Have you heard of the Uyghurs? Read one sister’s account of the persecution she faced in China

The Uyghur community, both in China and abroad, are facing ongoing persecution. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this community, please see my previous post – an interview with “Mr X” – which outlines the complex situation in China, in particular the east of the country (Xinjiang province). This province in was in fact once East Turkestan before being later seized by China and held under the Communist State.

Unlike the Han Chinese, the Uyghur community are an ethnic minority (mostly Muslim) which face a range of ongoing religious, cultural, social, economic and political restrictions/abuses under the Chinese government. I therefore first urge you to read my previous post to get a full insight into the issue. Slowly, slowly the issue is gaining more publicity but not enough. MUCH more awareness needs to be raised. Finding out more is a good place to start!

In light of this, I’d like to share with you the account of one Uyghur sister who was forced to flee China with her family due to the situation they were living in in their home country.

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My name is Gulnaz and I am a Uyghur Muslim. My place of birth is East Turkestan but the world knows it as Xinjiang because China says so. When I was a child, eleven years old, my family fled “Xinjiang”. At that point I had already seen enough. This 11 year-old girl had seen enough to understand that she was not safe in China. Today I am 23 years old and even after so many years, Xinjiang still haunts me.

Below is a write-up by me. I have tried to not reveal much about myself and have simply written my story. Maybe you will understand my position after reading it. If you wish, you may also share it.

I remember being not allowed to attend school because I had to work in the fields with my father. Sometimes I would work alone if my father was unwell. My little hands weren’t able to help much but I had no choice. I remember the eyes of Chinese guards looking at us in the market. It made me feel as if I belonged to a different planet – a planet which they disliked. This happened only because we were Uyghurs and Muslims. One night, they stormed our house, checking every nook and corner. My mother hid me in the basement, gave me a little bottle with liquid in it and instructed me to drink it if an officer tried to touch me. Thankfully, nothing happened and we were told that these were normal search operations. But soon a horrific incident followed which forced us to flee the country.

One of my aunts in the neighborhood was pregnant with her second child and her family was planning to send her away as Uyghurs weren’t allowed to have a second child. Somehow the Chinese officials found out about my aunt and they forced her to have an abortion. In a dingy hospital room, one night, she died. Patime was six months pregnant and doctors operated on her, risking her life.

This incident shocked my family and my father decided to leave China. We immediately fled to Turkey but kept changing places, sometimes countries, every two years or so.

Throughout this time we kept hearing news about China’s crackdown on Uyghurs, the Urumqi Massacre, how they were demolishing mosques, arresting innocent people and about their raids to find Uyghurs living abroad too. My father warned us to never reveal our Uyghur identities and refrained from teaching us about the Uyghur culture too. The terrifying news of Thailand detaining 300 Uyghurs and sending them back to China instilled fear in us again. The fact that no protests or hunger strikes by detained Uyghurs could save them made it clear that once China finds about our family then we will be punished too.

Despite of all the hardships we faced, my father never compromised our education. He made sure that we got a good schooling. He thinks that only good education can lead us off this path of slavery and fear. Today, he wants me to become a teacher so that I can contribute towards making our world a better place for everyone. I however think that I am an activist inside and whenever I listen to or come across a news of injustice, my blood boils and I become determined to do something. Our world has been seen as divided between “First World” and “Third World” countries but Uyghurs aren’t given a place within any of those spheres. We are people living in a fourth country which has been left to suffer by world leaders but why? Aren’t Uyghurs human beings too? So a few years back, the Uyghur in me took over and I made my account on Twitter (@iamgul8).

Here I try to talk with as many people as I can to convey the struggle of Uyghurs in China. Why should we suffer just because we are Uyghur or Muslim? What is our crime? Out of the many people I have contacted, some of them have always asked about my story but I can’t say anything else because that could place my family in trouble.

After writing this story, my chances of being chased by Chinese officials are greater so I may go quiet. However – our story is important. The world has ignored Uyghurs for long enough and now they must stand with us. Like many Uyghurs, another Gulnaz may get abducted, tortured or killed but her fight, our fight against injustice must be continued by someone and it has to be you!

