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Life in Prison: How Islam Can Save Aaron Hernandez

Ummah Sports

When the gavel came down on Aaron Hernandez — the former New England Patriots and University of Florida football star convicted on April 15 of first-degree murder in the 2013 shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd — a common narrative among traditional and social media was that two lives were now lost: That of the victim and that of his killer, because the mandatory life sentence given to Hernandez means his life is essentially over.

Before the murder case that turned his football fame into criminal infamy, Hernandez met almost every modern-day qualification for “having it all” in the dunya. He was young (23 at the time of his arrest), talented, rich and recognizable. He had won a college national championship at Florida and had played in Super Bowl XLVI with the Patriots, coming up just short of adding a pro football championship to his collection. He had an endorsement deal with sneaker and apparel company Puma, and a $40 million contract with the Patriots. Going into the 2013 season, Hernandez was ranked by NFL Network as one of the top 100 players in the league. He had a $1 million home with four stories and a pool. He had a fiancee and a baby girl.

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That chapter of Hernandez’s life has ended. There will be no more pro football, no more hefty paychecks, no more mansion, no more nightclubs. Hernandez’s life sentence includes no possibility of parole, and on top of that, he’s still facing another trial on murder charges stemming from a 2012 shooting in Boston that left two men dead.

Two days after his April 15 conviction for Lloyd’s murder, it was being reported that Hernandez was on suicide watch at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution’s Cedar Junction facility.

And why not? As many people have stated, Aaron Hernandez’s life is already over.

Reality, however, makes it clear how far that statement is from the truth.

Prison, even in the form of a life sentence, is not itself a death sentence. Incarcerated individuals can and do contribute positively to society, whether it’s writing books, performing community service, teaching and counseling and preaching to others inmates and youth groups.

More importantly, Islam teaches that even those prisoners doing life can still have a life. The purpose of our time in this world, in the dunya, is to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), The Originator and The Creator.

And that worship can be done just as effectively inside a jail cell as it can be done inside a $1 million mansion. It can be done in a prison yard just as successfully as it can be done on a football field.

In “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” the man known later as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz tells the story of his conversion to Islam as a young man in prison. Recounting one particularly powerful experience, he writes, “Then all the rest of that night, I prayed to Allah. I don’t think anyone ever prayed more sincerely to Allah. I prayed for some kind of relief from my confusion.”

Malcolm X was not in front of the Ka’aba in the holy city of Mecca when he offered those life-altering prayers that night. He was not in a mosque, or in the home he would later make with his wife and children, or at one of the prestigious lecture halls or auditoriums he would later be invited to speak at as a representative of the Nation of Islam.

He offered those prayers behind bars in his cell at Norfolk Prison Colony — a facility in the same Massachusetts Correctional Institution system that now houses Aaron Hernandez.

Hernandez scored 20 touchdowns in three NFL seasons.

Hernandez scored 20 touchdowns in three NFL seasons.

The Holy Quran outlines one condition that so many men like Malcolm X, and so many men like Hernandez, have had to accept before the possibility of self-improvement is presented:

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it.” (13:11)

While serving a seven-year term for burglary, Malcolm X had to own the sins from the previous chapter of his life and be open to change before he Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would change his condition. Malcolm X wrote: “For evil to bend its knees, admitting its guilt, to implore the forgiveness of God, is the hardest thing in the world. It’s easy for me to see and to say that now. But then, when I was the personification of evil, I was going through it. Again, again, I would force myself back down into the praying-to-Allah posture. When finally I was able to make myself stay down — I didn’t know what to say to Allah.”

After that, once he did figure out what to say, he wrote: “You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge. Between Mr. (Elijah) Muhammad’s teachings, my correspondence, my visitors … and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life.”

To those who have made their purpose in life the pursuit of money, material things and other markers of “having it all” in the dunya, a lengthy prison sentence would be like the end of their life. Although, ironically enough, some of the most rich, famous and “free” individuals in our society have said that wealth and fame can feel like a prison.

To those who have made it their purpose in life to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prison would not necessarily be a hindrance to reaching that goal.

The game has moved on without Hernandez. The Patriots just won another Super Bowl title without him, and the man that took the lion’s share of his playing time, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, has become arguably the best at his position in the NFL and a budding multi-media star.

