يمكن أن تزدهر بها الحياة الأويغورية الدينية عندما تتوقف السياسات القمعية بشأن تركستان الشرقية.
إن الأهمية التاريخية للأعمال التي أنتجها علماء الأويغور، والعديد من المدن القديمة الموجودة في جميع أنحاء تركستان الشرقية واضحة من العدوان الممنهج الذي سعت الحكومة الصينية للقضاء عليها. من حظر نشر النصوص باللغة الأويغورية ، وإغلاق جميع الأماكن الدينية ، وتحويل المواقع التاريخية إلى مراكز دعائية لنشر أويغورية علمانية مدعومة من الدولة ، دليل على أن الحزب الشيوعي الصيني ليس مهددًا فقط من قبل ثقافة الأويغور.
رقم 2: يدعي أن مسألة القمع الأويغوري مسألة سياسية وليست دينية.
في حين أنه من الصحيح أن الاستعمار يُفهم في الغالب على أنه ظاهرة سياسية وليست دينية ، ولكن في هذه الحالة تم استخدام “الدين” كذريعة لتنفيذ عمليات الاعتقال والمراقبة الجماعية لشعب الأويغور. وتدعي الصين أنها تقاتل ضد “التطرف الإسلامي” لحماية نفسها من ردة الفعل التي قد تواجهها نتيجة لوحشيتها في تركستان الشرقية. مثلها مثل الهند والعديد من الدول الغربية ، تستغل الصين تخوف العالم من “الإرهاب الإسلامي” لتبرير قمعها للمسلمين الأبرياء.
إن ممارسة الإسلام محظور بشكل قاطع في تركستان الشرقية ، على الرغم من الضمان الدستوري الصيني لحرية الدين. تحظر النصوص والأسماء الإسلامية ، ويُحظر ممارسة أركان الإسلام الخمسة ، وقد تم تدمير المؤسسات الإسلامية القديمة وتحويلها إلى مراكز دعائية شيوعية. اختفى علماء الدين ، أو حُكم عليهم بالسجن المؤبد أو قتلوا.
وبطبيعة الحال ، لن يكتمل التناغم في العرض بين الحزب الشيوعي الصيني دون الملايين من الصينيين الهان غير المسلمين الذين استقروا ، بمساعدة الحكومة ، داخل حدود تركستان الشرقية. في حين يتم نقل الأويغور بشكل منهجي خارج حدود وطنهم وداخل البر الرئيسي للصين للعمل كعمال قسريين أو للسجن و”إعادة التأهيل” ، فمن الصعب تجاهل الإزالة الديموغرافية للأويغور في تركستان الشرقية. ومع جلب المزيد والمزيد من الهان الصينيين إلى أراضي الأويغور ليحلوا محل السكان النازحين، دمر الحزب الشيوعي الصيني المساجد القديمة والمنازل والملاذات لإفساح المجال للمستوطنين الجدد. ويعتبر هؤلاء المستوطنون بمثابة تذكير مستمر لاختفاء الحكم الذاتي للأويغور وكذلك حراس على ما تبقى من سكان الأويغور على حد سواء. وهناك العديد من الروايات عن الصينيين الهان الذين يعيشون مع عائلات الأويغور في منازلهم على أنهم “أشقاء كبيرون” – يغذون الحكومة بالمعلومات عن كل خطوة تقوم بها العائلة ويساعدون في سجن الأويغور حتى في أدق المخالفات الدينية.
روى سجين سابق ، عادل عبد الغفور ، في مقابلة مع مؤلفنا المشارك السيدة أيدين ، كيف تم ضربه فاقداً للوعي من قبل سلطات السجن الصينية وأجبر على ارتداء كتلة من الأسمنت تزن 25 كجم لمدة شهر علقت بخيط رفيع حول عنقه لأنه قال ” بسم الله ” (بسم الله) في نومه. وقد تم اغتصاب عدد لا يحصى من النساء والرجال الأويغور ، الذين تم إرسالهم إلى المخيمات والسجون بسبب الممارسة الدينية ، وتعقيمهم قسراً ، وتخديرهم ، واستخدام أجسادهم لحصاد الأعضاء. ويعاقب الأويغور بالسجن لفترات طويلة. فقد حُكم على امرأة من الأويغور بالسجن 10 سنوات لترويجها ارتداء الحجاب ، وحُكم على رجل كازاخستاني بالسجن 16 سنة بعد أن وجدت السلطات الصينية تسجيلات صوتية للقرآن على جهاز الكمبيوتر الخاص به وقال العديد من اللاجئين الأويغور الذين قابلناهم أنه حتى التحيات الإسلامية – السلام عليكم – يمكن أن تسجنهم لمدة عشر سنوات.
رقم 3: يقول الشيخ إن السبب الذي يجعل الناس يكافحون من أجل تركستان الشرقية هو أنهم لا يريدون أن تبني الصين مبادرة حزام واحد بشارع واحد وتصبح أقوى بمرتين من أمريكا اقتصاديًا.
يقلل هذا الادعاء من صراع تركستان الشرقية إلى ثنائي الصين مقابل أمريكا – وبالتالي يمحو العقود التي رزحتها تركستان الشرقية تحت الاحتلال الصيني. ففي عام 1759 ، غزت إمبراطورية مانشو تشينغ تركستان الشرقية وجعلتها مستعمرتها الجديدة .
وقد وقع أحدث احتلال في عام 1949 عندما وصل الحزب الشيوعي الصيني إلى السلطة ، ومنذ ذلك الحين، تعرض ملايين التركستانيين الشرقيين لأشكال مختلفة من الوحشية المنظمة والإبادة العرقية والثقافية الجماعية.
إنه لمن دواعي الأسف الشديد ليس فقط بنزع الشرعية عن جهود الشعب المسلم في الوقوف ضد مضطهديهم ، ولكن أيضًا باعتبارهم ليسوا سوى مجرد بيادق أمريكية.
وبالتالي ، من السخف حقًا فهم قضية استعمار الأويغور من خلال عدسة السياسة الصينية الأمريكية. بدأ استعمار تركستان الشرقية قبل وقت طويل من أن تصبح الصين منافسًا حقيقيًا في سعيها للهيمنة الاقتصادية الدولية وستستمر لفترة طويلة بعد أن تغير الولايات المتحدة أو الصين سياستها الخارجية .
رقم 4: يسأل كيف يمكن أن يكون فيروس كورونا عقابًا إلهيًا إذا بقيت سلطات الحزب الشيوعي نفسها دون أن يمسها الفيروس بسوء.