In search of a safe world,
Gulnaz Uighur

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Please help raise awareness of this persecuted community who face imprisonment, torture and even death. Get active on social media and share the truth! You can start by sending a solidarity message to imprisoned Uyghur scholar named Ilham Tohti via the Amnesty International Write for Rights campaign. Your words can really make a difference to ease his suffering and show the authorities that they are being watched!

Credits and acknowledgements:

Thanks to Gulnaz for sharing her inspiring story. All my very best wishes to you, your family and the Uyghur community. May the persecution come to an end soon, insha’Allah.

Gul’s post was first published on the World Uyghur Congress website (29/05/2017). The original piece can be found here.

Image credits: Kök Bayraq (Uyghur flag) (CC)

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So, you think human rights aren’t part of Islam? Well, here’s an expert opinion…

There’s a lot of talk surrounding the “incompatibility” of human rights discourse and Islamic teachings, from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Obviously, I don’t believe that is true and that’s what this blog is about – spreading the message and raising awareness! I wanted to get an expert opinion, to really delve into the issue to show people out there what Islam really is all about and I’m delighted to have spoken with expert in Islamic theology and Human Rights Arnold Yasin Mol. Arnold is an academic at Leiden University (Netherlands) and lecturer in Islamic Studies at Fahm Institute. As such, he was able to provide a full insight on how Islam relates to human rights discourse past and present. Here’s what he had to say- you might just be surprised!

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VoS: What does “being a Muslim” mean?

A: In Islamic theology, this first of all is defined by the verbal declaration of the Shahada, the testimony of one’s acceptance of monotheism and Muhammad’s messengerhood. Everybody who has professed this, or is being brought up by parents who profess this, is technically considered a Muslim. […] There are beliefs upheld by certain [people] in the past and present which negate the Shahada in such a clear way that, at least from a Sunni theology point of view, they lay outside the fold of Islam. But the majority of schools and sects from the Sunni, Shia, and Ibadhi schools of thoughts are considered Muslim. Even though these schools can consider the other as mistaken or misguided in several issues, and therefore ‘not rightfully guided’, they do not reject their status as Muslims. This intrapluralism accepted in classical Islam is largely misunderstood by many Muslims today, so thankfully there are projects as the Amman message. Apart from this issue of label and identity, there is of course in each school an ideal concept of how a Muslim must believe and act. […] I generally summarise being Muslim as it is stated in Qur’an verse 3:18 which links monotheism to ethical activism. Being a witness of God’s oneness has ethical consequences, one is obliged to stand up for justice and goodness as these are all attributes of God Himself. 

VoS: What does Islam teach (or not teach) in terms of human rights?

A: Classical Islam divided beliefs, rituals, and social acts between falling under the rights of God (Huquq Allah) and human rights (Huquq al-Nass/Adamiyya). As Muslims, we try to fulfill the rights of God (belief and rituals, and public good) and of Man (personal human rights) as the Qur’an was revealed, according to classical theology, to pursue the welfare (maslaha) of mankind. As God is needless of His rights, He doesn’t need our beliefs or rituals, it means the fulfillment of His rights is a private matter between a person and God, between the Creator and His servant. But as humans do need rights to exist, the twelfth century theologian al-Razi says, these must always take precedent.

These concepts of Huquq were already formed in the 8th century, centuries before European thought developed their own concepts of rights. These Huquq were understood to be universal, whatever one’s creed, age, or mental state, and were central in classical Islam in their construction of law and ethics, but also theology. The question why God allowed polytheism and heresy on earth was explained through His radical monotheism, He doesn’t need creation for Himself to exist, so whatever creation believes does not serve Him. Fulfilling God’s rights in relation to belief and ritual is a matter of rational understanding and love for God, but any lapses in His rights He allows because of His mercy for, and independence of, creation. Humans on the other hand need their rights to be protected for them to exist fully, and so the main function of any society is to protect and sustain these rights. In classical Islam there developed a long list of human rights, but they all revolved around three fundamental rights: the right of inviolability (haqq al-ismah), meaning every life is sacred, the right of freedom (haqq al-Hurriyya), meaning the right to not be a slave, and the right of property (haqq al-Malakiyya). So, Islam acknowledges the concept of human rights, and the absolute centrality and precedence of human rights in both the political and religious sphere. Modern human rights declarations are the result of centuries of global theological and philosophical thought, and are not simply a Western project.

