There’s a place for faith in Britain today – Let’s not become divided

There seems to be a belief by some that having a faith somehow makes you “less able to integrate”, less “British” or locked in some sort of cultural-ideological battle. It’s as if being British can only mean one thing: being (White-)Christian, Atheist or Agnostic.

If we look at the rate of hate crime in the UK, there’s no doubt been an increase in hostility against people from minority backgrounds, in particular members of the Muslim and Jewish communities.

To me this is all rather sad as I equate being British as being free to be who you are and in joyful celebration of such tolerance and acceptance. In terms of faith, you could be Christian, agnostic, atheist, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or a range of many other things. We’re a multicultural, multifaith nation where we’re free to be who we are, in the way we want to.

Image credit - Matthew G (CC BY-NC 2.0).jpg

Image Credit: Matthew G (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I for one, as British-born 20-something with “traditional” Welsh/English/Irish and also Italian roots, who’s gone from being a Christian to a Muslim, certainly haven’t become less “British” since changing my faith. If anything, my faith has given me a sense of comfort, belonging and certainty in who I am as an individual. Islam teaches us to respect other people and treat them well. Like all other faiths, it calls upon us to honour social justice, build bridges with others, respect the law of the land and love others as we love ourselves. I therefore don’t see how being a Muslim would take a way anything from my cultural and national identity.

For me it’s values – or a perceived clash of values – that are the problem, not faith. The ultimate manifestation of such “Clash of Civilisations” is extremism – a poisonous ideology which isolates in all forms, from the neo-Nazi group to the jihadist cell. On the surface members of these groups come from different faith/social backgrounds but hatred and violence don’t have a faith. The reality is that these people are socially excluded and feeling victimised, confused and lost. They’re looking for a sense of belonging and empowerment.

What we must remember is that social integration is a two-way unified process. In a free democratic nation, we all have the right to choose our own faith, to speak a second, third or even fourth language and to hold on to our own precious histories, stories and memories. It’s our collective identity – where our multiple identities merge into one – that makes us British. To share an identity we need common values, a shared language and a shared history. We don’t need to belong to any one particular faith.

Image credit - Roberto Trombetta (CC BY-NC 2.0).jpg

Image credit: Roberto Trombetta (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We all have multiple identities. Identities are fluid, they’re hybrid, they’re plural. They change, merge and adapt over time. I’m Muslim yes but I’m also British, I’m European, I’m also a millennial, a second-generation half immigrant, an activist, a Midlander and a wife of a Berber-Algerian! Quite simply, I’m me! When I feel respected and included as a Muslim by non-Muslims I also feel even more heart-warmingly proud to be British.

If you take a look into a British mosque, synagogue or church, you’ll see a myriad of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. These faiths are already uniting people. Faith can and does play a key role in our sense of belonging and unity in British society – let’s celebrate that, please!

However, let’s also not forget that not everyone has a faith. What ultimately brings us together is our sense of solidarity. Whether we can live as a socially integrated nation ultimately depends upon each and every one of us. Ask yourself these questions: do you see your neighbour as a potential friend? Do you love them as you love yourself? Do you feel proud to live in a diverse nation?

As Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise).” This is a simple crucial message we can all follow, regardless of our own individual faiths.

Credits and acknowledgements

Feature image: AwayWeGo210 (CC BY 2.0)

This article was first published via Three Faiths Forum (15/11/2017)

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Interfaith lessons: What the Jewish community has taught one Muslim convert

In Autumn 2016, I moved from the Midlands and sleepy Staffordshire to the hustle and bustle of London. Having moved to a more diverse, vibrant area of the country and being curious about other faiths (particularly Judaism), I started to notice a visible Jewish presence in and around the city, spotting Jewish brothers with payot curls or kippahs. Back home, this was not something you ever really saw. Now living in London and having been curious about Judaism for a while, after a quick Google search I contacted West London Synagogue to see how I could find out more about my Abrahamic brothers and sisters.

I subsequently joined the synagogue’s Jewish-Muslim interfaith women’s group and during our first meeting eagerly borrowed a book: Judaism for Dummies. Yes – I really was starting from zero! A few pages in and I started to understand something which would teach me not only about Judaism but also my own faith: the richness of diversity.

Liberal Judaism, Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Hasidic Jews, atheist Jews, secular Jews… The great (sometimes seemingly contradictory) diversity was apparent and very intriguing – if at first confusing!

Yet, as I spent more time at the synagogue (later becoming co-chair of the ladies’ group) and attended various interfaith events, I discovered exactly what this meant. I learnt that Judaism was incredibly rich and diverse – not just culturally but religiously. What’s more – such diversity was no hidden secret or elephant in the room! Visiting a reform synagogue, led by a male-female board of rabbis, which welcomed with open arms diverse members of both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, including LGBT devotees and non-Jewish spouses, I witnessed how the synagogue actively embraced diversity and didn’t shy away from debate.

Elizabeth Arif-Fear (2)In fact, questioning, debating and discussion were seen as such positive (not troublesome) elements of their faith that one of the recurring jokes at interfaith events centred around how disagreement is almost a marker of the Jewish community! Take two people with two different views to a rabbi and you’ll find the rabbi will declare that there’s no one answer. Difference of opinion is not seen as a problem but instead an eye opener.

Now when I think of Islam, whilst there is diversity – and a much richer diversity than many people realise – there seems to be somewhat of a shying away from questioning and inclusivity of the “non-traditional” or “mainstream”. Whilst I cannot generalise, and of course my experience of the British Jewish community seems to be mostly of liberal/reform Judaism and there is indeed a wide range of “branches” and views within both faiths, there appears to be far less inclusivity and debate, discussion and search of knowledge within the Muslim community. Often questioning and differing views are deemed as ignorant, overly liberal or even heretical.

At a recent event on “Islam vs. Islamism” held by Faith Matters, Dilwar Hussain (founding chair of New Horizons in British Islam) highlighted that the period in when Islam really “flourished” was during the “Golden Era” in Al-Andalus. In this era, the Muslim community practised a tolerant, explorative, enlightened and socially open form of Islam. This community accepted – not restricted – diversity.

So, what has my interfaith experience taught me? It’s highlighted that respecting and including diversity within our faith, given the current global socio-political climate is more important than ever. Diversity is something to be proud of. It doesn’t “water-down” Islam. It doesn’t threaten the Muslim community. Quite the opposite – it helps it flourish.

Credits and acknowledgements

This blog feature was first published by 3 Faiths Forum on 22/08/2017 (c)

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Human Rights: It’s all for one or none for all

Life is but a lesson of learning… The more issues you explore, the more people you meet, the more you learn about them and about yourself. In light of a recurring lesson of mine, I’d like to share with you a beautiful, simple yet oh so powerful poem. You may know it. Take a look…

First They Came

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemoller

This short but very poignant poem refers back to the era of Nazi Germany and the failure of German intellectuals to stand up to the Nazis. Dating back to the middle of the last century, it is as relevant as ever in an era of rising hate crime, neo-Nazi/far-right groups and religious extremism to name a few, despite the public awareness of human rights, the availability of resources to learn about each others’ rights and the wide range of means/mediums to speak out (social media, lobbying organisations etc.).

This poem in fact highlights a few very serious key points, which can be summed up in the following famous quotes:

  • “Love for others what you love for yourself” (Prophet Muhammad, pbuh)
  • “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem” (Eldridge Cleaver)
  • “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke)
  • “I am not free while any women is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own” (Audre Lorde)

What is the overall message you may ask? Well, put quite simply it’s this: you cannot be free whilst someone else is oppressed. You cannot advocate for peace whilst hating others and you cannot call for the rights of one group, whilst advocating hatred or intolerance for another. No one is saying we all have to have the same beliefs or opinions, but common decency and universal rights are not exclusive. Where human rights are concerned it’s in the famous words of the three musketeers (!) that things go: “It’s all for one, and one for all!”.

