Jumat, 14 Mei 2021

A sombre Eid for Uyghur Australians with families detained in Xinjiang - ABC News

As many Australian Muslims gathered with families and friends during the holy month of Ramadan, Rayhangul Abliz was feeling guilty about celebrating the Islamic holy month.

The Uyghur mother of three, who moved to Melbourne 11 years ago, has fond memories of spending Ramadan with her parents in Atush, a city in China's north-western Xinjiang region.

But Ramadan has been a fraught time for Ms Abliz since 2017, when she lost contact with many of her loved ones.

Ms Abliz said she later learned from her friends in Atush that her parents and several family members were detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang, which China refers to as vocational training centres.

"This celebration is meant to be [about] happiness, [but it's] just unbelievable sadness and disappointment," she said.

A huge detention complex in Xinjiang seen by satellite, it has a high perimeter wall with watchtowers.
Ms Abliz succeeded in contacting her parents in 2018, but that was their last call. (

Maxar via Google Earth


A recent report by Human Rights Watch stated the Chinese government has committed and is continuing to commit to "crimes against humanity" against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic communities in Xinjiang. 

Alleged abuses include mass surveillance, mass arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, sexual violence and forced labour.

Although the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Australia this year enabled Ms Abliz to visit friends during Ramadan, she found it hard to be joyful knowing her parents were unable to do the same.

A child rests near the entrance to a mosque where a banner in red reads "Love the party, Love the country".
A banner outside a Xinjiang mosque reads: "Love the party, Love the country".(

AP: Ng Han Guan, File


The ABC has contacted the Chinese foreign ministry and its embassy in Australia to ask about the fate of Ms Abliz's parents. 

Fasting as a forbidden word

A young Uyghur woman looks at the camera smiling.
Adila Yarmuhammad says there is "survivor's guilt" among young Uyghurs in Australia for celebrating Ramadan.(



Adila Yarmuhammad, a 20-year-old Adelaide-born Uyghur, has been teaching her younger siblings about Ramadan customs this month.  

She said it was important to pass on cultural traditions, especially as many in the Adelaide community have lost contact with their families and friends in Xinjiang since 2017.

"Some people even don't have access to talk to their own children," she said.

Ms Yarmuhammad said the loss of connections made Ramadan a sad time for her and the community, as it was meant to be about "connecting with God and people around you".

"And it makes a lot of people even feel guilty for being able to celebrate Ramadan the way that we are in Australia, because plenty of [Uyghur] people in Xinjiang are quite religious, or even much more religious than [us who] are here in Australia," she said.

Fasting from sunrise to sunset is a core tenet of Islam, but Chinese authorities have characterised the practice  — along with other displays of religious affiliation, including beards, headscarves, regular prayers and avoidance of alcohol — as indicative of extremism.

Before 2017, Ms Yarmuhammad said her family in Adelaide could still regularly have video chats with other family members in Xinjiang during Ramadan.

But they would avoid talking about Ramadan explicitly, only in vague terms.

"They would tell us that they woke up very early in the morning today. And to us, we understand that as, yes, they are fasting today because they wake up early," she said. 

China's narrative on Ramadan in Xinjiang

Beijing has pushed back against widespread accusations it is suppressing religious freedom for Muslims.

On the second day of Ramadan this year, China's state news agency Xinhua published an English-language article about Uyghur Muslims observing the holy month at the Ak Mosque in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital.

Visitors pose for photos outside a mosque in Xinjiang
Visitors pose for photos outside the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar during a government-organised visit for foreign journalists during Ramadan.(

AP: Mark Schiefelbein


It said "approximately 300 Muslims" attended the Ak Mosque to pray on the first day of Ramadan. Another Xinhua report quoted local imams as saying Muslims in Xinjiang were celebrating Ramadan "normally and freely".

But media reports, rights watchdogs and experts on ethnic minorities in China say Muslims living in China are facing mounting limitations on the ability to practise their religion.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated in 2020 that some 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang have been destroyed or damaged, mostly since 2017.

Muslim minorities outside Xinjiang such as the Hui and Utsuls have also reported state-imposed restrictions on their religious practice and places of worship.

In 2019, authorities told businesses in Beijing to remove Arabic script and Muslim symbols, including signs indicating halal certification.


"Under Xi Jinping, this new era of kind of autocratic authoritarianism, it's increasingly difficult for Chinese Muslims to practise their religion, particularly during sensitive times, like Ramadan," said James Leibold, an associate professor at La Trobe University and an expert on ethnic minorities in China.

"And so often they will parade out a small group of Muslims, for example, during the start of Ramadan … [to] make false claims about how anybody can practise their constitutionally-protected right to religious freedom."

Students at Xinjiang Islamic Institute
Chinese authorities insist Uyghur Muslims are free to practise their religion.(

AP: Mark Schiefelbein


Alim Osman, president of Uyghur Association of Victoria, said many Uyghur Muslims "felt lucky" to be able to celebrate Ramadan in Australia freely.  

"Australia is a free and democratic country, so we can surely express ourselves anyway we can," Mr Osman said.  

A Uyghur man wearing a traditional colourful stitched shirt and pink blazer with a Uyghur flag pin.
Alim Osman, president of Uyghur Association Victoria, says China has limited free expression of religions. (

ABC News: Jarrod Fankhauser


"So only the expression has to be aligned with [the] Chinese Communist Party's own narrative, which is the party has to be number one."

Chinese-Australian Muslims embrace freedom of religion

A Chinese man sits next two a Pakistani woman, with two kids in between.
Andy Chan is happy to see his son achieve his fasting goals this Ramadan. (



Andy Chan, a Hong Kong-Australian born and raised in New South Wales, converted to Islam 12 years ago.

This Ramadan, his 10-year-old son joined him and his Pakistani wife to fast and pray.

"I'm very proud of him," Mr Chan said.

Mr Chan said his parents had no religious background, nor interest in traditional Chinese customs such as worshipping ancestors.

But when they learned about Mr Chan's conversion to Islam, they were "supportive".

Mr Chan said his parents also made changes, such as avoiding going to restaurants that served pork when they ate together.

Yahya Ye, who moved to Sydney from Beijing and converted to Islam 10 years ago, is a committee member at the Chinese Speaking Muslim Association Australia (CSMAA).

Mr Ye told the ABC he enjoyed being able to celebrate Ramadan in a multicultural community, where he would gather with other Muslims and visit the elderly.

A Chinese Muslim sits next to a dining table.
Yahya Ye says Ramadan is a time for getting together.(



"There are many Muslims here, so if you fast here or join group prayers, you'll feel very warm, because there are lots of Muslims around. It's a big community here in Sydney,' he said.  

Mr Ye also said the duration from sunrise to sunset was around 12 hours in Australia this year, which was "perfect" for fasting.

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2021-05-14 19:32:55Z

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