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Uyghurs in China: We Buried the Quran in Our Backyards

Hena Zuberi

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With the news of China forcing imams to dance in public and to make oaths to keep children away from religion in what is known as Xinjiang, where government officials warned that Muslims “During Ramadan do not engage in fasting, vigils or other religious activities,” effectively banning Ramadan, I wanted to share an interview that I did for the Muslim Link newspaper, with the Prime Minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, Anwar Yusuf Turani.

“We are an occupied territory. We know the plights of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine, Kashmir, but why doesn’t the Muslim world know about our struggle?” asks Uyghur diaspora leader from East Turkistan, Anwar Yusuf Turani. He is the founder and prime minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile. Uyghurs are a Turkic people by race and language, Muslim by religion.

“There are 35 million of us,” he says, some in exile, others in the land of what is known to the world as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This number is hotly contested and rejected by the Chinese government’s official census.

Turani says most indigenous people of the region do not accept the name Xinjiang, meaning “new territory”, and prefer the name Sharqi Turkistan, but even using this name is seen as a threat to the sovereignty of China. He believes that China ends with the boundary of the Great Wall.

In 1949, when Mao Zedong declared the establishment of Communist rule in China, the map of China looked different than the one seen today. Tibet was free and north of Tibet, East Turkistan, the size of Alaska, existed as an independent nation.

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In talking with Turani, I learned that the struggle for independence is not new as an East Turkistan Republic was set up in Kashgar in 1933 and again in Ghulja in the 1940s, brutally crushed both times. The republic was short-lived. Its entire leadership perished in a plane crash en route to Beijing for talks with Chinese officials. According to the Global Museum of Communism, devoid of leadership, the East Turkistan Republic was then “liberated” by Chinese Communist Party troops. In essence, the Communists, “marched in and have occupied the overwhelmingly Muslim country, renaming it Xinjiang.”

Living in Maoist Run Kashgar

Turani, born in 1962, remembers his neighborhood in Artush, 40 km from of the ancient city of Kashgar. Islam was systematically erased and every region was divided; the head of each jurisdiction was Chinese or pro Chinese, and Maoist ideology was implemented.

“I remember 3-4 years of living in a labor camp in the outskirts in Tijen, forced by the Chinese military, since my parents opposed the Chinese policies.” Turani’s parents were labeled counter revolutionaries—bourgeois—and his father was fired from his position as the head of the agricultural department.

22 years of persecution followed his family. “In our town [where we lived], there was a man named Qudrat, and his wife, Quresh Khan. They were very poor; the government lured them with rhetoric and land, gave them a confiscated house from a landowner, after executing him,” Turani relates a story of manipulation of the masses. Happy to receive land from the government, elderly Qudrat and his family were then forced to take care of ‘a hundred pigs’. Turani and his parents, and the Khans had never seen a pig before in their lives, he shudders while squeezing the memories out, of a whole population of the Muslim town being given ‘free’ piglets to raise.

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“Most masajid [in our area] turned into propaganda centers, cinemas and movie theaters,” he recalls the horrific memories. “Our county became a labor camp,” he says, and many wealthy landowners were executed.

From his middle school days, Turani recalls the destruction of a historic Muslim cemetery in the city; later a military base was built on sacred grounds.

“My father had a Quran buried in our backyard I saw that with my eyes. I saw my father dig that Quran out after the death of Chairman Mao—my father used to read that Quran,” His eyes watered at the memory.

Dark Cloud of Death

“The occupation has been beyond brutal: open-air above-ground nuclear tests that killed hundreds of thousands, executed political prisoners, razed mosques, mass forced immigration of ethnic Chinese, deliberate economic discrimination in favor of said ethnic Chinese, Sinicization, etc.,” writes D.J. McGuire, elected Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia and a blogger who has been writing and lobbying against Communist China’s role in aiding terrorist states—a glaring omission from the prevailing discussions about the war against terror. The Lop Nor testing site, located in East Turkistan, was used for 46 individual nuclear detonations from 1964-1996.

 

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These were the largest ongoing series of tests ever to be carried out in a populated area.

A conference was held in Brussels in The European Parliament in 2012 to examine the high rates of cancer, birth defects, and radiation-related illnesses in East Turkestan. Dr Enver Tohti, a Uyghur Surgeon and Independent Researcher, presented at the conference. He writes in ’46 Detonations Later: The Human Costs of the CCP´s Nuclear Programme’, that a recent study conducted by Japanese professor and physicist Jun Takada concluded that Chinese nuclear weapon tests caused more deaths than those of any other nation. Takada who studied radiation effects from tests conducted by the U.S., the former Soviet Union and France, has reported that the Chinese government surface nuclear tests caused up to 190,000 deaths in the surrounding areas from the explosion and a further million were killed by the radiation from the three-megaton explosions. This is 200 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, says Takada, who published his findings in a book, Chinese Nuclear Tests (Iryo­ka­gakusha, 2009). Since he was not allowed into the area, he visited neighbouring Kazakhstan using radiation levels measured there from 1995 to 2002. ‘He devised a computer model to estimate fallout patterns using Soviet rec­ords of detonation size and wind velocity,’ according to Scientific American, extrapolating the data for China.

Escape to America

Turani escaped from China and came to the United States as the first East Turkistani seeking asylum in the country. A Physics teacher, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Gulzighra (who is a registered nurse) and their four children. He looks Afghan or Pakistani, could pass for Middle Eastern, anything but Asiatic. Most Uyghurs look like him but many photographs published by newspapers in the Muslim world show ‘Chinese Muslims in Beijing’ and call them Uyghur, he says.

In September 2004, Turani and his fellow countrymen declared an East Turkistan Government in Exile inside the U.S. Congress. They have a constitution, a flag and a written language, and a coat of arms based on the two previous states. East Turkistan exiles include Uyghurs, Kyrgyzs, Uzbeks, and Tajiks. The People’s Republic of China opposed the formation of the East Turkistan Government in Exile. The fallout was great and the US government was quick to distance themselves away from the nascent government, saying that they do not recognize them. “The government in exile stated that its goal is freedom and democracy for its people, and an end to Communist China’s occupation. It is explicitly non-violent, has repeatedly condemned al Qaeda-sponsored acts of terrorism,” writes McGuire.

Turani, whose home is graced by a huge photograph of him embracing the Dalai Lama, says that China has used the global war on terror as an excuse to continue brutal oppression of the Uyghur Muslims. As noted by Amnesty International, many innocent Uyghur men and women including children have been massacred as recently as last Ramadan in Yarkant by the communist Chinese authorities ‘in the pretext of terrorists, extremists, and separatists.’

Dr. Haiyun Ma, a Hui Chinese professor of history in Maryland agrees, “China’s “Anti-Three (Evil) Forces” campaign (extremism, separatism, terrorism), begun roughly in the 1990s, has since extended to preventing the Uyghurs from gaining their independence. China — which looks at the U.S. waging a war in Afghanistan (also against terrorism and extremism) not so far away — has used the perceived threat of terrorism to justify their actions in Xinjiang.”

There has been development in the region, Turani concurs, but just like the West Bank settlements by and for Israelis, the development is only reserved for ethnic Hans or those who toe the Chinese government’s line. Urumchi, the main city is filled by ethnic Chinese; in some areas there are only five percent Turkistani people left, especially in the downtown area.

