According to the South China Morning Post, civil servants, students and teachers in Xinjiang’s Bole county were told to “not engage in fasting, vigils or other religious activities.” Similarly, the Education Bureau in the city of Tarbaghatay, or Tacheng in Mandarin, instructed schools to advise students of several imperatives: “[D]o not fast, do not enter mosques … and do not attend religious activities.” As in previous years, school children were included in directives limiting Ramadan fasting and other religious observances. Similar orders were posted on the websites of other Xinjiang education bureaus and schools. Officials in the region’s Qiemo county met local religious leaders to inform them there would be increased inspections during Ramadan in order to “maintain social stability”. William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, said that what is happening within China’s borders is worrying. He accused the Chinese government of heavy-handed tactics, saying that “the public wearing of veils, beards and T-shirts featuring the Islamic crescent has been banned in many cities across Xinjiang. Students have been restricted from observing Ramadan, and there have been reports of force-feeding those who insist on fasting. Others have been disciplined for openly worshipping or downloading unsanctioned material.”
Systematic attempt to erase Islam
China’s policy towards Islam and the Uighur Muslims has been an ongoing attempt to systematically erase the Islamic identity. Tensions between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese have existed ever since the People’s Liberation Army marched into the territory 64 years ago. Muslims have historically lived in East Turkistan ever since the Mongols quest to conquer the world was ended by the Muslims after which many Mongols embraced Islam. The province became populated by Muslims who also came from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Xinjiang is four times bigger than Germany but only has 22 million inhabitants. Muslim Uighurs make up approximately 45% of the region’s population but have always been subject to discrimination and political violence by Han Chinese who once only accounted for 6% of Xingjian population. However, Beijing promoted a large scale migration of Han Chinese settlers as part of an ongoing policy to support the remote and underdeveloped regions of Xinjiang and Tibet who now equate to some 39% of the population, but in reality this migration has been an effort dilute the ethnic concentration of Muslims and reverse their majority status.
Geopolitics of Xinjiang
Xinjiang like Tibet has long served China with commerce routes known as Silk Road routes which have been used by various dynasties of the past to maintain a grip between Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. In the past these routes have been used to supply China with commodities reducing the need for naval routes due to the vibrancy of Western land routes. However the modern era led China to focus on naval routes on its vast seas which created booming ports in Shanghai and Qingdao. The problem now however is the patrolling of U.S forces who are managing their current U.S Asia Pacific strategy to get a foot into the energy markets. This has made the naval routes vulnerable and thus an alternative option is to go back to the old days of the Silk Roads routes which will allow China to transport oil and natural gas via its pipelines to the China coast securely. Xinjiang is thus of significant importance to China due to the Silk Road routes lying inextricably in the North West of the country.
Indeed, Xinjiang’s history as a trade route and protective buffer is still shaping Beijing’s interests and policies in the region today, especially as the government looks to expand overland energy and trade ties with Central Asia. For Beijing, the opportunities presented by Xinjiang are manifold: As an energy transport corridor and resource base, the province will be critical for efforts to industrialize the interior and reduce China’s exposure to possible supply disruptions in the South and East China seas. At the same time Beijing’s most ambitious visions for Xinjiang are to have a trans-Eurasian road, rail and pipeline systems5. The Uighur Muslim population is seen as an obstacle to China’s commercial vision and have thus raised security concerns against Muslims.
China joins the “War on Terror”
The West’s war on the political idea of Islam was a convenient narrative for China to pursue its regional objectives of diluting the ethnic concentration of Muslims. It has adopted the political language of the war on terror by using terms such as “extremism” to inflate a national security threat. China says it faces a “terrorist threat” in Xinjiang, with officials blaming “religious extremism” for the growing violence. The Chinese government has an obvious cynically employed the false, emotive label of rooting out ‘religious extremism and terrorism’ as a cover to pursue a relentless, decades old campaign. It is a ruthless campaign afflicting Muslims of Xinjiang of harassment, religious repression and forced assimilation to coerce them to abandon their deeply-held Islamic beliefs. These tactics have included a general crackdown on bearded Uyghur Muslim men as well as barring women from wearing the Islamic dress in government buildings and venues. In addition, the regime has banned private religious education, barred state employees or anyone under 18 to enter mosques, and prohibited students, teachers and government workers from fasting in Ramadan.
The Muslims of Xinjiang have endured decades of discrimination, repression, unemployment and crippling poverty due to discriminatory policies from an oppressive regime that has ruled over them with an iron fist and sought to marginalize them within their own homeland. The Chinese government clearly views the ever-increasing attachment of Uyghur Muslims to their deen as a threat to their economic interests in the region. The plight of the Uighur Muslims can only be ended via the restoration of the Khilafah which can then use its political, economic and military leverages to reverse their oppression.
Britain and China share the ideological attack against Islam
Western commentators and journalists have been using the reports of China banning fasting to highlight the liberal freedoms Muslims have living in these countries. The reality is that the beliefs and practises of Muslims living in Britain are also targeted by the British government. The government’s counter-extremism strategy called “Prevent” and the recent CTS Act has made it a statutory obligation on civil servants and public bodies to report Muslims who they deem as “extremist”. Extremism is defined as the ““vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. This means that Muslims who believe in practises such as the segregation of sexes, believe that homosexuality is a sin, believe in the Khilafah are targeted by the authorities. There has also been attacks on Halal meat, the Niqab and Hijab and even calls to shorten the fasts. Both Britain and China have a policy of secularisation with a view to assimilate Muslims into their respective cultures. The religious symbols of Islam are attacked to strip Muslims of their identity while preventing them from expressing political views that run counter to their national interests. Thus the ideological hostility against Islam is darker than ever from both the East to the West and we cannot expect any sympathy towards the Uighur Muslims from a state that has similar policies in their own country.
Call to Action
As Muslims, we recognise that the Uighur Muslims have rights over us and we must continue to raise awareness about their plight. Below are some of the things we can do to aid the Muslims of Xinjiang;
- Raise awareness about the oppression the Uighur Muslims are facing. Many people are unaware of the hardship our brothers and sisters in the province of Xinjiang are facing. We must be the voice for those who have no voice and use the means at our disposal such as social media and articles to raise awareness.
- We must account the Chinese authorities by writing to them, holding demonstrations and exposing their oppressive tactics against the Muslims.
- We must fervently continue the work of political activism to re-establish the Khilafah in the Muslims World and restore the political authority of the Ummah. It is only via the vehicle of the state that the Uighur Muslims can be rescued.
Allah SWT Promise
We urge our brothers and sisters to remain steadfast in their adherence to the Aqeedah of Islam, for Allah SWT has promised those who do righteous deeds that he will surely grant them victory and reverse the oppression and tyranny from man-made law.
“Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that – then those are the defiantly disobedient.” (An-Noor: 55)