بينما نتفق مع الشيخ على أننا لسنا في وضع يسمح لنا بالحكم على ما إذا كان أي حدث دنيوي هو فعل مباشر للعقاب الإلهي فإننا نتساءل عن بعض الآثار المترتبة المقدمة خلال محاضرته. فعلى سبيل المثال ، يسأل الشيخ كيف يمكن أن يكون كوفيد-19 عقابًا إلهيًا إذا ظل الأفراد الذين اتخذوا القرارات الحكومية المباشرة التي شكلت الجزء الأكبر من القمع ضد الأويغور أنفسهم سالمين من الفيروس. ونحن نجيب: كيف يمكن للفيروس الذي يضعف الاقتصاد والبنية الاجتماعية لبلد ترتكب حكومته الإبادة الجماعية ضد ملايين الشعوب المستعمرة ، ولكن يمكننا ببساطة أن نسأل كيف يعرف الشيخ أن أياً من هؤلاء الأفراد لم يصب بالمرض؟ بالإضافة إلى ذلك ، نتساءل لماذا لا يمكن للعقاب الإلهي أن يستهدف نظامًا فاسدًا بالكامل ، وليس مجرد بعض الأفراد الذين قد يعتبرهم لا يتطلب الأمر فعلًا من العقاب الإلهي حتى ندرك عدم أخلاقية فعل أو حدث. نحن لا ننتظر أن تصيبنا صاعقة قبل أن ندرك أننا ربما ارتكبنا إثماً. وبنفس الطريقة ، لا نعرف ما إذا كان كوفيد-19هو عقاب إلهي ، لكننا نعرف أن اضطهاد الأويغور مدمر، وأن حجته ضد هذا ليست مقنعة.
نحن لا نسعى لمعرفة السبب وراء خطب الشيخ حول وضع إخواننا وأخواتنا الأويغور بشكل كبير على قضيتهم – ولا يمكننا معرفة السبب بالتأكيد. لكن ما يمكننا فعله هو التساؤل عن مصادر معلوماته وإبراز خطورة أفعاله وكلماته. فالملايين من المسلمين في الصين قمعوا لمجرد ارتكابهم أفعالاً إيمانية بسيطة يسعد الناس في أماكن أخرى القيام بها كل يوم – بما في ذلك قول “بسم الله” قبل أن يأخذوا لقمة من الطعام. ومع مرور رمضان بسرعة ، من المحزن التفكير في الأويغور الذين يجبرون على تناول الطعام والشراب ، ناهيك عن شرب الكحول وتناول لحم الخنزير ، خلال الشهر الكريم لإثبات بعدهم عن الإسلام وقربهم من الحكومة الصينية. وبينما نجلس نحن مع عائلاتنا للإفطار ، يعاني الأويغور وغيرهم من الأتراك بصمت في آلاف السجون ومعسكرات العمل البعيدة عن أسرهم.
هذا الباحث ، أو أولئك الذين أضلوه ، لم يتجاهلوا انتهاكات الحزب الشيوعي الصيني ضد ديننا والأمة عمومًا فحسب ، بل حاولوا أيضًا تثبيط مئات الآلاف من المسلمين الأحرار من مساعدة الأويغور في محنتهم ضد الحزب الشيوعي الصيني. وكما ذكرنا سابقًا ، نحن لا نسعى للعمل كمترجمين لمشيئة الله. بل على العكس ، نحن نسعى فقط للعمل وفق تقاليد إسلامية راسخة في أخذ عبرة ، ودرس مستمد من تجربة أخلاقية مما نلاحظه في العالم. وحتى أثناء إجراء هذه الملاحظة بعناية، فإننا نعترف بأن مصادرنا هي ظنية ، أو من عدم اليقين. ومع ذلك ، نعتقد أن تاريخنا وإيماننا قد دعوا بوضوح إلى العدالة والحرية الدينية بحيث تجاهل القمع المباشر للإسلام أو المسلمين ، خاصة من خلال وسائل عنيفة وقاسية مثل تلك التي يمارسها الحزب الشيوعي الصيني ، هو ارتكاب خطأ أخلاقي أكيد .
في الختام ، نطلب بتواضع من العالم الشيخ جفري التمسك بالتعاليم الأبدية للإسلام قبل الإدلاء بمثل هذه التعليقات العمياء التي تضر بشكل صارخ بصورة الملايين من الإخوة والأخوات المسلمين المضطهدين. والقرآن ينصح بكل وضوح بعدم الوقوف مع الظالمين ضد إخوانكم المسلمين ، “ولا تركنوا إلى الذين ظلموا فتمسكم النار”. سوره هود:١١٤
وقد أكد زعيمنا بلا منازع ، النبي محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم ، أنه إذا أردت أن تقول شيئًا ، فقل شيئًا جيدًا ، وإلا فالتزم الصمت “من كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليقل خيراً أو ليصمت” متفق عليه.
١ .الاستمرار في الدعاء للمضطهدين من تركستان الشرقية والعالم.
مقاطعة المنتجات الصينية – لا ترضى بعمالة السخرة
٢. رفع الوعي حول محنة الأويغور وقضية تركستان الشرقية ، تعرّف على المزيد من موقع:
٣. العمل على تقليل الاعتماد الاقتصادي لبلدك على الصين.
٤. بناء تحالفات مع جميع أصحاب الضمير للمطالبة بوقف قمع الصين لجميع الجماعات الدينية ، سواء كانت الأويغور المسلمون أو الهوي أو المسيحيون أو البوذيون التبتيون.
٥. تشجيع وتعزيز التجارة العادلة مع المسلمين وغيرهم بدلاً من الصين.
٦. الاستفسار عن أعضاء الشتات الأويغور في منطقتك. تنظيم مساعدة للأيتام والأرامل والطلاب.
٧. الضغط على الحكومات لتوفير الحماية القانونية للاجئين الأويغور المنفيين إما عن طريق الجنسية أو اللجوء. أوقفوا “تسليم – ترحيل” الأويغور إلى الصين!
٨. احصل على أوقاف جامعاتك للتخلص من الصين. رفع الوعي بالتجسس الصيني والبنادق المستأجرة في الأوساط الأكاديمية. طلب الدعم الأكاديمي والمالي للعلماء والطلاب الأويغور.
- طلب المزيد من الاهتمام الأكاديمي والتمويل للدراسات المتعلقة بآسيا الوسطى والأويغور والتركستانية.
رد على الشيخ حبيب علي الجف __ – PDFArabic Habib Ali
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A Response To Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments On Uyghurs
Toqa Badran and Aydin Anwar respond to the statements made by Shaykh Habib Ali Al-Jifri
Protests preceding the Ghulja Massacre, 1997
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By Toqa Badran, Aydin Anwar
We acknowledge that those individuals who have devoted their lives to the spiritual empowerment of others are to be admired and respected. The Ulema often serve as beacons of guidance and sources of emulation for the Ummah with their scholarly and moral leadership. Their critical role means that they are also expected to speak and act according to a higher standard of truthfulness and ethics. Bearing this in mind makes it especially dismaying and hurtful to witness inaccurate comments from a famous preacher and scholar who should be a part of this heritage of high intellectual rigour and superior moral conduct. It is even more problematic that these erroneous statements pertain to a group of fellow Muslims presently experiencing almost unprecedented duress to criminalize and eradicate their religion and cultural identity.
