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A call from a Uyghur Muslim  during Ramadan to the Muslim Ummah

***Executive Director Abdulhakim Idris delivered this speech at Univeritas Muslim Nusanatara Al Washliyah in Medan, Indonesia on April 12, 2023.

First of all, I wish everyone a blessed Ramadan. May Allah accept all your good deeds and increase your blessings.

As I begin my words, I want to paint a different picture of Ramadan for you. Imagine living in a place where even celebrating Ramadan, the most important and blessed month in Islam, is forbidden. Imagine a Ramadan where an authoritarian regime has stationed relatives as duty officers in your homes just to ensure that you do not fast, and made it mandatory for you to eat during the day with them. Imagine a blessed month where you have been sent to concentration camps just because the duty officers reported to the government that you were fasting. Imagine a holy month where not only celebrating Ramadan, but even your Muslim identity is intended to be forgotten. Imagine an Islam where, during this time when prayers are most accepted, you have been imprisoned just because you regularly pray and perform your Islamic rituals. Imagine an Islamic land where it is considered a crime to ask whether what you bought while shopping is halal or not.

Today, I am here as a representative of the Uyghur Muslims in East Turkistan who are being targeted for genocide by the Chinese communist regime and who have been facing all the oppressions I have just mentioned. Seeking refuge in Allah and praying for mercy, I want to explain the genocide that the Uyghur Muslims have been subjected to and the ultimate goal of the Chinese Communist regime during these blessed days that we have come together.

As you all know, East Turkistan is the homeland of the Muslim Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz people who have been under Chinese Communist occupation since 1949. Since China invaded our homeland, the Chinese Communist regime has systematically sought to eliminate us. This is because the East Turkistan region is strategically important both geographically and in terms of its rich mineral deposits and fertile land. The homeland of the Uyghurs, located at the westernmost point of China, is a critical point for Beijing’s economic and diplomatic goals in the geography that extends from Asia to Europe. Therefore, the Sinicization of that geography and the complete detachment of the region from its Muslim identity is an existential struggle for the Chinese regime.

Both during and after Mao’s era, the Chinese Communist Party leaders have tried different tactics to Sinicize the Uyghurs. In short, Han Chinese people were first resettled from various regions of China to East Turkistan, with the intention to alter its demographics. At the same time, changes were made to the education of children in line with the goals of the communist regime, aiming to distance the Uyghur generation from their own language, religion, and culture. In this context, Islami schools providing religious education were closed. As I will explain in detail shortly, over the years, the Chinese regime has always sought to erase the traces of Islamic life from East Turkistan. You may wonder why the Chinese Communist regime is doing this before I answer this question.

Before answering this question, I would like to share some painful truths about the Uyghur Genocide in East Turkistan with you.

The year that the concentration camps started to be established in East Turkistan was 2014. Today, there are hundreds of concentration camps that surround every region of the Uyghur homeland. These camps have been introduced to the international community as so-called “re-education centers”. However, the real purpose of these “centers” has been revealed by those who have survived them. These centers are camps aimed at erasing the religious and national identities of Uyghurs and making them forget that they are Muslims. It is important to remember that the first ones to be taken to the concentration camps were Uyghur scholars and intellectuals.

In the early days, those taken to the concentration camps were held for a while and then sent back. However, as these concentration camps began to operate systematically, millions of Uyghurs, including those who had previously stayed there and were sent back, were placed in these centers of oppression again. The Communist regime’s propaganda is systematically brainwashing those who remain in the camps. Uyghur Muslims are pressured to believe in the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders instead of their faith in Allah. Various forms of torture are applied to those who oppose this. The biggest victims of the concentration camps are undoubtedly women. The guards in the camps take the Uyghur women they lay their eyes on to enclosed cells and rape them. The horrifying extent of sexual harassment in the camps has been exposed to the world by those who have managed to escape. Similarly, the organs of Uyghurs who are made sick or brought to the brink of death by torture in the camps are stolen and sold to international buyers, including Muslim buyers of so-called “halal organs.”

Life outside the concentration camps is not much different. Some of the Uyghurs who have been indoctrinated in these centers of oppression have either been sentenced by so-called courts and sent to prison or forced to work like slaves in factories. Uyghurs have been asked in these so-called courts why they talked about religion to their children or taught them the Quran. Those who regularly perform the basic practices of Islam with sincerity have been considered criminals. They have been given heavy prison sentences. Those who are forced to work like slaves in factories are kept under the same prison-style pressure and are forced to stay there against their free will.