Imagine this: you want others to accept and accommodate your religious beliefs but you won’t do the same. Not very logical is it? Or you want women to have the freedom to wear what you want them to wear but not what they may or may not want to wear. Not a simple pick and choose is it? Bearing that in mind, I’d like to lay out the following scenarios. For simplicity sake, we’ll use the names “Mr A” and “Mrs A”:

  1. “Mr A” advocates for the rights of Muslim minorities in Europe but perpetuates anti-Shia, anti-Sunni, anti-Ahmadi rhetoric.
  2. “Mrs A” is outraged at the discrimination hijabis face but forces her daughter to cover and won’t accept difference of opinion related to covering within Muslim circles.
  3. “Mr and Mrs A” are campaigning for the rights of Palestinians yet victimise the Jewish community, refusing to separate faith from politics and fail to stand up to rising anti-Semitism
  4. “Mr A” is outraged about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but doesn’t put pen to paper and seek genuine dialogue
  5. “Mrs A” expresses concern for UK foreign policy in the Middle East yet stays silent about the famine in Yemen caused by the Saudi led war, the abuse of women in Saudi law and Iran, the suffering of the Uyghurs in China, the cause of the Tibetans etc.
  6. “Mr and Mrs A” stands up for the religious/cultural/ethnic rights of their personal communities but stay silent about the abuse and difficulties that others face.

What is the message in all of these cases? Well, the message is quite clearly this: they’ve got it wrong! They’re missing the point. If it’s human rights you want, if it’s justice, freedom and equality, then it’s all for one and one for all! So when you’re advocating for a specific cause, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I advocating a message of peace, non-violence, tolerance and unity? (Unbiased educated criticism is allowed but violence is counter-productive!)
  • Am I utilising the correct tools, networks and organisations which advocate peace and tolerance? (Giving/sharing a platform with an intolerant, bigoted group is also a counter-productive no-no!)
  • Is my message inclusive or exclusive? (Am I alienating or spreading hatred of others?)
  • What is my ultimate message and purpose? (Am I aiming for a positive outcome which will resolve conflict and abuse?)

Remember: calling out abuse is always going to ruffle a few feathers. That’s not the problem! The problem is when your method goes against the principles and purpose of what you’re fighting for – or if you’re cause is exclusive in the rights and aims you’re fighting for.

Think about this and remember, when we’re talking about rights: it’s all for one and one for all!

Salam

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A Christian dedicating his time to the Qu’ran? Find out why!

We’ve not long finished the month of Ramadan – a holy month for Muslims across the globe which marks the start of the the period in which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received the Holy Qur’an from God Himself. This period is obviously one of reflection and unity for the billions of Muslims across the globe. Yet this month was not just a time of great community for Muslims both in the UK, but in fact the many diverse faith communities in multifaith Britain. Despite some terrible tragedies here in the UK which have recently taken place during Ramadan itself, I was delighted to attend a number of interfaith/community gatherings and witness the heartwarming sense of love, unity, community and friendship amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

What’s more, in the run up to Ramadan itself, I was honoured to meet a brother who was making a particularly curious stance of unity. You see, whilst many Muslims will spend the month of Ramadan reading the Qur’an, this gentleman was on an exploratory mission of the Qur’an teaching others about its values and content. OK. You might say. Seems normal… But wait for this: he’s a Christian. Although far from a stranger to this book, Julian Bond launched his blog “How to Read the Qur’an” to get to grips with Islamophobic rhetoric out there and spread a message of peace and unity.

“A Christian!?” many may say, perplexed. Well yes, the Qur’an is not off limits! Anyone can read it! But why? Well, here’s what Julian says about why he’s been reading and teaching others about how to read the Qur’an:

I will be writing and posting a series of blogs during Ramadan 2017… to encourage people to read it and, particularly, to help them not misread it. I have been treated as an ‘honorary Muslim’ for years and welcomed into all kinds of Muslim-only/majority spaces where I have sometimes been the only Christian present.

I have read the Qur’an many times since 2000, in a number of different translations. I have been a habitual reader of it… I know that I have read it more and am more familiar with it than a lot of Muslims… I have even had people attempting to ‘convert’ me when they have read less of the Qur’an in an accessible tongue than I have…

What really fires me up is Islamophobes and extremists who choose the most extreme, and wrong, readings of the Qur’an, when a proper reading of the Qur’an highlights that they are completely off the ‘straight path’…

Julian’s message is one we should all take head of: it is only by learning about other faiths and cultures that we can built unity, dispel myths, counteract hate speech and broaden our own minds. You see, “How to Read the Qur’an” isn’t a proselytising mission -it’s an educational mission which reveals a lot about not just Islam but interfaith relations themselves.

For Muslims, Jews, Christians, those of all faiths and none: take a look, read, comment like and share your thoughts! And for Muslims: learn about another faith. Pick up a copy of the Torah or New Testament. Learn about your colleagues and neighbours and you’ll find out you’ve got more in common than you realise. As Jo Cox said – as was remembered during the Great Get Together in the month of Ramadan itself:

“…we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Peace, salam shalom! ♡

Credits, acknowledgments and further information:

Thank you to brother Julian Bond for taking the time to meet with me and for being such a great Muslim ally! It was lovely to meet you and hear about your inspiring work. I wish you all the best in your current and future initiatives.

Find out more about Julian Bond – follow him on Twitter!

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Julian Bond currently leads the Methodist Church’s grant team and is involved in a range of interfaith activities both online and offline, working with a local dialogue group in Leighton Buzzard (London) and occasionally organising dialogue events at Abrar House. Also volunteering at St Ethelburga’s (the Centre for Reconciliation and Peace), Julian was previous Director of the Christian Muslim Forum for nine years, where he edited the Ethical Witness Guidelines and led its leadership programme. Julian also spent two years on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christian-Muslim Initiative.

Image credits: Heidi Lalci (CC) (featured image), Julian Bond (C)

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A Simple Path Made Difficult – Advice for Muslim Sisters

Hi everyone. Inspired by previous discussions, the lovely Ashley from Muslimah According to Me asked me to write a guest post on her blog about moderation and extremism in Islam. Here’s my thoughts and experiences. Take a look!

Muslimah According to Me

Salaam everyone! Today I am jumping back in with a guest post from my dear sister Liz, who blogs over at www.voiceofsalam.wordpress.com.

Firsly, I highly recommend you go check out her blog! She writes about current events, her personal experiences as a revert, and other topics that need to be brought up in our communities. I love her strong point of view, and I always look forward to reading her posts!

Today’s guest post is actually kind of a substitute for another post I was dragging my feet on, but I daresay I like this one better! I was planning on writing the post I mentioned in my last post on different homogenising pressures within the community, but then I got to talking to Liz about these kinds of things and it turns out she has just as much to say about it as me!

So she kindly agreed…

View original post 1,145 more words

Ten faiths, one message…

Today – 27th January – is Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day we remember the barbaric massacre of millions of Jews (alongside other people classed as “undesirables” by Hitler), barely one century ago. As we are called to remember the genocide and we repeat: “Never again“, we must truly reflect. For the utterance of these two words have not stopped the violence, the prejudice, the bloodshed. War, torture, genocide…is carrying on as we speak.

In light of this, I’d like us on reflect on the following – especially as we remember the past and we envisage an unknown bleak future in the current socio-political climate and the fear rising from Trump’s new role as POTUS: we are the people. Humanity is one and we are responsible for the way we treat others and the way we respond to hate rhetoric. Regardless of our differences we must unite, remembering our similarities and enjoining in good. Are we all really that different?! No! Embrace your differences – it’s what makes you unique. The world would be so dull if we all came from one mono culture! However, at the same time: unite in solidarity.

With this in mind, I’d also like us to remember one thing in particular: The Golden Rule. The teaching of: treat others the way you wish to be treated! Whatever your faith, it’s there! And wouldn’t the world be a safer, happier, more tolerant place to be if we all remembered this “rule”? I’m convinced so! So here’s The Golden Rule according to the world’s 10 largest faith groups (listed in ascending order of population size). Enjoy!