It is unfortunate that Habib Ali al-Jifri, a popular scholar in the Arab world, in a recent lecture has misused his platform by propagating information that is all at once incorrect, biased, and otherwise detrimental to the lives of an entire Muslim nation colonized and oppressed by China. Although he tepidly acknowledges that China has done wrong to Uyghurs and is not fully innocent, a number of his claims remain inaccurate and deserve to be corrected. This article attempts to walk through some of these inaccuracies, and correct such claims that ultimately work to delegitimize and downplay the deplorable reality of Uyghurs and other Turkic-Muslim peoples, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, of East Turkistan (renamed and referred to as Xinjiang, meaning new territory in Mandarin, by the Chinese occupation).
#1: Shaykh Ali al-Jifri claims that only around half of Uyghurs are Muslim
The first glaring error made by the shaykh is his statement that only around half of the Uyghur population is Muslim. His error may have been a result of confusing the presently reported demographic makeup of East Turkistan with the religious composition of the Uyghur people. While the Uyghur and indigenous inhabitants of the region are overwhelmingly Muslim, the Han Chinese population has climbed drastically from only 6% in 1949 to an estimated 40% – due largely to incentivized migration and other – settler colonial programs embarked upon by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This statistic itself may be unreliable as many undocumented Uyghurs are unaccounted for and, in recent years, scores of Uyghur prisoners and forced laborers have been forcibly transferred to mainland China.
If, however, al-Jifri meant to propogate the notion that only half of Uyghurs are Muslim, this is another matter altogether. To deny the self-professed Islamic faith of the utter majority of Uyghur people is to commit one of atrocities perpetrated by the CCP itself — the denial and erasure of this long persecuted population’s faith. As for the rootedness of Islam among this people, it has been the predominant religion among Uyghurs in East Turkistan– long before Egypt, or even the Levant, became majority Muslim societies during the Mamluk era. Much of the Islamicization of Central Asia and the Turkic world has been credited to the Karakhanids – a group of Turkic tribes who lived in the Uyghur homeland and converted to Islam in the 10th century (4th century Hijri), after their ruler Sultan Abdulkerim Bughra Khan entered the faith (Svat Soucek. A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. 2002, pp 84).
Uyghurs were also historically part of the Chagatay Turkic Khanate, whence the rulers of the Mughal Dynasty — who ruled much of India for over two centuries — hailed. Tasawwuf-inflected preaching was a key driver in conversions among these Turkic tribes in ways reminiscent of Islam’s spread at the hands of itinerant Hadhrami Sufi scholars and merchants — from whom Habib Ali hails — across the Indian Ocean littoral and Nusantara (Malay world).
Map of East Turkistan in relation to the rest of Central Asia. East Turkistan is the same size as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada combined.
Source: International Crisis Group
Starting with the aforementioned Karakhanids in the 10th century, Islamic institutions were founded and devoted to the study of theology, natural science, arts, music, and more. These institutions allowed for the emergence of hundreds of prominent Turkic scholars, who helped shape and record Islamic, Turkic, and specifically Uyghur history through their works: The likes of Mahmud Kashgari’s Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk, the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic languages. Yusuf Khās Hājib’s Kutadgu Bilig, a mirror-for-princes in prose from the 11th century that shed light on Turkish-Islamic history and culture, and is perhaps one of the earliest surviving Turkic works in the genre of akhlāq (Islamic morality and ethics). The Turks of the region have also been greatly impacted by the Yasawī sufi order which helped make communal dhikr gatherings part and parcel of Uyghur culture. The influence of sufism is also evident in the prevalence of Sufi shrines — most of which have since been systematically destroyed or left abandoned after being blocked off with barbed wire by the CCP.
The survival of old Quranic manuscripts from the area, as well as manuscripts from the 19th and 20th century, testify to the centrality of the Islamic intellectual tradition and its preservation within Uyghur culture. Thousands of beautiful mosques were constructed throughout the region, many of which have been demolished in recent years by the CCP regime. Had they not been places of great significance and visitation, it begs the question as to why the Chinese government would bother razing them. Kashgar, the historic capital of the Karakhanid Empire and “jewel” of the Silk Road, became a prominent center of learning and hub showcasing the rich Uyghur past. Yarkend had also been a particular center of Islamic learning and culture for centuries, with dozens of madrasahs present in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It even holds Queen Amanisa Khan’s shrine, where the 12 Muqam (classical Sufi dance and song performance pieces that are a central Uyghur heritage form) were established.
It is now clear that not only have the vast majority of Uyghurs been Muslim since the 11th century at least, but that the history of East Turkistan cannot be separated from that of the greater Muslim world. Like most Turkic Muslims, Uyghurs have traditionally belonged to Ahl as-Sunnah (the mainstream and overwhelming majority of Muslims), the legal school of Hanafism, and have immense love for the noble Ahl al-Bayt (family and descendants of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). Uyghurs had even established a maqam (shrine) dedicated to the 8th century scholar and descendant of the Prophet ﷺ, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq – through whom Habib Ali traces his lineage back to the Prophet ﷺ – near the town of Khotan in East Turkistan, which was destroyed by the CCP. If segments of Uyghur society are not practicing Muslims today, it is mostly due to the Communist repression since WWII, just as Soviet anti-religious repression led to the radical decrease in religious literacy and practice in neighbouring Turkic republics. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy and heartening to see that some of the Central Asian republics are currently experiencing a gradual revival of Islamic observance thanks to the demise of oppressive policies, hinting at how the Uyghur religious life could flourish if and when repressive policies in East Turkistan cease.
Before and After of Imam Jafari al-Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019.
Photograph: Google Earth/Planet Labs
The systematic aggression with which the Chinese government has sought to stamp out the works produced by Uyghur scholars and the many ancient Muslim cities scattered across East Turkistan is evidence of their historical importance. From banning the publication of texts in the Uyghur language, closing all religious spaces, and transforming historic sites into propaganda centers for the dissemination of a sanitized, non-religious, and state-sponsored Uyghur identity, it is clear that the CCP feels not only threatened by Uyghur culture, but is aware of its power in maintaining a social fabric worthy of any independent nation.