Curating A Forgotten History

Turani asserts that the native Uyghur population is diminishing. There is no hard data to show that the population is decreasing, and in fact most census studies show that there has been a population growth. However, the percentage share of the Uyghur population is decreasing based on official and unofficial statistics. In 1964, it was 90 percent of the population, but through immigration from mainland China, the population is roughly 50-50. The Muslim population is controlled through birth control and forced abortion, which Muslims believe are divinely forbidden or haram. Turani says that if Muslim mothers are found pregnant with more than 2 children, they are taken to the hospital and even if they are 9 months pregnant their babies are systematically slaughtered in their bellies—physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually scarring the Muslim families. Many Uyghurs live in poverty, their children are not allowed to practice Islam. Those who work for the government are also not allowed to practice their faith. This Ramadan, Muslim students and civil servants were ordered to avoid taking part in fasting. Students who were found fasting were force fed during the day. Young boys and men are routinely taken away for ‘illegal’ Islamic classes.

Dr. Ma verifies the Tukistani leader’s claims; in an interview with Duke University’s public scholarship forum Islamic Commentary, he comments that “economically, the Uyghurs have little, if no access to the Chinese state economy, which includes state corporations and the quasi-military Xinjiang Development and Construction Corps (Its members are farmers during peacetime and soldiers during wartime). Unlike the Han-populated coastal regions of the southeast, the Uyghur economy in Xinjiang is almost dissociated from the Chinese economy. Adding to this, there was a large Han immigration [to the region], after the “liberation” of Xinjiang – following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Large military and militia personnel, their relatives, intellectuals, and youth were sent by the government to Xinjiang during various periods. More recently, Han farmers and businessmen came to Xinjiang. Since they typically have friendly relations with Xinjiang officials and military (either they are friends or relatives), Han farmers and businessmen coming to Xinjiang have been able to quickly dominate Xinjiang’s economic sectors — from mining to farming.”

In his office, Turani has a studio set up where he broadcasts speeches on his Youtube channels—social media and the internet is extremely controlled in China—intent on making sure that his people don’t forget their legacy and their history.

There is a collection of photos of Uyghur scholars, leaders.

A wall is dedicated to Muhammad Ali Tawfiq (Bey), the reformist educator who built 24 schools in Turani’s city. He was murdered by the Chinese along with his followers in 1937, including Turani’s uncles.

A devout Muslim with a melodious qiraa (recitation), Turani shows photographs he has curated of young men arrested for wearing the Turkish flag on their t-shirts, Islamic scholars in jail for teaching Quran to children, Uyghur women jailed for wearing the hijab.

“Why doesn’t the Muslim world talk about us?” he questions. He also says that many times Chinese Muslims are shown in media when referencing Uyghur people, further diluting their existence.

The Case of Professor Tohti

Recently an economics professor and Uyghur rights advocate Ilham Tohti was arrested and put on trial for ‘promoting’ separatism (he is now in prison for life). Turani takes exception to this claim—separatism is not the right word in this situation, as the Uyghurs are occupied, he says.

An accusation of separatism carries the death sentence. When Western newspapers claim ‘violent separatism’ in the region, Turani struggles to contain his displeasure. “The place is like a pressure cooker; no one is allowed to talk, cameras watch every move. Hundreds and thousands are missing or dead. And we are violent separatists?” he says. Violence stems from the repressive policies, not from radical ideology.

Many Uyghur scholars such as Abdulkarim Abduwali, alims (religious scholars), businessmen, and educated people have died under the regime and Tohti is yet another name on the list of people who have sacrificed their lives. Before his arrest Ilham Tohti, 44, was attacked by three secret policemen who screamed, “We’ll kill your whole family!” shares his friend, in an article about his arrest in The Guardian. Tohti was also a blogger and focused on the need to implement, “Xinjiang’s long-promised autonomy; the need to observe the rule of law and human rights; that all ethnic groups should share fairly in the fruits of China’s development; and that discrimination based on region, ethnicity or gender must be eliminated.” “Criticism and dissent is good for any government. What was Professor [Tohti] doing that he deserves to [be] jailed?” Turani asks. “Anyone who stands up for their human rights is labeled a counter-revolutionary,” he adds.

Independence vs Autonomy

Turani wants independence, other Uyghurs wants autonomy. Either way, he believes that a fair referendum could never take place in a region where two or more people are not allowed to convene without suspicion and harassment from the secret police; where jobs, passports, travel, even Jumuah khutbahs are all closely monitored by the Chinese government. People lose their pensions if they go on Hajj—if they are lucky enough to acquire a passport. Turani’s relatives have all been blackmarked and cannot travel outside the region, unless they bribe officials.

There has been some debate about the Uyghur identity, especially by Kristian Petersen, an Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha who wrote a study in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs on Uyghur presence of the internet— who they originally were and how and where the name was applied—but Turani wants freedom for all the East Turkistani people, not just those who identify as the Uyghurs.

Turani says he has the support of a handful of congressmen after years of activism. From time to time, Turkey will challenge China on its oppressive policies, but he says most other Muslim nations, including neighboring Pakistan, have turned their back. He understands why his people’s struggle is not a priority for people of other faiths but to his Muslim brothers, Turani has a message, “Do you not feel our pain?”

Keep our Uighur brothers and sisters in your special Ramadan Duas.

Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She is also a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. She serves on the board of the Aafia Foundation and Words Heal, Inc. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. A mom of four and a Green Muslim, she lives and preaches a whole food, organic life which she believes is closest to Sunnah. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

43 Comments

43 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Faris Mee

    June 18, 2015 at 9:40 PM

    The solution is the Islamic State. There is no other way.

    • Avatar

      Muhammad

      June 19, 2015 at 6:42 AM

      Terse yet precise. But indeed not the IS that is currently rampaging in Syria. Ostensibly not that one. So the question arises, have we done our part in reviving the Khilafah?

      • Avatar

        Aam

        June 19, 2015 at 5:37 PM

        Brother , you need to watch your mouth before saying anything like that (hands in this case). I am sure that your words are not based on the research that you have been doing since a decade for the pursuit of TRUTH but rather it is based on the ideas of a Hollywood movie you just watched or a fake CNN report you just read or a Game of Thrones you just enjoyed with your daughters and son at a family event.

    • Avatar

      Omar

      June 19, 2015 at 11:36 AM

      No, actually that is not the solution. The solution is for you to care about their plight as much as you care about Syria, Palestine and do something about it.

      A magical “Islamic State” will not solve anything if people are not willing to change.

      Muslims have to become better Muslims and that is “The Solution”.

    • Avatar

      SamBO

      June 19, 2015 at 11:48 AM

      Islamic state? No thanks! Not on my road, not down my yard, and not in my manor. And I have one hundred thousand reasons why. I notice my last comment was deleted. I wonder how long freedom of speech will mean anything?

    • Avatar

      Aam

      June 19, 2015 at 5:33 PM

      You are right but the ignorant muslims of modern times; the so called moderate or modern muslims would never allow that to happen. They do not like it when they are stopped from doing anything sinful.

      • Avatar

        Wolday

        June 23, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        Lol, you can say that again

  2. Avatar

    Mohammad Sudaiz

    June 18, 2015 at 10:09 PM

    May ALLAH grant your freedom from the communist China..Ameen ya Rabbi

  3. Avatar

    Nida

    June 18, 2015 at 10:40 PM

    Thank you for this article. I had no idea about any of this. I feel like I have been living under a cave throughout my time. Ya Allah help the Muslims in East Turkistan, guide them to the right path and grant them success.

  4. Avatar

    THANVEERUL HAQ

    June 19, 2015 at 1:07 AM

    Insha Allah, May Allah give hidayah, and show all muslim brothers right path, once we get in right path no one in the world has power to touch. because allah help will be with us.

