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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 13    Issue 05   01 - 15 August 2018

Professor A. R. MOMIN

Worsening Plight of China’s Uighur Muslims

Ten of China’s 55 national minorities follow Islam. These include Hui, Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Salar, Bao’an (Bonan), Dongxiang, Uzbek, Tajik and Tatar. The numerically large Muslim minority groups are Hui (10.5 million), Uighur (10 million), Kazakh (1.2 million) and Kirghiz (0.2 million).

Xinjiang, which was known as Chinese Turkestan in earlier times, is the westernmost Chinese city, bordered by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The region accounts for one-sixth of China’s landmass and has the country’s largest deposits of oil, natural gas and coal. Xinjiang, now officially known as Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, is home to several Muslim minority groups, including the Uighur, Kazakhs, Hui, Kyrgyz and Mongols. The Uighurs, who are the original inhabitants of the region, are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang and account for about 45% of the region’s population. Ethnic Han Chinese account for 39% of Xinjiang’s population.

Shortly after the annexation of Xinjiang and its incorporation into the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chinese authorities launched a calculated policy of settling large numbers of ethnic Han Chinese in Xinjiang. Lured by rising employment opportunities, thousands of Han Chinese workers flocked to Xinjiang. In consequence of the planned migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang, the proportion of Uighurs in the region’s population has shrunk from 80 per cent in 1949 to less than 45 per cent today. On the other hand, the population of Han Chinese increased from an estimated 5% in 1940 to nearly 40% today. The Han Chinese now form the majority (about 75 per cent) of Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi’s population of 3.5 million, while the Uighur Muslims comprise the largest minority. Xinjiang has been milked for its abundant oil reserves, but the benefits have not accrued to the region’s Muslim population in any significant measure. Xinjiang has undoubtedly developed, but large numbers of people, especially Uighurs, are still living in poverty. Wang Lequan, the Communist party secretary and absolute authority in Xinjiang for 15 years, carried out a policy of de-ethnicization of Uighur Muslims. He substituted Mandarin for Uighur in primary schools and banned or restricted Islamic symbols and practices, including the Islamic veil, beards and praying and fasting while on the job, among government workers.

The old city of Kashgar, located in Xinjiang, was a key entrepot on the Silk Road for nearly two thousand years. Kashgar’s old city has been described as the best-preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in Central Asia. There are more than 40 mosques in the city where worshippers gather for the daily prayers. Hundreds of artisans carry on with their traditional crafts using centuries-old methods and techniques. Kashgar’s centuries-old landscape and architecture are set to disappear over the next few years. Large parts of the city wall, a 25-foot-thick earthen berm nearly 35 feet high, have already been torn down. Over the next few years, nearly 85 per cent of the city will be demolished and many of its 13,000 families, mostly Uighur Muslims, will be shifted to other locations.

Chinese authorities have sought to suppress and erase the religious and cultural identity of Muslims in Xinjiang. A Muslim couple is not allowed to have more than two children and those who violate the law are required to pay a hefty fine. Children under the age of 18 are not allowed to attend mosques. Since 2014 Muslim officials, students and teachers in Xinjiang have not been allowed to keep the fast during Ramadan. The Uighurs have scrupulously safeguarded their religious and ethnic identity. There has been an evident revival and resurgence of Islamic identity among the Uighurs in recent years.

During the past several decades China has carried out a policy of brutal repression and persecution of Uighur Muslims, as a result of which thousands of them have fled the country and taken refuge in Central Asia as well as in the US and Europe. China has been accused by two US-based human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, of conducting a “crushing campaign of religious repression against Muslim Uighurs.” The repressive measures of the government range from surveillance of imams and forced closure of mosques to the detention of thousands of people and executions. There have been frequent protests and demonstrations by Uighur Muslims against the repressive and discriminatory policies pursued by the Chinese authorities. According to Amnesty International, some 3,000 Uighurs have been arrested and 22 executed since the mid-1990s. The Uighurs complain that their jobs are being taken over by the Han, that in many cases their farmlands have been confiscated in the name of development, that they face discrimination in respect of jobs, and that young Uighur women have been prevented from wearing headscarves. Unlike the Tibetans, the plight of Uighur Muslims in China has not received much of global attention and sympathy, probably because they are Muslims.