And with all of the aforementioned said, we pose the question: Even if the majority of Uyghurs were not Muslim as the shaykh incorrectly claimed, does this excuse Muslims elsewhere of their duty to stand against oppression? Over the course of his commentary on the plight of the Uyghur people, the shaykh himself asked the audience why we [Muslims] are only angry when China oppresses Uyghurs and not the Buddhist Tibetans. Not only does this question contradict his initial premise that the Uyghur community cannot be referred to as overwhelmingly Muslim, but also deeply confuses the listener: “Are we to fight against oppression, regardless of the religion of the oppressed, or not?” We would argue that it is not only an obligation for Muslims, but for all people to resist their own oppression and the oppression of others — especially if this oppression manifests as the criminalization of the most fundamental practices of a people’s faith, Islam in this case. The East Turkistani independence movement itself has always allied itself with those of the Tibetan, Palestinian, and Kashmiri people. It has been incorrectly posited by the shaykh that Uyghurs have only been oppressed for the last 3-5 years. While this is demonstrably false, through the decades-long occupation Uyghurs have faced, what is worse is that he makes this claim in order to draw a false equivalence (between East Turkistan and the Tibetan people) in the hopes of delegitimizing the plight and cause of those in East Turkistan. Worse still, is that when the shaykh is confronted with the truth of the 70+ long years of Chinese colonization of Uyghur lands, he contests its factuality by responding that if China were really so bad then we would see the individual politicians responsible for the colonization personally affected by the Chinese Coronavirus. We question the legitimacy of this apparently necessary correlation and will do so again later in this paper. Furthermore, now that we know that the Uyghur identity is as much an Islamic one as his own Arab identity and that Chinese oppression has been occurring for almost a century, do the scholar’s recommendations change?
#2: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims that the question of Uyghur oppression is a political, not religious, one
We would like to preface this section by making it clear that Islam rejects the false dichotomy between the religious and the secular. What is “political” is not necessarily devoid of religious significance, and what is “religious” is not necessarily apolitical. While the Sharia’s precepts pertaining to siyasah (governance and ‘urfi/customary-public law) are mostly general, with few exact prescriptions established by the sources of Sharia (al-adillah al-sharʿiyyah), Muslims have always conceived of politics as a space bound by Islamic morality and ethics, akhlāq. As with any other dimension of human life, a person’s moral culpability before God extends into the domain of the “political” just as it extends into the domain of the economic, familial, ritual, etc.
While it is true that colonization is often understood as a political phenomenon and not a religious one, religion has featured prominently both as a pretext and the locus of subjugation in China’s crimes against the Uyghur people. China brands its campaign against the Uyghurs as a fight against “Islamic extremism” in an attempt to ride on the coattails of the global “War on Terror” thereby garnering sympathy for its policies — including the imprisonment of millions of Turkic peoples into concentration camps and prisons — and insulate itself from backlash it would otherwise face as a result of its inhumanity in East Turkistan. Like Modi’s India and many Western nations, China exploits the world’s frenzied paranoia surrounding “Muslim terror” to justify its crackdown on innocent Muslims.
“Ubiquitous scene on the streets of #Xinjiang these days. Men and women (inc. the elderly) trudging around with enormous clubs, part of the ‘People’s War’ on terrorism.” – David Brophy, Nov 15th 2017
We acknowledge, however, that if this matter was purely religious, and not political, we would see Hui Muslims, who do not have a territorial claim at stake, rounded up into concentration camps and being subject to the same forms of oppression Uyghurs and other Turkic people are. However, this is not the case. Huis have historically been left largely undisturbed for the sake of maintaining the CCP’s facade of religious acceptance — or at most they are subject to the usual disruptions any religious group faces under the anti-religious CCP. Historically, the Hui have been staunch supporters of the Chinese state, and even played a critical role in the dismantling of the first East Turkistan Republic of 1933 and the second of 1944.. This did not spare them, however, from the current religious crackdown they and other faith groups like Christians face, once again highlighting the inextricably religious dimension of the CCP’s supposedly merely “political” project. As though rounding up innocents into concentration camps and subjecting an entire people to violations of fundamental human rights as part of a larger campaign of ethnic cleansing and cultural destruction would be anything less than heinous, even if religion played no role in the matter.
Much of Uyghur and, by extension, all Central Asian Turkic identity, has centered on religion; Uyghurs and other Turks are Muslim, just like Malays have been Muslim based on historical development in the past millennium. Historically, up until the 1930s, Uyghurs were not commonly referred to as “Uyghurs” — they and other Turkic Muslims of East Turkistan were simply referred to as “Musulman” (Muslim), “Turki” (Turk), or “yerlik” (local). This truth further explains why China has been so adamant in removing religion from the lives of East Turkistanis — Islam is so critical to the history and culture of the Turkic presence that the CCP knows that, without it, East Turkistanis will be left weak and purposeless– easily converted into malleable forced worshippers of the party, and indistinguishable from the rest of China’s largely atheist, but nominally Confucian, Buddhist or Taoist Han majority. Not to mention that they are then exploited in China’s massive hypocritically capitalistic labour scheme — which most of Chinese masses also suffer from.
Claiming that the oppression is not a religious matter implies that Muslims need not care about the Uyghurs out of religious concern, while in reality our blood should be boiling knowing that the rights of God and His worshippers are being violated by the CCP. Muslims around the world rightly condemn and stand in solidarity against zionist oppression in Palestine, though, by the shaykh’s standards, this would be appear a purely political project undeserving of collective Muslim outrage. The Israeli state-apparatus oppresses Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike. The CCP has singled out Muslims, however, especially those in East Turkistan, as the targets of their brutal project. Again, we see that this is both a religious and political issue against which all Muslims and conscientious human beings should speak and fight. Just as we all wish for the freedom of Palestine sooner rather than later, we should pray, speak, and fight for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in East Turkistan.
Practicing Islam is categorically forbidden in East Turkistan, despite China’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Islamic texts and names are banned, practicing most of the five pillars of Islam is forbidden, and centuries old Islamic institutions have been destroyed and converted into communist propaganda centers. Religious scholars (ulema) have disappeared, sentenced to life in prison, or killed.
These tragedies are never publicized within China’s borders — and their occurrence is aggressively denied by the Chinese media apparatus. Instead, the media tokenizes and highlights a few religious acts, in reality no more than complex theatrics which the government has directed in order to showcase the power of “CCP Islam”. Journalists and political actors from other countries, especially Muslim ones, are invited to East Turkistan to witness a beautiful charade of “harmony” and happiness that, in reality, is no more than an open air prison for the Uyghurs. Albanian academic and journalist, Dr Olsi Jazexhi, was one of these visitors, who later reflected on his experiences and observations on such a CCP-sponsored trip. He and other journalists toured many mosques with the CCP’s aim being to show to the outside world that there are mosques, and indeed religious freedom, in East Turkistan. Jazexhi recalls venturing into one of the mosques near Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar and finding only a store. He also recalls his visit to a concentration camp or what China calls a “vocational training center”:
“The center was in the middle of the desert. It was a kind of Alcatraz, and by its appearance, we were expecting to find some criminals, terrorists, and killers, and people who were dangerous to society. When we went there, the criminals presented us with a concert. These poor boys and girls who were being held there since many years. They were told to dance to me; Uyghur dance, Chinese dance, and Western dance. The authorities wanted us to film them only dancing and smiling and singing. They were all speaking Chinese, even though they were Uyghurs [sic].”