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Shintoism

  • ~4 million followers worldwide (0.01% of the world’s population)

the-heart-of-the-person-before-you-is-a-mirror-see-there-your-own-form

Jainism

  • 4.5 million followers worldwide (0.06% of the world’s population)

janismn-final-final

Confucianism

  • 7 million followers worldwide (0.1% of the world’s population)

CONMF FINAL DRI FINAL.jpg

Bahá’í Faith

  • ~8 million followers worldwide (0.15% of the world’s population)

-And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.-NEW.jpg

Judaism

  • 20 million followers worldwide (0.3% of the world’s population)

NEW JUDIAMS FINAL FRIDAY.jpg

Sikhism

  • 30 million followers worldwide (0.4% of the world’s population)

SIKHISM FRIDAY FINAK.jpg

Buddhism

  • 400 million followers worldwide (7% of the world’s population)

FINAL BUSSHIDM.jpg

Hinduism

  • 1 billion followers worldwide (15% of the world’s population)

fiunal-hindusism

Islam

  • 1.6 billion followers worldwide (23% of the world’s population)

FINAL ISLAM.jpg

Christianity

  • 2.3 billion followers worldwide (32% of the world’s population)

CHRISTIANOITY FINAL.jpg

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So, there we have it: 10 faiths, one rule, one humanity. If we really want “never again” to mean something in terms of action, then we need to respect our differences yet remind ourselves that we all have the same obligations towards ourselves and our global brothers and sisters. Ask yourself this when you’re in a situation: Would I want this? How would I feel in such situation…?

Salam! Shalom! Peace! ♥

Sources and credits:

Statistics from: Waterlow, R. (2017) ‘Top 10 Largest Religions in the World‘, World’s Top Most

Original photographs:

Feature image: Leo Reynolds

All images are edited versions of photographs first published under a Creative Commons licence, unless otherwise stated (see credits). For terms of usage visit Flickr.

Photo editing and design: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

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The 10 Biggest Misconceptions about Muslim Women

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Image source: luckyphotostream

Whenever you hear about Muslim women in the media, we’re always portrayed as oppressed, meek, silent victims. Doing a quick Google search using the words “Muslim women” just now, the suggested searches at the bottom of the page include:

do muslim women shavemuslim women rulessingle muslim womenmuslim women dress codemuslim women swimwearwhat do muslim women wear

Muslim women aren’t “victims” or “subjects”. We’re more than headscarves, burkinis, dress codes and potential wives for those looking for a spouse. We’ve got spiritual, intellectual, economic, social and sexual rights. There is a terrible wave of Islamophobic hate crime at present and there are cultural/social problems within some Muslim communities (see my prior post on gender jihad) but this isn’t what we’re about. Violations of women’s rights is unfortunately a global issue and Islamophobia is an increasing problem but these are problems – they don’t define us. They are problems just like all  other forms of racism, violence, discrimination and xenophobia. That’s not us.

Muslim women are proud, strong and free. We were given rights such as the right to inheritance centuries before women in Europe. I’ll leave all that for another post to go into greater detail. What I’d like to cover in this post is the 10 biggest misconceptions about Muslim women.

1. Muslim women dress in hijab and cover because their husbands demand so or because the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) told women to cover

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Image credit: Peter Dahlgren

Sigh. I and many other women (I’m sure!) have experienced this through misconceptions, (innocent) ignorance or by jumping to conclusions. It’s really patronising to presume that Muslim women cover their entire bodies for their husband when hijab is a choice, a decision and one act of following (one of ) God’s commands. Unfortunately there are cases of women being forced by men to cover by their fathers, husbands etc., there are oppressive laws in certain countries and in some societies there are judgmental attitudes and social pressure (all of which are wrong) but there’s also those sisters who wear it against their families’ wishes and despite the abuse and discrimination they may face within society. Following hijab in covering your body – not just your hair by the way (!) – is what Muslims believe to be a commandment from God and God alone (who is not male or female!). It’s a spiritual act, an act of modesty and an act of devotion. As Muslims, we believe that commandants are from God, compiled in the Qur’an and not from the Prophet Mohammed – who is the messenger not the Creator. It is and should always be the woman’s choice – a choice not defined by man. Please don’t assume otherwise.

2. Female converts had to convert to Islam in order to marry their Muslim spouses or they converted to Islam for their husband’s sake

Another huge stereotype! There are many many converts to Islam and most are young women. Whatever their timing, the decision to convert is (and must be) their choice. Those who convert simply to marry are not making a valid spiritual decision and those who force people to convert are breaking God’s commandment. God has given us free will and belief is personal – it has to be or it’s not real! You convert when you’re ready. Some sisters convert after witnessing the practice of their husband and learning more about the faith and some before they marry. This is their own personal spiritual choice. Out of those that convert before they marry, many of those aren’t even thinking about marriage. They’re not engaged, they’re not in love – they’re simply on their journey. Faith is personal and it’s once again really patronising to infer that women have no spiritual intelligence, needs, desires or free will. Faith is one thing. Marriage is another. Muslims believe that Allah’s plan is the greatest and therefore his timing is too!

3. Muslim men can touch unrelated women (shake hands etc.) whilst Muslim women can’t (the same goes for pre-martial sex!)

In Islam there is no sexual double standard. Pre- and extra-marital sex are forbidden as is kissing, touching etc. and everything in between. The limits between the opposite sex are the same. Whether this is always upheld is a different story but there should be no distinction between the level of contact between say a non-Muslim woman and a Muslim man and a Muslim man and a non-Muslim woman.

4. Muslim women can’t be scholars

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The general lack of female scholarship (in comparison to male figures) is a result of culture, patriarchy and socio-economic factors – not Islam. There are however numerous female Muslim scholars, translators, jurists and important advocates. Aisha (ra), the wife of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was an early jurist and hadith transmitter. Another earlier example is Aishah bint Muhammad from Syria who was a 14th century hadith scholar. In today’s period, Laleh Bakhtiar (1938 – present) from the US, was the first American woman to translate the Qur’an into English. Her translation has been used in many mosques and universities. It has also been adopted by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan. Laleh has translated more than 30 books on Islam and the Islamic movement and is both a lecturer and published author of over 15 books in relation to Islam. For more inspirational Muslim women and their achievements see: 10 Muslim Women You Have to Knowthe Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) index and here for a list of female Muslim scholars. .

5. Muslim husbands are permitted to hit their wives

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Image credit: Hibr

Muslim men – despite what extremists say – are not permitted to hit their wives. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) did not hit his wives and taught men to respect, love and cherish their wives. Verse 4:34 of the Qu’ran is misused and mistranslated and thus used by some to justify violence against one’s wife :

The good women are obedient, guarding what God would have them guard. As for those from whom you fear disloyalty, admonish them, and abandon them in their beds, then strike them.

Translation: Talal Itani

Laleh Bakhtiar in her translation: “The Sublime Quran” (2007) translated the Arabic word daraba as “go away” instead of “beat” or “hit” – meaning the final commandment when in conflict with your spouse is to not actually have contact! Given the fact that the verse takes increasingly separatist stages: to first advise, then not share the marital bed until this last stage, this makes far more sense! As pointed out earlier, her translation of the Qur’an is used in various mosques and universities and was adopted by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan.

6. Muslim women are not (really) allowed in the mosque or community sphere 

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Image credit: Georgie Pauwels

This is simply a cultural issue. Women are not obliged to go to the mosque for Friday prayers – unlike men – as they may be busy looking after their children, looking after the house, perhaps not praying (time of the month!) etc. Women should never be stopped from going to a mosque. The authentic hadith (Al-Buhkhari) states the words of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as following: “Do not stop women servants of God from the mosques of God.” See the WISE list of female Muslim spiritual and religious leaders for more on information on Muslim women in this area.

7. Muslim women are all a bit “meek and mild”

I think my message is becoming clear! Modesty is an important virtue in Islam but that doesn’t mean we have to hide away. There are many, many inspirational Muslim women figures – lawyers, writers, lecturers, translators, scholars, artists, political leaders, athletes and many more. Once again, check out the WISE index for a list of 100 extraordinary Muslim women!