  5. Avatar

    Mohammed Yaseen

    June 19, 2015 at 1:20 AM

    I never knew uyghurs muslims are suffering this much.I really cried after reading this article.May Allah grant all Uyghur muslim brothers and sister jannat ul firdous….Aameen

  6. Avatar

    Ruby

    June 19, 2015 at 1:30 AM

    May Allah swt ease the difficulties and hardships these brothers and sisters of ours are facing at the hands of these oppressors, ameen.
    They will try to extinguish the Light of Allah and they will never succeed!

  7. Avatar

    Harun

    June 19, 2015 at 2:25 AM

    May Allah save the Muslim ummah where ever they are and may He protect Islam in what ever circumstance. Ya Allah you know what is happening to the Muslims in East Turkistan, listen to our prayers and look into our pains in this Holy month and beyond.

  8. Avatar

    Anonmous

    June 19, 2015 at 2:46 AM

    Why is muslim world OIC silent about this..why is US not putting sanctions on China ? Why is the world not boycotting them ?

  9. Avatar

    Gumel

    June 19, 2015 at 4:16 AM

    Oh Allah Help Uyghur Muslims; This shows there is no freedom under Chinese government. Why Amnesty cannot intervene?

  10. Avatar

    Lilli

    June 19, 2015 at 6:11 AM

    You (ignorantly) say all these things, yet you’re the one causing problems and hate- while the rest of the comments are sympathetic prayers for those who are hurting. This article doesn’t have to be about Islam for you. Look past that and read it again.

  11. Avatar

    Lilli

    June 19, 2015 at 6:15 AM

    (My previous comment was for a specific commenter)

  12. Avatar

    Umar Adamu

    June 19, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    Ya Allah help the Muslims in East Turkistan, guide them to the right path and grant them success. Ya Allah assist the muslims the opressed all over the world, ameen thuma ameen.

  13. Avatar

    Hasan

    June 19, 2015 at 4:03 PM

    Erdogan and Turkey please do more for our brothers and sisters in East Turkistan and in other oppressed nations. Allah sees all things and it’s aware of what they do.

  14. Avatar

    wasim

    June 19, 2015 at 4:32 PM

    Assalam . i never make china for unknown i do know you have musalman .ALLAH is only God the highest .if can’t live musalman there then we have pakistan next door

  15. Avatar

    ZAI

    June 19, 2015 at 5:11 PM

    “why doesn’t the Muslim world know about our struggle?”

    Because Muslim majority nations and Muslim ethno- nationalists look after their own interests just like any others while only giving lip service to “ummah”, and in this case China is Pakistan’s best buddy…so this will be suppressed so as not to upset China. “Ummah” or “Islam” is used by many Muslims and Muslim majority nations the same way America uses “freedom”… God be with you brothers, because the Muslim “ummah” won’t be in any meaningful way while Pakistan’s military has any influence…

    • Avatar

      Sunny Salman Jamil

      March 17, 2016 at 12:04 PM

      You hit the nail on the head. Pakistan borders what China calls its Xinjiang province. If Xinjiang was freed and East Turkistan was formed, then China would no longer have access to the ports in Karachi and China would not like that.

  16. Avatar

    PRINCESS NAF

    June 20, 2015 at 3:59 AM

    its so sad that i read with pain in my heart,when will people learn that islam is not the problem but the solution? i feel pin for my brethren,patient oh brothers and sisters ALLAH will never let the oppress go unpunish,my prayer shall be with you INSHAA ALLAH forever

  17. Avatar

    Dyyf

    June 20, 2015 at 12:32 PM

    Considering that Non-Muslims are brutally oppressed in Muslim nations (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, now Turkey, Egypt and Libya among others) maybe it’s karma that Muslims are somewhat oppressed in non-muslim countries. You would do well to criticize as forcefully, or more, your brethren for doing so completely what you find fault in others doing to you partially.

    • Avatar

      M. Mahmud

      June 22, 2015 at 7:12 PM

      Wait…so non-Muslim oppression of Muslims is “partial while Muslim oppression of non-Muslims is “complete”?

      Thank you for demonstrating yet again the typical non-Muslim double-standards.

  18. Avatar

    Ali

    June 24, 2015 at 8:23 AM

    Isn’t it true that Muslims will only be victorious over the kuffaar once Eesa ibn Maryam AS returns to earth? And if so, isn’t it futile to fight them until that time comes? Or am i being too pragmatic…

  19. Avatar

    Peter Hall

    June 27, 2015 at 6:16 PM

    I am saddened by the responses to this article.

    I note many calls for Allah, to fix a man made problem.

    I note that even calls for the evil that is IS, to be visited upon these people.

    However, as a non muslim, I feel for these people, and the injustice is not the injustice that is against Islam.

    The injustice is that these people are living in a country where they are not free to practice their religion, they are discriminated on the basis of race, and they have say in how they live.

    The 3 basic freedoms these people should have are being denied to them by the Chinese Government.

    Calling for Allah to fix these problems is not only completely useless, it is also using Allah to be used as an excuse to do nothing about it. That is shameful, if Muslims really do respect Allah, why do they constantly call to Allah, and use Allah as an excuse to do nothing? I see it all the time, that the Muslim world does nothing, expecting Allah to fix the problems that are the result of the evil of man, or the laziness of mankind.

    Virtually every comment on here, asks why SOMEONE ELSE isn’t doing something about this injustice. How pathetic!

    IS is just another form of evil formed by men, that allows the ruthless and the evil to what they want, and has no respect for the basic rights of humans to practice their religions, to not be discriminated against and to have a say in how the society they live in is run. That is exactly the same as what the Chinese Government is doing. Same man made evil visited upon people.

    Replacing the ruling body that suppresses one religion or any, with one that suppresses one religion in favour of others, is the same evil, visited in a different way.

    When will the bulk of Muslims understand that Islam is strong enough to stand on its own feet, Islam does not need to enforce its beliefs and doctrines by threat or fear.

    When will Muslims learn that when a problem is created solely by man, such as now being visited upon the Uyghurs, by the Communist Chinese, needs to be fixed by a Political solution. That these people are Muslim is irrelevant, if they were Hindus, or Christians, the same moral outrage should be felt by free thinking moral people.

    The Uyghur Muslims political problems should not be made a Muslim issue, it should be made a issue of basic human rights, the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression, the right to self determination and the right to not be discriminated against based on race.

    Now the Qu’ran contains the ethical elements of all these rights, there is no compulsion in religion, is an example, shows that Muslim ethics can influence a political solution to a man made problem. However, man made problems require men to act.

    Calling to Allah to solve a man made problem is insulting to Allah, and shows how lazy some Muslims are, that they invoke Allahs name, and expect Allah to do something about a situation, that they are too lazy to do anything about.

    What do these people think? Allah is a servant ? They invoke Allahs name and expect that will solve the problem?

    Take some personal responsibility, do not talk about it, do something about it. Lobby the UN, write a letter, boycott Chinese goods, wear a T-shirt, write a blog, do SOMETHING other than invoke Allah as an excuse to do nothing.

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      June 28, 2015 at 5:48 AM

      Peter I do not agree on it that Muslims shouldn’t call upon Allah (SWT) for His help. But I totally agree that we have to put in our two cents worth of effort against this problem and pray alongside for Allah (SWT) to make it amount to a lot.

      Best Regards
      Aly

      *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

      • Avatar

        Peter Hall

        June 28, 2015 at 5:55 AM

        Greetings Aly

        It is not calling upon Allah, it is how they call upon Allah.

        I feel sorry for the persecution these people are suffering, and it is the duty of all moral people to do something to help them. I do not see it as a religious issue, but a moral issue, the morality of man.

        Calling on Allah’s help is one thing, asking him to fix the mess of man, but do nothing yourself, is just lazy, ignorant and disrespectful.

        Evil only truly triumphs, when good men do nothing!