Jazexhi, a dual Albanian and Canadian citizen, was later fired from his university position in Albania — demonstrating the reach of Chinese economic blackmail diplomacy. The professor was blacklisted by China due to his truthful reports on East Turkistan, highlighting the CCP’s suppression of criticism abroad, even within the context of academia, with its diplomatic and economic pressure.
Scene from a staged tour of a ‘vocational training center’. Uyghur detainees are playing music to show ‘harmony’ and ‘happiness’ inside the camps. Source: BBC
Of course, this harmony would not be complete without the millions of Han Chinese who have been settled, with the aid of the government, within the borders of East Turkistan. While Uyghurs are systematically transported outside of the borders of their homeland and into mainland China to work as forced laborers or to be imprisoned and “reeducated”, it is hard to ignore the demographic erasure of Uyghurs in East Turkistan. As more and more Han Chinese are brought into Uyghur land to replace the displaced natives, the CCP razes ancient mosques, homes, and sanctuaries to make room for the new settlers.
Photo from Gilles Sabrie: “Sledgehammer: The Chinese say Kashgar must be destroyed because it is susceptible to earthquakes” (TIME)
These settlers act both as continuous reminders of the disappearance of Uyghur autonomy as well as wardens over the remaining Uyghur population. There have been many accounts of Han Chinese living with Uyghur families in their homes as “big siblings”— feeding the government information on the family’s every move and assisting in Uyghur imprisonment for even the smallest of religious offences. Aside from simple demographic engineering and ethnic cleansing, the Chinese program of destroying Uyghur cities and patrimony is intended to deracinate East Turkistanis from their culture and make them self-internalize that they are a people with no heritage, and to imprison them in easy-to-surveil panopticons with Han colonialists wardens. Destroying ancient cities and heritage is an old authoritarian communist strategy, reflecting the idea brillianty summarized by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that “to destroy a people you must first sever their roots.”
Muhammad Salih Hajim (82), widely known as the first scholar to translate the Quran to modern Uyghur, is amongst one of the martyred and was killed in detention in January 2018. Source: RFA
One former prisoner, Adil Abdulghufur, in an interview with our co-author, Aydin Anwar, recounted how he was beaten unconscious by Chinese prison authorities and forced to wear a 25 kg cement block for a month hung by a thin string around his neck after saying “Bismillah” (in the name of God) in his sleep. Countless Uyghur women and men, who have been sent to camps and prisons due to religious practice have been raped, forcibly sterilized, drugged, and their bodies used for organ harvesting. Uyghurs are punished with long prison sentences; one Uyghur woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for promoting the wearing of headscarves, a Kazakh man was sentenced to 16 years in jail after Chinese authorities found audio recordings of the Quran on his computer, and several Uyghur refugees we have spoke with said that even saying the Muslim greeting Assalāmu Alaykum (Peace be upon you) can get them locked up for 10 years. Saying Insha’Allah (God-willing) is also prohibited. In one of the many documentaries published on the dystopian existence of the Uyghur people, VICE interviews a woman who states her charged crime was the learning of the Quran and the Arabic language. A man, later in the documentary, details how he was punished for refusing to eat pork even while imprisoned. By many accounts, the word God or Allah itself must be replaced with “Party” (Chinese Communist Party), or the name of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
Portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping shaking hands with Uyghur Imams placed in Kasghar’s historical Id Kah (Eidgah) mosque in East Turkistan. Note that the picture is facing the congregants in the direction of Muslim prayer – Qiblah. Source: David Brophy
#3: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims the reason people are fighting for East Turkistan is because they do not want China to build the so-called ‘New Silk Road’ and become 2x as strong as America economically
This claim reduces the East Turkistani freedom movement to a China vs America binary– thereby completely erasing the decades of occupation East Turkistan has endured under China. In 1759, the Manchu Qing Empire invaded East Turkistan and made it its new colony. Uyghurs rebelled against Qing rule, and in 1863 were able to break free and establish Kashgaria under their leader Yaqub Khan, now known as East Turkistan. Two decades later, the Uyghurs were invaded by the Qing again, and, this time, the Uyghur homeland was formally incorporated under the Chinese empire as “Xinjiang”. Chinese nationalists overthrew the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1911, putting East Turkistan under the rule of Nationalist China. The Uyghurs carried out numerous rebellions and were able to establish the East Turkistan Islamic Republic in 1933 and 1944, both of which briefly lasted before the Chinese government reoccupied the region through the military intervention and political interest of the Soviet Union. The most recent occupation started in 1949 when the Communist Party of China came to power, and since then, millions of East Turkistanis have been subject to various forms of brutal systematic genocide.
The Declaration of Independence of the Islamic Republic of East Turkistan, November 12, 1933 Note: As is visible, the local ulema/scholars spearheaded the effort for independence.
It is deeply condescending to not only delegitimize the efforts of a Muslim people in standing against their oppressors, but to also deem them to be no more than American pawns. Indeed, Xi Jinping’s China seeks to continue solidifying Chinese hard power in East Turkistan while working towards the larger CCP strategic goal of establishing China as a global hegemonic power with a new Chinese-dominated global economic-political order, via the multi-trillion dollar One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. This strategic-economic project — the largest the Eurasian Landmass ever seen — spanning over 70 countries via railroads, gas pipelines, and other infrastructure projects, is one of the greatest attempts of China to secure itself a superpower position in the 21st century. Without East Turkistan, deemed by the CCP the “Chinese gateway” to Eurasia and the West in general, the entire OBOR initiative’s immediate feasibility is truly brought into question. In addition to this strategic importance East Turkistan, the land of the Uyghurs is also extremely rich in oil, gas, and coal. According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, the region contains the second-highest natural gas reserves and highest oil reserves of any province-level jurisdiction of China, reportedly producing more than 30 BCM of natural gas in 2015.
