China’s Concentration Camps: What Can We Do?

“Nations across Europe and as far as Canada, Australia, and Japan, signed the letter, but there was a deafening silence from the Muslim world. Not anymore though.

“On Friday evening, a new letter was published; this time it was signed by 37 states, including a number of Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan, along with the likes of Myanmar and Russia. But rather than adding to the condemnation of blatant human rights abuses, these nations instead wrote in support of China, somewhat echoing statements of Chinese propaganda:”

It was just a week ago when news outlets, including Islam21C, [1] reported on a joint letter signed by 22 UN ambassadors condemning China for their abhorrent treatment of Uyghur Muslims. They collectively stated:

“We call also on China to refrain from the arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of movement of Uighurs, and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.” [2]

Whilst such statements are perhaps lacking in any tangible consequence, they are still welcome and at least continue to apply some pressure on China to halt its attempts to ethnically cleanse our Uyghur brothers and sisters in the East Turkestan region.

However, what was most striking about the joint statement, was the absence of a single Muslim-majority country as a signatory. Nations across Europe and as far as Canada, Australia, and Japan, signed the letter, but there was a deafening silence from the Muslim world. Not anymore though.

On Friday evening, a new letter was published; this time it was signed by 37 states, including a number of Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan, along with the likes of Myanmar and Russia. But rather than adding to the condemnation of blatant human rights abuses, these nations instead wrote in support of China, somewhat echoing statements of Chinese propaganda:

“We commend China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.” [3]

“Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalisation measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centres. Now safety and security has returned to Xinjiang.” [4]

Further signatories of this shocking letter included Qatar, Kuwait, and the tyrannical Assad regime. Considering the other signatories, the only surprising fact was that no one signed on behalf of Egypt’s coup dictator, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi!

The shock and focus of the Muslim world switched from the silence of their so-called leaders to witnessing their explicit support for the severe oppression of fellow believers. In a well-known ḥadīth, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [5]

We may wonder; if this is the weakest form of faith, what then is the active support of such evil?

A Recent Timeline of Worsening Abuse

China’s treatment of the Uyghur population of East Turkestan has been making occasional headlines for a number of years, albeit with limited attention from the mainstream media. The 12-million-strong population in the resource-rich region of East Turkestan have faced a series of measures over the years under the guise of ‘fighting terrorism’. Starting with reports of Muslims being prevented from fasting and the banning of the ḥijāb and growing of beards, [6] measures widened around 2016 to 2017 to restrictions on naming of children with Muslim names, [7] banning the Qur’ān and prayer mats, [8] and limiting travel for Ḥajj.[9]

Yet, with the exception of Turkey quietly raising concerns, [10] Muslim nations remained silent, as did the world at large.

It was only in 2018 when reports emerged of large numbers of Muslims being forcibly taken into detention centres in the region, that the UN and certain nations started to raise concerns. In April 2018, one US diplomat estimated that somewhere between tens and hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims had been locked up in these centres. [11] Very little information was offered on what occurs in these prisons, which China refers to as ‘voluntary re-education camps’.

Furthermore, the crackdown reportedly widened to extreme digital surveillance, force-feeding of pork and alcohol, [12] and even forcing Muslim women to marry ethnic Han Chinese men.

Fast-forward to today – less than 18 months later – and it is said that more than 4.4 million Uyghurs are being held. That is more than 1 in every 3 Muslims in the region! [13] A recent BBCreport also detailed how children are being separated from their parents, with no contact allowed at all. [14] It reported that China has spent $1.2 billion on upgrading school facilities to accommodate these removed children, who now face a similar fate to their parents in concentration camps.

The situation is described by China expert, Adrian Zenz, as “cultural genocide” [14]:

“I think the evidence for systematically keeping parents and children apart is a clear indication that Xinjiang’s government is attempting to raise a new generation cut off from original roots, religious beliefs and their own language.”

“I believe the evidence points to what we must call cultural genocide.” [14]

As prominent journalist CJ Werlemen put it, we are witness to the “largest industrial scale persecution of a religious minority since the Holocaust” [15] and we find Muslim leaders, at best, staying silent, and at worst, speaking in support of such persecution!

Perhaps it is not that surprising in some cases, given that the Saudi Crown Prince has praised the measures in the past, saying “Saudi Arabia respects and supports it [persecution of the Uyghurs under the pretext of fighting terrorism] and is willing to strengthen cooperation with China” [16]whilst the United Arab Emirates was alleged to have deported an Uyghur mu’addhin at random, amongst others, seeking to please the Chinese. [17]

Why is the Muslim World so Silent?

The abysmal silence of Muslim political leadership has previously been explained by Lukman Harees in an article: China is a key trade partner to almost every Muslim country – to the extent that turning against China would probably result in severe damage to their economies. Furthermore, it is a sad reality that many of our leaders are known for their lack of Islamic principles – i.e. their own corruption and their abuse of the rights of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and His creation – so they are hardly likely to throw stones from their glasshouses.