8. Muslim women have no sexual rights

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Image credit: Nur Alia Mazalan

Both men and women in Islam have a right to sexual satisfaction. Islamic teachings – especially early on – talked openly about such issues including the need for foreplay with your wife. As previously explained, modesty and shyness are virtues but cultural habits have once again “got in the way” in relation to sexual education and attitudes. See for example this hadith in which the Prophet advised Abdullah bin Amr bin Al-As (who fasted all day and spent all night praying) to fast some days and to not fast on others and to likewise sometimes pray at night and other nights sleep – as to not act in excess: “Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (Bukhari, Vol.7, No. 127). Muslims of course cannot be intimate with their spouse when fasting and any sexual act requires you to shower afterwards – especially in order to later perform prayers. Therefore a husband who is fasting every day (until sunset) and praying after sunset all night is not only being harsh on himself but is not allowing for sexual intimacy to take place, when his wife has the right to sexual pleasure.

9. Muslim women must/should be financially dependent on their husbands

Muslim women have the right to work if they want to as long as the children and other duties etc. are not neglected as the man is the (main) breadwinner (remember men can’t have children!). Obviously in today’s economy many women also work out of necessity. Muslim women are endowed with financial autonomy in relation to their earnings. The husband has no (automatic) right to her earnings – they can only be given with permission (which counts as charity). The husband, regardless of her earnings or lack of, must always provide for his wife and family – even if she is a multi millionaire!

10. Choosing one’s spouse is down to the men – the groom, the bride’s father, brother, uncles etc.

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Image credit: Azlan DuPree

Regardless of cultural or family behaviour, beliefs or tradition, in Islam marriage is between two consenting adults – be it a “love marriage” or arranged marriage (not forced for those who equate the two as being the same!). Firstly, women cannot and should not be forced to marry anyone – any such “marriage” would be invalid. Secondly, some couples chose their spouse, others ask their family and community to find a spouse for them. Each to their own! A Muslim woman has every right to ask her family, local imam etc. to help her find a spouse. If she falls in love, her potential husband may go to her father and ask for her hand. In the same way, if an unfamiliar brother wishes to marry a sister, he may approach her family who can ask their daughter what they make of him! Perhaps her father or brother know a nice brother they think is suitable and so they approach her to ask her thoughts but in no way is it a requirement that her family pick a husband for her. This works for some, for others things happen differently. Again – each to their own! The crucial point is that the marriage must be consensual. The woman’s family cannot give her hand against her will. Forced marriage is illegal, immoral and invalid. It is essentially a non-marriage involving forbidden sexual activity, immoral conduct and sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse. The Prophet Mohammad’s first wife Khadijah proposed the idea of marriage and they had a long happy marriage. Now me personally I’m a bit “traditional” and think it’s nicer for the men to ask/get the ball rolling but that’s not a rule! Modesty, respect and upright honest behaviour is the key.

So, I hope that’s cleared up some misconceptions around the so often mystified Muslim women! We’re human, we’re here, we have a voice, we have freedom, we have spiritual needs and we have opinions. We’re very normal! 🙂

Salam!

Credits:

Feature image: dzoro

“Things are getting worse day by day” – an interview with Uyghur Muslim “Mr X”

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An elderly Uyghur woman – Image credit: Sheila

In a recent post I mentioned about the oppression of the Uyghur Muslims in China – a minority who face economic, social, cultural, political and religious oppression under the Chinese government. Whilst China is not known by any means as a land of religious freedom, the plight of the Uyghurs is very much under-published. In this article, I’m going to expand on the Uyghur issue – the whos, hows and whys surrounding the issue – and share the Uyghurs’ story.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to interview an Uyghur Muslim living in exile from China to help give a real insight into the Uyghur crisis. He told me what it’s like for Uyghurs back home, including his family, and given me an insight into why the People’s Republic of China is targeting Uyghur Muslims. So here’s the background and his testimony.

Who are the Uyghurs?

The Uyghurs are one of China’s religious, ethnic and cultural minorities – one of 56 ethnic groups in China. The two main groups of Muslims in China are the Hui and the Uyghurs. There is a small number of Uyghur Christians but the majority of Uyghurs are Muslim. Overall, the Uyghurs constitute the largest non-Chinese group of Muslims in China today. They live predominantly in the North Western region of Xinjiang (translated as “new territory”). This area was formerly the free independent State of East Turkestan until the Mao Communist Party of China (CPC) took over the country in 1949 (see here for more information). In the 18th century, the area was also previously ruled under the Qing dynasty. Xinjiang borders Tibet, India, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan and its population is nowadays divided mainly between Uyghurs (45%) and Han Chinese (40%). Today, there are around 10.2 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang (according the latest available figures from China’s 2000 census).

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Map of China and the North West region of Xinjiang (East Turkestan) – Image credit: www.futureatlas.com

The Uyghur are Turkic and are not ethnically, linguistically or culturally “Chinese”. As a Turkic group, they are more Central Asian than East Asian. As an ethnic group, they see themselves, like the Tibetans, as colonised by the Chinese. I asked Mr X how he defines himself in terms of nationality and culture and this was his response:

Many Uyghurs out of the country, they describe themselves as Uyghur from Eastern Turkestan. Since we still not get our independence, when somebody asks my identity, I will tell them I am Uyghur from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. So, culturally and nationally, I define myself as Uyghur with Chinese citizenship.

When East Turkestan was seized by China, the Uyghurs were promised autonomy but the reality is that whilst it is listed as an autonomous region, Uyghurs suffer repression. The Uyghur people want a break from what they see as Chinese colonialism. Some Uyghurs want a free independent State (East Turkestan), whilst others simply want more autonomy and greater cultural, linguistic, political, social, economic and linguistic rights.

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An elderly Uyghur man – Image credit: Uyghur East Turkistan

How are the Uyghurs oppressed?

Since the onset of the seizing of East Turkestan, the Uyghurs have been suppressed by the PRC and the situation is getting worse:

How long has the oppression been going on for?

Since 1949, [when] the Communist party took over the authority from the local government of Xinjiang, they haven’t stopped the oppression over Uyghurs and Tibetans. There was a period between 1987-1990s when Uyghurs were relatively free. In this period, many books related to their identity, history, culture and religion were published. The Holy Quran [was] also translated into [the] Uyghur language. There were not so many requirements for the Uyghur Muslims and the tension between Uyghurs and [the] government was not so bad. After 2001, especially the Urumqi Protest in 2009, the oppression became worse than ever.

My interviewee “Mr X” was born in a town in the Xinjiang region but moved outside of the area to study before later leaving China. He has been living outside of China since 2014 due to the human rights situation:

The major reason for living outside China is because of my own safety and desire of freedom. Before I left China, I was arrested twice by the Chinese authorities because of sharing some photos about Chinese oppression in China on the Chinese media while I was at University. After my graduation, my family [were] afraid of my safety, they sent me to Turkey. Here I enrolled at University for my master program. But, however, while I was in Turkey, Chinese authorities contacted me many times. Finally, I came to Germany and seek asylum here.

The Uyghurs are up against a wall of oppressive policies. Some of the injustices in Xinjiang include the following policies/occurrences:

Further (much more detailed) information on restrictions and human rights abuses can be found in the Uyghur Human Rights Project report, which also includes information about (the small number of) Uyghur Christians and their persecution.

I asked Mr X about the restrictions facing Uyghurs as the Chinese government sent mixed messages (lies) regarding Ramadan this year, following new coverage of the issue:

This year China declared there would be no restrictions in fasting Ramadan – and also wished Muslims a Happy Ramadan – but reports coming out since have stated otherwise. What is the reality?

[…] the situation of Uyghurs who living in Xinjiang is different with other Muslims live in other part of China. In Xinjiang, people who are government officers, students, teachers anyone who works in Chinese authority and State controlled companies can not fast. And, in the day time, students and workers are asked to eat and drink. Only these people who are working private company or self-employed like farmers and businessman can fast freely. But, other part of China, there is no rule like this.

In addition to these restrictions, Uyghurs also suffer from lower living standards and claim to suffer discrimination against Han Chinese migrants when looking for work.