    • Avatar

      Abdul Rahim

      January 6, 2016 at 4:57 AM

      Well said. You obviously understood the issue. They need a political solution. Your suggestions are well meaning and indeed a good start. They must fight for media coverage, be heard and seen……as an oppressed and dispossessed community. Be politically savvy and don’t ever indulge in violent protest……lest the Chinese government will be quick to label them as terrorists. It’s a battle of the minds……to win a positive global opinion. That’s the only way.

  20. Avatar

    Aydin Anwar

    July 4, 2015 at 2:29 PM

    Assalamu Alaykum everyone,

    My name is Aydin Anwar Turani and I’m writing on behalf of East Turkistan Government-in-Exile. Thank you very much for your love and support for the cause of the oppressed people of East Turkistan. We are so glad that this article generated many comments and discussions.

    We are also very appreciative of the countless duas made toward the Uyghurs in East Turkistan. Unfortunately, like Peter Hall mentioned, prayer is not enough. Yes; it can have a profound impact, but it can also have a very minimal impact when no action is taken. What we need to do is give the same amount of attention we give to Palestine and Syria to East Turkistan. And rally together against the Chinese government.

    The first step to solving any problem is identifying the problem itself. The main problem lies within the lack of attention and awareness of what is going on back in East Turkistan. Unfortunately, a very small portion of the international community knows what is going on back in East Turkistan, while the rest have never heard of the Uyghurs. It is quite saddening actually when we realize how little we know about what is going on in other parts of the world—parts of the world that are yearning for help as they are trapped under thick layers of cruelty and injustice.

    Also, if you have any ambiguities that need to be cleared and happen to live in the D.C. area, East Turkistan Government-in-Exile will be hosting an event on July 25th: East Turkistan Awareness Day Conference. The purpose of this event is to raise awareness to the international community about the history, culture, and current political situation of East Turkistan. There will be various well-respected speakers and scholars from the D.C. area who will delve into the underlying issues of what, how, and why the atrocities are occurring back in East Turkistan and, most importantly, what we can do as a community to improve the plight of the Uyghurs back in their homeland.

    Program Details:
    When: Saturday, July 25th at 12:00PM-4:30PM
    Where: Chantilly Regional Library (4000 Stringfellow Rd Chantilly, VA 20151)

    Speakers:
    — Anwar Yusuf Turani (Prime Minister of East Turkistan Government-in-Exile)
    — Imam Taalib Abdul-Samad (Director of Islamic Research and Humanitarian Service- Center of America)
    — Altan Erg (Representative of Turkish American Cultural Center in Maryland)
    — Dr. Jeannette Hablullah (N.D. Wholistic Health Practitioner, Author of The Pearl Within)
    — Imam Ali Siddiqui
    — Sheikh Muhammad Raja
    — Dr. Souheil Ghannouchi

    Moderator: Turkel Anwar (Cornell University 2015)

    ** Refreshments will be served and event will be free of charge**

    • Avatar

      Abdul Rahim

      January 6, 2016 at 5:31 AM

      Dear Aydin,
      You are spot on. The rest of the world know very little about this, including myself. Obviously, lack of media coverage. Sad to know even the notorious Boko Haram received more international media coverage for their heinous crimes. On the other hand we are bombarded with official news of Chinese Muslims in China doing relatively well, appearing wealthy enough with well dressed young children running in the playground. Until your report highlighted that the many pictures that the world get to see are actually Chinese Muslims in Beijing and not the supposedly oppressed Uighurs……..My family and I had just returned from a 9-day winter holiday in Beijing and Xi’an, those Muslim tour stuff. Obviously all the Muslims that I encountered are Chinese looking and apparently were quite pleased with their lives. We thought they are Uighurs too. Now I know the difference. Many of us have been ignorant about the plight of our Uighurs brothers, surely we are not apathetic about your cause…..

  21. Avatar

    bob

    July 5, 2015 at 9:05 PM

    I wonder when a Muslim will write an article about the plight of Hindu’s in Pakistan, The slaughter of 2Million of them when East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Over the centuries Muslims eliminated 80+ million Hindu’s, why do you hate them so much is it because they invented Algebra? How about the burning of Churches and the persecution of Christians in Egypt. A good article on Nigerian Muslims killing Christians. Stories abound about Muslim intolerance of other peoples beliefs, history is awash with it. What about a treatise on the 250 million slaves taken from Africa to satiate the sexual appetite of muslims. mention of the fact 19 men or boys would die of shock or blood loss so that a eunuch could be created would not go astray.
    How about a bit of truth about your not so tolerant religion!

    • Avatar

      Peter Hall

      July 5, 2015 at 10:16 PM

      I Agree with you totally, but as a non Muslim, I see that 2 wrongs do not make a right. What Muslims suffer in China is wrong and should be condemned just as strongly as condemning what ISIS is doing.

      I see that you do not reduce the inhumanity of man, by turning a blind eye to some injustice, in favour of other injustices.

      The “you reap what you sow” principal applies here. 200 years ago Christians were doing horrible things to Black Africans as well, 70 jews ago, Christian cultures were doing horrible things to Jews. No ones hands are clean when it comes to the past, so bringing up things from the past is of no benefit, it only allows excuses to foment.

      However, if injustice and cruelty, no matter who commits it, is condemned by men and women of good conscience everywhere, then hopefully man’s inhumanity to their fellow man will reduce with time. we should learn from the past, not draw excuses from it. We should embrace a future where every man, and woman, has the chance to improve the overall morality and humanity of the societies we live in, not reduce it, by their actions.

      • Avatar

        Peter Hall

        July 5, 2015 at 10:18 PM

        Sorry about the typos, but posting from a smartphone.

      • Avatar

        Bob

        July 6, 2015 at 1:26 AM

        Peter wrote “We should embrace a future where every man, and woman, has the chance to improve the overall morality and humanity of the societies we live in, not reduce it, by their actions”.

        I totally agree Peter, however Islam does not allow this of its adherents.

        I have only mentioned a few of Islam’s appalling atrocities throughout its debauched history. Christianity ceased its world wide purge of others at least two centuries ago. Hindu’s won’t even eat an egg because they think its taking a life but are persecuted and killed by Muslims on a daily basis.

        Islam has proven itself to be totally incompatible with the western world and has to be eradicated, but not in the way it is doing it to others.

      • Avatar

        Abdul Rahim

        January 6, 2016 at 5:42 AM

        Mr. Peter Hill, you have my utmost respect. All your comments have been very illuminating as a fellow human being….as an intellectual. I only came across this website today, but your posts which were in July, stood out glaringly for clarity of thoughts. Bravo.

    • Avatar

      EM Zee

      March 7, 2016 at 5:39 PM

      LOL WHAT? ALGEBRA, WAS MADE BY INDIANS?
      That point was enough to show how ignorant and uninformed you are.
      And btw, Algebra is derived from the Arabic word Al Jabr الجبر. It was made by the Persian MUSLIM Mathematician Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khawarizmi.

  22. Avatar

    Tomy

    August 23, 2015 at 10:44 PM

    totally lying !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Avatar

      Abdul Rahim

      January 6, 2016 at 5:55 AM

      Sincere apologies. I meant Mr. Peter Hall.

  23. Pingback: “Things are getting worse day by day” – an interview with Uyghur Muslim “Mr X” | Voice of Salam

  24. Avatar

    Peter Tager

    October 11, 2016 at 3:50 PM

    And they support Pakistan?

  25. Avatar

    Manal

    January 6, 2018 at 12:54 PM

    I feel your pain. Im sorry my country Pakistans failed you. Ill spread awareness as much as I can. Im not sure what else I can do. If anyone has a plan im in.

