China has been accused of the genocide of its Uyghur Muslim population following testimonies of Islamophobia, violence, torture, rape and forcible detention in concentration-style camps. A recent independent tribunal held in London reached a unanimous verdict last month that “genocide” has indeed taken place against Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans and the ethnic Turkic people of China.
Although the verdict of the tribunal is not legally binding, it serves as a platform for change so that world leaders may take heed and act in putting sanctions in place against China. What is frustrating, though, is that despite mounting evidence of injustices against Uyghurs, many Muslim countries around the world continue to support Beijing shamelessly under the guise of “combatting extremism”.
A list of “75 behavioural indicators” has been announced by China that would identify “extremist behaviour”. The list includes — but is not limited to — praying in public places outside mosques; giving up the drinking of alcohol abruptly; young and middle-aged men growing beards; and the wearing of hijab and niqab by women (the veil worn, ironically, by millions of women across the UAE and Saudi Arabia). Hence, those Muslims who want to practice their faith can expect very little support from leaders such as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has silenced Islamic religious figures, accusing them of promoting “extremist ideas” and opposing social reforms.
Countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE have even gone as far as selling out their Uyghur brothers and sisters by signing a letter to the UN with 35 other states supporting China’s policies in Xinjiang. This was done, apparently, to protect financial investments in China and keep a relationship with the economic superpower, the price for which is to keep quiet in the face of the evidence of genocide. Silence in this case is complicity.
Collectively, the Muslim world has the power to stop the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China and other Muslims around the world yet fails to use it. Uyghur Muslims I have spoken to feel that they have been “failed” by the many leaders in the Middle East who they thought would support them in this, their toughest of times. If only Muslim nations were united and followed the tenets of Islam.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the collective voice of the Muslim world, only expressed its “deep concern” following reports in 2019 that Muslim minorities in Xinjiang were denied the right to fast and observe the religious month of Ramadan. Three years later, Uyghurs are still suffering and calling on the Muslim world to wake up and put morals and the values of Islam ahead of their own political and economic interests with China.
As a journalist, I have interviewed many Uyghurs over the years. Uyghur mothers placed their trust in me as a Muslim to tell me about what they had endured. Some had been sterilised forcibly so that they could not have any more children. This is one way that China tries to stop the Uyghur population from growing.
Other Uyghur mothers have been separated forcibly from their children. If not for their faith they would have been suicidal because of the pain of not being allowed to reunite with them. Harrowingly, one mother told me that she spotted her 4-year-old daughter on China’s state social media and found out that the child’s name had been changed to a Han Chinese name and she was not allowed to speak in the Uyghur language. Even the Muslim identities of children are being changed, and they are being told that they have no parents who love or care about them when this is far from the truth. Uyghur parents are suffering because they aren’t able to get their children back and the right of the children to be Muslims is being stripped away.
One Uyghur man told me that he and many others have been physically tortured with electric prods in concentration camps and told to denounce their faith. When he was not willing to denounce Islam and refused to pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party he was tortured even more. Many Uyghurs face torture for being Muslims but refuse to give in, and yet there are Muslim leaders around the world who continue to sell their soul by putting profits over lives.
The Uyghur community relies on support from Turkey, with which it shares historical, cultural and linguistic ties. In 2009, the then Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed his belief that “a genocide” was being committed in China and that there were many Uyghur exiles who had sought safe sanctuary in Turkey to whom he had spoken personally.
The dispiriting conduct of the Gulf States regarding the Uyghurs is one that will not easily be forgotten. Even so, there is still time for the Muslim world to speak up and take a stand with those who are oppressed against the oppressors. As the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Sadly, that’s a charge that too many Muslim rulers now face.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.