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VoS: Certain Islamic preachers state that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for example is a “kafir document” and non-Islamic. What would you say to such statements?

A: Modern human rights declarations are the result of centuries of global theological and philosophical thought, and are not simply a Western project. The UNDHR of 1948 was set up by an international team of theologians, philosophers and jurists. Earlier pre-WWII international treaties had been signed by the Ottoman caliph, and contemporary post-WWII treaties have been developed and signed by almost all Muslim countries. The language of these treaties apply Western judicial terminology and structure, but their contents are mainly universal and developed by international councils. So to view these treaties as simply non-Islamic or as secular products is false. Also the idea that modern human rights is in conflict with the “Sharia” is also false, as what Sharia is is determined by the science of Fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence]. And Fiqh was historically always in development, and always took human welfare and rights as its central concern.

The problem with the discussions on Islam and human rights is mainly that the latter is viewed as an alien concept, and the former as fixed and non-dynamic. The 19th century colonisation of the Muslim world, and the development of these colonies into nation states, has created a both a suspicion of Western discourse and a detachment with the humanism of classical Islam. Also 19th-20th century western Orientalism, whereby Islam was viewed as inferior and barbaric, has turned into Islamophobia whereby modern human rights are used to criticise Islam and Muslim societies. All of these historical trajectories has distorted the discourse of Islam and human rights. Classical Islam constructed its own human rights discourse from the start, and used it as both criteria and objective in Fiqh, meaning their understanding of what Sharia is was always related to the protection of human rights. Interpretations that caused human harm (mafsada) and derailed human welfare (maslaha) were not considered truly Islamic.

The Sharia is not simply “what a certain texts says”, but has a hierarchical structure whereby the upholding of human rights were seen as part of the highest objectives of the Sharia itself, and all other interpretations are subject to these higher objectives to sustain a coherence. Interpreting the Sharia in relation to human rights is what classical Islam has always done. And these rights were based on the Qur’an and Sunna [example of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh], but were also seen as universal both in scope and acceptance among other religions and cultures. Modern human rights are an international project, they are a result of human reason (aql) and nature (fitra) pursuing human welfare, and are therefore legit criteria for interpreting the Sharia.

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VoS: I personally believe that parents, mosques and communities need to engage more with human rights issues and especially encourage their children to defend human rights from a pluralistic perspective. Do you agree? Do you think that Muslim youth need to engage more with the issue of human rights beyond political debate or is this a simple over-generalisation?

A: Yes, human rights was, and is, the main concern of the Sharia – human welfare is why the Qur’an was revealed. This central concept must return in the main Muslim mindset. How these rights are defined and constructed is an international and ongoing project, and it is vital that Muslims remain part of this project as Muslims, and not simply as representatives of Muslim majority nation states. Muslims are now important minorities in several western countries, and the centrality of human rights in both their identity as citizens and as Muslims is vital in their emancipation as minorities (i.e. fighting discrimination and Islamophobia) and as the representatives of Islam (i.e. Islam’s mission is to pursue human welfare).

VoS: So how can young Muslims learn more about and engage more in defending human rights?

A: The history of human rights discourse in classical Islam (the Huquq) must become more accessible through both publications and its return into general Muslim discourse (Friday Khutbahs [sermons], lectures etc.), and the history of modern human rights. In this way, they can see the resemblance between the two, and how these are a logical extension of the other. Islamic theology was a theology of rational ethical monotheism, it was a humanistic theology, but today this humanism has been lost. It must be rediscovered both through a return to studying classical Islamic sources, and a rethinking of how that classical humanistic mentality would redefine Islam today.

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So remember folks: what Muslims do doesn’t always represent what Islam is!

Salam ♥

Credits and acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank Arnold Yasin Mol for all his time in taking part in this interview and to wish him and his colleagues all the very best in their work in shaa Allah.

Images:

Matthew Perkinscrystalina (featured image) (CC)

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