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#Current Affairs

Questions About My Political Activism | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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Imam Omar Suleiman activism

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem,

I thank Allah for the blessing of in person interactions. The simple joy of meeting your brother and sister in the Masjid with a smile and salaam that removes the shaytan from our hearts. The ability to ask questions clearly and immediately bury hatchets (which some forgo for destructive emails and WhatsApp threads even with their neighbors). I’m blessed to live in the incredible Valley Ranch Islamic Center community where I serve as Resident Scholar in a voluntary capacity. Members of my Masjid and the Dallas community can approach me and ask me anything about something I’ve said or something being said about me, and we walk away as brothers and sisters. I had the same blessing in New Orleans where I served as full-time Imam for 6 years. And I am blessed to meet people around the country and around the world that I love for Allah. Those are lifelong bonds that I pray continue in the hereafter under Allah’s shade. 

I also thank Allah for the online world that allows people to connect in good when otherwise they would not have been able to benefit. Without social media and expanding ways of technology, good content and avenues for charity would be far more limited. I’m grateful for all of you that have connected with me and prayed for me over the years. I don’t want to take away from any of that. With that being said, the online world does of course have its pitfalls. There can be a lack of mercy and husn al dhann (good assumptions) with one another, and widespread gossip and slander. It’s also uniquely destructive to those who garner large followings even due to good reasons. It’s very easy to praise someone you only know through videos and pictures, as it is to tear them down. Allah has tested some of us with fame through this machine, and it is a mighty test. I pray that Allah allows all of the people that I’ve been blessed to benefit in this world to be witnesses for me on the day of judgment, and that He not shame me or raise me amongst the hypocrites who didn’t practice what they preached. 

As the great sage Imam Ibn Al Jawzee (ra) said, “Know that if people are impressed with you, in reality they are impressed with the beauty of Allah’s covering of your sins.” It is very easy to deceive and be deceived through a screen. I pray that Allah allow any unjust critiques that I receive to be an expiation for all the undue praise I receive. People are usually imbalanced in their love and hate. The test is whether that love stops you from correcting your brother when he is wrong, or that hate that causes you to swerve from justice.

With that introduction, I’d like to address questions about my political positions and affiliations. Why? Because I do believe in accountability and transparency. Deceptive voices should be ignored, concerned ones shouldn’t. Certainly, there are falsehoods and hit pieces that often are disguised as legitimate critiques. But there are also legitimate critiques and/or requests for clarification. Over the past several years, I have had both types forwarded to me. I am not concerned with those who use deception to falsely portray me or my work. I am concerned about those who genuinely have questions, and don’t have them answered. I have sought to clarify my own political positions through my work on numerous occasions such as here, here, and here. I will quote some of that content here. But I hope this will be a thorough article that can be referenced any time in the future when questions about who I am and what I represent are brought up. Moreover, I hope it can be a conversation starter about what types of political frameworks are actually beneficial to the community.

The Foundation and Legitimate Differences

I believe that the Quran and Sunnah should be the foundation for everything that we do, public and private. That means never exceeding their boundaries, and also manifesting their calls. Many people forget the latter, and only focus on the former. If the only time the Quran and Sunnah are invoked in discussions of activism and justice is to shut down something deemed illegitimate or impermissible, we suggest that our divine sources have stagnated and are unable to converse with the world around us today. I believe in amplifying the beautiful solutions from our religion to confront the ugly realities of the climate around us. The Deen is rich and beautiful. The Seerah is an incredible guide to everything in life. Through Yaqeen Institute, I had the blessing of doing the 40 on justice series that spanned for over a year and a half where I hoped to articulate a Sunnah-lens to the issues around us. My goal is to now develop that into a book. I believe the person and message of the Prophet (saw) speaks to us as clearly now as it did in the year 620, and that everything we do should be in accordance with it.

There can be reasonable debate about the Sunnah and how it’s lived in certain aspects around us. Some use Hudaybiya to justify every form of engagement and say things like, “if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) were alive, he would do this.” I don’t want to project anything on the Prophet (saw). My attempt is to draw from his Sunnah, not legitimize my shahawat. There are areas where the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) showed compromise, but he never lost clarity. While the treaty of Hudaybiya had to omit “Al Rahman Al Raheem” from the name of Allah, and “RasulAllah” from the name of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), none of the companions were confused about their realities.

The legitimate debates around how to truly implement the Sunnah today largely emanate from what aspects of the Prophetic call are it’s defining features, and what our priorities and timelines, political or otherwise, should be. Tawheed is the foundation and primary basis for it all. As for what aspects of the call are defining features, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent us a mercy to the worlds, defined his mission as perfection of character, said that Allah loves gentleness in all of His affairs, and was revolutionary in his compassion to everything around him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t at times get angry or use power to eliminate evil. He was not limited by his mercy, but always enhanced by it.

As for priorities and timelines, even the companions frequently differed. There are examples from the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and after. During Hudaybiya, Ali (ra) did not want to erase from the treaty what the Quraysh wanted him to. Omar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) wanted to proceed forth to Makkah that very moment. The companions found themselves unwilling to accept that they would have to turn back. Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) saw things the way the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw them. Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) advised the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in those difficult times how to get everyone on the same page despite those strong feelings.

The debates about this were deep in many aspects of Fiqh (jurisprudence) after the death of the Prophet (saw), none so more than regarding political issues. We know the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to seek both justice and stability. But at what point and at what cost is it permissible to challenge the power structure? No one was ambiguous about tyranny, but they differed greatly as to how to challenge it. In the first massive fitna to engulf the community, the painful debate over the assassination of Uthman  put Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) on the defensive about whether or not he was interested in pursuing his killers in the first place. He was of course, but believed in stabilizing the Khilafa before pursuing the assassins to not cause more bloodshed. When Omar Ibn AbdulAzeez (ra) who pushed legendary reforms in his 2 year Khilafa was questioned by his son about some of the things he wasn’t pursuing, he responded, “Oh my son, do you want me to try to compel them upon the religion all at once, so that they abandon it all at once?”

My work politically revolves around eliminating suffering, domestically and abroad. This shapes how I view militarism, poverty, policing, mass incarceration, environmental issues, healthcare, immigration, and torture. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “find me amongst the oppressed. Are you given aid and support by Allah except by how you treat your most vulnerable?” I believe that we as Muslims, especially those who claim orthodoxy, should assert ourselves in these areas. This doesn’t mean that I think this is the only area in which Muslims should be active. Different people should work in different areas of good, and not undermine one another. Good efforts should be complementary to each other. My background suits this particular role. I grew up with deeply humanitarian parents, worked as a field coordinator in disaster relief, and feel strongly moved towards these causes. While most came to know me through Islamic lectures, I have never not been involved in these things. Fighting exploitation and oppression are part and parcel of our religious identity. Not only should Muslims be present in these areas, they should be leading the way. And that’s not because it’s good political strategy or public relations, but because it’s scriptural imperative.

I’m also concerned with Religious Freedom and think we should assert our right as a Muslim community, as should other communities, to live out our faith unhindered, and our institutions un-harassed. Conservatives tend to leave Muslims out in their calls and lace them with other forms of bigotry we can’t stomach, and liberals often alienate religious communities like Orthodox Jews, Black Churches, Muslims, etc. while claiming to be for pluralism and inclusivity.

I cannot in good conscience support anything that is opposed to the Sunnah, even as a matter of political expediency. I believe in working together with communities on things we agree upon, and learning to respectfully coexist with things we don’t agree upon. On such affairs, I maintain political neutrality with religious clarity and relationship building that allows us to have these hard discussions as human beings seeking to reduce societal tension and promote the common good. I use multi-faith work as a blueprint for this. If people can harmoniously coexist despite strong beliefs about God, purpose, salvation, and scripture, surely they can learn to coexist on political issues that are of far lesser consequence to them in their worldviews. 

