Xinjiang: The radiant Uygur Muslims

Seeing is believing. With setting foot on the ground and making close observations in Xinjiang, it is testified that Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang are completely free to live their normal life practicing Islam in its true spirit. Visits to Kashghar, known as Kashi, and Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, along with detailed interaction with local Uyghur Muslims have invalidated the long list of allegations about repression of Uyghur Muslims, rights abuses, ban on practicing Islamic values, political indoctrination, forced labor, sterilization and detention camps for re-education.

Being a part of a Pakistan journalists and think tank delegation, it was shocking to learn how insidiously western powers and media led by the USA and its allies had been misleading the international community by accusing the Chinese government of resorting to oppression of Uyghur Muslims without any credible proof. Because here in Xinjiang neither I saw police check-posts, surveillance cameras and fear on the faces of all Muslim communities including Uyghur Muslims. Chinese Law is equal for all citizens including Uyghur Muslims, believers and non-believers live as per their beliefs and faiths.

Indeed, ground realities are always contrary to mythological stories. Such hideous stories may be sold well for a while but they are short-lived. Credulous people may accept these make-believe and fabricated reports. However, the world is not foolish enough. It asks questions. It demands evidence. In this enlightened era, the world can never be made hostage of speculations furthermore. Hence, Western accusations of China for shrinking religious freedom as well as Uyghur Muslims’ genocide have been exposed in totality.

As a president of the Think Tank Institute of International Relations and Media Research (IIRMR), I got an ample chance to monitor endeavours to differentiate myths and realities. Findings are myths are being busted.

“I offered prayer five times in Etigar Mosque, the main mosque of Kashgar, city of Xinjiang. Not only I but many other Uyghur Muslims freely offer prayers here. I never observed any religious embargo on practising of Muslim faith or exercising Muslims’ rights,” Mr Mehmat, a local Uyghur, said.

During face-to-face interaction when he was coming out of the Etigar Mosque, he flatly rubbished the speculations about any state-sponsored repression against Uyghur Muslims, saying fake stories of creepy surveillance and alleged imprisonment in so-called detention centres were misleading.

Talking to me, the president of the IRMR, who had come to Kashgar with a 15-member Pakistan journalists delegation, Mr. Mehmat made a categorical remarks that Uyghurs are hundred percent free, safe and secure here. Their religious practises including prayers and Islamic norms and tenets, besides daily life, marriages, and education are unhindered and smooth, he said and further answered “We as Uyghurs enjoy quality life with availability of all basic civic amenities from the government. We are thriving with ample opportunities of employment, business and trade,”

Mosques are generally equipped with running water, electricity, natural gas, and easy road access. The mosques also have communication tools, radio and television facilities, LED screens, computers, electric fans, air conditioners, water dispensers, medical services, and fire-fighting appliances. Washing and cleansing facilities have been installed in congregational mosques for Juma prayers.

During a conversation with the Etigar Mosque Imam Mr Muhammad, he termed atrocities and rights abuse against Uyghur Muslims as a pack of lies. He said that as prayer leader he had attached to the mosque over the last 8 years and did not go through any intimidation or crackdown as negatively disseminated by Western media.

He said life of a lie is always short and truth is destined to prevail. “Hence more foreign visitors will pour into Kashgar to observe personally facts and will interact with the general public, more such propaganda will be busted and those who are behind the game of misinformation will be exposed sooner or later,” he added.

A local Chinese official also said that the city of Kashgar, also known as Kashi, is home to around 9000 mosques. He revealed that none of mosques were demolished, rather some were renovated for the convenience of local Uyghur Muslims. On query, he also labelled rumours regarding ban on beards for men and on veils for women as absurd, saying the government always respects the religious sentiments of the Uyghur Muslim community.

Etigar Mosque is located on the west side of Etigar Square in Kashi. It was built in the Ming Dynasty in 1442 and was expanded three times in 1573, 1787 and 1873. In 1962 it was announced as an autonomous region-level key cultural relics protection site by the government of the autonomous region. It was later announced as a national-level key cultural relics protection by the State Council. This fully demonstrates that China implements the policy of freedom of religious belief and protects citizen’s freedom of belief in accordance with the Law.

Another revelation came to the fore whenwe visited Xinjiang Islamic Institute. In an interview, Institute President Sheikh Abdul Raqeeb said that around 1000 students studied there. “They are taught Quran and Islamic principles, Chinese Law and History. Having completed their studies, students join the teaching profession of professorship and or are designated as prayer leader in Muslim mosques,” he said. He outrightly rubbished the allegations of any ban on practising Islam in Xinjiang as well as in China.

Respect for and protection of freedom of religious belief is a basic and long-term national policy of the Chinese government. Subject to the principles of protecting lawful practices, proscribing illegal activities, containing extremism, resisting infiltration, and punishing crime, the local government of Xinjiang fully applies the policy, protecting legitimate religious activities and ensuring the public’s freedom of religious belief in accordance with the law.

The Chinese Constitution stipulates that citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall enjoy freedom of religious belief, and that the state shall protect normal religious activities. No organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in or not believe in any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in or do not believe in any religion.

The China Islamic Association makes arrangements every year for practising Muslims to go on pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It funds medical care and interpretation for pilgrims, and offers other services to ensure safe and orderly travel.

Religious activities are held at every major religious festival. During the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, whether to close or open halal restaurants is completely determined by the owners themselves without interference. During the Covid-19 epidemic, virus prevention and control measures were taken at all the venues to ensure that worship, fasting, and other activities continued in a stable and orderly manner.

Currently, more than 40 Islamic publications in different ethnic minority languages are distributed in Xinjiang. The Quran and Selections from Sahih al-Bukhari have been published in standard Chinese, Uygur, Kazakh and Kirgiz languages. The New Collection of al-Wa’z Speeches series have been compiled and published in both Chinese and Uygur.

The China Islamic Association operates both Chinese and Uygur versions of its website. Any individual can study religion through legal channels.

Facilities and conditions of venues for religious activities have been improved. Such venues are protected in accordance with the law. Special government funds have been allocated to maintain and renovate venues listed as cultural heritage sites under the protection of the state and the autonomous region, including the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Shengyou Lamasery in Zhaosu, Baytulla Mosque in Yining, Baluntai Monastery in Hejing, Jiaman Mosque in Hotan, and Yanghang Mosque in Urumqi.

Mosques are generally equipped with running water, electricity, natural gas, and easy road access. The mosques also have communication tools, radio and television facilities, LED screens, computers, electric fans, air conditioners, water dispensers, medical services, and fire-fighting appliances. Washing and cleansing facilities have been installed in congregational mosques for Juma prayers. All this provides greater convenience for religious believers.

The system for training Islamic clerics has been reinforced. Islamic clerics in Xinjiang are trained at the China Islamic Institute, the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, and the Xinjiang Islamic School. The government has invested more than RMB 200 million to build a new campus of the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, which opened in 2017. The Institute also has eight new branches in Ili, Changji, Urumqi, Turpan, Aksu, Kizilsu, Kashgar and Hotan. They form a comprehensive training system for clerics.

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