7th Rabi` al-Thani 1440
In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, proclaims in the Glorious Qur’an in Surah Ibrahim, Chapter 14, verses 43 and 44:
وَلَا تَحْسَبَنَّ اللَّهَ غَافِلًا عَمَّا يَعْمَلُ الظَّالِمُونَ
إِنَّمَا يُؤَخِّرُهُمْ لِيَوْمٍ تَشْخَصُ فِيهِ الْأَبْصَارُ
مُهْطِعِينَ مُقْنِعِي رُءُوسِهِمْ
لَا يَرْتَدُّ إِلَيْهِمْ طَرْفُهُمْ وَأَفْئِدَتُهُمْ هَوَاءٌ
Do not ever think that Allah is unaware of the atrocities perpetrated by the Oppressors (Zalimun); He merely gives them a reprieve (from punishment) until a Day when their eyes will stare in horror; And (they will be) running confusedly to and fro (as in a state of humiliation and defeat), their heads raised up (in supplication), unable to look away from the horror they shall see, and their hearts will be empty (from thinking because of their extreme fear).
During the Gregorian year 2018, we witnessed several human atrocities and blatant human rights abuses in various parts of the world. As conscientious Muslims and responsible global citizens we responded by speaking out against the brutal and inhumane Saudi led war in Yemen that has led to the massacre of over 10 000 human souls, and plunged the country into what the United Nations has declared to be “the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster”. We also condemned the Zionist state of Israel’s brutal response to the Palestinian “Great March of Return” held to mark the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day, the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. During this protest march on the borders of Gaza more than 60 Palestinian protesters were shot and killed by Israeli sniper..[i] Last but not least, we expressed our outrage at the callous murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, which was emblematic of a growing trend of brutal repression of dissent under the so-called reforms of crown prince, Mohammed ibn Salman since 2016.[ii] However, an unfolding atrocity in 2018 that received scant global attention has been the persecution and ethno-religious cleansing of the Uyghur Muslims in China.
In August 2018, The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited estimates that “from tens of thousands to upwards of a million Uyghurs” may be detained in internment camps in the far western Xinjiang province.[iii] This accusation has been confirmed by a number of credible human rights organizations and few academic research reports. Thomas Cliff, a research fellow at the Australian National University college of Asia and the Pacific describes what is going on in the Xinjiang province of China as “a form of genocide, although it’s not killing everybody. The objective seems to be to wipe out all traces of what’s distinct about being a Uyghur.”[iv]
In my khutbah today, I want to focus on this underreported atrocity and call for a robust awareness campaign about the oppression of the Uyghur Muslims in China, and pray for relief from their persecution and suffering.
Who are the Uyghur Muslims?
It might be expedient to begin by noting that there are over 20 million Muslims in China belonging to 10 distinct ethnicities and make up 16% of the entire population. The Hui are the largest ethnic Muslim group, while the Uyghurs are the second largest ethnic Muslim group. While the Hui Muslims are ethnically closer to the hegemonic Han Chinese ethnic majority, the Uyghurs are ethnically Turkic, speak a Turkic language and are mostly Sunni Muslims.[v]
In the early part of the 20th Century, the Uyghurs briefly declared independence, and the region was known for a brief period as East Turkmenistan. The region, however, was invaded by China and brought under the complete control of communist China in 1949. Since then the western Xinjiang region where the Uyghur’s have lived for centuries has been officially designated an autonomous region within China, like Tibet to its south. Similar to the struggle of the Buddhist people of Tibet to maintain their culture, language and religion under Chinese rule, so too the struggle of the Uyghur Muslims has been to preserve their ethno-religious identity.
In 2019, it will be 70 years since the Chinese government first occupied the Uyghur lands. Over the years Chinese government policies have gradually curtailed the Uyghurs’ religious, commercial and cultural activities and sought to assimilate them into the hegemonic Chinese Han culture. Mass immigration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang have made Uyghurs a minority in Xinjiang. In the wake of the so-called war on terrorism launched by the United States of America after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Chinese government has intensified its policy of cleansing Uyghur culture and religion and incorporating the people under the dominant Han Chinese cultural identity.
There has been intermittent and sporadic resistance to the oppressive Chinese government policies against the Uyghurs, such as the 2009 uprising in Xinjiang which led to over 150 deaths, the 2013 attack on Tiananmen Square in Beijing for which the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement claimed responsibility, and the 2014 Kunming attack which killed 29 civilians.[vi]
The response of the Chinese government to Uyghur resistance has been brutal and calculated. The Beijing government stand accused of exaggerating the threat from Uyghur separatists in order to justify its longstanding policy of ethno-religious cleansing in the region. Over the past decade, many prominent Uyghurs have been killed, incarcerated or have sought asylum abroad after being accused of terrorism. One of the more inhumane developments during the past few years, has been the use of internment camps euphemistically called re-education centres by the Chinese state. Khaled A. Beydoun, an associate professor of law and Al-Jazeera correspondent, describes these so-called re-education centres as follows:
“Within these overpopulated camps, state agents are commissioned to heal the illness (Islam) through a litany of horrors, including forcing Uyghur Muslims to eat pork and drink alcohol (both of which are restricted by Islam), memorise and recite Communist Party songs, forced into grueling work, enroll in Mandarin language courses and comprehensive trainings devised to extract their religion and culture from out of them.”