All of this warrants discussion on priorities, pragmatism, gradualism, and political programs. As Muslims, we should have vibrant disagreements that start off with: 1. What Allah and the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) deem as good is good, and what they deem as bad is bad. 2. People can disagree on how to apply those realities to the world around us without obscuring the lawful and the prohibited. 3. People should maintain good assumptions about one another and not accuse their intentions when they disagree. 

At the end of the day, these are largely areas of Ijtihad and we’re all on the same team.

Pictures and Associations

I rarely request anyone to take pictures with me, but I never turn them down. I have my reasons for that. It is primarily a personal decision I formed after going to the funeral of Muhammad Ali (may Allah have mercy on him) in Louisville. I was deeply moved by how everyone from the shuttle driver, to the hotel clerk, to the gas station employees, etc. had a story about meeting him. He never turned down a request, and that meant something to people. My colleagues and I differ on this issue. On one hand, we don’t want to feed celebrity culture. On the other hand, we don’t want to disappoint, hurt, or leave people feeling slighted. This is where I’m at on this, and I don’t think I have it in me to say no to someone who asks for a picture. 

My “associations” are widespread because I engage numerous spaces. I get invited to conferences and campuses, mosques and festivals. Anywhere I go, I try to be courteous to people and that should not mean an endorsement of all that they do or stand for. I do not believe appearing in a picture with someone or in a common space is me promoting them, or even them promoting me. 

Guilt by association is the most deceitful way of targeting someone. It’s what the Khawarij do. It’s also what Islamophobes have been doing to take down every Muslim leader in the community since 9/11. They draw the association as wide as possible, then associate you with every position through that association making it impossible to defend yourself.

My positions are only the ones I actually espouse.

Platforms and Panels

As for platforms and panels, I typically will not turn them down unless I feel like the platform itself is so biased that I won’t be able to speak my mind, or there is no value in my opinion even if I’m allowed to speak it. Most recently I sat on a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival on religious freedom with Sr. Asma Uddin from the Freedom Forum Institute, and staunch republicans like Rep. Matt Krause and Kevin Roberts, the Executive Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I’m in dialogue at an event early next year with the most prominent evangelical preacher in the country. I often share the stage with staunch liberals who agree with me on issues of militarism, torture, policing, and immigration, but are quite hostile to religion. I try to do right by my part on panels regardless of who else is serving on it. The only time I would participate in a public boycott of a panel or platform is if it’s a collective push to purge someone who has just taken a position or done something that would inherently tarnish the panel or platform. I did this, for example, in the wake of the Rabaa’ massacre with scholars who legitimized it. When I’m invited to a highly partisan place like the Texas Democratic Convention, I try to be very specific with my subject matter (where I spoke about children victimized by policy here and abroad, and brought up Gitmo and Abu Ghraib).

How Do I Choose Whether or Not to Accept an Invitation

Istikhara (prayer) and Istishara (consultation). I have turned down many high profile events because I thought my presence would be tokenizing and unsubstantial. With my invocation in Congress, I literally forwarded the invite to my teacher and asked him whether or not I should do it. He advised me to go forward and give an invocation that would leave people thinking. I hope that was achieved even though I must admit I wasn’t expecting the flurry of attacks afterwards. Imam Siraj traces the beginning of the avalanche of hate against him to his invocation in congress, but I had hoped that all the relationships I had built would ward off some of that.

Most of my invites are not so confusing, but some of them are. Have I regretted accepting certain invites? Yes. But I don’t lament too much over them so long as I did proper Istikhara and Istishara.

Demonstrations, Coalitions, and Alliances

In our tribal politics in America, platforms are wide and coalitions are narrow. I believe in the exact opposite. I believe we should have specific issues that we determine important and meaningful, and form broad coalitions around those specific issues. This way the work is focused, the ally-ship is clear, and the advocacy is unproblematic. When it’s a bunch of people working on a small set of issues, the issues dominate the conversation as opposed to who is at the table. It’s about what we’re at the table for. 

So if we’re going to organize a march on the border, against ICE deportations, or against police brutality, I don’t care who else is coming to march or where they stand on other issues. This to me was the essence of Hilf Al Fudul. The tribes came together for one purpose of supporting those who were exploited because they didn’t have the protection of belonging to powerful classes, and the Prophet (saw) said he would take that pledge in jahiliya or Islam.

Partisan Politics

I don’t believe in uncritically adopting a platform, or letting a party take advantage of our vulnerability. We need to challenge Democrats just as strongly as we do Republicans, while remaining independent and principled. We have a right to an agenda like any other community. Politicians should have to work for our vote, and we shouldn’t shy away from where we differ with candidates even when we vote for them.

You can read my article on voting here in which I lay out those principles.

As a side note on endorsements, I’ve only endorsed 2 candidates in my life, one a Muslim candidate for city council and another a candidate for county chair. With the Beto campaign against Ted Cruz last year, who I believe is the most dangerous man in the Senate for various reasons, I particularly reached out to the campaign to clarify some concerns about the criminalizing of BDS. I applauded him for taking the time to meet me and clarify those concerns. With the recent news on his  comments on revoking the tax-exempt status of religious institutions, I once again reached out to those who I know from the campaign to register the community’s disapproval and was able to have a fruitful conversation about it. And no, I’m not endorsing him or any candidate for president right now.

Left vs Right

I wrote an article in the Dallas Morning News about transcending the left/right divide. In it, I said, “Most of the religious presence in our political discourse seems to be superficial with the religious left and the religious right often simply representing nothing more than the political left and the political right with collars.”

I believe Muslims should be engaging well-meaning people on different issues from different backgrounds. While the political right may have taken on an overtly Islamophobic posture, there are conservative religious groups that may be willing to work with us and dialogue on issues of mutual concern. I welcome that 

We need to be a part of constructing the moral center in America instead of waiting for it to happen without our input whether its on domestic or foreign policy. We don’t have to adopt anyone else’s blind spots. We can talk about the child from Guatemala and the child from Gaza. We can talk about the sanctity of the child in the womb, and the sanctity of the child in the cage. We can talk about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib abroad, and our own mass incarceration systems at home. If some Republicans are the only ones willing to speak about the Muslim Uighurs in the name of religious freedom, we can work with them on that.

Not everyone has to work in all of these spaces simultaneously, but we should appreciate those who do so long as they don’t forsake their principles in the process.

On Engaging Government

This is a hard one so I’ll break it down into a few things:

  1. Local, State, Federal

I strongly believe in the idea of most politics being local, and that Muslims need to have a strong presence in city and state government. My invitation to Congress was due to my local work with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson who has been an incredible ally to our community. I think it gets trickier at the federal level. I’ve personally never been inside the White House under any administration for an Iftar or otherwise, but I don’t fault all who have. I know some who have tried very hard to do right in those tricky spaces. I was invited to the last Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department and declined. I think this is the trickiest space of them all, and wish those who engage it well. My hope is that anyone who does engage it raise our issues and make it clear to the community that they are doing so. I have never participated in CVE work, nor has Yaqeen ever taken CVE money, and I am opposed to it as a framework due to how it’s used exclusively against the Muslim community.

I differentiate between patriotism and nationalism and believe that our government should be held accountable for its violation of human rights like any other government. And war crimes have spanned administrations of both parties for a very long time.