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Kashgar (Xinjiang) – Image credit: Uyghur East Turkistan

Why are the Uyghurs facing such oppression?

Political, ethnic, socio-economic, cultural and religious factors have merged into a crisis in which the daily reality for Uyghurs is that they have no real freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and no freedom to protest.

There are several issues surrounding the Uyghurs. The Chinese government sees three issues:

The Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in May this year criticised China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and “at times violent crackdown” of Uyghurs in Xinjiang: “In 2015, the Chinese Communist Party tightened its internal ideology, elevating the crusade against the three evils, particularly with respect to religious freedom.” The Chinese government has been “cracking down” on the Uyghurs due to – according to USCIRF – what they conceive to be these “three evil forces”: ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorism.

Independence, Islam and Islamic extremism

The Chinese government claims that “Uyghur militants” are “waging a violent campaign for an independent state” when in reality this are exaggerated lies used to suppress this religious minority. In relation to national/ethnic separatism, some Uyghurs want an independent state whilst some simply just want more freedom and autonomy. Clearly China wants to maintain control over the region. Experts have pointed out two key reasons for this:

  • Xinjiang’s rich natural resources (oil and coal) – which a developing China needs
  • Xinjiang’s location as a “buffer zone” bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan

Bearing this in mind, and the fact that Xinjiang is three times the size of France and makes up 1/6th of Chinese State territory, the Chinese government do not want to give up the Xinjiang region to allow Uyghurs to recover the State of East Turkestan.

Since 9/11 and the “war on terror” the PRC joined the US in waging a war on Islamic extremism and raised concerns about Islamist links and outside radicalisation from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Pakistan. The fear of outside Islamist influence seeping in e.g. from Al Qaeda and potential terrorism is (in their minds) a real concern for the Chinese State. Al Qaeda for example has stated that it wanted to “recover” East Turkistan for it to form part of an Islamic Caliphate. Over the years, China has therefore been “cracking down” on what it believes to be religious extremism and terrorism:

China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material. But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur “separatists” and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2012.

Source: Free Radio Asia (13/06/2016)

In 2014 for example, 32 Uyghurs were jailed for “spreading extremist content online and organising terror groups”, including building explosive devices. The Islamic extremist party – The East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) – was accused by China of being responsible for a suicide attack in Tiananmen Square in 2013 and whilst is does have branches active in Syria and has been deemed responsible for terrorist attacks by the UN and US, it is not listed on the US government’s main list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations. Regardless of its unfortunate presence (like all Islamist parties), Uyghurs insist the Chinese government exaggerates the threat posed by ETIM in order to justify “repressive security” in the region and US reports appear to back this up:

China does not always distinguish between legitimate political dissent and the advocacy of violence to overthrow the government, and it has used counterterrorism as a pretext to suppress Uighurs.

China’s government characterised Uighur discontent, peaceful political activism, and some forms of religious observance as terrorist activity […]

Source: BBC (01/11/2013)

 Up to 300 militants are said to have become part of ISIS and officials claim that Uyghurs “join ISIS overseas and return to take part in terror plots”. Raffaelo Pantucci, a researcher for the defence think that Royal United Services Institute, admitted that although Muslims from Xinjiang could have gone over Syria and Iraq to fight as part of ISIS, the idea of people being able to return was more unlikely:

Whether individuals are able to make the journey all the way back seems difficult, especially given the difficulty people from Xinjiang seem to have in getting passports. […] We have seen numerous reports of foreigner fighters getting executed for trying to leave, including groups of Uighurs […]

There sadly have been stories of Uyghurs leaving China and joining ISIS or becoming involved in extremism. Muhammed Amin, an 80 year old jihadist who is thought to be a Uighur from China, went to Syria to join ISIS. He is quoted as saying: “I was subjected to oppression In Turkestan at the hands of the Chinese […] for 60 years and when I saw my son killed alongside the Mujahidin […] in a video I resolved to make Hijrah.” As sad as it is, he appeared in ISIS videos. One can never justify any form of terrorism. However, jihadism is not synonymous with being an Uyghur and neither is extremism simply an “Islamic problem”. Sadly, jihadis – young and old – have run off to Syria from all over the world. Despite what Islamophobes think, ISIS is not synonymous with Islam and (moderate or “normal” for want of better words) Muslims – like the Uyghurs – who simply want to live their lives and freely practice their religion in peace.

The small minority of extremists aside, China refuses to accept the Uyghur’s grievances – cultural, religious and linguistic oppression – simply blaming violent extremism (we do not deny there have been violent incidents) and any non-violent protest becomes labelled as “inciting separatism”. The State’s notion of gaining “stability” through anti-terrorist measures to ward of future attacks is equitable to oppression. Uyghurs are labelled “terrorists” by the Chinese government yet state they are simply protesting their freedom when taking to the streets to speak up against their lack of rights. Whilst we cannot support violent attacks (see here for further information), other testimony gives light to oppression of Chinese security forces during peaceful Uyghur demonstrations and the fact that this label of terrorist is simply a label to excuse oppression. As a result, thousands of Uyghurs are now fleeing China. News reports told of Uyghurs trapped in Thailand who had fled for reasons of persecution and went on hunger strike begging the Thai authorities to not send them back to China:

If we were returned back to China, we will face physical and emotional torture, and be killed or sentenced to stay in prison for life,” wrote the group calling itself For Freedom. “Therefore, we announced a hunger strike and thought it would be better to die from a hunger strike while in here. We will continue our hunger strike until we are freed or relocated to a third country or till we die here. […] We are not criminals […]

Uyghurs who flee are evidently not economic migrants – something proven clear from laptops and large amounts of cash hidden in bags found on Uyghurs who had fled to Thailand who say they fled violence in Xinjiang which is blamed on extremists (see here for video footage). Uyghurs fleeing China were accused of heading to Syria and Iraq as jihadis whilst they say they were fleeing persecution on route to Turkey – a country with which they share linguistic and cultural similarities.

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Uyghur Muslims being sent back to China from Thailand (2015) – Image credit: Prachatai

Even being in contact with Muslims outside of China can see you labelled as a “terror suspect”. Although Mr X has left China he could still not reveal his identity. There are many Uyghurs who have fled to Turkey and for Uyghurs abroad, surveillance is a reality. Mr X cannot freely communicate with his family even though he is now living in Germany where he is seeking asylum:

When I was in Turkey, I kept contact with most of my friend and family. According to their posts on the Chinese major social media, WeChat, I felt they were living under a tight control. They never share posts and pictures about Islam, politics and history of Uyghurs. Many friends deleted me from WeChat after they learnt I came to Germany as they told me that police always check their phone and it may cause problem to them if police found some one in abroad from their phone. My brothers told me never call their phone and I can only contact with them via WeChat, which is highly controlled by government and my brothers think this is for their safety. Because my mom can’t use social media, I call her phone once a week. But, we only discuss about each other health, like “Are you good?”, “I am good”, she never let me talk about my life in Germany. Just yesterday, I asked her what did you eat for suhur in Ramadan, she closed her phone.

Surprisingly, the Chinese constitution does grant some form of “freedom of religion” but with restrictions as religion is under state control and regulated in mind of national goals (communist) and national security. Religion is viewed as a private matter and where deemed necessary the state can intervene. Yet, whilst no one can support terrorist and violent behaviour (which as explained, is a small minority of incidents and does not represent the peaceful Sunni Sufi-esque Uyghur Muslims), this cannot explain how demonising a whole religious group and prohibiting Muslims from following their religion in a peaceful manner every day through veiling, fasting etc. is in line with “proportionate” security measures. In addition, this refusal to accept the need for change risks radicalising others:

The state’s refusal either to acknowledge the legitimacy of ongoing grievances or to make structural adjustments, as well as its abusive policies and zero-tolerance toward dissent, will not encourage submission to Beijing’s rule. It will likely radicalize more severe resistance tactics in the vacuum of avenues for nonviolent action and the presence of moderate voices offering cognitive liberation.

