By Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, proclaims in the Glorious Qur’an in Surah Ibrahim, Chapter 14, verses 43 and 44: 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).
In this khutbah, I want to focus on an underreported atrocity, call for a robust awareness campaign about the oppression of the Uyghur Muslims in China, and for prayers for relief from their persecution and suffering.
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.
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. In the wake of the so-called war on terrorism launched by the United States 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. Over the past decade and a half, many prominent Uyghurs have been killed, incarcerated or have sought asylum abroad after being accused of terrorism. An inhumane policy adopted during the past few years, has been the use of internment camps euphemistically called re-education centres by the Chinese state.
Since 2013, under the presidency of Xi Jinping, more than a million Chinese civilians have been mobilized to aid the military and police in their campaign of so-called re-education by occupying the homes of the Uyghurs. 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.
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.
How can we show 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.
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 key means for individuals and communities to find hope and solace and to show empathy and solidarity. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a hadith has promised that the prayer of the oppressed will never remain unanswered by Allah: “Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, even if he is an unbeliever, for there is no barrier between it and Allah.” (Musnad of 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.