It must be a hard pill for Hernandez to swallow, that feeling of not being needed. But he can still find purpose. The right purpose.

If I could speak to Hernandez, I’d tell him that much. I’d advise him to use his time to think and reflect about his history and his choices, to study his spirit and explore a different path. I’d remind him that while the glamorous part of his life is in the past, he could still have a glorious future ahead.

Perhaps that is why so many people have converted to Islam while in prison. Because when everyone else is telling you that your life is over, Islam is telling you that you still have a life worth living.

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Amaar Abdul-Nasir was born and raised in Seattle, Wash., and received his B.A. in Journalism from Seattle University. A sports writer and editor by trade, Amaar founded UmmahSports.net, which focuses on Muslim athletes and health and fitness in the Muslim community, following his conversion to Islam in 2013.

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Steve

    May 11, 2015 at 7:21 PM

    Malcolm X converted to the Nation of Islam while in prison and even claimed to have seen an apparition of Elijah Muhammad appear in his cell. Sorry, not the same as converting to a legitimate religion.

    • Avatar

      L I

      May 11, 2015 at 8:03 PM

      He converted to Islam (and out of the Nation of Islam) not long after, so regardless, the article’s premise rings true. There can be a good future for everyone.

      • Avatar

        Steve

        May 11, 2015 at 9:28 PM

        Malcolm began learning about the Nation of Islam while in prison in 1947 after learning about it from his siblings (Manning, pg. 77). He converted shortly afterward and didn’t accept Islam until visiting the Middle East in April, 1964 (Manning, pg. 307). Seventeen years is hardly “not long after.”

        I understand there are concerted efforts being made to find a seguebetween the broader civil rights movement generally focused on African-Americans and the more reactionary elements of the politicized muslims in the west. Whether this is done in good or bad faith historical accuracy would be appreciated.

    • Avatar

      Amaar Abdul-Nasir

      May 12, 2015 at 12:35 AM

      Especially for the purposes of this column and the points I’m trying to highlight about Aaron Hernandez, prison, and hope where others insist there is hopelessness, I think it’s more important to focus on Malcolm X’s intentions — as well as the intentions of all people who have and who will join the Nation of Islam — than to get stuck on the comparative differences between the NOI and pure Islam.

      For most (if not all) NOI converts, they don’t really know that the NOI is not true Islam. This was especially true in the pre-Internet era when Malcolm X joined the group, and in the era before Malcolm’s story was told worldwide. As far as they know, new NOI members are converting to Islam. They’re not told by their mentors, “Oh by the way, this isn’t REALLY Islam, but it’s close enough.” They are praying to Allah, they are reading the Quran, and they are following most (if not all) of the lifestyle changes and rules that true Islam teaches.

      In his autobiography, written after Malcolm X traveled to Mecca and discovered true Islam, he wrote: “I was to learn later that Elijah Muhammad’s tales … infuriated the Muslims of the East. While at Mecca, I reminded them that it was their fault, since they themselves hadn’t done enough to make the real Islam known in the West. Their silence left a vacuum into which any religious faker could step and mislead our people.”

      Also, in later years the man Malcolm believed he saw in nighttime vision was actually Master W.D. Fard, the man whom Elijah Muhammad considered a mentor. (At the time he actually had the vision, Malcolm said he had no idea who it was.) The vision appearing as Elijah Muhammad was something Spike Lee put into the Hollywood version of Malcolm X’s story for some reason.

      • Avatar

        Adam

        May 15, 2015 at 4:31 PM

        Brother Amaar; your article is appreciated. I wonder if you can use any type of 1st-2nd-3rd degree(s) of separation you may have with contacts that lead to Aaron Hernandez to share the article with him…you should.

      • Avatar

        Laurence Charles Ringo

        May 16, 2015 at 11:12 PM

        Mr.Amaar…While I get what you’re saying as far as it goes,there is one Quranic verse inre this situation that frankly I consider simply irrational,if not actually nonsensical,and that’s the verse you quoted. (I’ll read it from Yusuf ‘Ali’s translation)-To wit:…”Verily never Will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves(With their own souls.)-Surah 13,ayat 11. Seriously,Mr.Amaar…What the what does that mean? If I changed my” condition”
        myself,what need have I of Allah? What exactly does Alļah do in the process? await your reply.