There is a deep-seated mistrust and a strong undercurrent of antagonism between the Han Chinese and Uighur Muslims. In 2009, violent clashes between the two communities in Xinjiang claimed nearly 200 lives, and most of the dead were Han Chinese. In 2004, Uighur militants killed 31 Han Chinese in Kunming. In the same year, a speeding car driven by a Uighur Muslim rammed into a busy street market in Umruqi, killing dozens of people.

Following protests by Uighur Muslims against institutional discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion, Chinese authorities have tightened their grip on Xinjiang and have turned the region into a police state. Xinjiang’s provincial government has recruited over 90,000 police personnel and security officers to enforce security arrangements in the region.

Xinjiang is surrounded by an extensive, state-of-the-art surveillance system. CCTV cameras are ubiquitous in every street. Iris scanners and Wifi sniffers are installed in railway stations, airports, parks and check points. Armed trucks regularly patrol the streets and fighter jets hover above the sky. Tourist hotels are surrounded by high concrete walls. On Fridays, when Muslims gather for prayers at Kashgar’s historic Id Kah Mosque, dozens of surveillance cameras overlook the square in front of the mosque. The authorities keep a close watch on foreign reporters and journalists. Every detail of an individual’s life and behaviour, including his or her DNA profile, health status, consumer behaviour and banking activity, are stored in computers and closely monitored by the authorities.

The new surveillance system is the brainchild of Chen Quanguo, who has been put in charge of Xinjiang. He has introduced a block leader system in the region, with members of the local Communist Party committee given powers to carry out regular checks and inspections into individual homes and to interrogate the family members. As in Nazi Germany, neighbours are instructed to keep a watch on each other and to report to the authorities if someone indulges in any suspicious activity.

People with foreign contacts, particularly with Muslim countries like Turkey, Egypt or Malaysia, frequent visits to a mosque and possession of forbidden material on mobile phone or computer make one suspect in the eyes of the authorities. Such people are often picked up from their homes at dead of night and sent to “re-education homes” (Qu xuexi). Re-education homes are a euphemism for banishment to a secret place where the “trainees” are given lessons in patriotism and discipline. Their whereabouts are not known to the family or anyone else. Tens of thousands of people have disappeared into these re-education homes in recent months.

The Chinese government is working on a more sophisticated level of surveillance in Kashgar. This entails a “social credit system,” according to which each citizen will be rated for his or her “trustworthiness” and, following the rating, he or she will be rewarded or punished. Each family begins on a scale of 100 points. For example, a person with contacts with Turkey or Malaysia will lose points on the scale. The ultimate punishment is to be sent to a secret school for re-education.

On August 10, Gay McDougall, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, pointed out at a two-day UN meeting on China that there are credible reports that China is holding a million Uighurs in “counter-extremism centres.” She said she was concerned by reports that Beijing had “turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp.”

The Challenge of Climate Change in the Middle East and North Africa

Many Muslim countries have to grapple with the consequences of climate change, including desertification, shortage of rainfall, flooding, heatwaves, draught and water scarcity. Climate change affects millions of Muslims in Africa’s Sahel region and in Bangladesh, Brunei and Egypt.