Uyghur women have been forcibly sterilized in violation of their human rights to eliminate the Muslim generation in East Turkistan. Birth rates have dropped by more than 80% in recent years. Medications have been given systemically in the concentration camps, and women have been deprived of their motherhood rights. Those women who are not held in the camps have been forcibly fitted with devices to prevent them from giving birth.

Children whose parents are held in the concentration camps have been taken away. Today, it is estimated that nearly 1 million Uyghur children have been placed in state-run hostels and orphanages of the Communist regime or with Chinese families. Those chilled are forcibly indoctrinated with communist ideology and propaganda, and forced to forget their culture. They are forced to worship the Chinese Communist Party, the State, and Party officials rather than believe in their religion, Islam. For example, a Uyghur father whose child was taken away by force saw his son on video footage a few years later and experienced the horror of his son being separated from his Uyghur identity.

Similarly, families with children abroad are also prohibited from contacting their children. Communication with relatives abroad is considered a crime, and many people have been imprisoned for this reason. That’s why my mother told me not to call again when I spoke to her in April 2017. Since April 25, 2017, I haven’t heard from my mother and my father. I, along with tens of thousands of Uyghurs living in the diaspora, do not even know whether our parents are alive or not.

As you know, the most significant indication of a region being an Islamic country is undoubtedly mosques, the minarets adorning these places of worship, and the call to prayer heard from these minarets. This feature of East Turkistan has also been erased by the Chinese Communist regime. According to an independent study, approximately 16,000 mosques in East Turkistan have been targeted by the Chinese regime. All of these mosques have been damaged, and half have been completely demolished. Cemeteries have been destroyed. Some historical mosques in city centers have been converted into entertainment centers and bars. Even in the mosques that are kept open for show, the call to prayer is no longer heard.

This is because the Chinese Communist regime considers believing in Islam a crime and even sees it as an enemy. Therefore, it has declared war on Islam and wants to win this war first in East Turkistan. The erasure of Quranic verses from mosques in the homeland of Uyghurs and their replacement with Communist propaganda phrases, the demolition of minarets, and Quran burning are the damages resulting from the war that the Beijing regime has declared against Islam.

When looking at this heartbreaking genocide picture, the natural question that comes to your mind is “Why?”, “Why China does this?”. There are two possible answers: the first is the goal of completely Sinicizing East Turkistan, which is occupied by the Communist regime, and the second is economic and diplomatic interests.

When we look at the first aspect, we see the following picture. I had mentioned earlier that the Chinese Communist regime systematically wanted to destroy the religious and cultural identities of Uyghurs since 1949. For this reason, all Islamic education schools have been closed. There are no religious education courses in schools. The people of East Turkistan are aware that the greatest shield to protect their identity is preserving their religion and teaching it to their children. Therefore, when madrasas were closed, a significant portion of Uyghurs started to give religious education at home. At one point, underground Quran and other Islamic lessons were also taught in neighborhoods. Despite all the systematic propaganda and the shaping of social life by the Communist regime, the preservation of the Islamic identity of the people of East Turkistan has been seen as a threat by the Communist regime. That’s why, since 2014, so-called relatives have been placed in the homes of Uyghurs. These relatives are supposedly placed for blending Han Chinese and Muslims. But the real purpose of this program is to monitor the lives of Uyghur  Muslims inside their homes. Indeed, these assigned relatives periodically come and stay in the homes of Uyghurs and constantly monitor them. Thus, the opportunity for Uyghurs to teach their children religion at home has been eliminated. On the other hand, Uyghur women being forced to share the same bed with the Communist so-called relatives is another dimension of this oppression. The lives of Uyghurs, under pressure during the day from regime surveillance and at night from so-called relatives, have become unbearable.

When we look at it from the second perspective, the role of economic and diplomatic interests comes to the fore. East Turkistan is one of China’s richest regions. Natural gas, oil, uranium, gold, and other minerals in the region play an important role in China’s economy. Additionally, East Turkistan is a crucial transit point for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Therefore, the Chinese Communist regime wants to take full control of the region. The Muslim Uyghur majority and Islamic identity in the region are seen as a threat by the regime, as they could jeopardize these economic and diplomatic interests. For this reason, the regime systematically suppresses the Uyghurs in the region to protect its economic and diplomatic interests.