      • Avatar

        Amaar

        May 17, 2015 at 4:51 AM

        @Laurence – I take those words to mean that Allah [swt] will not change your condition until you are open and ready to accept change, until you show that you want it. Look at it this way: If you just sit on the couch thinking, “I want a job” but you’re not doing anything about it, nothing will happen. Once you get up and start applying for work, and maybe you even have to humble yourself to be willing to take a job that’s not ideal, that’s when Allah [swt] will make it happen for you.

  2. Avatar

    abu jones

    May 12, 2015 at 4:27 PM

    @dyyf
    Is this the same Muhammad of Mecca who did not raise a finger on those who persecuted him and when he returned triamph to Mecca, he forgave his conspirators and enemies…

  3. Pingback: Jail | Anas Khalifa

  4. Avatar

    Joe

    May 15, 2015 at 2:10 PM

    First off..Hernandez is Catholic and will not turn his back on the true savior, Jesus Christ. Who wants to join a religion that believes in killing innocent people.

    • Avatar

      Um Mariam

      May 15, 2015 at 3:35 PM

      Hi, Joe. Please don’t believe that ISIS and similar phenomena are the reality of Islam. True Islam abaolutely forbids killing innocent people and Prophet Muhammad defended the rights of both Christians and Jews & ordered Muslims to protect churches & synogogues. Muslim countries not affected by war/strife caused by outside factors still have the lowest crime rates and lowest murder rates in the world, plus the lowest rates of AIDS & unwed parents & “deadbeat fathers”–google it. Islam promotes peace and justice within homes and amongst societies. Racism, classism, discrimination, and injustice toward anyone are not allowed. Sure, there bad Muslims–but they are breaking Islamic rules. Islam does not allow injustice or oppression, let alone murder, and “terrorists” comprise probably .001% of Muslim. It is untrue, btw, that most terrorists are Muslim. Do some serious research & you will see. However–sad truth–fewer Muslims are obeying God’s laws than ever before, & so you will see many doing wrong–but in violation of Islam–not because of it! This is one of the signs that we are getting closer to the end times.

  5. Avatar

    Ammar Khalid

    May 15, 2015 at 3:18 PM

    Perhaps the last sentence can be rewritten as:

    “Because when everyone else is telling you that your life is over, Islam is telling you that your life has just begun :)”

    Truly, our life begins when our heart awakes. Being in prison or million dollar mansion is meaningless. True life is the life of heart and give an experience of bliss which cannot be described.

  6. Avatar

    Kent Bayley

    May 15, 2015 at 4:25 PM

    Why should we believe in Islam when its a divisive and violent religion by its own hand and within its own pages. Its the most divisive force one earth and Mohammed had a 6 year old wife…….I would never believe in or worship someone like that. Its a religion for the poor to give them false hope and so it marshals a crowd which will do anything to survive or they use it as an excuse to be angry and purvey evil. See it for what it is, a nasty baseless religion of dominance and the subjugation of women.

    • Avatar

      Amaar

      May 15, 2015 at 6:49 PM

      @Kent, Believing in Muhammad shouldn’t be hard for anyone, seeing as he was a real person and there is no debate anywhere over his existence on this planet.

      As far as worshiping Muhammad, if you really think that’s what Muslims do, then you literally do not know the first thing about Islam. The No. 1 pillar of Islam is to believe that nothing is worthy of worship except Allah.

    • Avatar

      Jeremy Ben Royston

      May 15, 2015 at 10:55 PM

      Divisive? It is the most unifying and tolerant. It calls upon Muslims not to revile those other faiths invoke other than God (Quran, 6:108) and the Quran confirms the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths before it even though it supersedes them and calls upon a Muslim Society to judge (in court) by it when called upon to do so. Even so, it calls upon the Muslim society to tolerate within their lands the way of life of the other “People of the Book”. Why? They are of “The Book,” – the records of the revealed message of God.