The 2009 Arab Human Development Report pointed out that Arab countries are faced with growing challenges that emanate from the environmental crisis, particularly from dwindling natural resources, population pressures, water shortages, growing desertification and atmospheric pollution. A United Nations Environment Programme Study estimates that the desert has swallowed up more than two-thirds (68.4% or 287 million square kilometres) of total land area in the Arab region. The highest ratio of desert to total land area is in the Arabian Peninsula (89.6 per cent), followed by North Africa (77.7 per cent), the Nile Valley and the Horn of Africa (44.5 per cent). The ongoing process of desertification poses a serious threat to about a fifth of the total area (287 million square kilometres) of the Arab countries. The increasing use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and horticultural and veterinary medical treatments have extensively contaminated water resources. Water scarcity and pollution threaten agricultural output and food production. In Sudan, climate change is expected to reduce average rainfall by 5 per cent, leading to a substantial drop in agricultural production. Climate change would also reduce available water, especially in Morocco and Lebanon. The report notes that though Arab countries are among those least responsible for global climate change, some Arab countries, such as Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan and Morocco, are likely to be the most affected by climate change.

Climate change, waste and mismanagement have resulted in a rapid depletion of the world’s water resources. Water tables are falling in scores of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, including India and China. The top 10 countries faced with severe water shortages, including Somalia, Mauritania, Sudan, Niger, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt and Turkmenistan, are all Muslim-majority nations. Pakistan is faced with a rapid depletion of its water resources, thanks to climate change, waste and mismanagement.

According to a recent report of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, longer droughts, more severe heatwaves and frequent dust storms will ravage large parts of the Middle East and North Africa, from Rabat to Tehran, in the coming years. Rainfall in the Middle East and North Africa is expected to sharply decline due to climate change. In some regions, such as the Moroccan highlands, rainfall could drop by up to 40%. Already, dry seasons in many Muslim countries are getting longer and drier, leaving crops withered, and heatwaves are getting more intense and frequent. Kuwait recorded the highest temperature of 54C in 2016 and Iran came close to surpassing it in 2017. The Max Planck Institute forecasts that summer temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa will rise more than twice as fast as the global average. By 2100, “wet-bulb temperatures” – a measure of humidity and heat --- could rise so high in the Gulf region as to make it practically inhabitable.

As desperate farmers dig more wells to compensate for shortage of rainfall, they drain out centuries-old aquifers. A study using NASA satellites found that, from 2003 to 2010, the Tigris and Euphrates basins lost 144 cubic kilometres of fresh water. This was largely caused by the pumping of ground water to compensate for the shortage of rainfall.

Climate change has social and political consequences as well. When eastern Syria was devastated by a severe drought from 2007 to 2010, over 1.5 million farmers and others from the countryside migrated to cities in search of livelihood. Similarly, a cycle of extreme droughts since the 1990s forced thousands of farmers to migrate to cities.

Scientists have suggested certain measures that Muslim countries could adopt in order to cope with the challenge of climate change. One suggestion is to shift to heat-resilient crops and to adopt farming methods that require less water. Israel, for example, has successfully used drip irrigation, which saves water. Another suggestion is to restructure or reorganise the cities, where emissions from cars and airconditioners add to the heat in the atmosphere, to reduce the “urban heat-island effect.”

By and large, governments in Muslim countries have remained indifferent or unconcerned about the consequences of climate change. Muslim and Arab countries have not paid much attention to these alternative methods. There are a few exceptions, though. Morocco and Dubai, for example, are building colossal solar power plants in the desert. Saudi Arabia plans to build a huge solar plant that will be about 200 times the size of the biggest existing plants. This is meant to be a cost-effective means of increasing the electricity supply and cutting energy subsidies. aimed at

The International Islamic Climate Change Symposium issued an Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change in 2015, which calls upon international agencies, world leaders, governments and heads of states, oil-producing nations and corporate houses to make concerted efforts to phase out the emissions of greenhouse gases and invest in the creation of green and sustainable economic systems and renewable energy resources. It also urges all stake-holders to search for a viable alternative to the current model of growth and development, which leads to the depletion of the earth’s resources, degrades the environment and deepens inequalities.