Muslims around the world yearn and pray for a time when our response would be like that of the story of the Muslim woman and Caliph al-Muʿtaṣim, in 837 CE. In this well-known historical event, one of our sisters was attacked by a group of Romans whilst in their land, and she was locked up unjustly. She cried out to the Muslim ruler at the time, al-Muʿtaṣim, who was thousands of miles away. But her call was heard by a passer-by, who rushed to make this incident known to the Caliph.

Upon hearing what had happened, the response was immediate. Al-Muʿtaṣim said:

“A report has reached me that one Muslim sister was attacked in a Roman city. I swear by God, I will send an army that is so big that when it reaches them, it [the tail end of the army] is still leaving our base. And tell me the strongest city of these Romans and I will send the army to that city.”

The army, led by al-Muʿtaṣim himself, swiftly defeated the oppressors in their most fortified land, ʿAmūriyyah, and rescued the woman. [18]

This incident highlights the sanctity and honour of a fellow believer and shows how oppression against even one sister was dealt with – under true Islamic leadership. Indeed, paying to free captives is from amongst the categories of zakāt, [19] showing just how significant eradicating such oppression is in our dīn. Imām Mālik mentioned:

“It is obligatory for the people to ransom those taken as prisoners of war, even if doing so consumes all their property.” [20]

What Can We Do Today?

Recalling an incident from our rich Islamic history is all well and good, and it shows us what we are sadly missing – especially when contrasted against many of the puppet regimes in place today. But the natural question is, what can we do about this injustice?

We are an ummah of 1.6 billion, from various backgrounds and various levels of religious adherence. But regardless of how ‘practising’ one is of their religion, it is safe to say that almost every single one of those 1.6 billion will witness the suffering of our brothers and sisters in East Turkestan and feel pain in their hearts, just as we do when we see suffering elsewhere in the world. This is brotherhood and sisterhood, on top of natural human instinct and empathy.

As mentioned in the ḥadīth further above, when we are faced with an act of evil, the best thing one can do is seek to change it with their hands – within one’s ability – and failing that, speak against the crime.

Some of the actions available to almost every Muslim, certainly in the Western world, include:

I. Trying our best to avoid Chinese goods. The consumer power of 1.6 billion Muslims should not be underestimated, and even if a small portion of these boycotted Chinese goods (to the extent possible), the impact will be felt. A large number of Muslims support the BDS campaign against Zionist occupation; why can this not be extended to China for their crimes.

Recently, CJ Werleman has led this call, acknowledging that whilst there may be Chinese presence in almost every product, there are still specific corporations that are vital to the Chinese economy, such as from Huawei, Vivo, Lenovo, ZTE, Anker, Haier, and others from the technology sector. He details other sectors and well-known, easily-avoidable brands that could be targeted. More can be found here.

II. Speaking out frequently and raising awareness on the plight of our brothers and sisters in East Turkestan. One should never underestimate the power of speaking out against evil. China, for such a large and seemingly powerful nation, is incredibly sensitive to criticism. This can be clearly seen from the way they have responded to reports about Uyghur treatment, starting with blanket denials, to speaking of “voluntary re-education camps”, and now taking the desperate step of inviting foreign diplomats and journalists to visit the centres themselves.

Those foreign visitors the sites face the awkwardness of seeing blatant staged events, and scripted interviews, that are so obviously done out of force, that it ends up being even more damning on China – as recently reported by the BBC when they said:

“This was China’s narrative in the mouths of people selected for us, and for whom any cross-examination might pose a serious risk.” [21]

Another example is China’s response to the original critical statement last week. Within days, a counter statement had been prepared and signed by their 37 friends and desperate partners, that has been noted to be almost verbatim matching the Chinese script. [4]

III. Following on from the above, we, as Muslims, must continue to work towards empowering our own voices and media narratives rather than having to rely on others who may lack transparency and are highly selective in what they choose to show outrage over.

For example, one might notice that we have 22 mainly-Western nations, leading calls for justice in China. In fact Western media, such as the BBC, have recently been doing a commendable job of raising awareness of the plight of the Uyghurs as well.

But whilst their stance on this particular matter is praiseworthy in spirit; it is, of course, only done due to seeing the likes of China and Russia as unfriendly or inferior nations. One can easily contrast their reaction to this matter against their reaction to the crimes of Zionist occupiers, both on a state and a media level.

If there was a genuine concern for justice, there would be uniformity in their condemnation for any oppression, and concerted efforts to eradicate Islamophobia and any other discrimination wherever it is found – including within the ranks of the Tory leadership.