A statement that reduces the intention of the freedom movement to a simple modern economic enterprise further belittles the rich history of a people that once lived with centuries of independence, and its rightful effort to reclaim its full rights and freedom. The Uyghurs played a crucial role in establishing the Koktürk Khanate (552-744), the Uyghur Khanate (744-840), the Kara-Khanid Khanate (840-1212), Gansu Uyghur Kingdom (848-1036), and Idiqut State (856-1335). They lived co-independently in the Mongol Empire, even playing crucial roles in its administration through Gengiz Khan’s usage of the Uyghur yasa law system and the Uyghur script. After the Chagatai Khanate, East Turkistan was integrated into the Turkic-Muslim milieu of the larger Turkistan stretching from the Caspian to Mongolia including cities and polities like Bukhara, Samarkand, Kokand, etc. with scholars, traders and others moving east and west. Thus, it is truly ridiculous to understand the issue of Uyghur colonization solely through a lens of Sino-American politics. The colonization of East Turkistan began long before China was a real contender in the quest for international political-economic hegemony, and will continue –ceteris paribus– long after a change in the foreign policy of either the United States or China. The recent interest American politicians have taken in the plight of the Uyghurs has never even clearly crossed into the realm of East Turkistani independence– it is Uyghur, Turkic, Muslim, and anti-colonial activists who are at the forefront of the East Turkistani independence movement. Just as it was completely understandable that Afghans accepted American assistance in the fight against Soviet occupation, and that the Viet Cong accepted Chinese assistance to protect against American invasion on the other hand, the Uyghur crisis is so dire that the people are justly tempted to accept the assistance of any powerful nation against the century long Chinese oppression they have faced. Had China, under the yoke of CCP, not suffocated the Muslim peoples inhabiting East Turkistan, Uyghurs could maybe regard China differently…
The only way to secure Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis their essential rights — to practice their faith, operate economically, and take pride in their rich culture and history without fear of imprisonment, assault or death — is to secure the sovereignty of their occupied homeland. For many Uyghurs, the human rights/autonomy discourse is dead. The Chinese government has proven over the course of its long occupation that it can never guarantee Uyghurs the safety or the freedom they deserve. Although China claims Uyghurs to be one of its “proud 56 ethnic minorities”, it sees Uyghurs not only as foreigners, as made clear with their completely distinct language, history and culture, but also as existential threats to its despotic power. As internal but “foreign” threats, the Uyghur people have been imprisoned, enslaved, indoctrinated and murdered. There can be no going back after this horror. The only solution is for the Uyghur people, completely foreign to China, to formally exist outside of the jurisdiction of the Chinese government as their own nation.
#4: Al-Jifri asks how COVID-19 can be divine punishment if Communist Party authorities themselves remain untouched by the virus
While we agree with al-Jifri that we are in no position to state definitely whether any worldly occurrence is a direct act of Divine punishment, we question a few of the implications presented during the lecture. For example, the shaykh asks how the coronavirus pandemic can logically be considered Divine punishment if the individuals, who made the governmental decisions resulting directly in the oppression against Uyghurs, themselves remained unscathed by the virus. We respond: How can a virus which has debilitated the economy and social structure of a country, whose government is committing genocide against millions of colonized peoples, including millions of Muslims, not be? This article does not aim to delve into a metaphysical discussion on the nature of blame and culpability, but we can simply ask how the shaykh knows that none of those individuals he identifies did not fall ill.
Additionally, we question why such a punishment could not target an entire corrupt regime — or even a complicit or apathetic populace — and not simply certain individuals, who he might deem actually culpable.
The fact of the matter is this: We do not know how many of the Uyghurs who are trapped in concentration camps, prisons or forced labor factories, have been additionally subject to this seperate CCP oppression — a virus which only became as terrible of an international menace as it has due to the deception and inadequacy of the CCP. We hope their number is very low, but also understand that the illness of Uyghurs does not indicate that the CCP is any less problematic or morally horrific in its dealing with the virus and with the regime’s colonial holdings. The shaykh also asks why other oppressors would not be more deserving of a plague such as this one. To this we repeat the shaykh’s question to himself: Who are we to question God’s methods? The burning of the Amazon is not certainly a punishment for the South American nations whose borders it crosses, or it may be a punishment for humanity at large — we cannot know.
It does not take an act of divine punishment for us to recognize the immorality of an action or event. We do not wait for lighting to strike us down before we realize we may have committed a misdeed. In the same way, we do not know if COVID -19 is divine punishment, but we do know that the oppression of Uyghurs is a moral outrage and requires immediate international action, especially from fellow Muslim brethren.
As previously noted, we do not seek to act as interpreters of God’s will. On the contrary, we only seek to act according to a well-established Islamic tradition of taking ʿibrah, a lesson derived from a moral experience, from what we observe in the world. Even while carefully performing this observation, we acknowledge that our derivations are zannī, or of uncertainty. This being said, we believe that our history and faith have so clearly called for justice and religious freedom that to ignore the direct suppression of Islam or Muslims, especially through means as violent and cruel as those practiced by the Chinese Communist Party, is to commit a definitive moral misdeed.
This kind of deduction by ulema and regular Muslims alike has been practiced for centuries. One pertinent example is of an individual named Mirza Ghulam of Qadiyan, who apostatized from Islam in the late 19th century as a claimant of prophethood, and experienced a rather gruesome death due to dysentery. His downfall has been commonly interpreted (taʾwīl) as punishment, for his attempting to act as a divinely ordained prophet of God. This kind of informed and qualified interpretation has been performed for centuries and is allowed for any individual so long as they ultimately believe in the finality of the Knowledge and the Will of God. W’Allāhu Aʿlam (God knows best).
Action Items & Closing Notes
We do not seek to find out the intention of Habib Ali al-Jifri’s speeches on the situation of our Uyghur brothers and sisters – he may have simply been misinformed. What we can do, however, is question the sources of his information and highlight the graveness of his actions and words. The fact of the matter is that millions of Muslims are detained by China for committing simple acts of faith that people elsewhere have the pleasure of doing each and every day– including saying “Bismillah” before they take a bite of food. As we observe Ramadan currently, it is devastating to think of the Uyghurs, who are forced to eat and drink, let alone drink alcohol and eat pork, during the holy month to prove their “innocence” from Islam to the Chinese government. While we sit with our families and break our fast, Uyghurs and other Turkic people suffer silently in thousands of prisons and labor camps far from their families.
This scholar, or those who have misinformed him, have not only dismissed the CCP’s violations against our religion and the Ummah at large, but have also attempted to disincentivize hundreds of thousands of free Muslims from aiding the Uyghur people in their plight against the CCP.
We ask that you to pray that the oppression of the Uyghur people ceases as soon as possible; but also urge you to boycott Chinese or Chinese-made products likely to be reliant on Uyghur slave labor; to actively spread the word on the suffering of East Turkistan; and to build interest groups and networks to pressure governments to lower their dependency on China, while increasing economic and political collaboration between Muslim people. Change starts with and around each and every one of us; inquire about Uyghur-East Turkistani exiles in your area and country, and organize your communities to help stranded Uyghur orphans, students and other disadvantaged individuals survive as Muslim Uyghur people with their culture. Lobby for issuing Uyghurs passports and securing Uyghur emigres refugee-asylee status and protection. Stop “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China. Call for a united diplomatic effort of Muslim, Arab, and/or Turkic and others concerned for freedoms countries against China’s atrocities. They should act according to inter-state relations and not as slavish would-be vassal states, and hold a respectable diplomatic stand vis-à-vis China from our countries.