      “For each (group) we laid down the Law and a prescribed program. Had God wanted, He could have made you into a single nation. Nay, so He may test you all according to what He has granted you. So rush onward and compete with each other for the righteous deeds. To God shall you all return! Then, He will tell you about all that you used to dispute!” (Quran, 5:48)

      • Avatar

        Ismail

        May 20, 2015 at 4:26 AM

        Akhy,barakAllah,you brothers are teaching me things I have been ignorant about when debating with non-muslims especially Christians.May Allah azza wa jal continue to guide you.

  7. Avatar

    Safiyyah

    May 15, 2015 at 10:10 PM

    Salaams: JAK for the beautiful article. It’s useful to mention to those “worried” that our brother accepted NOI in prison that often faith in prison is a journey; it starts there for some, continues when they get out as it did for our Brother Malcolm, and it continues to develop as it does for thousands of Muslims serving a life sentence. I’ve known many NOI who have come around to the Straight Path in prison. The bottom line is that, for sure, Allaah ta’ala has a plan for Mr. Hernandez, and Insha Allaah he will be guided to al-Islaam. Ameen.

  8. Avatar

    Sara

    May 16, 2015 at 12:27 AM

    Assalamo Alaikum Brother Amaar.
    Your article can serve as a life-saver for Aaron Hernandez, by the Will of Allah!
    As Adam stated above, it would be great if this article could reach Hernandez and others in similar situations.

  9. Avatar

    Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena

    May 16, 2015 at 5:12 AM

    Dear Brother Hernandez.
    May ALLAAH Shower More Health, More Courage, More Wisdom, and More Patience upon You.
    Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena.
    Sri Lanka.

  10. Avatar

    Mohammed

    May 18, 2015 at 1:16 AM

    Assalamo alaikom, very good read, brother Amaar, especially the part: “If I could speak to Hernandez, I’d tell him that much. I’d advise him to use his time to think and reflect about his history and his choices, to study his spirit and explore a different path. I’d remind him that while the glamorous part of his life is in the past, he could still have a glorious future ahead.”
    I think you can help that man enormously by saying that to him. You live in the US as him and if a human life is really important to you to save, no distance should stop you from reaching out to him and give him that message of hope, esp after knowing, according to your own article, that he’s now on suicide watch. Help him and Allah will help you.

    Your brother Mohammed

  11. Avatar

    Raji Ayinla

    May 18, 2015 at 4:25 PM

    The key is proper education. The people in jail cells tend to be easy pickings for radical-leaning Muslims.

  12. Aly Balagamwala

    Aly Balagamwala

    May 22, 2015 at 3:55 AM

    Dear All

    The comments on this article have shifted extremely off the topic away from Aaron Hernandez. Kindly keep your comments on the topic.

    Best Regards
    MM Comments Team

    • Aly Balagamwala

      Aly Balagamwala

      May 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM

      Thanks Tes for being understanding about this. Thank you for your comments and hope you will continue to read our content and comment on topic.

      Best Regards
      Aly

  13. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    May 31, 2015 at 4:13 PM

    All true brother Amaar, Jazak Allah khayr. Though in my experience, this is not the profile of someone who tends to convert to Islam. Usually you see converts among the poor and minorities. Someone like Hernandez would have to overcome a lot of privilege and entitlement to humble himself before Allah.

    Also, I tend not to be sympathetic toward murderers. Though I have known killers who became Muslim in prison and did much good afterward. And embracing Islam wipes out all sins.

    Last note: I think most of these comments from trolls attacking Islam should be deleted. They are irrelevant to the article.

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#Current Affairs

Indian Myths Channel Genocide in Kashmir

India is a land and society of myths. More so now than ever before, under the Hindutva-inspired Bharatiya Janata Party government led by the claim of the myth manufacturer Modi: “India is a democracy; it is in our DNA.”

A much talked about myth has been that India is a secular state, and in the light of the post August 5 2019 developments in Kashmir and the Indian mainland, much sighing is being aired that Indian secularism is endangered.

However, the question arises, when was India secular? Was India “secular,” when it invaded Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) on October 26, 1947 on the pretext that a non-Muslim should rule a Muslim-majority state, or was it “secular” when Hyderabad Deccan was invaded and annexed on September 23, 1948 on the pretext that a Muslim could not rule over a Hindu majority?

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Based on a myth about the birthplace of the mythical “Lord Rama,” the 600-year old Babri Mosque was attacked and demolished on December 6, 1992. India’s Supreme Court validated the goon squad’s action on November 9, 2019. Today, the mosque’s attackers rule India.