Source: Michael Caster (2014)

It is important to remember that oppression and violent ideology can go hand in hand when people feel voicelessSome Uyghurs, who have been unsuccessful in gaining asylum in foreign countries and have been treated poorly, have later become radicalised.

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Urumqi (Xinjiang) – Image credit: Uyghur East Turkistan

Protests, violence and Han Chinese migrants

An important element to consider socially, culturally, economically and politically is mass communist Chinese culture. The Uyghur community have not assimilated by and large with Chinese culture and the Han Chinese. They (quite rightly) maintain pride in their religious, ethnic and cultural (non-Chinese) heritage but feel that to “get on well in life” they have to follow the Chinese policy of “forced assimilation“. Since the influx of Han residents to Xinjiang, cultural and socio-economic tensions between Uyghurs and Han have grown as, due to the influx of Han migrant workers in the region, apparent negative attitudes towards Uyghurs by Han residents and discrimination in relation to housing, employment and education, Uyghurs feel economically disadvantaged and that the influx of migrant workers is “diluting their culture” towards the (dominant) Han (Chinese) culture. Mr X was keen to state that Han migration to Xinjiang had resulted in social problems: an increase in unemployment and an “imbalance in terms of resources between locals and migrants”, amongst other issues. This migration is encouraged and led by the Chinese government:

[…] most of the Chinese migrants are organised and transported by the State from the other parts of China. Yes, there are many Chinese [who] came to Xinjiang through their own choice, but most of them are encouraged/cheated/forced to migrate by be provided with housing, a salary, transport.

Between 1949 and 2008, the proportion of Han in Xinjiang rose dramatically from 6.7 percent (220,000) to 40 percent (8.4 million).

Mr X

According to figures in a study on internal Han internal migration to Xinjiang, in 1945, 82.7% of the population of Xinjiang were Uyghur (the dominant ethnic group), whilst Han Chinese made up 6.2% (Chaudhuri, 2005). By 2008, the number of Han Chinese had risen dramatically to 39.2% – making the Han the second largest group in Xinjiang, secondly only to the Uyghurs (46.1% of the population) (SBX, 2010). Findings in this research, undertaken in Urumqi in southern Xinjiang, found that contrary to the majority of previous research into “state orchestrated Han migration” – deemed responsible for inequality amongst the Uyghurs – the Uyghurs generally had a higher income due to their generally high level of education. This goes against the generic trend that the Han are generally “better off” than the Uyghurs. However, such research in any case does not negate prior opinion/findings and the fact that there is an increasing gap in terms of development between eastern and western China and that migratory movements/trends are shifting towards west bound movement, including both “state orchestrated migration” and also “self-initiated migration“.

Migrants in any fair, non-discriminatory form should be welcomed and citizens should have the freedom to move and earn a living if they so freely choose or need to. However, there have been tensions forming between the two ethnic groups. It is crucial to first understand these socio-economic and cultural tensions to then understand their relation to unfortunate violent events between the State, security forces and both Han and Uyghur residents. On 5th July 2009, Uyghur citizens led (what were) initially small and apparently peaceful protests in the city of Urumqi (Xinjiang) to protest what they believed to be officials’ “indifference” towards the Uyghurs. Following a rape accusation (believed to be unfounded), two migrant Uyghur workers were killed by two Han citizens in another region in Southern China. News and rumours spread and Uyghurs believed more Uyghurs had been killed, causing the Uyghurs to blame the government of “indifference” (see here). China however blames the influence of Uyghurs living in exile abroad, Uyghur “rioters” and “ethnic separatists”. Rebiya Kadeer (President of The World Uyghur Congress) was accused of “instigating riots” by the PRC but strongly denies this, claiming that protesters were holding Chinese flags and demanding their civil rights and equality under the law. Sadly though, Uyghur gangs started to attack Han residents. Police began raiding Uyghur homes and detaining Uyghur residents, leading to a big conformation between Uyghurs and security forces as Uyghur women protested the detention of their sons and husbands.

Events took a turn for the worse as Han launched “revenge attacks”. Police finally intervened, letting off tear gas and arresting Han attackers. As a result many Uyghurs were saved but some witnesses claim that some police officers “just stood by”. The government actually later admitted shooting dead 12 Uyghur riotersUyghur exiles state that peaceful demonstrators were killed by the police. Information on 1400+ detained Uyghurs and those who died is lacking. Almost 200 people were killed during the July 2009 violent conflict. One witness stated: “an estimated 800 to 1000 people, most of them Uighurs, were shot to death during that one and a half hour period of time. For this reason, the Turkish Prime Minister compared this violence to genocide.”

Violence cannot be accepted by either locals (whether Uyghur or Han) or State authorities. However, when Journeyman Pictures travelled to Xinjiang in attempt to investigate violent incidents, they were met by constant State restrictions: allegations of a lack of “permits”, guards, surveillance and security checks. The reporter stated their team had been “harassed unrelentingly all the way. […] For people that live here, this is their daily life experience”. High security is a constant presence in Xinjiang. In a one-off chance to speak to Uyghurs themselves, they stated there was “no freedom” and speech of “equality” is simply “lies”.  An Open Democracy report on violent (unconfirmed) incidents in 2013, written by Henryk Szadziewski with the assistance of Michael Phillips from World Uyghur Congress in gathering data, states that 219 people died in Xinjiang in that year – most of which were Uyghur civilians killed by Chinese security forces. These incidents were listed in terms of cause as the following: ethnic confrontation (2), security measures (10), religious (7), unknown (5) and forced demolition (1).

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Urumqi (Xinjiang) – Image credit: Uyghur East Turkistan

Not “Chinese enough” – Uyghur Muslims vs. Hui Muslims

The PRC wants political control. Where groups appear to have assimilated, hold no political aspirations and do not criticise the State, they are seen as less of a “threat” and are therefore unless less religious/cultural restrictions. This is visibly clear if we compare two different Muslim groups – the Uyghurs with the Hui Muslims.

Hui Muslims are ethnically Chinese and their language is Mandarin. Whilst the Uyghurs locally live in the Xinjiang area, the Hui are mostly located in the North West and inland. They also belong to the autonomous region of Ningxia – although they are more “spread-out” across China than the Uyghurs. Hui Muslims use Islamic texts in Mandarin Chinese and have adopted a more “Chinese identity”. Some Hui themselves are no longer Muslim and marriage amongst Hui Muslims and non-Muslims is also practiced – while this remains uncommon with Uyghurs (the Chinese State introduced incentives to encourage mix marriage between Han Chinese and Uyghurs). The Uyghurs, who are not Chinese (in ethnic, historical or cultural terms) and are “East Turkestani”, do not associate with being Chinese (they are not!). Uyghurs want to be able to maintain their culture, history and traditions – whether as an independent state or simply under the Xinjiang region. Erkin Alptekin, President of the World Uyghur Congress in Berlin, explains the colonialist Chinese policy: “The Chinese want to replace us with their own people as colonists, and assimilate those of us who remain, wiping out our culture.”

The link between religion and national-cultural identity is what makes a stark difference in terms of religious freedom. Hui Muslims enjoy a relatively free practice of Islam, in stark contrast to that of Uyghur Muslims. This year for example, the Chinese government announced that there would be no ban on fasting this year and opening hours of halal restaurants but the story is not so clear cut. Hui Muslims have been free to fast, whilst there are still restrictions in Xinjiang. Businesses in Xinjiang have been forced to stay open and those studying or working for the state cannot fast. According to Mr X, unlike the Uyghurs, Hui can freely: wear hijab, have beards, fast, publish books and have religious schools where Hui Muslims and their children can learn and teach about Islam and the Arabic language. All of these activities are “forbidden to Uyghurs” according to Mr X. Additionally, whilst going to perform hajj has become increasingly difficult for Uyghurs, an increasing number of Hui Muslims are going. In essence, the region of Ningxia with the Hui is of absolute stark difference to the experiences of Mr X:

Throughout Ningxia and the adjacent Gansu Province, new filigreed mosques soar over even the smallest villages, adolescent boys and girls spend their days studying the Quran at religious schools, and muezzin summon the faithful via loudspeakers — a marked contrast to mosques in Xinjiang, where the local authorities often forbid amplified calls to prayer.