We ask that you get your universities involved by both raising awareness on campus as well as by assessing your university’s relationship with China. Check to see if your school has a Confucius or China Institute. These entities often serve as a public educational arm of the Chinese government abroad, and are controlled by the CCP — thereby enabling them to exercise soft power all over the world. Insist that these institutes make a statement and acknowledge the atrocities faced by those in East Turkistan, and call them out if they do not. Call for a double background check for Chinese researchers lest they actually be informants as often happens in the U.S. Countless events and panels discussing the horrors committed by the CCP have been canceled by universities around the world due directly to Chinese pressure. Call for university endowments to divest from China. Finally, call on your school to increase funding for Uyghur/Turkistani studies and to set up scholarships and grants to assist exiled Uyghur students and scholars — their lived experiences are essential to hear, accept, and make sure fewer people have to go through again.
It is important to ensure the political and economic independence of academia– without which generations of students will maintain worldviews colored by propaganda and complicit in the oppression of millions. Insist that your school cuts ties with Chinese bodies violating academic freedoms, similar to how Cornell cut ties with a Chinese university. Hold your universities accountable regardless if they are directly complicit in, or just silent on, the human rights abuses China commits. Demand that these important institutions divest from these China and the CCP.
We have seen large-scale protests across the Muslim world, especially in countries, whose governments have remained silent against the oppression in East Turkistan for fear of Chinese retribution, and hope to see even more people push their governments to pressure the CCP. The shaykh encourages members of the audience to maintain an Islamic guiding moral principle and to act on it. We agree with this wholeheartedly — but we vigorously disagree with his calls to (in)action. Instead of focusing only on ourselves and our individual economic and academic developments, we also hope to fight for the Uyghur and other Turkic people’s ability to do the same — to practice their faith, live without fear of imprisonment, and in a homeland that is formally their own. This is not a hopeless cause– our voices can and must be heard, inshAllah.
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ﷺ إِنْ قَامَتْ عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ الْقِيَامَةُ وَفِي يَدِهِ فَسْلَةٌ فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا
From Anas Ibn Malik, Allah be pleased with him: The Prophet Muhammad, the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, said: if the day of judgement is upon you, and in your hand is a seed, plant it.
- Keep making Dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world
- Boycott Chinese products– do not be complicit in slave-labour
- Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause, learn more at SaveUighur.org
- Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China
- Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui, Christian or Tibetan Buddhist
- Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China
- Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
- Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by either citizenship or refugee-asylee status. Stop the “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China!
- Get your universities-endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies.
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When Racism Goes Viral: The Coronavirus And Modern Muslim Orientalism
Lumping an entire people together for collective punishment, reveling in their suffering, and sniggering at their food choices isn’t an exercise in science, Sunnah, or compassion. It’s good, old-fashioned orientalism.
In the eight weeks since it was identified, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected nearly 12,000 people in China alone, 200 of whom did not survive. Symptoms are flu-like in nature, and global side effects include acute, apparently contagious… racism.
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Online, in Muslim as well as non-Muslim spaces, social media feeds are sniggering “Eww, you eat gross things! Of course you’ll get gross diseases!” In the midst of this human tragedy, orientalist tropes about the Chinese are being sloppily repackaged as health concerns over the coronavirus, and served with a side of bat soup.
Yes, bat soup.
The coronavirus in question is found in bats, and thanks to the scientific expertise of social media, videos of Chinese people consuming anything from bat soup to baby mice and rats are popping up as “proof” of the disease’s cause.
However the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans, the initial source of the outbreak seems to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood market, where a number of employees and a few shoppers were the first casualties to the infection. The 2019-nCoV is moving from person to person the same way the flu does, and what a person eats – or doesn’t eat – has no bearing on whether they contract the virus or not.
In an article titled, No, Coronavirus Was Not Caused by ‘Bat Soup’–But Here’s What Researchers Think May Be to Blame, Health.com writes:
“Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.
Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn’t have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it’s still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.”
Being uncomfortable with things you’ve never considered edible before isn’t necessarily a racist reaction. When my husband told me he ate a chocolate-covered cricket once, I hid my toothbrush for a week, but that’s not what’s happening right now. There is a deadly virus threatening a group of people, and the internet sees fit to make fun of them. Why? Because orientalism.
Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Click To Tweet
The inferiorizing feature is step one, because in order to position yourself as a winner, the other guy has to be a loser in some way.
The otherizing is the step 2, and both steps are important because if you say that your little brother is a loser, in the end you’re still family and you’ve got his back. This would be inferiorizing, but not otherizing.
But if you say that other kind of guy is a loser, then you have no common ground. And when the other kind of guy is in trouble, you need only gloat and make nasty comments on Twitter. That’s inferiorizing with otherizing. Orientalism can be loosely translated as US vs THEM, normal versus weird, and local versus invasive foreign, or exotic.
The otherizing of orientalism is so subconsciously embedded in people that it even creates auditory illusions to maintain the “otherization” of the subject being viewed. As crazy as that sounds, everyone has their own experience. Mine for just last month played out as follows. A homeless man approached my window and said “Ma’am, do you have two dollars?”
I smiled and responded to him, “I have exactly two dollars!”
As I dug around for my wallet, he cocked his head and said, “Your accent. There’s something different about it. Something… foreign, exotic?”
“It’s Chicago,” I said, handing him two dollars.
He blinked a few times. “What’s Chicago?”
“My accent. It’s Chicagoan. English is my first language. My accent is from Chicago.”
He narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, this gatekeeper of Chicagoness. “What part of Chicago?”
“North side, Lincolnwood area,” I said. “I grew up on Devon Ave.”
“Pulaski Park!” he beamed, pointing to himself. “I’m from Chicago too!”
We smiled at each other, basking for a moment in our mutual Chicagoness. Then I waved and drove away, adding his insistence of my exotic“otherness” to the dozens of other peoples’ who have heard my perfectly flat, perfectly blandly midwestern accent and perceived something foreign. I call that one “hearing with your eyes.”
I have lost track of people who have tried to insist that I have an accent. One woman even went so far as to imply that I was lying about being a native English speaker, that I must have some other first language, because there’s “Something else in there, I can hear something foreign! But you’re very articulate though.”
Compliments like “You’re so articulate!” or “You’re so different!” give you partial credit for your exceptionality, while still discrediting every other member of your general race, religion, region, or hemisphere. The left-handed compliment has a long history, and follows a predictable pattern. Take, for example, this excerpt from The Talisman, a crusade-genre fiction published in 1825.
In this scene, our gallant, invading knight finds himself unable to defeat the enemy “Saracen,” aka – Muslim defender of the Holy Land. In grudging admiration, the knight concedes:
“I well thought…that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange it is to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.”
From the crusades to colonialism to America’s chronic invasion of Muslim lands, the misrepresentation of people from Over There is both a cause and effect of policy decisions. Orientalism creates the “bad guys” necessary to justify the “good guy” response by “proving” the bad guys to be so weird, inferior, and intrinsically bad that it becomes necessary to call for the good guy cavalry. That gives the good guys permission to take over the resources that the bad guys are too incompetent to manage anyway, and overthrow the governments they’re too stupid to run, and free the women that they’re too barbaric to appreciate.