Even the national anthem ‘Vande Matram’ is not secular, where Muslims object to its idolatrous aspects. For instance, the fourth stanza, addresses motherland India as, “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned…”

When a Muslim sings these words, he is forced to equate his country with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Lakshmi, thereby deifying the land of India. This goes against the concept of tawheed (the Absolute Oneness of God), according to which a Muslim cannot supplicate to anyone except God.

The other long-standing myth, which India validated through a presidential fiat last year, is that J&K are its “integral” part – a territory it has occupied since September 1947 with a million-man force. In doing so, it served up another myth: the constitutional relationship between J&K and India.

Subodh Varma (“Some Myths About Article 370, 35A and Kashmir”, Sabrang India August 8, 2019) explains that in the process of effectively scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution through a presidential order supported by a Lok Sabha (lower house) resolution, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters regurgitated a slew of myths, half-truths and sleights of hand that have been part of its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) propaganda for decades. Ironically, many parties and opinion leaders who do not subscribe to the RSS ideology also repeated them, which show how far these myths have traveled. Meanwhile, social media went ballistic with RSS/BJP supporters posting bizarre claims while others started offering land for sale in Kashmir.

Arun Jaitley (d. August 24, 2019), who served as finance minister from 2014 to 2019, had tweeted on August 4, “J&K integration with India took place in October 1947. Article 370 came into force in 1952, Article 35A came in 1954, four and seven years later respectively. How can Articles 370 and 35A be a condition precedent to merger?”

He had sought to prove that Articles 370 and 35A were somehow unrelated to J&K’s “joining” [albeit perforce] the Indian Union implying that they are unnecessary and also that they were the result of some [past] Congress governments’ stupidity.

This is a lie.

On October 26, 1947, India invaded J&K, obliging its ruler, Raja Hari Singh, to sign the Instrument of Accession (IOA); the Dogra ruler’s ancestor having purchased the territory and its citizen from the British. However, this document states that the Indian parliament could only legislate on the state’s defense, external affairs, communications and some ancillary subjects. The agreement’s Clause 5 reads: “The terms of this my Instrument of Accession cannot be varied by any amendment of the Act or of Indian Independence Act unless such amendment is accepted by me by an Instrument supplementary to this Instrument.” Clause 7 says: “Nothing in this Instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future constitution of India or to fetter my discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future constitution.”

Simply stated, it says that many things left pending in the IOA were to be settled later through negotiations. After its invasion, India, which faced the Kashmiri resistance till 1949, finally seeking a UN-negotiated armistice, has yet to lay out the laws and governance mechanism. Accordingly, the UN Security Council adopted successive resolutions call for a plebiscite where the Kashmiris would vote freely to decide their future.

The UN continues to recognize Kashmir as a disputed territory.

The 1947 partition agreed upon by Muslim and Hindu leaders with Britain, the departing colonial ruler, reads that Muslim majority states would merge with Pakistan. Kashmir is a clear case.

To preserve the IOA’s spirit and to reassure the Raja, Article 370 was moved in India’s Constituent Assembly in May 1949, which was voted to be part of the Indian Constitution in October 1949. Consequently, Presidential Orders were issued in 1950, 1952 and 1954 to settle various issues. Jawaharlal Nehru  -India’s first prime minister- and his interior minister Vallabhbhai Patel (d. 1950) were part of these negotiations, which negates the RSS myth that Patel opposed Article 370.

The RSS propped up the full integration bogey to stir up agitation against the land reforms initiated by the Raja-appointed Sheikh Abdullah government. The RSS gave it a communal hue as the landowners were mostly Dogras and Pandits and most peasants were Muslims.

The RSS/BJP propaganda about Article 35A hides the fact that Raja Hari Singh had proclaimed the Hereditary State Subject Order in 1927, which allowed only the state’s residents to own land and to government jobs. The state’s assembly voted to include this order in the J&K Constitution. In keeping with the IOA terms regarding the preservation of rights of state’s residents, Article 35A was added to the Constitution through the Presidential Order of 1954.

Kashmir’s annexation falls under RSS ambition of a pure Hindu India.