(With inputs from The Economist: https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2018/05/31/climate-change-is-making-the-arab-world-more-miserable)

Human Rights Violations in Sisi’s Egypt

In 2013, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi, was deposed in a military coup led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Following the overthrow of Morsi, General Sisi announced the suspension of the constitution and the formation of an interim government under his command. In June2014, Sisi was elected president. He introduced some radical economic reforms, such as slashing fuel subsidies and raising taxes in order to ease unemployment and generate long-term revenue. Sisi’s presidency undoubtedly brought in political stability in Egypt, but the hubris of power led him to embrace an authoritarian and tyrannical way of functioning, without any regard or concern for democratic freedom and civil liberties. Political dissidents have been hounded and detained and tortured in jails. An estimated 60,000 political prisoners, including Morsi, are languishing in jail. Hundreds of prisoners have been tortured in jails. A pliant judiciary plays a second fiddle to Sisi. The media either toe the government line or are silenced by censorship and arrests. As many as 434 websites have been blocked by the government. A new law introduced by the Sisi government in 2017 has declared hundreds of NGOs unlawful and criminal, which are placed under the surveillance of security agencies. Sisi has proved to be far more authoritarian than his predecessor and mentor, Hosni Mubarak.

Shortly after Sisi’s ascension to power, the government cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood leaders and supporters. The organisation, to which Morsi belonged, was banned and declared a terrorist organisation. Its assets were seized by the government and thousands of its members were arrested. Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members and activists have been sentenced to death. In August 2013, the army and security forces attacked a peaceful demonstration by Morsi supporters in Rabaa al Adawiya Square, killing some 1,000 people and wounding hundreds. The massacre was described by Human Rights Watch as “one of the largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” A photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid, who was taking pictures when the security forces were brutally killing demonstrators at Rabaa al Adawiya, was arrested and has been in jail since then.

Sisi enjoys the support of Saudi and Gulf rulers. Soon after he assumed the reins of government, Saudi and Gulf money began flowing into Egypt. The Sisi government is also patronised by the US government in furtherance of its own geopolitical and ideological interests.

Egypt continues to be plagued by poverty, high rates of unemployment, a fragile economy, food shortages, rising inflation, political repression and government-sponsored violation of human rights and terrorist violence. About 40% of the population are living on less than $2 a day. In May 2017, inflation rose to 30%, the highest in three decades. The unemployment rate is nearly 11%. In the Sinai region, armed groups, including affiliates of the so-called Islamic State, have declared an open war against the government.

A Ray of Hope for Desert Farming

Deforestation, increasing drought conditions and intensive farming methods have accelerated the process of desertification. According to the United Nations, by 2030, 130 million people could lose their homes and livelihoods due to desertification. A report from the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative says that accelerating desertification in large parts of the globe is costing the world a staggering $ 10.6 trillion every year – roughly 17% of global GDP. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification could displace as many as 50 million people over the next decade.

Al Ain, an oasis in the United Arab Emirates desert, has one of the most inhospitable climatic conditions in the world. In summer, temperatures rise up to more than 50C. Farmers have to use tankers to bring in water to irrigate the plants in their desert farms. Plants in desert farms need three times as much water as in temperate zones. This makes desert farming impractical and cost-intensive.

An amazing scientific innovation seems to hold the promise to transform desert farming. A Norwegian scientist, Kristian Morten Olesen, has patented a scientific technique called Liquid NanoClay (LNC). LNC involves the mixing of water and clay, which splits the clay particles into individual flakes and adds air bubbles on both sides of the flakes. The mix is then spread over the land and allowed to saturate down to root level – about 40-60 cm deep. This requires about 40 litres of water and 1 kg of clay per square metre. The treatment gives sand particles a nanostructured clay coating, completely changing their physical properties and allowing them to bind water. Olesen has been working on this technique since 2008. The process does not involve any chemical agents. Through this technique, any poor-quality sandy soil can be changed into high-yield agricultural land in just seven hours.

