Sakeena Suliman – Cii Radio
“That’s only window dressing. That’s not the reality.”
Alim Seytoff, president of the American Uyghur Association, says “It’s almost impossible for them [the Uyghur Muslims] to fast and to celebrate the holy month of Ramadaan.”
Uyghur Muslims in China’s East Turkistan Xinjiang province face a “crackdown” by the Chinese government during the month of Ramadaan. The repression and turmoil faced by the Uyghur Muslims is coming to light despite Chinese media and public relation efforts to display a happy reality.
The oil-rich Karamay city in the Xinjiang region sees its Uyghur Muslim citizens being banned from holding private religious discussions, traveling to masjids outside their residential areas, fasting and the ban of any display of Islamic religious activity during Ramadaan.
While Chinese TV, radios, newspapers and especially the international broadcasters “showcase how happy the Uyghurs are during Ramadaan, how excited they are for the holy month, how they’re fasting,” says Seytoff the reality is the complete opposite.
The nine million Uyghur Muslims “are systematically being diminished in the province” especially after the Chinese Revolution when the government transported millions of Han settlers into the region.
“Initially [the] Uyghur welcomed the Chinese settlers into their home. Provided them [with] food and helped them settle. Believing the Han people had good intentions toward them.”
Seytoff explains how the government turned masjids into pig farms, forced Chinese Mullas and Ulama to raise pigs, destroyed masjids, shut down schools and imprisoned a lot of religious clergy. With the military there to crack down on the Uyghur, it gave them no chance to resist.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the “Chinese government became very nationalistic,” says Seytoff. “They treat (sic) Uyghurs as sub humans, as animals.”
He adds that they believe Islam is backward, superstitious and poisonous. “The Chinese government sees faithful Uyghur Muslims as a threat.”
Seytoff describes how a majority of the Chinese people view the Uyghur as terrorists and extremists, as a result giving them cultural superiority over them.
“After 9/11 it’s almost impossible for Uyghur to be Muslim and Uyghur in China. If you are both you are a second class citizen.”
Uyghur Muslims face several restrictions especially in Ramadaan. They are searched by officials in any place and at any time. Men have to shave their beards. Women are not allowed to wear headscarves or veils in public areas. Islamic education is not permitted. Books of Hadith are confiscated. If they are caught police officials can intervene and non compliance with these is seen as committing illegal religious activity. One can be arrested and if there is resistance or one becomes violent security is allowed to shoot and kill citing violent, terrorist activity as the cause. “Uyghur Muslims live in terror. The situation is an explosive one for the Uyghur Muslims.”
The Chinese government’s media strategy is displaying a happy Chinese Muslim community and a respect for Islam. “But the reality is a heavy handed crackdown of Uyghurs during Ramadaan,” adds Seytoff.
“Muslims around the world rejoice and celebrate Ramadaan by praying and fasting. The Uyghur can do none of this. Ramadaan is a month of crackdown, a month of religious repression, a month of religious attack by the Chinese government against their Islamic faith and traditions. During Ramadaan Uyghurs live in fear and terror. Of course as faithful Muslims they want to fast and pray, they want to prove their faith in Islam, to Allah, but it is not allowed.”
This repression has resulted in prisons being filled with religious and political prisoners where brutal treatment is taking place. Amnesty International has even issued reports on the graphic and offensive treatment.
Uyghurs lament the scant knowledge of their plight and support lended by the global Islamic leadership to their people.
“We hope the leaders of Muslim countries and Muslim organisations will pay more attention to the plight of Uyghur Muslims. Unfortunately Muslim countries, because of their diplomatic trade and political relations and even though country leaders know of the plight of Uyghur Muslims, choose to turn a blind eye in order not to offend the leaders of [the] Chinese government.”