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The Issue of Discrimination of Chinese Muslims

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Islamophobia or hatred towards Islam has remained even during Prophet Muhammad’s time until today. Hearing news about the people expressing hatred towards the Muslim community has never been a shock to anyone. Ever since 9/11, Muslims across the globe were tagged with false and horrendous stereotypes stating that they are terrorists. However, recent news on detention camp for the members of the Muslim Uighur minority in China has been surprising other Muslims in the world. The Muslim Uighurs community live in northwest China called Xinjiang that is near to the borders of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. It has been under the Chinese government’s authority since 1949. Most of the minorities are practising Sunni Islam.

In these detention camps, “China has detained as many as 1 million Uighurs in so-called “reeducation centers” and forced them to undergo psychological indoctrination programs — like studying communist propaganda and giving thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping”. It was so horrendous that the Chinese authorities have also used all kinds of torture on the minorities including waterboarding. Waterboarding is a form of torture where they would drown someone in water but with cloth on top of their faces making it hard to breathe as if they were drowning. Amidst of all this, the Chinese government had to divert the people’s attention by denying the existence of the camps for violence and instead claiming these camps as a way to fight extremism and it was used for teaching the minorities useful skills. To date, China was criticized greatly by the western governments at the United Nations Human Rights Council back in 2018. However, that is the only alternative that we heard so far which is getting criticized.

This interview was conducted with a Chinese Muslim and a university student in UIA Gombak who wished to remain anonymous. This face to face interview was held on 30 April 2019. The purpose of this interview is to understand further of the Islam community in his hometown and how his hometown perceives Muslims in China.

Interview Questions

“Please tell me about yourself, your family background and your hometown”

I am a Chinese Muslim and my city is from northern China. It is a very small town but 80 per cent of the population are Muslims. My family is also Muslims from generations to generations and we are proud of it. I came to UIA to study civil engineering and I think a lot of my friends from China came here to study Islamic Studies but science subjects are also important.

“Why did you choose to study at a Malaysian university?”

I have been studying here in UIA for 3 years and I think the environment here is great. In China, even though we are living in a Muslim majority, the environment there is not so good. Most Chinese people are not very friendly with each other and here in UIA almost all the people are very friendly. In China, we got 4 seasons but in Malaysia only have 1 season and I actually like it because I rarely got sick. Another important thing is UIA has a very good Islamic environment. I can easily practice the 5 prayers.

In China, no one will restrict you from praying but sometimes people will forget about the simplest things like prayers. Here in UIA, I am constantly reminded of Allah and the people kept on spreading ‘dakwah’ to each other and I think that is great. In China, we don’t really have Islamic education such as learning the Quran and Arabic so I appreciate that we get this opportunity here in UIA.

‘As a Muslim, do you or any of your friends get discriminated in your own country?’

I do sometimes get discriminated by the people in the big city where the majority are non-Muslims. For example, wearing the ‘jubah’ is forbidden in China because it seems odd. If we men, wear the ‘jubah’ on the streets, people will look and stare at you as if you are not a part of the society. It gets a little disheartened when your own people do that to you. That was one of the moments I got discriminated in my own country.

This is a situation that I heard when you want to get a job as a Muslim in China. The first thing employers will ask is whether you are a Muslim or not and if you are a Muslim, they will force you to eat pork and drink alcohol. If you cannot drink nor eat pork, then you will lose the job.

“What are the difficulties faced by you or your family being a Muslim?”

As I said, my family are Muslims from generations to generations. Alhamdulillah my family and I did not go through such difficulties as Muslims. However, sometimes it is hard for the female in my family to wear hijab in the big city. It is fine to wear them in my hometown because no one will bother you but in the big city, people will stare at you and they will whisper among themselves. This is hard for us as a family because the non-Muslim Chinese have very little knowledge about Islam. Like I said, the environment plays a big factor in our daily lives.