The RSS states that J&K, with its “oppressive Muslim-majority character, has been a headache for our country ever since Independence.”

RSS alleges that forces “inimical to Bharat never wanted Kashmir to integrate itself with Bharat …  and in October 1947, these elements conspired with the enemy to defeat every move to save the situation from our [Indian] side.” While, India continues to loudly claim that it was Pakistani tribal fighters and not Kashmiri freedom-fighters who confronted the Indian invading army, RSS claims that it was its fighters who fought alongside Indian troops, adding that if a ceasefire had not been agreed upon, its fighters would have helped completely conquer J&K.

RSS blames the large Muslim presence for J&K being conferred a special status under Article 370, even after its total “accession.”

On December 11, 1991, BJP president Dr. Murli Manohar and Narendra Modi, and also, the now interior minister Amit Shah, led the 15,000 mile “Ekta Yatra” (Unity March) from Kanyakumari -a Tamil Nadu coastal town, the southernmost town in mainland India- which culminated in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on January 26, 1992 to hoist the Indian flag, signaling that they had “arrived to settle the account.”

RSS claims: “The endless appeasement of the Muslim population, especially in Kashmir, practiced by the successive governments at Delhi, has been the bane of our government’s Kashmir policy. Just as too much mollycoddling and lack of discipline spoil the child, so has been Kashmir, a problem created out of our own folly.” RSS alleges that Pakistan arms militants for armed revolt from within India.

Amit Shah has harped the long-repeated party line that Article 370 is the root cause of spread of terrorism. As a corollary, it is also said that the article was the source of sentimental belief in a separate Kashmir, providing ground to cross-border terrorists to exploit.

However, it is the erosion of Article 370 that has led to increasing disenchantment of Kashmiris and their search for a way out. For instance, Article 370 provided for extending provisions of law to J&K through Presidential Orders, issued after concurrence of the state assembly. However, the 1954 Order has extended almost the entire Constitution to J&K. Out of the 97 entries in the Union List, 94 have been made applicable to the state and out of the 47 entries in the Concurrent List, 26 have been extended to the state. This has largely reduced the state’s powers. Overall, Article 370’s provisions were used at least 45 times to extend Constitution’s provisions to J&K.

Not only have the J&K rights been increasingly restricted, but also the spirit of the section has been violated by simply getting the state government to rubber stamp such extensions.

Also, the J&K Constitution was amended several times using Article 370. For instance, Article 356 was extended removing a similar provision in the J&K Constitution (Article 92), which called for President’s concurrence for imposing President’s rule. Article 370 was used for the extension of President’s rule. Even Article 249 (parliament’s power to make laws on State List entries) was extended to J&K through a recommendation of the governor, bypassing the state legislature.

In the past, Congress governments and later BJP, used these measures to manipulate the politics of the state to install ministries or impose President’s Rule.

Another myth, really a blatant lie, proffered by BJP, is that development was not possible because Article 370 didn’t allow it. Post-August 5, Indian politicians and opinion leaders continue to harp that with the removal of special status, including J&K will now become part of global India. Seriously, how Article 370 stopped any government from providing or encouraging more investment and industry in the state when most provisions of the Constitution, including Union list entries were extended to the state. The Union governments could have undertaken any economic measures or programs they wanted in J&K. In fact, there was nothing except unkempt promises of colossal special packages. No Indian government undertook any economic or political measures that would provide sustainable and long-term benefits to J&K.

Simply, the removal of Article 35A will now free real estate sharks to gobble up properties and use it for setting up private businesses including private schools. It is difficult to believe that private investment will flow into J&K, when an occupied people there are discontented and uncertain.

Indian propagandists in and out of government harp on the myth Articles 370 and 35A, and the arrangements they enshrine, were unique to J&K. In fact, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Goa enjoy similar provisions. In other states too, there are laws preventing non-domiciliary persons from owning land.

The Narendra Modi-led central government had, after the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, recently announced that people will now be able to buy land in Kashmir. As a result, the 1971 circular, which restricted land acquisition and requisition without a ‘No Objection Certificate (NOC)” from the Home Department, has now been replaced by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. And, the displacement of Kashmiris with the replacement of Indians has begun the process of ethnic cleansing, leading to a genocide of the Kashmiri people.

