Islam in China and the Plight of the Uighurs

Taylorian, Brandon Reece orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2632-5642 (2020) Islam in China and the Plight of the Uighurs. Astronist Institution.

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The central postulation made in this essay is that the current plight of the Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China is two-pronged in its cause. The first involves a deeply-rooted historical rejection, or at least suspicion, of any religion that is not Chinese in origin and secondly involves a concerted effort on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party to gain greater control over a people group whom it sees as representing a threat to its authority and dominance in the province of Xinjiang. To justify the validity of this statement, this essay will be divided into three distinct parts; the first two parts will explore the historical background and present day context of Islam in China with the aim of clarifying the Chinese worldview on foreign religions and people groups. These will act as important contributions to culminate into the third part which will focus on the current occurrence of sinofication/sinicisation in the Xinjiang province (Ruwitch, 2018) to the detriment of the human rights, religious and cultural liberties, and the very existence of the Uighur Muslim ethnic group (Rahman, 2005). The essay will provide a historical context by explaining the timeline of the presence of Islam across different parts of China where it experienced the most activity and adherence. This particularly includes the southwestern ports where it was brought into the country by Arab traders as well as in the westernmost reaches as a result of being part of the outer edges of different Islamic empires that held territory across Central Asia. The idea that China is suspicious of foreign people, foreign religions, and that the Communist Party considers any group with outside connections to a wider community (such as Christians or the Muslims) to be a threat to the stability of their rule is central to our discussion (NowThis World, 2016). However, we shouldn’t mistake China as being alone in this kind of xenophobia for the evidence of this worldview is pertinent on the continent of Europe currently with significant undertones of its presence in the vote for Brexit in the United Kingdom (Rzepnikowska, 2018) as well as in the rise of the far right in continental Europe (Immerzeel & Muis, 2017; Lazaridis, 2016). Aversion to foreignness is therefore widespread, but it is the way in which an organisation deals with foreignness that is indicative of its approach to diversity and its respect for human rights. The third and final part will act as the climax for the essay as a thorough analysis is conducted on the current affairs of the Communist Party in the Xinjiang province resulting in the plight of the Uighur Muslims. The processes involved in the sinofication of the province will be highlighted with the aim of understanding the range of reasons as to why the Communist Party may be acting in this way by drawing on the current Chinese economic and political landscape. The essay will close by considering the future of the Uighur Muslims and the intentions of the Communist Party for the entire Xinjiang province by analysing the most recent news escaping from the region and as a means to understand the distinction between Islam and Muslims.

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