In China, we are not allowed to make our own ‘azan’ in my hometown. We were considered to disturb the people so the government cut off the ‘azan’ entirely. Some Chinese Muslims are encouraged to eat pork and drink alcohol. Also, being a Muslim, if you go to the streets and you want to buy a knife, you must have a certain certification just to buy a knife. If you want to board a bus, you must be searched. You cannot bring any sensitive items on the bus. Everything will be checked.

“Are you aware of the detention camps on the Uighur minority?”

For this question, I am aware of the detention camps but I think it didn’t happen. I actually never heard about these camps. There are some policies that we have to abide by the government but I never heard of the camps to the extreme like what the media portrayed. I think it never happened.

‘Why did you say so? Do you think the media did not portray the detentions camps enough attention?’

I think the news from the Western was quite fake. I think they manipulated the news going on at those camps. I heard that the purpose of these camps is to show their loyalty to the government and to get more profit and welfare but the life in Muslim minorities are quite democratic. The Western news did spread some ideas about the detention camps and about democracy. There are some good ideas and there are some bad ideas about the government. In China, we have 56 states and each of them have different culture. When we spread a general idea within each cultures, we have to have the same idea and policy about the government. The positive side of this is we are united but the negative part is we lose our own culture.

‘Why do you think the minorities are being held in the camps?’

There was an incident happened in 2018 in Xinjiang. There were terrorist attacks. They would go to the streets and rob shops and killed people. Because of this, the Chinese people overgeneralize every Muslims to be terrorists. From that day onwards, the government policies became really harsh towards the minority Muslim people. I heard that there is a policy where people can’t even go to the mosque to pray. The students there are not encouraged to go to the ‘masjid’ which is a bit weird. They considered the masjid as if it is like an internet café. Islam has been tagged as a religion of terrorism because of some people committing crimes.

‘Do you think they are being tortured in these camps?’

To some extent, they are getting tortured. I have some friends from Xinjiang. They said they can’t have passports and they can’t go out from the country. If there are students coming to other countries to pursue their education, the government will send out some people to talk with us so we actually have to be more careful in saying something that the government will oppose to. There are some people who came back to Xinjiang, and they can never go back to the university ever again. So we have to be more careful in saying something sensitive, especially on this topic. The situation is very complicated and I myself am not sure about the detention camps.

‘Do you think the news is faking the detention camps? How are Muslims in China represented in the country’s media?’

Based on my observation there is a big difference between my country’s news and the foreign news about this issue. Last year, there were issues about the South China Sea and the Philippines and the news between my country and others were very different. So, I have concluded that I judge the news based on what I see, not just simply from the news. Some videos produced by the social media might also be fake. I don’t really believe what was reported by the news so I have to see them for myself with my own eyes. The detention camps might happen but I don’t think it really happened.

If the camps are real, then it is just for some show. It is totally fake in my opinion. There are some reasons behind this issue. It feels like the camps are totally controlling the people’s mind, physical and that they want to invoke fear among the minority. If this really happened, then it is bad but I don’t think it happened.

‘What do you think about the importance of having Islamic understanding among the Chinese non-Muslims?’

I think the Chinese people should definitely have more understanding about Islam and Muslim. Most Muslim people call us moderate Muslims. I think we should voice out to let more people know about what Islam really is. I think our own Muslim minority people are not behaving properly and most of the education level among the Chinese Muslim are not very high in general. It gives the impression to others that Muslims are less educated, that we are rude and lack of Islamic knowledge. We need more Islamic knowledge because some people wanted to know about Islam but some Chinese Muslim, they don’t have the definite answer about Islam and that saddens me.

Also, some Chinese Muslims still drink alcohol which is a bit problematic especially if there is peer pressure. That’s why I choose UIA. The friends here calling me to pray. Socialize with good people is a big role in determining and sharpen our faith.

Conclusion

The issue between Chinese Muslims and Chinese people still exists – that is why there is a need to solve it. Chinese people should learn more about Islam with an open heart. Chinese should use their own knowledge for the benefit of own society. Chinese need to uphold good moral values, not the discrimination and violence.

Reference

  • Kirby, J. (2018). China’s brutal crackdown on the Uighur Muslim minority, explained. Vox.com. 

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