One excellent reference on this is Dr. Jack Shaheen’s brilliant documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which summarizes a hundred years of Hollywood’s orientalist portrayal of “Arab Land,” a mythical, exotic, treacherous, incompetent, and seductive place, whose capital city is apparently Agrabah which, in 2015, a public policy poll found that 30% of GOP voters were in favor of bombing.
Another side effect of orientalism is the refusal to allow for individual accountability and the insistence on collective blame. “Western” men who harm and oppress women are rightly labeled as jerks and abusers who don’t represent Western morals, ethics, or ideals through their individual actions. Same for white racists, extremists, and criminals in general.
However, Muslims jerks who do the same are awarded representative status of the entire Muslim population (1.9 billion) and Islamic tradition (1441 years). The perception as all Muslim men based on only the worst of them seems ludicrous on paper, and such generalizations are no longer acceptable to make about race, but are still perfectly popular to make about minority religious groups.
Orientalism enables the belief that Muslims are terrible terrorists who are terrible to their women. If they say otherwise, it’s because their religion is terrible and lying about it is part of the religion too. They don’t deserve their own lands or resources, they’ll just use them for more terribleness. We should go in there and save them from themselves! And also, make lots of predictable, idiotic romance novels and movies in which a poor, beautiful Oriental Female is rescued through the power of Love and Freedom. Because just as violence is the natural state of the Muslim man, oppression is the natural state of the Muslim woman. Miskeena. Habibti.
Human beings can be horrible to each other. No ethnic, religious, or racial group is any exception. The problem arises when individual horribleness is elevated to collective attribution, and that collective attribution is used to justify collective punishment, as well as collective suffering.When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)?Click To Tweet
When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)? What about snails, frog legs, crawfish, chocolate covered ants, and those tequila-inspired lollipops with an actual worm candied in the center?
The filtering effect of orientalism means that our weird foods – be it maghz masala and katakat– are quirky and fun, but their weird foods are disgusting and totally cause to celebrate infectious disease.
If the tables were turned and a deadly coronavirus originated from say, Saudi Arabia, would it be alright to ridicule Muslims for what they ate, or how they lived? What if that specific coronavirus actually originated in camels.
Yes, camels. The Islamophobic internet would have a field day with that one. Yes, we ride camels and prize camels and even eat camels – and they’re delicious I might add – but if a deadly virus originated from camels, found its way into humans in the Middle East, and from there caused death and destruction in other countries- would it be our fault? Would we deserve scorn? Would the suffering and death of our people be justified by how “gross” it is that we eat camels, even if only a few us actually do, and the rest of us prefer shawarma?
Pause for dramatic emphasis. Open the Lancet. Read.
“Human coronavirus is one of the main pathogens of respiratory infection. The two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans and four other human coronaviruses induce mild upper respiratory disease. The major SARS-CoV outbreak involving 8422 patients occurred during 2002–03 and spread to 29 countries globally.
MERS-CoV emerged in Middle Eastern countries in 2012 but was imported into China.
The sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats, but the origin of 2019-nCoV needs further investigation.
The mortality of SARS-CoV has been reported as more than 10% and MERS-CoV at more than 35%.”
MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome –Coronavirus emerged in 2012, traveling from bats to camels to humans, killing 35% of the people who contracted it. It originated in Saudi Arabia and found its way across the continent all the way to China. So could the Chinese internet have been justified in ridiculing our deaths because we ate camels?
Read more about the Sunnah of the Dhab Lizard.
Locusts and lizards have as much to do with MERS-CoV as mice and rats have to do with 2019 novel coronavirus, but doesn’t our grossness in general mean we deserve our fate?
No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.Click To Tweet
Orientalism is alive and kicking both of our communities in the teeth — Chinese and Muslim – but to further complicate the matter, there’s the ongoing genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China, and that’s rooted in orientalism too.
The Chinese government has imprisoned 3 million Muslims in concentration camps, a number equal to the entire Muslim population in America. It is not unexpected that some people wishfully assume the 2019 novel coronavirus epidemic to be the comeuppance that the Chinese government deserves for its cruelty, but that’s sad and wrong on many, many levels.
People cheering the coronavirus on fail to understand a few very big, very important things about the situation. I will list them, because the internet is no place for subtlety and these points have to stand out for those who would sail over the entire article so they can trash it in the comments. They are as follows:
- The entire population of China is no more responsible for the actions of its government than you are for yours. If you hate Donald Trump, his border wall, the separation of families, the Muslim Ban, cuts to medical benefits, and corruption in general but STILL live in America, then you understand that a great, frustrated, and powerless mass of citizens can have little to no effect on its government’s choices. Such is politics. Such is life. Such is China too.
- The coronavirus’s lethality is exponentially higher in people with poor health and weak immune systems. Like the flu, the coronavirus is overwhelmingly most lethal to children and elderly. The coronavirus is not targeted at, nor limited to the Chinese leadership for its crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, that is not how epidemics work.
- The spread of Coronavirus – like all respiratory infections – is greatly accelerated through close living quarters as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. The 3 million Uighur Muslims interred by the Chinese government are imprisoned in distressingly cruel, cramped, and unhygienic conditions. Their close proximity as well as population density mean that if the virus makes it into the captive population, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Muslims – would die. Don’t root for the coronavirus. It does not discriminate based on religion or race, even if you do.
And now we come full circle. When Muslims ridicule the Chinese for “being gross,” they are simply echoing the same racist, Orientalist talking points that labeled the Chinese – and later the Japanese – as the “Yellow Peril,” a filthy, faceless, monolithic mass deserving all of our scorn and none of the individual considerations that we insist on for ourselves.
Given the abuse that Muslims have been subject to by orientalist tropes, it should make us all the more aware of its dangerous cultural impact. We know what it’s like to be looked down on, laughed at, and blamed for our own suffering. We know what it feels like to have our foods gagged at, our accents mocked, and our cultural clothing turned into Halloween costumes.
Worse still, we know, very painfully and very currently, what it looks like for an entire people to be treated as a disease in and of themselves. China has declared Islam to be a contagious disease, an “ideological illness,” and on this very basis is it holding 3 million Muslims hostage. In an official statement loaded with situational irony, the Chinese Community Party officially stated,
“Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.
… There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind … Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs … There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.” – source
The dangers of racism and orientalism are real, and the victims number the millions. Knowing how much damage orientalism causes in our community, we must commit to never, ever stooping to the same ideologies that are used to justify our own oppression. No matter how many bats people eat, or how evil their government can be, people are individual people. We stand on equal footing, equally deserving of respect, compassion, and acknowledgement of our humanity.
The Orientalist mindset that diminishes and distances us from each other strips us of our dignity, whether we are its victim, or its the perpetrator. Such racism is antithetical to the Prophetic compassion and mercy that Islam demands from us as Muslims. When Muslims celebrate the suffering of innocent people as some sort of epidemiological revenge for the suffering of innocent people, that’s not Islam.
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