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The Chinese Claim The Uighurs Were Forced To Accept Islam — Are They Wrong? (Part 1)

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As is well known, with its usual ruthlessness the Chinese government has been trying to put the practice of Islam by the Uighurs of Xinjiang in a straitjacket. It has, for example, made it harder, or in some cases impossible, for the devout to observe Ramadan. The Chinese government in 2017 passed laws requiring all restaurants to stay open during Ramadan. Further, it has forbidden teachers, civil servants, and all those working in the public sector from observing Ramadan, and if any are caught doing so, the government ominously warns,  “they will be dealt with.”
Then there is the requirement that all “old’ Qur’ans, published before 2012, be handed in to the government’ only the “new Qur’ans” distributed by the Chinese government are permitted.The reason for this is that in 2012 the Chinese government published these “new” Qur’ans, heavily censored, with the “meaning’’ of the verses that remained annotated by government experts so as to lessen their anti-infidel message.
Muslims in Xinjiang must request government permission to go on the hajj. They are asked to register their age, job, health, and economic status. Strict guidelines are put in place for applicants, who must be aged between 50 and 70 and have lived in Urumqi, the region’s capital, for at least five years. They are thoroughly investigated by the government for their political views; anyone who has displayed the slightest hint of being politically unreliable is denied permission to go on the hajj.
All those who apply to go on the hajj must also pledge allegiance to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and to national unity (and therefore against Uighur independence).
Indeed, Muslims who travel abroad for any reason, not just for the hajj, upon their return are subject to particular scrutiny, especially if they have spent any time in Muslim countries. More than one million have been placed in re-education centers.
As for other restrictions on Islam, in Xinjiang imams have been subject to public humiliation by being forced to dance en masse in public, and at the same time, have been forced to take an oath to keep children away from religion. As public servants, paid by the state, the imams were forced to brandish the slogan that “our income comes from the CKP not from Allah.” Many of the imams were forced to wave Chinese flags during their ordeal. Speeches are made — it’s unclear from the reports if these were by Chinese government officials or by government-approved imams — in which young people are told both to stay away from mosques and that prayer is harmful to one’s health. Teachers throughout Xinjiang have been instructed to teach children to shun religious study; retired teachers have been posted outside mosques during Ramadan to prevent students from entering.
Mosques have been required to push Communist propaganda, swapping inscriptions about Muhammad for red banners that declare, “Love the Party, Love the Country.”
Muslim men have been required to shave “abnormal” or “religious” beards; punishment is strict; one man was sentenced to six years in jail for refusing to do so. Names given to children must not be “religious.” Twenty-nine names have been banned so far, such as Islam, Saddam, Mecca, Quran, Jihad, Medina; all are now strictly forbidden.  Women may not wear any veils that cover the face; even women wearing only the hijab have been prevented in some parts of Xinjiang from using busses. Muslims are required to listen to the official state television (i.e., that carry anti-Muslim, and pro-Communist propaganda), and cannot prevent their children from attending state schools.
And of course we all know that more than a million Uighurs are now interned in re-education camps where they are subject to endless lessons attacking religion in general, and Islam in particular.
Given this record, it is understandable that 22 countries — though not a single Muslim one (for the Muslim states are afraid of Chinese economic retribution)– denounced the Chinese mistreatment of the Uighurs. But should we completely reject everything the Chinese have claimed about the Uighurs? They claim that the Uighurs are not a Turkic people. That is both true and false, They are not solely a Turkic people, but they are partly a Turkic people. Genetically they are a mix of of the Han Chinese and the Turkic peoples of Central Asia who lived and intermarried in the far western marches of China.
A white paper released in late July  by China’s State Council Information Office — the Government’s propaganda arm — presents the ruling Communist Party’s interpretation of history, claiming “Islam is neither an indigenous nor the sole belief system of the Uyghur people.” Is either of those claims false? Islam is indigenous only to the Middle East;  Islam arrived in western China when a local ruler, Tughlugh Timur Khan, converted to this foreign faith in the mid-14th century. Many of his subjects then followed his example .Furthermore, Islam is “not the sole belief system of the Uighur people.” That too is true; the Uighurs had been Tengriists, Manichaeans, Buddhists, and Nestorian Christians long before they became Muslims.
The Chinese White Paper also claims that Islam spread into Xinjiang by “the Arab Empire.” How did Islam spread out of Arabia, if not by the  Arabs warriors who subdued the rest of the Middle East, and all of North Africa, and then Spain, until they were finally defeated in central France by Charles Martel at Tours in 745? It was the warriors of an expanding “Arab Empire” who conquered Sassanian Persia. How did Islam arrive in Hindustan? Not through peaceful missionaries but through Muslim warriors, ghazis, who made many attempts at conquest before succeeding. It is understandable that the Chinese might identify this as the “Arab Empire” even if, by the time Muslim warriors reached from the western marches of China, very few were Arabs. To the Chinese the Muslims in Central Asia could be seen as ruling what could be regarded as an extension of the original “Arab Empire” in the Middle East. Islam was, as Anwar Sheikh has written, the “Arab national religion”; among Arabs it remains a vehicle for Arab supremacism; non-Arab Muslims, too, recognize the special status of Arabs within Islam.The Qur’an was given to a 7th century Arab, and in his language. The Qur’an ideally must be read in Arabic. Muslims turn five times a day, prostrate in prayer, toward Mecca, in Arabia. They are required, once in their lives, if financially able, to make the hajj to Mecca. Many non-Arab Muslims adopt Arab names and even false Arab lineages, as the many Pakistanis who affix a “Sayyid” to their names to indicate a factitious descent from the Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet. That is why claiming that the Muslims in Central Asia formed part of an “Arab Empire,” while not ethnically accurate, makes a certain kind of religio-cultural sense. The Arabs were the first among equals; Islam was “the gift of the Arabs,” non-Arab Muslims assumed Arab names, and claimed Arab descent.  Given the primacy among Muslims of the Arabs, an Islamic empire, even if ethnically diverse, could be described by the distant Chinese as an “Arab Empire.”
End of Part 1


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