Citizens of India ought not to live by the myth of living in the largest democracy and in greatness but instead should heed to Gandhi, “as human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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#Current Affairs

Allah Commands Justice: Thoughts On I Can’t Breathe

Whether we like to admit it or not, the environment we live in has a very profound and sometimes subtle effect upon our beliefs, thoughts, and behavior. It plays a major role in shaping our world view and who we are as individuals. Society, our system of education, the mainstream media, literature, art, popular culture, t.v., movies, and music heavily influence the way we perceive things and process information. Because of that we tend to project these influences upon the Quran, Sunnah, and the person of the Prophet ﷺ. We start to see them through the prism of modern liberal thought or other philosophies and ideologies.

For example, I have seen and heard people saying that the Prophet ﷺ was the first feminist, he was a socialist, he was an activist, he was a social justice warrior, and he was a  philosopher, among many other things. The Prophet ﷺ was not a feminist, he was not a socialist, he was not an activist, he was not a philosopher, and he was not a social justice warrior. All of these are very politically and socially charged words that are built upon ideals that may be completely antithetical to the teachings of the Quran. 

He is a Prophet of God and His last and final messenger ﷺ sent for the guidance of humanity until the end of times.

“…He is God’s Messenger and the seal of the prophets.” (33:40)

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He is a mercy for the worlds.

“It was only as a mercy that We sent you [Prophet] to all people.” (21:107)

He is the best role model for us to follow in every single aspect of our lives.

“The Messenger of God is an excellent model for those of you who put your hope in God and the Last Day and  remember Him often.”(33:21)

He is a witness, one who gives glad tidings and warning, a caller to God, and a source of guidance. “Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, as a bearer of good news and warning, as one who calls people to God by His leave, as a light-giving lamp.” (33:45-46)

He was sent to recite revelation to his people, purify them, teach them the Quran and wisdom. “Our Lord, make a messenger of their own rise up from among them, to recite Your revelations to them, teach them the Scripture and wisdom, and purify them: You are the Mighty, the Wise.” (2:129)

Everything he did for the rights of women, for the weak and poor, the less fortunate, the oppressed, the wronged, the orphans, to establish justice, abolish racism, and classism was done in the light of divine revelation based upon the principles, values, and morals of the Quran.

Dusturuna al-Quran, our constitution is the Quran. And the Quran commands us as a community of believers to stand up for justice. Allah ﷻ tells us Surah al-Nisā, “O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives. Be they rich or poor, Allah is best to ensure their interests. So do not let your desires cause you to deviate ˹from justice˺. If you distort the testimony or refuse to give it, then ˹know that˺ Allah is certainly All-Aware of what you do.”

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ ۚ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا ۖ فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا ۚ وَإِن تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا – 4:135

Similarly, Allah ﷻ tells us in Surah al-Mā’idah, “O believers! Stand firm for Allah and bear true testimony. Do not let the hatred of a people lead you to injustice. Be just! That is closer to righteousness. And be mindful of Allah. Surely Allah is All-Aware of what you do.”

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ – 5:8

In both of these verses Allah ﷻ is commanding us to stand firm for justice and to be just. Allah ﷻ tells us in Surah al-Nahl, “Indeed, Allah commands justice, grace, as well as courtesy to close relatives. He forbids indecency, wickedness, and aggression. He instructs you so perhaps you will be mindful.”

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ ۚ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ – 16:90

Allah ﷻ commands justice.

One of the defining qualities of the Muslim Ummah is its general concern for the health, well-being, safety, security, protection, and prosperity of the community. Islam is not an individualistic religion; it has a very strong social and communal aspect to it. One of the ways in which the community works towards creating a healthy society is by demanding and standing up for justice.

We live in a society, in a country, that is plagued by several injustices based on race, economics, and politics. In this past week we have seen several instances of racism, structural racism, and police brutality. Racism, prejudice, and bigotry towards minorities run deep within the veins of America, this is a reality that none of us should be blind to. I mean there was official segregation between races, black and whites, up until the 60’s and there continues to be unofficial segregation until today. We as Muslims living in America should be aware of its history and how it has shaped the America we see today.

For those of us who are immigrants or children of immigrants, the problem may not seem as real to us; we are largely unaffected by it, in terms of our day to day lives, or are a degree removed from it.