At this point, it should be said that Xi Jinping’s rise to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is one of the turning points that negatively changed the fate of East Turkistan. Seeing himself as one of China’s greatest leaders, Xi developed new policies to bring the world under the hegemony of the Chinese Communist regime. At the forefront of these policies is the Belt and Road Initiative, abbreviated as BRI, which was announced in 2013. Since its announcement, the BRI has been marketed as a project that will bring economic and social prosperity to the world.

Approximately 140 countries, including 17 from the Middle East, have joined the BRI. Two major geographies are the primary targets in the BRI, which takes its name from the historic Silk Road that stretches from China to Europe. Africa and the Middle East are regions targeted by China both for their underground resources and investments. Countries in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, are also strategically important in terms of China’s hegemony. Wang Yi, who attended the 2022 Organization of Islamic Cooperation Foreign Affairs meeting, announced that approximately $400 billion in investments had been made for 600 projects within the BRI for the Islamic world. The value of projects received by African and Middle Eastern countries within the BRI increased from 8% to 38% in 2020. The amount of sanctions China imposed on the Muslim Arab world has tripled, and this rate has doubled in construction projects. The economic contribution claimed to be created in the countries where these projects are built is debatable. This is because when considering that the companies carrying out the projects come from China, the companies providing loans to the host country come from China, and the people working on the project come from China, the only winner in the resulting situation is the Chinese regime. The countries where the investments are made, like in the case of Sri Lanka, are faced with a massive debt burden. Today, it is noteworthy that various countries in Africa are starting to discuss BRI projects.

East Turkistan is of indispensable importance for the BRI, which will make China the world’s largest economic power. The fact that the Uyghurs’ homeland is located in a position connecting China to Central Asia and the Middle East is one of the main reasons for the Chinese regime’s attempts to Sinicize East Turkistan. Four of the six major trade corridors within the BRI pass through East Turkistan to reach other regions. The historic city of Kashgar in the East is also adjacent to Pakistan, where the largest investments have been made within the BRI, and special trade zones have been established. The establishment of internment camps in East Turkistan just one year after the announcement of the BRI in 2013 is noteworthy. Since 2017, when BRI projects accelerated, millions of Uyghurs have been sent to internment camps. While the Communist regime seeks to dominate the world commercially on the one hand, it destroys the Uyghurs for the sake of its colonial desires.

The crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese Communist regime, in a manner contrary to democracy, human rights, and universal values, have resonated in the international public opinion. 14 countries have recognized the atrocities in East Turkistan as genocide. The UN Human Rights Commission, in its report in August 2022, stated that China may have committed “international crimes, including crimes against humanity” against the Uyghurs. In December 2021, Uyghur Tribunal, an independent people’s tribunal setup in London has determined that China is guilty of genocide. However, it is with regret that I must mention that, unfortunately, the Islamic world has been the most silent in the face of the persecution of a Muslim community. The Islamic world, under China’s economic, diplomatic, and political influence, has been subjected to heavy disinformation by the Chinese regime. As a result of this disinformation, the Islamic world has been prevented from learning about the events in East Turkistan. Therefore, the hospitality you provide and the support you show for the Uyghurs are of great value to us Uyghurs.

At this point, I do not want to tire you further by giving more details. In short, East Turkistan is one of the guardians of the Islamic world, just like you, in the East. As I have explained in detail above, China’s genocidal policies in East Turkistan are not just targeting one community. The goal here is to eradicate Islam in East Turkistan. Because the Chinese regime sees Islam as a threat to itself. In order to eliminate this threat, it perpetrates all kinds of persecution and genocide. As Uyghurs, we expect you to take action as soon as possible to stop the persecution and genocide that goes against democracy, human rights, religious freedom, and humanity. If the Islamic world does not stand up for its own religious brethren, who will? Who will be the voice of the Uyghur Muslims to the world?

I would like to conclude my words with a hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). “Whoever sees an evil, let him change it with his hand. If he does not have the power to do so with his hand, then let him change it with his words. If he does not have the power to do so with his words, let him oppose it with his heart.” Today, the Muslim Uyghur people are waiting for the continuation of the support you have demonstrated today in order to be saved from genocide. In this blessed month of Ramadan, we humbly request that you stand with the Uyghur people and remember them in your prayers.

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