The History of Uyghur Muslims

Uyghurs are predominately Turkic-speaking Sunni Muslims who live primarily in the autonomous region of Xinjiang.

Islam came to the region in the 10th century. Prior to Islam, the Uyghurs embraced Buddhism, Shamanism, and Manicheism.

Uyghurs embraced Islam in 934 during the Karahanid Kingdom. Kashgar, the capital of the Kingdom, quickly became one of the major learning centers of Islam.

Art, the sciences, music and literature flourished as Islamic religious institutions nurtured the pursuit of an advanced culture.

In this period, hundreds of world-renowned Uyghur scholars emerged. Thousands of valuable books were written.

Among these works include the Uyghur scholar Yusuf Has Hajip’s book, The Knowledge for Happiness and Mahmud Kashgari’s dictionary of Turk languages.

Uyghurs played an important role in cultural exchanges between the East and West and developed a unique culture and civilization of their own based on Islam.

The Islamic Uyghur Kingdom of East Turkestan maintained its independence and prosperity until the Manchu Empire invaded the nation in 1876.

After eight years of bloody war, the Manchu Empire formally annexed East Turkestan into its territories and renamed it “Xinjiang” (meaning “New Frontier”) on November 18, 1884.

Xinjiang is roughly the size of Iran and borders several Muslim-majority countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

After Chinese Nationalists overthrew the Manchu Empire in 1911, East Turkestan fell under the rule of the nationalist Chinese government.

The Uyghurs, who wanted to free themselves from foreign domination, staged numerous uprisings against Nationalist Chinese rule and twice (once in 1933 and again in 1944) succeeded in setting up an independent East Turkestan Republic.

The Uyghur Muslims have little desire to assimilate into Han society due to their strong attachment to their cultural practises of Islam.

Their reluctance to do so is met with reactions ranging from chauvinism to claims of ingratitude by the Han elite.

For over a decade, under the guise of counterterrorism and ‘anti-separatism’ efforts, the government maintains a pervasive system of ethnic discrimination against Uighurs Muslims and sharply curbs their Islamic practises and expression.

China is accused of encouraging internal migration into the Xinjiang province to increase the non-Uyghur population and power in the region.

The overall effect of the Communist Party of China’s policies in the last six decades is unmistakable and stunning.

The Han population in the region increased at an average rate of 8.1 per cent yearly, from 5 per cent in 1947 to around 40 per cent in 2000.

Officially the 2010 Census puts the Xinjiang population at 45.8 per cent Uyghur and 40.5 per cent Han, with Kazakh, Hui, and other ethnicities making up the rest.

In recent years, there have been many reports of students, teachers, and civil servants have been forbidden from fasting during Ramadan, forbidden from wearing their traditional dress and even keeping a beard.

Uyghurs continue to be the only population in China consistently subjected to executions for political crimes, and these executions are often both summary and public.

With the rise of China as the expected superpower of the 21st century, such repressive policies against the Uyghur Muslims are likely to get worse.

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