But the problem is very real.

We’ve seen the news stories, we’ve studied and read about the civil rights movement, we’ve read Malcom’s biography, seen the movie, and heard Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. In school we studied and learned about the transatlantic slave trade, but none of us have really experienced the structural, institutional, direct, blatant, and indirect racism that a black man faces almost on a daily basis. None of us have been pulled over for the color of our skin or have to speak to our children and warn them about their interactions with the police. I don’t think any of us have experienced police brutality. None of us have experienced being followed around in a store because of the color of our skin. It is impossible for me as a child of an immigrant to express what that feels like because I’ve never felt it.

That is why I want to share with all of you the words of our friend and colleague, one of our faculty members here at the Seminary, Sh. Jibreel Speight. He writes,

“Dear Muslim, Listen to me carefully. I would like to talk to you about something. It is not easy being who I am, an African-American. It is hard in this country. My people are descendants of slaves. My people have fought and died just so society can try to look at them as a possible human. My people have been through a whole lot throughout the centuries. Many of you or your parents came to this country and have benefited from the sacrifices of my people. Unfortunately, I sit here with a heavy heart and a tight stomach realizing that being my skin color is an opportunity to deny me entering Starbucks; to kill me while jogging; to kill me having skittles; to deny me breathing while detained by police officers, who are to “serve and protect;” to deny me watching birds; to, to, to…the list is long. Despite these obstacles, and I use that word loosely, there is a high level of resolve. What saddens and angers me further is the fact that we have a Scripture that commands us to speak up for justice. Instead, we bicker and debate about fiqh, theology, and politics, but we are silent concerning my people’s injustices. What stops you from denouncing these actions on your social media platforms? What? Please tell me! You need a fatwa? What?! I am not asking you to protest. I am demanding that each of you practice an aspect of this Deen, challenging humanity to reform themselves that would lead them to a higher moral level. Peace.”

When we read, hear, and see the stories of the likes of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, and Michael Brown we should feel upset, angry, enraged, and sad. It should stir something within our hearts. And those emotions should be channeled to working towards bringing about real change. As the Prophet ﷺ told us, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”

Our iman should drive us to:

1) Supplicate – Duʿā is one of the most powerful tools a person has. It is a direct line of communication between a person and their Lord. The Prophet ﷺ described it as the weapon of a believer and the essence of worship. Ask Allah ﷻ to bring about change and to make us a part of that change

2) Learn – We need to learn about the history of racism in America. We need to learn about racism in all its forms – institutional, structural, interpersonal, internalized – police brutality, the school to prison pipeline, and privilege. We also need to learn what Islam says about racism, how it deals with it, and how it works to removing it from hearts and communities. More importantly than simply learning about it is acting upon it.

3) Listen – Hear directly from our African American community to better understand their emotions and struggles. 

4) Create awareness – particularly within our own social circles and communities.

May Allah ﷻ allow us to be among those who stand up for truth and justice in accordance to the Divine guidance of Allah ﷻ and His Messenger ﷺ.

 

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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

Ghulja

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 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. 

Action Items:

  1. Keep making Dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world
  2. Boycott Chinese products– do not be complicit in slave-labour
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause, learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China
  5. 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
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. 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! 
  9. 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.

Dislclaimer: The authors acknowledge Habib Ali’s willingness to retract his statements, and appreciate his dua for the oppressed Uyghur when faced with rightful criticism. However, the retraction came to our attention towards the very end (on May 12, article published May 14) of writing the piece (a month long process) and despite being a welcome move, does not remove the falsehood of most of his takes. He only corrects the first item from his otherwise totally-problematic takes. After an online correspondence with Uyghur activist Abdulghani Thabit, Habib Ali only corrected his statement number 1 from the longer talk. The three other misleading takes remain and were thus addressed in the piece. The authors tried their best to give all due respect to someone who dons the mantle of ‘scholar’. Our intention is not to attack Habib Ali or any other scholar, rather we seek to use his misleading commentary (corrected albeit in part by the Shaykh later) as a segue into educating the largely ignorant Muslim masses susceptible to Chinese propaganda on Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause.

Here is a condensed Arabic version of this article translated by Imam Abdul Jabbar

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