Olesen and his son Ole have together founded a company named Desert Control. Desert Control won the first prize at ClimateLaunchpad, a clean-tech business competition which attracted more than 700 entries from 28 countries across Europe.

Desert Control carried out successful field tests at the Agricultural Research Centre in Ismailia, Egypt. Faisal Mohammad al-Shimmari, a desert farmer in the UAE, agreed for a trial of LNC in December 2017. Two control areas in his desert farm were planted with tomatoes, auberinges and okra. One area was treated with LNC while the second area was left untreated. To al-Shimmari’s amazement, the treated area yielded larger quantities of vegetables with much less water. The method saved the consumption of water by more than 50%. The untreated area used almost 137 cubic metres of water for irrigation while the area treated with LNC used just 81 cubic metres. Desert Control claims that virgin desert soils treated with LNC can produce a yield four times greater than untreated soil, with the same amount of seeds and fertiliser and less than half the quantity of water.

The cost of LNC treatment per hectare of desert rages between $1,800 and $9,500, depending on the size of the project. At present the cost is too high, but in the course of time, as larger farming areas are covered under the technique and with government subsidies, the cost will be reduced.

(With inputs from The Economist: https://www.theengineer.co.uk/prize-winning-technology-to-make-the-desert-bloom/)

Rising Suicide Rates Among Afghan Women

Afghanistan has been devastated by a protracted and deadly civil war and civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and wounded thousands of others. Thousands of Afghans are suffering from physical disabilities caused by landmines and snipper fires. More than 2.6 million Afghan refugees are living outside the country. The war has destroyed the economy and people’s sources of livelihood and pushed the country deeper into poverty, destitution, malnutrition and disease. Afghanistan has one of the world’s lowest indicators of human development. Uncertainty and chaos, high rates of unemployment, rising inflation, shortage of essential commodities and a terrifying sense of insecurity have given rise to problems like drug addiction as well as various forms of mental illness, including chronic depression, anxiety and a sense of meaninglessness of life.

Thousands of Afghan women kill themselves every year. According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, about 3,000 Afghan women commit suicide each year. But the actual number is much higher as many cases of attempted suicide are not reported by the family due to feelings of shame and embarrassment. Nearly 80% of suicide attempts are made by women. According to health officials in Herat, 1,800 people attempted to take their lives in the province, of which 1,400 were women.

A protracted cycle of violence, chaos and uncertainty has taken a heavy toll of life, social harmony and mental peace. The World Health Organisation estimates that over a million Afghans suffer from depressive disorders. Life in Afghanistan has become increasingly difficult for Afghan women. Many of them are vulnerable to depression and other forms of mental illness as a result of traditional practices like child marriages and domestic violence. According to estimates by the United Nations Population Fund, 87% of Afghan women have experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence, and 62% have experienced multiple forms of abuse. The custom of child marriages is widespread in Afghanistan. According to a UNICEF report, a third of all Afghan girls are married before the age of 18.

Denmark and Norway Ban the Burqa

In recent years, the issue of the headscarf, particularly the full-face veil, has become highly controversial in many European countries. Some European nations have enforced a total or partial ban on face-covering veils in public institutions. France was the first European country to ban full-face veils in public places. The French parliament approved a law on 11 April 2011 prohibiting the wearing of face-covering veils in public places and stipulated a fine of €150 for those violating the law. The law also lays down that anyone found forcing a woman to wear the face-covering veil will be liable to pay a fine of €30,000. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban on 2 July 2014 after a case was brought by a 24-year-old French woman, who argued that the ban on the burqa violated her freedom of religious expression, which is guaranteed in the French constitution. In 2016 mayors in the French Riviera imposed a ban on women’s full-body swimsuits or “burkinis.” The ban was later lifted in seaside resorts after France’s top administrative court overturned the law. Over six million Muslims live in France. While many French Muslim women wear the headscarf, only about 2,000 wear the full-face burqa.

