Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Why Muslim Governments Have Abandoned Xinjiang

Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Why Muslim Governments Have Abandoned Xinjiang

Article excerpt

LAST YEAR BROUGHT MORE BAD NEWS for mineral- and oil-rich Xinjiang, China's western Muslim-majority and strategically vital autonomous region. According to the South China Morning Post (Oct. 13, 2016), as of Nov. 1,2016, Uyghur parents and guardians who encourage their minor children to engage in religious activities will be reported to the police and jailed.

The rules, published in the Xinjiang Daily, also informed those parents who cannot guide their children away from "harmful extremist ways" can apply to have them sent to "rectification" schools. In fact, Beijing "welcomed" Ramadan 2016 by restricting civil servants, students and children from fasting.


Xinjiang hosts half of China's approximately 20 million Muslims. Known as the Uyghur, they are an ethnically Turkic (i.e., non-Han) people. When the former Soviet Central Asian republics became independent, many Muslims in Xinjiang hoped they would acquire their relatives' and co-religionists' new status as well. After all, the region had declared its independence twice before: during 1933-34, when a rebellion in Kashgar against the Republic of China's rule led to the short-lived First East Turkestan Republic (a.k.a. the Turkish Islamic Republic of East Turkestan) and, with Soviet support, the Second East Turkistan Republic (1944-49).

But this was not to be, because ever since Chairman Mao died in 1976, this "wasteland," which accounts for more than one-sixth of China's total territory and one-quarter of its boundary length, has been transformed into a vitally strategic part of China's New Silk Road initiative. Unfortunately for those Uyghur who long for independence, their capital city of Urumqi is now the major hub of those pipelines connecting China with the oil and natural gas fields of Central Asia. Therefore, Beijing is never going to let Xinjiang go without a fight.

There are other concerns as well. According to The Diplomat (March 2015), "The New Silk Road is undeniably related to security issues in China's Western frontier, beset with what Beijing calls the ?three evils' of terrorism, separatism and fundamentalism. The repression of Muslim Uyghurs has long inspired fighters from Central Asia (and Afghanistan) to support them. Indeed, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's recent threat to occupy part of Xinjiang and his message to the Uyghurs that ?your brothers all over the world are waiting for your rescue, and are anticipating your brigades' appears to have been taken seriously by the Chinese leadership. One can reasonably infer that Central Asia has become even more significant to the security of China."

Moreover, "Xinjiang province,?sitting on some of China's largest energy reserves and crucial to the Silk Road project,' has had many serious outbreaks of violence in recent years. Beijing hopes that economic development will pacify the riots in the region" (Forbes, Jan. 15, 2016).

And yet despite this professed hope, Beijing continues to irritate the indigenous inhabitants. One wonders if this is deliberate or if it is somehow beyond Beijing's ability to understand that indigenous people often prefer to adhere to their own customs, traditions, and worldviews. Despite the massive influx of Han and other peoples, the Uyghur remain a sizeable proportion of the population. Among the most resented official policies are those that target their religious identity. This became clear during Ramadan 2016, for various reasons.

Before Ramadan 2016 even began, central Xinjiang's Korla city website proclaimed, "Party members, cadres, civil servants, students and minors must not fast for Ramadan and must not take part in religious activities." The city's Tiekeqi township ordered officials to "resolutely stop party members, civil servants, students and minors from entering mosques for religious activities." The regional capital Urumqi's Shuimogou district education bureau's website added "teachers."

In the northern city of Altay, officials agreed to "increase contact with parents, to prevent fasting. …

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