He goes further to highlight the effects and consequences of these horrific internment camps:
“Locked up, uprooted far from home and family, 10-20 percent of the Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang are currently experiencing or have endured the horrors of the largest network of internment camps since World War II. Those who resist while inside are tortured, and reports of deaths from family members and outright disappearances are widely documented. The majority of those interned have been men, and the Chinese authorities have supplemented the disproportionate incarceration of men with a policy forcing Uyghur Muslim women to marry (non-Muslim) Han men. Further diluting the Uyghur Muslim population and entrenching Han hegemony.”[vii]
One of the most sinister and callous developments under the Presidency of Xi Jinping, since 2013, has been the use of home occupiers to monitor and report on Uyghur families. Under the presidency of Xi Jinping more than a million Chinese civilians (mostly members of the Han ethnic majority) have been mobilized to aid the military and police in their campaign of so-called re-education by occupying the homes of the Uyghurs.[viii]
In a November 2018 Global Times article Chinese state authorities stated that 1.1 million civil servants had been assigned to “more than 1.69 million ethnic minority citizens.” These civil servants coming from the hegemonic Han ethnic group were sent to live with Uyghur families without choice and present themselves as “relatives.” Their chief goal was to watch the villagers and take notes, assessing the Uyghurs’ level of loyalty to their country, noting how well they spoke Chinese, and staying alert for signs that their attachment to Islam might be “extreme.” There were simple ways to test for attachment to Islam. If a Uyghur host owns a copy of the Qur’an, prays on a Friday, fasts during the month of Ramadan, does not eat pork or drink wine, or simply greets a neighbour in Arabic with the words “Assalamu Alaykum” – All of this could be used as evidence of ‘an extreme’ attachment to Islam. Based on such evidence, the so-called Han relatives would then recommend that their hosts should be sent away to the so-called re-education centres. These so-called re-education “schools” are like rehabilitation centers for drug users. In this case, it is both the Uyghur cultural and religious identity and practices that is the disease that has to be “cured”. So Uyghurs who are deemed to be adhering to even the remotest Islamic belief or practice are regarded as in need of rehabilitation in order to ‘cure their Islam and Uyghur identity’ and assimilate into the hegemonic Han culture.
The United Nations human rights experts have called for China to shut down these political “re-education camps” for Muslim Uyghurs and called for the immediate release of those detained on the “pretext of countering terrorism”. More recently, in December 2018 the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also expressed concern about disturbing reports on the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China. It is our sincere hope that during this new Gregorian year 2019 that Chinese economic influence and geopolitical strategic alliances, do not impede and stop more governments from speaking out against Chinese ethno-religious cleansing of Uyghur identity. However, in this regard, a sobering reminder of Chinese economic and political clout over our own SA government, is the refusal to grant a SA visa to the Buddhist Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, on three separate occasions.[ix] The Dalai Lama has openly declared his desire for Tibetans to maintain their culture, language and religion under Chinese rule.
How can we display our solidarity with the Uyghur Muslims of China?
First and foremost, we need to launch a robust awareness campaign about the precarious situation of the Uyghur Muslims of China. One way in which this could be done is by inviting Uyghur political exiles or an international expert on the Uyghur Muslims for a lecture tour to all of the major cities in South Africa. I also encourage all of you here to read more and inform yourselves about the persecution of the Uyghur Muslims in China.
A second way of displaying solidarity with the Uyghur Muslims is to call on our South African government to use their newly acquired status as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council to call on the Chinese government to abandon its so-called re-education camps and programmes and to end the persecution of Uyghur Muslims. The South African UN representatives should lobby other countries to put collective pressure on China to end the ethno-religious cleansing of Uyghurs.
Third and not least, we should remember the dire plight of the Uyghur Muslims in our daily Salahs and weekly jumu`ah khutbahs through earnest supplication. Supplication and prayer can be a key means for individuals and communities to find hope and solace and to show empathy and solidarity. Supplication and prayers are a means of communication and dialogue with God and something that conscientious believers constantly pursue.
Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) in a prophetic tradition (hadith) has promised that the prayer of the oppressed will never remain unanswered by Allah. The companion Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:
اتَّقُوا دَعْوَةَ الْمَظْلُومِ وَإِنْ كَانَ كَافِرًا
فَإِنَّهُ لَيْسَ دُونَهَا حِجَابٌ
“Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, even if he is an unbeliever, for there is no barrier between it and Allah.” (Musnad of Imam Aḥmad)
Victims of injustice, can take comfort from the above hadith which teaches that their supplications for relief from their oppression is guaranteed to be answered. The supplication of an oppressed person is always answered even if that person is an unbeliever. Justice and the fulfillment of human rights are to be enjoyed by all people regardless of their religion.
In conclusion, at this sacred hour of jumu`ah, please join me in a special prayer for the suffering Uyghur Muslims of China:
Ya Rahman Ya Rahim
O Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful,
The Uyghur Muslims are in urgent need of your Compassion and Mercy,
So pour down your Compassion and Mercy upon them.
Ya Mujib al-Da`wat
O Allah, the Responder to all Supplications
Our hearts go out to the Uyghur Muslims who are detained in internment camps. Please hear our prayer for oppressed Uyghur men, women and children who are witnessing inhumanity, enduring suffering and who are heartbroken by despair.
Ya Rabb al-Mustad`afin
O Allah. Lord of the Oppressed and Marginalized,
The Uyghur Muslims have lost family, been injured physically, and have suffered extreme trauma. Move our hearts with compassion in acts of solidarity against these injustices and help us to be a source of solace and healing in the midst of this human tragedy.
Ya Rabb Qist
O Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice,
We call on You to break down ethnic and religious walls of separation and to soften the hearts and guide the minds of Chinese leaders so that hate may be replaced with love and violence be replaced with justice and peace.
Allahumma anta al-Salam – O God Thou art peace
Wa minka al-Salam – and Peace emanates from Thee
Fa hayyina Rabbana bi al-Salam – Allow us to live and subsist in peace
[i] Claremont Main Road Masjid Website, “Claremont Main Road Masjid Mourns the Death of Palestinians”. Press Statement – 16 May 2018. See: https://cmrm.co.za/claremont-main-road-masjid-mourns-the-death-of-palestinians/ ((accessed 4 January 2019).
[ii] A. Rashied Omar, “Speaking Out Against Saudi Atrocities: What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi?”. Khutbah delivered at the Claremont Main Road Masjid, 19 October 2018. See: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1qdRnyP6BHvMnBoVHczME1ubHk5b0lMVFRBYVZSUTQtTTNj/view (accessed 4 January 2019).
[iii] The Guardian, Friday 31 August 2018. “ “Detention of Uighurs must end, UN tells China, amid claims of prison camps: Committee cites reports that ‘tens of thousands to upwards of a million’ Muslim Chinese are being held, as US lawmakers call for sanctions”. See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/31/detention-of-uighurs-must-end-un-tells-china-amid-claims-of-mass-prison-camps (accessed on 4 January 2019).
[iv] The Guardian, Friday 7 December 2018. “Uighur leaders warn China’s actions could be ‘precursors to genocide’ : Campaign group urges foreign governments to halt ‘business as usual’ relations with Beijing until action is taken” See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/07/uighur-leaders-warn-chinas-actions-could-be-precursors-to-genocide (accessed on 4 January 2019).
[v] Luwei Rose Luqiu & Fan Yang (2018): Islamophobia in China: news coverage, stereotypes, and Chinese Muslims’ perceptions of themselves and Islam, Asian Journal of Communication, DOI: 10.1080/01292986.2018.1457063
See: https://doi.org/10.1080/01292986.2018.1457063 (accessed on 4 January 2019).
[vi] Michael Caster, “Resistance, repression, and the cycle of violence in the Uyghur Struggle”, 10 October 2014. Open Democracy – civilResistance. See: https://www.opendemocracy.net/civilresistance/michael-caster/resistance-repression-and-cycle-of-violence-in-uyghur-struggle (accessed 4 January 2019).
[vii] Khaled A Beydoun “China holds one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps” Voice of the Cape Website, 17 September 2018. See: https://www.vocfm.co.za/china-holds-one-million-uighur-muslims-in-concentration-camps/ (accessed 4 January 2019).
[viii]Daren Byler, Violent Paternalism: On the Banality of Uyghur Unfreedom in The Asia-Pacific Journal December 15, 2018, Volume 16 | Issue 24 | Number 4. See: https://apjjf.org/2018/24/Byler.html?fbclid=IwAR3v-nZjceQScpi8xvXzy9ppRIJWicDNdsdUBoSamdstahyGCNPTx_WFdtQ (accessed 4 January 2019).
[ix] Mail & Guardian, 5 September 2014, “China thanks SA for “support” over Dalai Lama” See: https://mg.co.za/article/2014-09-05-china-thanks-sa-for-correct-position-on-dalai-lama (accessed 4 January 2019).