Belgium’s parliament approved a law in July 2011 which banned the wearing of the full-face veil in public places. Those found violating the law will have to pay a fine of €410. The European Court of Justice ruled in March 2017 that employers were entitled to ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols such as the headscarf. On 16 May 2017, Austria’s ruling coalition comprising the left-wing Social Democrats and the conservative Austrian People’s Party approved a law in the Austrian parliament banning full-face veils in public institutions such as courts and schools. Those wearing the face-covering veil will be fined €150. The measure is seen as an attempt to counter the rising popularity of the far-right Freedom Party. The government said full-face veils were an impediment to “open communication,” which is fundamental to an open society. The ban requires parliamentary approval before it can come into force.

The population of Muslims in Austria is around 600,000. While many Muslim women in the country wear the headscarf, the number of women wearing the full-face veil is extremely small – estimated at about 150. In November 2016, the Dutch parliament approved a law banning full-face veils in public institutions such as schools and hospitals and on public transport. The ban requires to be ratified by the Dutch Senate. The population of Muslims in the Netherlands is more than one million. Only about 300 Muslim women wear the face-covering veil.

Several towns in Italy have banned the face-covering veil in public places. In 2010 the Spanish city of Barcelona enforced a ban on face-covering veils in some public places such as municipal offices, markets and libraries. Two smaller towns in Catalonia have enforced a similar ban. But a ban on face-covering veils in the town of Lleida was overturned by Spain’s Supreme Court in February 2013 on the grounds that it violated the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religious expression. Russia’s Stavropol region has enforced a ban on face-covering veils in public places. The ban was upheld by Russia’s Supreme Court in July 2013.

Denmark and Norway have become the latest European countries to ban the full-face burqa in public. According to a law passed by the Danish parliament on 31 May this year and which comes into effect from August, any woman who wears a garment that covers or hides the face is liable to pay a fine of 1,000 Kroners (€134). Those who are found to repeatedly defy the ban may be fined up to 10,000 Kroners. The law was backed by the Social Democrats and the far- right Danish People’s Party.

In March this year, Norway’s parliament voted in favour of a ban on face-covering burqa in nurseries, schools and universities. The ban, however, excludes the headscarf which leaves the face uncovered. Following its approval in the second debate in parliament, the bill will now be sent for royal assent to King Harald V before it officially becomes law.

Evidently, the ban on face-covering veils is directed at Muslim women. Danish and Norwegian MPs who have proposed the ban argue that it would facilitate the integration of women with immigrant background to integrate into mainstream society. This is a specious argument. The population of Muslims in Denmark is around 300,000 and in Norway 120,000. Though many Muslim women wear the headscarf, which leaves the face uncovered, only a handful of them wear the full-face niqab or burqa. Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Europe director, said of the Danish decision: “All women should be free to dress as they please and to wear clothing that expresses their identity or beliefs. This ban will have a particularly negative impact on Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or burqa.

“While some specific restrictions on the wearing of full-face veils for the purposes of public safety may be legitimate, this blanket ban is neither necessary nor proportionate and violates the rights to freedom of expression and religion. “If the intention of this law was to protect women’s rights, it fails abjectly. Instead, the law criminalises women for their choice of clothing and in so doing flies in the face of those freedoms Denmark purports to uphold.”

Mosque on Wheels for 2020 Olympics in Japan

Japan will host the Summer Olympics in 2020. YASU, a Tokyo-based Japanese company has created a Mobile Mosque for Muslim visitors during the event. The mobile heavy-duty truck expands into a large room (approximately 48 square metres) which can accommodate up to 50 people. The mobile truck is equipped with a wash basin for ritual washing of hands and feet before prayers as well as a prayer carpet.

YASU’s Mobile Mosque Project is aimed at catering to the religious requirements of Muslim sportspersons and visitors during international sporting events like Olympics and World Cup.

At present, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Muslims live in Japan.

(Watch the video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?=dGjA5fY0-nO)

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