In Hui strongholds like Linxia, a city in Gansu known as China’s “Little Mecca”, there are mosques on every other block and women can sometimes be seen with veils, a sartorial choice that can lead to detention in Xinjiang.

Mr X – when asked him about Islamophobia and other religious groups in China – explained that he didn’t think China was Islamophobic per se but that the problem is that the Chinese government sees political aspirations as a threat, i.e. the more political a group, the bigger a problem they are for the state and here lies the difference between different religious groups such as Hui and Uyghur Muslims:

Why do you believe the Chinese state is so anti-Islam? The State oppresses religion minorities […]. Do Muslims simply fit into this bracket of religious minorities or do you believe there is a higher level of Islamophobia within the government?

[…] firstly […] China is dominated by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the goal of communism is to wipe religion and class from the world. […] CCP […] sees every religion as threat to their authority. So, CCP’s […] major task is to control […] religion and force them to work with them.

Secondly, CCP [is] very afraid of people’s union that people may overthrow the government. CCP never allow their people including minority groups to establish political party and groups. So, they [are] afraid […] that people [may] come together by religions and rise against the authority. So, that is why they go on oppression on religious groups as well as political groups.

[…] I do not think that the Government is Islamophobic. […] There is a big difference between [the] Government’s attitude towards Uyghur Muslims and Hui people. The news about oppression on Muslims of China you heart actually is about Uyghur Muslims. Hui Muslims have better condition than Uyghurs. For example, they can open schools to learn Quran, Religion and Arab language. They can teach their children about religion and can freely pray in the mosque with their children and these are impossible for Uyghurs in Xinjiang. And, some Hui woman also can wear niqab which sees as symbol of radicalism in Xinjiang (there was a report about […] a man who has beard and a lady who wear niqab were sent to jail). The major reason of this because Hui Muslims are mostly like Chinese, they speak Chinese, [their] culture is Chinese, [they] looks like Chinese and they [are] loyal to Chinese government. But; Uyghurs are an independent nation culturally, ethnically and linguistically […] Uyghurs […] still struggle for their independence and identity.  That’s why government continues their oppression on Uyghur Muslims but not on Hui Muslims.

Raymond Lee, a specialist in Chinese affairs from the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, explains how the difference between religion and national-cultural identity is what constitutes how much religious freedom a group is granted and this is why Hui Muslims have greater religious freedom: “The PRC central authorities do not view their Islamic faith as a potential hazard to the government because most of them primarily identify themselves as Chinese. That is the reason why fewer religious constraints are imposed on the Hui people.”

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A Hui worshipper strolling through the courtyard of Daqingzhen Si, Xian (Shaanxi) – Image credit: Peter Morgan

China wants to maintain a good public image and trade with many Muslim nations yet as a State its main goal is political dominance at all costs. Comparing to other religious minorities such as the Falun Gong who have been severely persecuted, we once again see that if a religious group does not criticism the government, holds no political goals and is “loyal to them” then they will not face oppression, as explained by Mr X:

As far as I know, there are, of course, some Chinese are against with religion, especially with Islam. I always read posts from […] Weibo that humiliate Islam and Muslims. But, the Chinese officials normally do not care about these [sic] kind of information. And, there is no group or agenda of anti-religion that officially registered. But, there are some groups on the internet called themselves as anti-Islam warriors to humiliate Islam and its believers.

[…] in the past there were many Fa Lun Gong believers spread messages about anti-CCP dictatorship. So, they got oppressed by China. And, to the Christians, actually government didn’t carry oppression on these Christians who accepted government’s control, didn’t have any political background or goals and loyal to them (just like Hui Muslims).

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Urumqi (Xinjiang) – Image credit: Uyghur East Turkistan

Conclusions – where do things go from here?

Essentially, the role of religion in this crisis is not one of terrorism but one of national, socio-cultural identity intertwined with politics. China, in seeing how religion forms part of the Uyghurs identity (one different from typical Chinese identity), and in wanting a unified Communist state – wants to suppress the Uyghurs religious freedom in order to stem political growth and ethnic separatism. China wants Xinjiang – not an East Turkestan – and to do so has to demonise the “other” as terrorist and “water down” or simply control religion. When I first interviewed Mr X, I expected the oppression to be based on an anti-religious agenda. I was therefore shocked when I learnt how the Chinese government views the Uyghurs and what they consider the “threat” they pose to be:

Many of reporters believe that the problem between Uyghur and government is about religion or culture. I believe that actually [the] State’s biggest problem about is separatism. Even the government claims every violence attack by Uyghurs as terrorist attack, but the true is most of the attack caused by the highly oppression on the religion and culture above Uyghurs. And, the major reason for this because, most of the Uyghurs want claim their independence from China. And, this desire became stronger after Central Asian countries, which are owning the same root on ethnically and the same belief on religion, got independence from Soviet Union. To get this great goal, Uyghurs believe the culture and religion are most powerful weapon. So, since CCP take over the land from Uyghurs, Chinese government started to destroy the identity of Uyghurs on culture and religion to prevent the separatism movement. However, their oppression causes strong dissatisfaction and resistance.

In an article for Al Jazeera last year, Usaid Siddiqui wrote exactly the same thing:

It is erroneous to conclude that the Uighur crisis is solely religious. […] The Uighur nationalists’ desire for more autonomy has long been at odds with China’s centralization policy. If anything, Chinese authorities are using the ‘war on terrorism’ as a cover to demolish the Uighur people’s nationalist aspirations.

This scenario is the same as the Tibetan cause but in this case, as it is a Muslim cause, the Uyghurs have received less public sympathy. I asked Mr X if he felt there was any public sympathy for the Uyghur cause amongst other Chinese citizens or other people worldwide and he felt there wasn’t. For many Uyghurs, fleeing abroad is their only hope. Like many Uyghurs, Mr X left for a life of freedom outside of China due to the worsening situation and now lives in Germany. I was keen to see his views on the future and what he believes it may hold for himself and the Uyghurs in China:

Are things getting better or is it all simply lies?

No, things are getting worse day by day. Too many people left from the country in recent years and the control became more tighter than ever.

How do you see the future for your people and for yourself?

I am not very optimistic about the future of Uyghurs as I saw bad news from the media and Chinese social media. I don’t think the oppression will end soon. […] like most […] Uyghurs, I also desire an independent Uyghur state which based on democracy and freedom where our problem gets solved. Since this is like a day dream, I hope at least China become a democratic country and stop oppression and assimilation above [all to] Uyghurs. To my future, AlhamduliAllah I came to Germany and I live in freedom. But, I want to go back to my home if the situation gets better and there is no danger to my life.

As with an ever increasing number of Uyghurs living in exile abroad, Mr X has had to separate himself from his home, his friends and family. Even abroad, he is not free to express his identity and disdain for the Chinese State. Yet without hearing the voices of Uyghurs, the situation carries on and China buries more skeletons even deeper into its closet. For  experts such as Raymond Lee, who concludes that to stop the “intensifying” violence and worsening situation which is due to various short and long term factors (social issues, a rapidly changing society, ethnic cleavage and Islamic activism clashing with Chinese security), China must greatly improve Uyghur living standards and be more tolerant towards Uyghur Islamic identity rather than enforcing assimilationist policies:

[…] China should […] respect the Uyghurs’ Muslim identity not only in the cultural but also in the political sphere. Such a concession could pave the way for granting more autonomy rights […] . Next, Beijing should elevate the Uyghurs’ underprivileged status by improving their living standards, promoting Islamic values, and employing extensive preferential policies. […]  Beijing should […] construct an equal, respectful, and harmonious interethnic relationship between Han Chinese and the Uyghur minority. […] a democratic political institution is needed. […]

China is far from being a democratic political institution – that is something we all know – and its mass Communist State culture is one of united political, social and cultural identity with no form of difference, variation or individual expression. It does not allow for a truly multicultural model, which would provide a model of national political, social and intercultural co-identity based on a set of shared values including tolerance and diversity and collaborative shared history/future. The Chinese government does not allow for true minority rights. What is needed is greater rights and autonomy. For some Uyghurs, independence is the answer and their dream.

