‘Sinicising’ Islam

Owned by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Global Times is an English tabloid that faithfully articulates China’s nationalistic perspective on international issues.  On January 5, 2019, it reported that Chinese representatives had held a meeting with members of eight Islamic associations in China and based on mutual approval, Beijing had decided to undertake a five-year work plan to ‘sinicise’ Islam.

 No details regarding the identity of Islamic associations that had participated in this meeting were furnished and neither was any road map of the “five year work plan” shared by Global Times. The only clarification it provided was that the two sides had “agreed to guide Islam to be compatible with socialism and implement measures to sinicise the religion.” [Emphasis added]. While this statement seems to say nothing much, it certainly does convey a lot.

Defaming Islam

While Beijing has made the sweeping statement that Islam isn’t compatible with socialism, it hasn’t cared to substantiate this skewed assessment with specifics. Islam regards social responsibility as part of one’s service to God and that’s why Zakat or almsgiving is considered the third [amongst five] pillars of Islam. Zakat is obligatory and prescribes payment of fixed proportions of a Muslim’s possessions for the welfare of the entire community, and in particular for its neediest members.

This is why Beijing’s claim of Islam being incompatible with socialism lacks substance and it’s a pity that Islamic nations haven’t taken umbrage to this utterly malicious observation. In fact Beijing’s factually deficient discourse lends credence to the widely accepted view that instead of accepting that its institutionalised persecution in the Xinjiang region is to blame for widespread public resentment, Beijing is trying to accuse Muslims Uyghurs for the same.

Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief Ma Xingrui has validated this apprehension by reportedly telling reporters on the sidelines of China’s annual parliamentary sessions in Beijing last week that “three forces [a reference to ethnic separatism, religious extremism and violent terrorist forces] are still active now.” From this barefaced accusation it’s absolutely clear that Beijing continues to link separatism, extremism and terrorism in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region with religion.


In simple terms, ‘sinification’ is the process of integrating cultural, ideological and ethnic norms of non-Chinese societies so that they conform to Chinese culture. With Beijing making no adjustments whatsoever in this process, minority groups have no choice but to accept additions, alterations and even termination of certain age old religious and cultural practices 

So, by declaring that “Everyone knows that Islam in Xinjiang needs to be ‘sinicised’, this is an inevitable trend,” Xingrui has left no room for any doubt that Beijing is determined to achieve ‘sinification’ of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims, even if it is tantamount to riding roughshod over their religious beliefs and cultural sentiments.

Brutalising Uyghurs

The list of atrocities being inflicted on Uyghurs is terrifying. Human Rights Watch [HRW] has confirmed that the Chinese authorities impose on Turkic Muslims a pervasive system of mass surveillance, controls on movement, arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance, cultural and religious erasure, and family separation.”

The HRW report also mentions that “. . . UN special procedures-special rapporteurs, working groups, and other human rights experts-issued a searing indictment of China’s human rights record, including the Chinese government’s “collective repression” of religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang . . .”

While indoctrination and forced labour in internment camps under garb of “re-education and vocational training” is used to alter their political outlook, forcing Uyghurs to consume alcohol and pork as well as discouraging fasting during Ramadan is meant to destroy their religious beliefs. Mass sterilization and intrauterine contraceptive device implantation programs are aimed at systematically reducing the Uyghur population to an insignificant minority.

Even innocuous things like wearing veils, growing beards or even having too many children can have very serious consequences for Uyghurs.

The Ummah’s Silence

In Islam, ummah denotes the entire Muslim community worldwide being bound together by ties of religion, and this makes it incumbent on them to univocally express solidarity with and assist their brethren who are in trouble. Unfortunately, despite being physically and mentally traumatised by the Chinese authorities, the ummah doesn’t appear to be worried at all about their persecuted Uyghur brothers and sisters.

In 2017, China’s religious affairs official Maisumujiang Maimuer went as far as inciting the Chinese people against Uyghurs by his post on a Xinhua Weibo page that read, “Break their [Uyghurs] lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins. Completely shovel up the roots of “two-faced people,” dig them out, and vow to fight these two-faced people until the end.” Unfortunately, even this patently rabid anti-Uyghur tirade failed to stir the ummah’s collective conscience.

However, it would be factually incorrect to say that the persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim communities in Xinjiang Autonomous Region was never contested by any Islamic nation. In 2019, while Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Imran Khan tried to feign ignorance regarding persecution of Uyghurs, it was heartening to note that Türkiye was more forthcoming on this issue.

Ankara outrightly condemned religious China’s ‘sinification’ policy calling it “another step towards the goal of eliminating the ethnic, religious and cultural identities of the Uighur Turks and other Muslim communities in the region,” and called on the international community and UN Secretary General to “take effective measures in order to bring to an end this human tragedy in Xinjiang.”

However, just a year later, without offering any explanation, Türkiye suddenly changed track and maintained a stoic silence on the ongoing persecution of Uyghurs and hence its show of solidarity was just a flash in the pan. And it doesn’t require rocket science to deduce that it’s Beijing’s financial clout and the commercial interests of Islamic nations that has led to the Uyghurs being abandoned for good.

Tailpiece: In 2003, an Indian politician was caught on camera while accepting illegal gratification during a ‘sting operation’ and commenting that “Paisa Khuda to nahin, par Khuda ki kasam, Khuda se kam bhi nahi.” [Money isn’t God, but God-promise; it’s no less than God]. Though undoubtedly a crude utterance that possibly borders on the sacrilegious, it nevertheless aptly explains why the ummah has completely forsaken the hapless Uyghurs of Xinjiang! 

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