All posts tagged: Islam

17 years and 10 months. A Uyghur Son Learns of his Mother’s Prison Sentence 

It is likely that Aliyem Urayim was detained the moment she landed in China after visiting Eli in Turkey. “Your mother went to ´study.´” When Eli Yarmemet first received these words, he was convinced that it was a mistake and that she would soon be released from the reeducation camps. But three years on, the nightmare has just gotten worse, Eli recently learned that his mother has been sentenced to 17 years and 10 months in prison. The last time Eli Yarmemet saw his mother was in December 2016. Eli – an ethnic Uyghur from northwest of China currently living in Norway — traveled with his family to Turkey, where they met up with his mother and spent two weeks together. At that time the mass detentions in Xinjiang had affected the entire Uyghur population. It was not until April 2017 that Chinese authorities intensified a brutal crackdown on the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities who make up more than half of the region’s population. “Had I known anything about it I would never have …

Uyghur Names as Signal and Noise

On May 10, 2017, Xinjiang University, the largest university in the Uyghur Autonomous Region, held a mass rally in the school’s sports complex. Thousands of Uyghur, Han and other ethnic minority students and faculty members were asked to attend the event in order to hear Communist Party leaders discuss what they referred to as “the overall goal.” This goal was to “mobilize the masses” in the ongoing war against the “infiltration” of destabilizing Islamic forces. They emphasized that China too had joined in the so-called “Global War on Terror” by proclaiming its own “People’s War on Terror” in 2014. The “terrorists” the Party leaders were referring to were members of the ethnic minority indigenous to the southern part of the region – the Uyghurs. They were also referring to a discursive shift in official policy. This discourse first described Uyghur claims to ethno-national autonomy in the 1990s as “separatism.” Following 9/11, descriptions of the same Uyghur rights protests, and emerging forms of Islamic piety, came to be categorized as “religious extremism” and “violent terrorism.” In …

Imagining Re-Engineered Muslims in Northwest China

While perusing the news from Northwest China in mid-April 2017, I came across a story about a Uyghur official who refused to smoke cigarettes in front of other devout Uyghurs. The Communist Party leader was publicly shamed and demoted for his failure to remain resolute in his “commitment to secularization.” Smoking, the state declared, was a personal choice that must be protected.By this logic, an individual’s right to smoke is thus a fundamental form of freedom: freedom to consume the secular. Smoking, like secularism, is a manifestation of the norms of Chinese citizenship. Any attempt at limiting it, in favor of respecting religious practices, is symptomatic of a social malady. The story, published by the Associated Press on April 11, 2017, reminded me of my own experiences of smoking with Uyghur friends. It made me think of a time when I was smoking cigarettes with a Uyghur friend as we wandered the back streets of Kashgar. We were on the prowl for late-night bowls of hand-pulled noodles or laghman. As we walked down an alleyway …

Möminjan, Turkish Pop, and Islamic Devotion

Beginning with the very first cassette tape he released in 1999, Möminjan has been popular with young people. One of the main ways people experience music in the city is in nightclubs where the music envelopes the tight confines of a room and the pageantry of moving to the beat with friends and strangers comes to life. Uyghurs can dance. And Möminjan’s songs were eminently danceable. Not only is his voice remarkable similar to his uncle Abdulla, but Möminjan is a suave performer. He’s likeable. Even in his early days when he was still studying archaeology at Xinjiang University, his fellow classmates elected him president of the student club of his institute. Möminjan’s path as a musician has diverged from other performers in interesting ways. Unlike other young singers who made it big, he has not tried to cross over to a popular Chinese audience. He doesn’t even sing Chinese translations of traditional or “red” folk songs. Instead, beginning in 2003 he began to sing in the Uzbek and Turkish style. Möminjan’s goal in doing …