  1. Foreign Governments

I am particularly skeptical of many Muslim governments considering the role that installed dictators and despots have played in suppressing the Muslim community worldwide. They have been the greatest violators of our rights, and the most shameful purveyors of Islamophobia as evidenced by the support given to China’s genocide of the Uyghurs. I don’t think it’s impossible to work with foreign leaders on specific issues, but that it requires crystal clear clarity from those who do on the issues those governments are criminally implicated. Granting religious legitimacy to tyrants who have themselves harmed or enabled harm towards the global community is incredibly dangerous. And it is important to not become co-opted by the lesser aggressors from the Muslim world. While some foreign leaders do better than others on certain issues, they will consistently disappoint on others. None of them should be able to buy the silence of the American Muslim community.

On Muslim Politicians

No politician, Muslim or otherwise, deserves our uncritical support for their political positions. Every Muslim, politician or otherwise, deserves our dua for their guidance and wellbeing. 

This is a tricky reality to navigate. When they take bold political positions, they should be qualifiedly praised specifically for those actions. When they do things that are problematic, they should be measuredly criticized specifically for those actions. We should want them to do well, and want well for them. As politicians, they naturally make decisions that they have to be accountable to the public for. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for them to make the right decisions and be enabled with and for the truth. As a community, we can’t put it on them to save the Deen. There will be more politicians that will come up in coming years, and our Dawah needs to continue independent of them while reminding them with good manners, supporting them with Dua and Naseeha, and politically engaging them like any other politician.

 

“Donate your reputation to Allah.” by Imam @OmarSuleiman504 Click To Tweet

Callouts

I will not engage in mudslinging or callouts personally, even when they’re against me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something that I could easily respond to with one line. But Allah is sufficient for me, and He is the best disposer of all matters. I would hope people can see through unfair attacks. And even when they can’t, I trust that Allah will make the best of the situation and I’d rather not take the community on a ride. Through one of these particular episodes, my teacher and friend told me, “Donate your reputation to Allah.” That stuck with me. If I’m doing what I’m doing for His sake, I shouldn’t be too bothered when other than Him deals with me uncharitably. If I am, I need to work harder on my own intentions.

As for others, I will not use social media to put people on blast. I discuss concepts, not people. Now two fair questions arise from this:

  1.  Can one assume that because I’ve supported people by name in certain contexts, but not criticized them by name, that I support all of their positions? I understand why people could derive that conclusion, and it’s not something I’ve particularly figured out. I don’t think ambiguous cheap shots are the solution either. I personally don’t burn bridges with people in fear of wronging them, and in hopes that I can still advise them. I feel like that’s the best I can do. I hope that people can appreciate that approach not as the only approach, but as an approach.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to employ the language of “what is it with a people that do such and such” (ما بال أقوام يفعلون كذا وكذا ) without actually naming the person in several narrations. This could be seen by some as passive-aggressive, but it’s about clarifying the concept and not focusing on the individual. I typically will try to employ this approach, and will sometimes fall short of it.

  1. Should there not be those who explicitly address wrongdoings, fairly hold leaders accountable, and ask important questions? There absolutely should be, but with good character and fair critique. We can’t adopt the tactics of Islamophobes against our own community. Half-truths, guilt by association, casting aspersions on character, etc. are grievous sins. They also take away from the legitimate critiques. Unfortunately, social media seems so drenched in toxicity that it seems impossible to discuss things with balance. With that being said, we need more forums to have important conversations and I can’t blame people in the meantime for feeling left out of those conversations and confused. As a rule of thumb, try to keep things depersonalized and to the issues. And when you have to say something critical of your brother or sister, try to say something about their good as well. 

What is considered public vs. private

There seems to be this prevailing idea that if it isn’t posted or tweeted, it’s not public. I try to be open in discussion with brothers and sisters when they meet face to face and am much more willing to discuss sensitive issues then. I don’t know of any basis in the Sunnah that would suggest social media is the only way to have a public position. I don’t mind being quoted in what I say in my halaqas or public settings, but simply don’t prefer to engage in certain discussions on social media.

Yaqeen’s direction and funding 

I am not Yaqeen. My political activism is not Yaqeen. I serve as the President of the organization with one vote on the board. I am blessed to work with an incredible team of over 60 people and growing that believe in the mission of the organization to foster a strong viable Islamic identity that preserves the religion in the hearts of our future generations, takes back the narrative from Islamophobes of all sorts, and demonstrates a path forward that doesn’t depart from our divine sources. Some of the writers are my teachers. Others come from entirely different backgrounds. I contribute a tiny fraction of papers myself, but am fulltime in my role as the President of the organization. Yaqeen set out to be as encompassing as possible of Muslim scholars and academics that believe in commitment to the religion, and contributing to the world through it. I believe strongly in institutions that are bigger than personalities, and that is the culture we try to foster from within.

As for our methodology, we have a course and a paper out soon from our scholars which should clarify further what we view as valid means of interpretation, and valid opinions. We try to do extensive peer review and allow opinions to be published within the fold of Islamic acceptability. 

We have extended our hands to Muslim organizations around the country and world to partner in good, and never charge a dime for our content. And for the sake of maintaining independence and integrity, Yaqeen has never taken money from any government entity or foundation that espouses ideas that would delegitimize it. Al hamdulila, all of it is through generous private donors that have found benefit from our content and I’m grateful to each of them for it.

Mistakes

Let me start with the personal. Anyone that serves as an Imam, activist, or representative of the community will be put in awkward situations frequently. Part of growth is learning from those mistakes and being wiser in future situations. I will still inevitably be put in compromising situations and pray that Allah guides me to deal with them with wisdom and rightful guidance. I will continue to listen to people who lovingly point those mistakes out to me in hopes that I do better in the future. May Allah reward them all. And I will take the best of unforgiving critiques and try to still benefit from them. May Allah reward them also if they’re done in sincerity, and forgive them if done for other reasons.

As for the communal, we haven’t figured out a way to host reasonable disagreements that involve various segments of the community. Yaqeen is meant to be a platform to foster some of that within our scopes of research, and some sites like Muslim Matters have also sought to be that when issues of concern arise. Over the past few years, I’ve had the blessing of being a part of an annual retreat that brings together various Islamic scholars of different backgrounds to foster unity amongst ourselves and create space for critical conversation. Sadly there are too many other divisions that exist in the community though to be remedied through that particular space. I think the community has felt locked out of certain discussions, and I can’t blame them for feeling that way. 

Solutions

Clarity. People like myself who are involved in multiple worlds need to not leave the community out of our thinking and articulate our frameworks better. I own that, as I have made many assumptions about what the community did or didn’t think about my positions.

Spaces. I’ve been blessed to be a part of forming some wonderful onsite spaces and forums where we have had some of these difficult conversations. I want to be a part of forming some of these spaces online with the realistic expectation that they will never equal the blessing of sitting with one another. I hope our community invests in more retreats where scholars of different backgrounds, activists, etc. can come together and discuss tough things, and then produce their findings. 

The Rope of Allah

Allah tells us to hold firm to the rope of Allah. The rope isn’t a political idea or opinion, it’s divine revelation. We are bonded by it and should honor that bond. We can disagree with each other and still love each other. We can debate ideas intelligently without descending into tactics unbefitting of the ummah of the Prophet (saw). We should be just with one another and not use the ways of our enemies against each other. I’m sure not everyone agrees with my framework above, and I may also change some of my opinions as time goes on. I pray that none of it ever swerves from what is established through the divine sources, or into anything divisive, hateful, or unjust.

The Quran speaks of justice, unity, and accountability. Those themes are not contradictory in Allah’s book, nor do they have to be in our lives. The Sunnah manifests that in a way that we can all learn how to conduct ourselves. This doesn’t mean we excuse everything in the name of Adab, it means we use Adab even when holding people accountable.

I end with this: Yunus al-Sadafi reported: I have not seen anyone wiser than Al-Shafi’i, may Allah be pleased with him. I debated him one day over an issue, and then we separated. He later met me and took my hand, then he said, “O Abu Musa, can we not continue to be brothers, even if we disagree on an issue?”