The narrative of Muslims, by being based on the true justice of the Sharīʿah, should be powerful enough to push others towards greater transparency and consistency; which would in turn result in a fairer media and far more public pressure to end oppression in all of its forms.

IV. Raising awareness of the harmful nature of so-called ‘counter-extremism’ policies that are Islamophobic in nature and promoted by state actors and their cheerleaders. Across Europe and the USA, we see many policies and programmes such as ‘Prevent’ that are baseless in their approach and place entire communities under suspicion. The reality is these programmes, in their nature, are no different to China’s approach to the Uyghurs.

Yes, they may be on completely different scales, but they share the underlying and fundamental principle of looking at Muslims with suspicion and treating religious practice as a ‘conveyor-belt to terrorism’. It is the same narrative, just that one is carried out by liberal democracies and one by a secretive Communist state.

V. The above four steps can only make a big impact through the unity of Muslims; working together towards greater good. Our differences should never prevent achieving greater good – and it is something we should be striving for. Furthermore, such cooperation will only empower Muslims and ultimately make them less reliant on others, and perhaps one day end the perceived need to be subservient to corrupt nations.

Alongside this, we must also work towards reducing our dependence on unjust regimes, be they China or the USA. This means strengthening transparency, democracy, and accountability in public and civil society institutions in Muslim-majority countries to bring them closer to the ideals they once lived by before they were dismantled and pillaged by colonisers. We each have a part to play, be it as a dāʿī, a parent, a politician, an entrepreneur, a civil servant, an aid worker; the reawakening, revival, and strengthening of the ummah requires everyone to do their part.

VI. Making duʿā’ for our ummah and never despairing. One should never underestimate the power of duʿā’, and one should certainly never lose hope in the mercy of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). He is Most-Wise, and He is Most-Just.

These six steps may not seem like game-changers that will immediately fix the problem or free the Muslims of China and elsewhere from oppression in the way al-Muʿtaṣim freed the oppressed woman, but we are not judged by Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) on the outcome of our actions – as He says in Sūrat al-Aʿrāf:

وَإِذۡ قَالَتۡ أُمَّةٌ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ لِمَ تَعِظُونَ قَوۡمًا‌ۙ ٱللَّهُ مُهۡلِكُهُمۡ أَوۡ مُعَذِّبُہُمۡ عَذَابً۬ا شَدِيدً۬ا‌ۖ قَالُواْ مَعۡذِرَةً إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمۡ وَلَعَلَّهُمۡ يَتَّقُونَ
“And when a community among them said, ‘Why do you advise a people whom Allāh is [about] to destroy or punish with a severe punishment?’, they said ‘to be absolved before your Lord.’ And perhaps they may fear Him.” [22]

Hence witnessing change should not be our primary focus – the key is to take action, with sincerity and according to our ability – as this is what we will be judged upon.

What will you prepare for your answer before Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā)?
May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) free all of our brothers and sisters from oppression, forgive our shortcomings and give us the tawfīq to get to work. Āmīn.

Notes:
[1] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/un-ambassadors-urge-china-to-end-uyghur-detention/
[2]https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/190708_joint_statement_xinjiang.pdf
[3] https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-china-xinjiang-rights/saudi-arabia-and-russia-among-37-states-backing-chinas-xinjiang-policy-idUKKCN1U721L
[4] https://amp.france24.com/en/20190712-37-countries-defend-china-over-xinjiang-un-letter
[5] Saḥīḥ Muslim
[6] https://www.islam21c.com/politics/the-plight-of-your-chinese-brothers-and-sisters/
[7] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/secularism-china-bans-baby-names-that-are-too-islamic/
[8] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/opinion-genre/china-bans-qurans-and-prayer-mats/
[9] http://uk.businessinsider.com/chinese-muslims-pledge-communist-party-loyalty-2018-4
[10] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-china-religion/turkey-says-concerned-over-chinas-ramadan-bans-on-uighurs-idUSKCN0PA15L20150630
[11] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/hundreds-of-thousands-of-muslims-reportedly-in-detention-in-xinjiang-china/
[12] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/un-expresses-alarm-over-chinas-detention-of-muslims-in-xinjiang
[13] https://mobile.twitter.com/cjwerleman/status/1150560028685791232
[14] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-48825090
[15] https://extranewsfeed.com/a-muslim-boycott-of-china-can-end-muslim-concentration-camps-402df909f857
[16] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/saudi-crown-prince-defends-china-fight-terrorism-190223104647149.html
[17] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/uae-allegedly-aiding-chinese-persecution-of-uyghur-muslims/
[18] https://www.islam21c.com/politics/when-nations-perished-for-harming-muslim-women/
[19] Al-Qur’ān 9:60
[20] Fiqh al-Sunnah, Volume 3
[21] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-china-blog-48700786
[22] Al-Qur’ān 7:164

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About Abdullah Izzadin, www.islam21c.com

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