The Uyghur Muslims of East Turkestan are forced between the ‘rock’ of Chinese communist oppression and the ‘hard place’ of being a tool of Western foreign policy.
Muslims around the world have been hearing terrible news about the situation of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkestan for some years.
The situation of the Uyghur Muslims is made doubly worse by the fact that governments in the Muslim world have not just remained silent – because of their economic dependency on China – but have, in some cases even been complicit in returning Uyghur Muslims to the oppression of Chinese Communist rule.
It is also made more complicated by the fact that the major focus on their plight in the Western media coincided with the change in US foreign policy under President Trump. Whereas previous administrations had chosen to engage China in order to secure their interests, the Trump administration (and now the Biden administration) were more confrontational. They use this issue as one of several sticks to beat the Chinese government. Hence, the US government will welcome anyone who is anti-China, because that suits their interests, not because it helps the Uyghur Muslims.
Because of this, some on the political left in Western countries do not accept any negative accusations against China, as they see all of it as part of US propaganda. Similarly, some strong supporters of the governments in the Muslim world follow whatever line they hear from their government – which is usually to deny that the Chinese government has undertaken any persecution at all.
And in between all of these tensions are the Muslims in East Turkestan – who for years have been subject to political oppression; racism from the Han Chinese; and an ideological war on their Islamic beliefs and practices by the atheistic communist regime. Reports of force-feeding in Ramadhan, or Imams being arrested pre-date the Trump era – though they weren’t so widely reported at the time.
At the heart of the problem is that China’s policies are simply a copy of counter-extremism measures invented by the US, UK and other states in their so-called ‘war on terror’. We have seen the same by India against Muslims in Kashmir, Russia against Muslims in Chechenya, and the Zionist occupiers in Palestine. Even many Muslim governments implement the same policies.
China has political objectives in East Turkestan that they seek to justify with accusations of ‘terrorism’ against the Muslim population – based on the lie that the more Islamic a person is, the more of a threat they pose. Hence, all these countries act to suppress Islamic expression through surveillance, criminalisation, re-‘education’ programmes, and various other means of oppression. In this way they are the same.
So, faced with these complexities, how should Muslims respond?
1. We are One Ummah – so we must be concerned for our Muslim brothers and sisters facing oppression.
تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ فِي تَرَاحُمِهِمْ وَتَوَادِّهِمْ وَتَعَاطُفِهِمْ كَمَثَلِ الْجَسَدِ إِذَا اشْتَكَى عُضْوًا تَدَاعَى لَهُ سَائِرُ جَسَدِهِ بِالسَّهَرِ وَالْحُمَّى ”.
Narrated An-Nu`man bin Bashir: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “You see the believers as regards their being merciful among themselves and showing love among themselves and being kind, resembling one body, so that, if any part of the body is not well then the whole body shares the sleeplessness (insomnia) and fever with it.”
So, we should stand with our brothers and sisters at this time and not be insular, thinking just of ourselves.
2. We must declare that whatever good we are trying to do is independent of a Western colonial agenda.
Like the Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام said to the mushrikeen : “ إِنِّى بَرِىٓءٌ مِّمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ “Indeed, I am free of what you associate with Allah …”, we should unambiguously declare that we are ‘free’ of association with US foreign policy.
Not to do so clearly risks being mistakenly seen as part of that agenda.
So, we oppose the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese regime – AND we oppose the Western agenda that exploits their suffering. The policy China follows regarding the Uyghur Muslims was formed in Washington, when they started their ‘war on terror’.
3. We must be mindful of the political games being played.
Abu Huraira (رضي الله عنه) narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said:
لاَ يُلْدَغُ الْمُؤْمِنُ مِنْ جُحْرٍ وَاحِدٍ مَرَّتَيْن
“A believer is not stung twice (by something) out of one and the same hole.” (Bukhari)
Didn’t we see the US use Islamic groups in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union?
Didn’t we see US policy support dictators in the Middle East when it suited them, and turn against them when it suited them?
Haven’t we seen them try to use and manipulate factions in Iraq, Syria and Libya?
In all these situations Muslims found themselves oppressed by various regimes. Their plight was largely ignored by politicians and media in the West except when it suited them. Some of the opposition groups were sometimes manipulated by western intelligence agencies for their own goals – and even set against each other as rivals vying for power.
So, learning from these past experiences we should support the people, rather than one group or another – especially when some are compromised by their relations with the US.
4. Purify your intention for the sake of Allah.
Beware of thinking that this issue is one where Muslims are on the ‘same side’ as the establishment – unlike efforts for Palestine and Kashmir, for example.
Western governments change their stances on many issues. At one time they had no issues with Muslims being active on issues such as Chechnya, Afghanistan and Libya. Then they changed their stance, sometimes criminalising such activism.
So, make your intention for Allah alone, and be steadfast upon what follows.
5. Don’t limit your horizons
Activism is not an end in itself but for noble ends that are defined by Islam. It should be seen in the context of enjoining good and forbidding evil.
Speaking out to raise awareness and exposing the crimes of the oppressor are justified – just as standing in solidarity with the Ummah worldwide.
But ultimately, when a population faces state-level oppression, and the only global voices speaking in their favour are states who act in their own interests, their rescue will only come when a sincere Islamic government, the future Khilafah, acts to help their brothers and sisters who are asking for help, responding their call:
رَبَّنَآ أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَـٰذِهِ ٱلْقَرْيَةِ ٱلظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَٱجْعَل لَّنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ وَلِيًّا وَٱجْعَل لَّنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ نَصِيرًا
‘Our Lord, rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors! By Your grace, give us a protector and give us a helper!’ (Surah Al Nisa: 75)
So, whilst doing good deeds to support the Uyghur Muslims in their plight, and navigating political pitfalls mentioned above, don’t narrow your horizons to the least you can do, rather put your mind towards the real solution: which is a righteous Islamic leader mobilising the many resources of this Ummah – including the energy resources or strategic locations that China relies on – to help lift them from their plight.
May Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ accept all sincere efforts for His Deen and keep us away from the plots of the Shayateen, and hasten His Victory soon.
Dr Abdul Wahid
Hizb ut-tahrir Britain