May Allah keep us united upon good, faithful to Him always, carriers of His Prophet’s way, and beneficial to the entirety of humanity. May He forgive us for our shortcomings, guide us to the straight path, and remove from us all that displeases Him in our worship and work.

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَضِلَّ أَوْ أُضَلَّ أَوْ أَزِلَّ أَوْ أُزَلَّ أَوْ أَظْلِمَ أَوْ أُظْلَمَ أَوْ أَجْهَلَ أَوْ يُجْهَلَ عَلَىَّ

O Allah, I seek refuge with You from going astray or stumbling, from wronging others or being wronged, and from behaving or being treated in an ignorant manner.

Read: Our Brothers Who have Transgressed Against Us | Imam Omar Suleiman

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Prayers Beyond Borders Offers Hope to Separated Families

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border wall in tijuana

On the border of San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, several families live their lives torn apart—they were born on the wrong side of a wall. Now, faith groups are joining together to give them hope through prayer. Since the Mexican-American War in 1848, the boundary that divided the two countries transformed from an imaginary line, to a monument, to a simple barb-wire fence where people on either side could meet, greet, hold hands, or exchange a warm smile, to a heavily monitored steel wall stretching across almost 15 miles between San Diego and Tijuana. 

In recent years, crime, drug trafficking, an influx of undocumented workers, and increasingly white nationalism created stricter immigration policies in the U.S., directly impacting those who live straddling both sides of the border. Included in these are families whose loved ones have been deported – parents, spouses, children, and other relatives – to Mexico, undocumented workers providing for their families, and relatives who have not made physical contact with each other in years, sometimes decades. They gather along the steel mesh barriers of the border wall at Friendship Park to touch each other’s fingertips and pray.

The documentary, “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” produced by CAIR California, MoveOn, and Beyond Borders Studios captured some of these emotive moments during a Sunday prayer service held by the Border Church in partnership with the Border Mosque. Christians and Muslims came together in solidarity at Friendship Park on September 30, 2019, and held a joint bilingual ceremony, led by Reverend John Fanestil, Pastor Guillermo Navarrete, Imam Taha Hassane, and Imam Wesley Lebrón.

Imam Lebrón, National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for WhyIslam, witnessed the nightmare families separated at the border endure when he was invited to participate in this first meeting of the Border Church and Border Mosque. As a Puerto Rican, U.S. born citizen who never experienced the hardships of immigration, he was moved by what he witnessed. He said, 

“I entered Mexico and reached the border at Friendship Park and immediately noticed families speaking to each other through the tiny spaces of an enormous metal wall. They were not able to touch except for their fingers, which I later learned was the way they kissed each other.”

He described families discussing legal matters and children crying because they could not embrace a parent who traveled for days only to speak to them briefly behind the cold steel mesh partition. 

“Walls are meant to provide refuge and safety from the elements and they are not meant to prevent human beings from having a better life,” he explained, “As I stood behind that wall, I felt hopeless, angry, and had many other mixed emotions for our Mexican brethren who have been completely stripped of the opportunities many of us take for granted.” During the service he addressed the crowd gathered on the Mexican side of Friendship Park and recited the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. It was the first time the call was heard in Friendship Park, but not the last. 

The Border Church and Border Mosque will continue to provide a joint service on the last Sunday of every month and are calling for a binational day of prayer on Sunday, October 27th. They will be joined by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and indigenous spiritual leaders to “Pray Beyond Borders.” The event will be filmed and possibly live-streamed to a global audience with the objective of raising awareness and requesting financial support to address issues related to family separation in the region. 

On October 7th CAIR California with MoveOn, Faith in Action, MPower Change, and a social media team and distribution partners released the film “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” With the digital launch of this film in English and Spanish they wish to reach millions of viewers in telling the story of the Border Church and the Border Mosque and bring more faith leaders and activists on board to protect families’ right to gather. Please join them at Pray Beyond Borders – A Binational Day of Prayer – Sunday, October 27th at Friendship Park. 

when the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles(Psalm 34:17 – NIV).

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]” (Qur’an 2:45)

Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

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Zahra Billoo Responds To The Women’s March Inc. Voting Her Off The New Board

Zahra Billoo

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Women's March Board

Earlier tonight, I was voted off the Women’s March, Inc. national board. This followed an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.

The past 48 hours have been a spiral of bad news and smear efforts. Part of the smear campaign is motivated by opponents of the Women’s March, because the organization has traditionally challenged the status quo of power and white supremacy in our country. However, much of the campaign is driven by people who oppose me and my work challenging the occupation of Palestine, our country’s perpetuation of unjust and endless wars, and law enforcement operations targeting the American Muslim community.

The Women’s March, Inc. is an organization I once held dear. I spoke at the first march, spoke at regional marches every year after, spoke at the convention, participated in national actions including the original Kavanaugh protests, and worked to mobilize Muslim women for their efforts.

During the past few years right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies, have targeted the Women’s March, Inc. For so long, I’ve admired their resilience in speaking truth to power, in working together, and in never cowering. Over and over again, the co-founders of Women’s March, Inc. put their lives on the line, winning power for all women in all of our diversity. The Women’s March, Inc. that voted me off its board tonight is one that no longer demonstrates the strength that inspired millions of women across the country.

To see and experience its new leaders caving to right-wing pressure, and casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman, a long-time advocate within the organization, without the willingness to make any efforts to learn and grow, breaks my heart. This isn’t about a lost seat, there will be many seats. The Women’s March, Inc. has drawn a line in the sand, one that will exclude many with my lived experiences and critiques. It has effectively said, we will work on some women’s rights at the expense of others.

To be clear, anti-semitism is indeed a growing and dangerous problem in our country, as is anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, ableism, sexism, and so much more. I condemn any form of bigotry unequivocally, but I also refuse to be silent as allegations of bigotry are weaponized against the most marginalized people, those who find sanctuary and hope in the articulation of truth.

In looking at the tweets in question, I acknowledge that I wrote passionately. While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words. I told the truth as my community and I have lived it, through the FBI’s targeting of my community, as I supported families who have lost loved ones because of US military actions, and as I learned from the horrific experiences of Palestinian life.

In attempting to heal and build in an expedited manner within Women’s March, Inc., I offered to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and to work with my sisters on the new board to learn, heal, and build together. These efforts were rejected. And in rejecting these efforts, the new Women’s March, Inc. demonstrated that they lack the courage to exhibit allyship in the face of fire.

I came to Women’s March, Inc. to work. My body of work has included leading a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization for over a decade, growing it now more than six-fold. In my tenure, I have led the team that forced Abercrombie to change its discriminatory employment policies, have been arrested advocating for DACA, partnered with Jewish organizations including Bend the Arc and Jewish Voice for Peace to fight to protect our communities, and was one of the first lawyers to sue the President.

It is not my first time being the target of a smear campaign. The Women’s March, Inc., more than any place, is where I would have expected us to be able to have courageous conversations and dive deep into relationship-building work.

I am happy to have as many conversations as it takes to listen and learn and heal, but I will no longer be able to do that through Women’s March, Inc. This action today demonstrates that this organization’s new leadership is unable to be an ally during challenging times.

My beliefs drive my work, and I am not seeking accolades or positions of power. These past few days have been the greatest test of that. My integrity, my truth, and my strength comes from God and a place of deep conviction. I will continue my work as a civil rights lawyer and a faith-based activist, speaking out against the occupation of Palestine and settler-colonialism everywhere, challenging Islamophobia and all forms of racism and bigotry in the United States, and building with my community and our allies in our quest to be our most authentic and liberated selves.

Onward, God willing.

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