Will the Muslim World Condemn China’s Persecution of Uighur Muslims?

China enjoys friendly relations with many Islamic countries, but fails to think twice before persecuting its Muslim populace on the plea of indoctrination. Yet, China is the best friend of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the Muslim World. According to the leaked files obtained by The New York Times, as many as one million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region are facing severe conditions in the detention camps. But, the ruling Communist Party denies international criticism of the fields and describes them as job training centres that use mild methods to weed out Islamic extremism. Inmates undergo months or years of training and interrogation intended to pressurize them into disavowing devotion to Islam and professing gratitude for the party.

Xinjiang, a resource-rich territory, is one of the largest provinces of China. Xinjiang borders Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Tibet. Muslim ethnic minority groups constitute more than half of the region’s population of 25 million. Uighurs, the largest of these groups, have long been facing discrimination and restrictions on cultural and religious activities.

The origin of the detention camps can be traced back to a surge in anti-Chinese violence, including ethnic riots in 2009 in Urumqi and the May 2014 attack on an outdoor market. The attack killed 39 people just days before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s conference in Beijing to set a new policy course for Xinjiang. Against this backdrop of bloodshed, Xi delivered a series of secret speeches justifying the hard-line course that culminated in detentions in Xinjiang. The hard-line approach is driven by the party’s fear that devotion to the Muslim faith could lead to religious extremism and open defiance of its rule. Xi warned that the violence is spreading from Xinjiang into other parts of China and could taint the party’s image of strength.

The crackdown that began with the Uighurs in Xinjiang is now spreading to other regions. The party is now imposing new limitations on Islamic customs and practices across China. Authorities have closed mosques in the southern province of Yunnan and destroyed domes and minarets on mosques in Henan, Inner Mongolia, and Ningxia, the homeland of China’s most significant Muslim ethnic minority, the Hui, as well as in Linxia, a city known as “Little Mecca.” The public use of the Arabic script has been banned.

Why are the Islamic countries silent on China’s ethnic cleansing?

Strangely the Islamic countries, including the OIC and other international Muslim forums, are quiet on this ethnic cleansing in Xinxiang province of China. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has feigned ignorance about the persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad termed China as a significant trading partner in September 2019 and added that they cannot do something that will cause suffering to them. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also approved Beijing’s right to undertake “anti-terrorism” and “de-extremism” measures while talking to the state-owned CCTV.

To check the concerns in the Muslim world, China has used its economic clout via its global Belt and Road infrastructure program, loans, concessions and even defended some of these Muslim rogue states on international forums to buy their consent for the ethnic cleansing of Uighur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang. Therefore, Muslim countries have maintained a deafening silence. They have all turned a blind eye to the atrocities on the Uighur Muslims.

According to political observers, many Muslim countries are concerned about this, but they are afraid to speak and jeopardize investments worth billions of dollars from China.

Muslim countries are significant beneficiaries of China’s $200 billion Belt and Road infrastructure program. China is negotiating a trade deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Saudi Arabia is the most prominent member. The strategy is working well for China. The silence of these Muslim countries against the Uighur repression is alarming and shows how much they are dependent on Beijing for goodwill and support.