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Chinese police in Urumqi – Image credit: Dai Luo

How can we help?

Well, I believe the region should be free and go back to being East Turkistan but that is a different rather more political issue! In more immediate practical terms how can we help end the suppression of the Uyghurs in China itself?

There are a variety of ways in which you can help. As suggested by Mr X who is an online activist himself, you can:

Rebiya Kadeer (of WUC) has long fought for the rights of Uyghurs in China. She herself spent six years in prison in China before being granted leave to go to the USA for medical treatment, where she now lives in the USA with her husband. She has been twice nominated for the Noble Peace Prize and was the focus of the documentary “The 10 Conditions of Love” which looks at her life and work fighting for Uyghur human rights. This worth a watch and is a good introduction.

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WUC President Rebiya Kadeer and her husband Sidiq Rouzi – Image credit: Uyghur East Turkistan

For other news, you can visit: Radio Free Asia where there are a wide range of articles (as you will see in my list of resources below). And finally, here’s one final message from Mr X:

Please, do not forget to pray for us. […] happy Ramadan to my Muslim brothers and sister in the world.

So, please spread the wordre-blog, tweet, post and raise your voice!

Eid Mubarak and salam!

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Image credit: www.futureatlas.com

Acknowledgments

I’d like to thank Mr X for his participation and his openness in sharing his story and that of the Uyghur people.

I wish him, his family and the Uyghur community all the very best for the future.

Credits, sources and further information

Feature image: Uyghur East Turkistan

For a list of credits, sources and further information, the bibliography is available to download in PDF format

True Islam – 11 reasons why ISIS does not represent Islam

The other week I found a website called True Islam which teaches about justice, peace and human rights as part of Islamic teaching. I’ve written previous posts about Islamophobia given the current climate of ISIS, Islamic extremism, Islamophobic attacks and media scaremongering but I’d like to share the following information for non-Muslim readers to give more specific insight into how and why ISIS does not represent Islam and how and why true Islam is one of peace and not extremism! Here are the key points.

1. Islam rejects all forms of terrorism

True Islam rejects all acts of terrorism. The Holy Quran forbids Muslims from creating disorder in the world: “Do not go about committing iniquity in the earth and causing disorder” (29:37); “They seek to create disorder, and Allah loves not those who create disorder” (5:65); “Seek not to create disorder in the earth. Verily, God loves not those who seek to create disorder” (28:78).

2. Non-violent jihad is of the self and pen

True Islam recognizes that jihad means to struggle and strive in good works to attain nearness to God. True Islam teaches that violent jihad has no place in today’s world. The Holy Quran declares, “…whosoever killed a person…it shall be as if he had killed all mankind” (5:33). The Holy Quran explicitly places equal value on all human life.

3. Islam believes in the equality, education and empowerment of women

True Islam recognizes the practical equity and spiritual equality of men and women. The Holy Quran declares, “But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter heaven…” (4:125). According to true Islam, the most important goal and greatest objective of a human being is to attain righteousness and nearness to God—and both men and women have equal capacities in achieving this goal.

4. Islam advocates freedom of religion and speech

True Islam teaches that every human being has the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion without the threat of coercion or punishment. This understanding stems directly from the Holy Quran, which clearly declares, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:257).

In response to those who insult or deride Islam, i.e. commit “blasphemy,” true Islam advocates complete restraint, just as the Holy Quran prescribes: “And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!’” (25:64). Moreover, the Holy Quran addresses blasphemy on five separate occasions but never permits any worldly punishment for it. Accordingly, true Islam opposes the current anti-blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries.

5. Islam does not impose Islamic law and allows for minority rights

In Arabic, Shariah simply means “a path” and refers to the rules and customs that guide Muslim life in aspects ranging from daily prayers to familial and financial matters. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa never imposed Islamic Shariah on non-Muslims. On the contrary, as the de facto ruler of Arabia, he settled disputes between Arab citizens according to their individual faiths—offering them a choice between the Jewish law, Islamic Shariah, or secular arbitration. Therefore, Islamic precedent ensures a strict separation of mosque and state, especially with matters pertaining to non-Muslim minorities.

6. Islam teaches loyalty to your country of residence (but not extreme nationalism)

True Islam requires a Muslim’s loyalty and obedience to their respective country of residence and laws. The Holy Quran states, “O ye who believe, obey Allah and obey the Prophet and obey those in authority from among you” (4:60). This verse demonstrates that a Muslim’s obedience and loyalty to the government is required, regardless of the faith of those in power. In this respect, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa declared, “You should listen to and obey your ruler, even if you [despise him]” (Bukhari). Likewise, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa instructed that obedience to the government is a religious duty: “Whoso obeys the ruler obeys me, and whoso disobeys the ruler disobeys me” (Muslim).

7. Islam encompasses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

True Islam values all human life, recognizing universal human rights as a fundamental tenet of Islam. True Islam emphasizes that mankind’s equality derives from man sharing a Single Creator and rejects any notion of racial or ethnic superiority. The Holy Quran states, “O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and we have made you tribes and subtribes that you may know one another. Verily the most honorable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely Allah is All Knowing, All Aware” (49:14). Therefore, true Islam rejects any concept of inequality in mankind, and instead encompasses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

8. Quranic verses cannot be used in contradiction to each other and lying is forbidden

Extremists, attempting to exploit Islam, argue that so-called ‘violent’ verses abrogate any Quranic verses advocating peace. For example, they argue that verse 9:5, “And when the forbidden months have passed, kill the idolaters wherever you find them and take them prisoners, and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush …” abrogates 2:257 “There is no compulsion in religion.” However, 9:5 refers to actions Muslims are permitted to take in self-defense when attacked while 2:257 demonstrates that under no circumstance are Muslims ever allowed to compel their faith on others. No contradiction or abrogation exists.

Extremists—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—also argue that Islam permits treachery (“taqiyya”). But this belief is utterly false. The Holy Quran states, “And confound not truth with falsehood nor hide the truth, knowingly” (2:43), and “Therefore follow not low desires so that you may be able to act equitably. And if you conceal the truth or evade it, then remember that Allah is well aware of what you do” (4:136). The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa also instructed Muslims, “It is obligatory for you to tell the truth” (Muslim). This demonstrates that deception and lying are incompatible with Islam.

9. Islam teaches that believing in and submitting to (the One and Only) God (Allah) and doing good righteous deeds is the key to salvation

True Islam recognizes that the right to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell is one that is exclusive to God. Human beings—Muslims or otherwise—cannot make this decision. Likewise, the Holy Quran states, “As to those who believe…verily, Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Surely, Allah watches over all things” (22:18).

The Holy Quran is likewise clear that God’s grace and mercy are His most powerful attributes: “God replied, I will inflict My punishment on whom I will; but My mercy encompasses all things” (7:157). Therefore, true Islam recognize that ultimately, God’s mercy will encompass all human beings, regardless of their faith. Indeed, true Islam teaches that if mercy were not one of the attributes of God, no one would be delivered.

10. Islam believes in the need for united Muslim leadership

True Islam believes in unified spiritual leadership to peacefully guide Muslims. This understanding stems directly from the Holy Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s example. Indeed, the Holy Qur’an implores Muslims to promote peace by remaining united, “Hold fast, all together, by the rope of Allah and be not divided; and remember the favour of Allah which He bestowed upon you when you were enemies and He united your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became as brothers; and you were on the brink of a pit of fire and He saved you from it.” (3:104)

11. Islam wholly rejects the idea of a violent bloody Messiah

True Islam rejects the concept of a bloody Messiah. The Holy Quran states that any “Messenger is only responsible for the clear conveying of the Message” (29:19). This verse demonstrates that each prophet is sent to simply convey a message and cannot resort to force.

So that was a very brief guide to true Islamic teachings, which as you can see are totally different to what ISIS preaches, follows and teaches. For more information check out the True Islam website.

Salam!

Credits:

Text, video and images: True Islam

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