Ex­trem­ists are threat­en­ing the tra­di­tional way of life of the Uygur eth­nic group in China’s western re­gions, re­port Cui Jia in Urumqi and Gao Bo in Aksu pre­fec­ture.

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG -

As he walked along the nar­row cor­ri­dors packed with pa­tients, Amir Ali, a physi­cian and di­rec­tor of the Ak­suHospi­tal of Tra­di­tional Uygur Medicine, said he’s no­ticed a marked change in the way the lo­cal women are dress­ing re­cently.

Aksu is a pre­dom­i­nant­lyMus­lim pre­fec­ture in the south of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, and Amir said that in the past 12 months, an in­creas­ing num­ber of fe­male pa­tients and vis­i­tors have ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal wear­ing the niqab, the full-face black veil fa­vored by ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Mus­lims, in­stead of their usual col­or­ful head­scarfs bear­ing tra­di­tional Uygur pat­terns.

Now Amir feels that a virus is spread­ing— not in peo­ple’s bod­ies, but in their minds.

“The spread of re­li­gious ex­trem­ism is like the Ebola break­out — it hap­pens quickly and there is no ef­fec­tive cure once peo­ple have it,” the 49-year-old said. “Peo­ple’s mind­sets and life­styles have changed be­cause of it, but not in a good way.”

Maier­dan Muget, com­mis­sioner of Aksu pre­fec­ture, said peo­ple from the Uygur eth­nic group ac­count for about 80 per­cent of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, and most are Mus­lims. They have been tar­geted by sep­a­ratists, re­li­gious ex­trem­ists, and ter­ror­ists, who pro­mote ex­treme views to en­cour­age them to carry out ji­had, or “holy war”. They tell the peo­ple that re­li­gion is mor­eim­por­tant than any­thing else, in­clud­ing the law. “Their ul­ti­mate aim is to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic caliphate by launch­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks. They want to drag so­ci­ety back to the Dark Ages,” he said.

On Fe­bru­ary 14, a group of 12 men, on mo­tor­bikes and in cars, used home­made bombs to at­tack a po­lice pa­trol in Aksu’sWushi county. Eight of the at­tack­ers, who were also armed with knives, were shot dead by the po­lice, and three com­mit­ted sui­cide by blow­ing them­selves up. Two po­lice of­fi­cers were in­jured in the at­tack.

The po­lice said the group was led byMehmut To­hti, who first at­tracted at­ten­tion about three years ago when he be­gan spread­ing ex­treme re­li­gious views. He has been the leader of a 13-strong band of ter­ror­ist sus­pects since Septem­ber 2013.

Ac­cord­ing to po­lice re­ports, the group reg­u­larly lis­tened to audio ma­te­ri­als and watched videos re­lated to ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity, and un­der­took a pro­gram of phys­i­cal train­ing. They­made­the­bomb­sand pur­chased the ve­hi­cles and long knives in Jan­uary, and con­ducted a se­ries of trial ex­plo­sions to test their home­made de­vices in prepa­ra­tion for the at­tack.

“The Xin­jiang peo­ple will never live in peace un­til re­li­gious ex­trem­ism is elim­i­nated,” Maier­dan said, adding that almost all the per­pe­tra­tors of vi­o­lent at­tacks in the re­gion and other parts of China in re­cent years had been in­flu­enced by in­flam­ma­tory ma­te­rial on the

In­ter­net and in books.

Ac­cord­ing to Amir, the ex­trem­ists also pose a dan­ger to so­ci­ety in other, more-sub­tle ways: “Mak­ing women cover their faces is one thing, but what wor­ries med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als like me is that they try to stop peo­ple from tak­ing med­i­ca­tion by telling them that the medicines are not ha­lal.”

He said that when med­i­cal teams visit vil­lages to ad­min­is­ter vac­cine shots, some res­i­dents refuse the treat­ments be­cause they have been told the vac­cines are not ha­lal, mean­ing Mus­lims are not al­lowed to take them. “We con­stantly have to ex­plain the medicine be­hind the treat­ments and how vac­cines can pre­vent fa­tal dis­eases. Some­times it doesn’t work, though, be­cause some of the peo­ple have been com­pletely brain­washed,” he said.

Rozwan­gul Ke­bear, who has worked as a nurse at the hos­pi­tal in Aksu for 18 years, said: “It’s been no­tice­able in the past fewyears that an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple have re­fused to take pills be­cause they be­lieve they con­tain non-ha­lal in­gre­di­ents. I can tell that some­one has said some­thing to them. It’s so sad to see peo­ple get sick be­cause they won’t take med­i­ca­tion.”

It took two years for Ay­i­ji­agul Wup­per, a nurse in Aksu’s Wensu county, to per­suade a young man with di­a­betes to ac­cept treat­ment. “The 25-year-old said he had been told the in­sulin shots are not ha­lal and that peo­ple shouldn’t seek treat­ment when they are sick be­cause they have to ac­cept their fate, which has been de­creed by Al­lah,” Ay­i­ji­agul said. “How­evil peo­ple must be to tell oth­ers to just ac­cept death when they are sick. ”

Even­tu­ally, after a num­ber of com­pli­ca­tions set in, the pa­tient agreed to take the shots. “I am so pleased to see him get­ting bet­ter,” Ay­i­ji­agul said.

Zhang Xue­hui, di­rec­tor of the cen­tral hos­pi­tal in Wensu’s Ji­amu town­ship said: “Some ex­trem­ists even stop us when we go to vil­lages to give peo­ple oral po­lio vac­cines. They tell the vil­lagers that the vac­cines con­tain con­tra­cep­tives that will make them in­fer­tile. Some­times the doc­tors and nurses have to take the vac­cines right in front of the vil­lagers to prove that they are harm­less. Some doc­tors have to take the pills three or four times dur­ing a sin­gle visit.”

Abudul­ha­likWus­man­Haji is one of the most popular physi­cians at the Uygur hos­pi­tal in Aksu. The 60-year-old is also an imam at a lo­cal mosque, and he of­ten quotes from the Qu­ran to re­fute the claims of the ex­trem­ists.

“Medicine is medicine. There are no ha­lal or non-ha­lal medicines. Be­sides, the Qu­ran says Mus­lims are al­lowed to eat non-ha­lal foods if do­ing so will save their lives,” he said. “I don’t know where the ex­trem­ists got the idea of clas­si­fy­ing medicines as be­ing non-ha­lal. Also, ac­cord­ing to the Qu­ran, re­fus­ing life­sav­ing med­i­cal treat­ment is the same as com­mit­ting sui­cide, which is out­lawed by the holy book.”

Ka­har Si­mayi, a lay re­li­gious leader at the Qi­la­like mosque in Aksu’s Kuqa county, said: “The ex­trem­ists don’t dare to come near the ar­eas or mosques where there are re­li­gious lead­ers with deep knowl­edge of Is­lam. In­stead, they usu­ally fo­cus their ac­tiv­i­ties on ar­eas where peo­ple are des­per­ate for re­li­gious guid­ance but there isn’t enough support. We need more well-ed­u­cated re­li­gious lead­ers, es­pe­cially in the ru­ral ar­eas.”

He urged the re­gional gov­ern­ment to han­dle re­li­gious af­fairs with sen­si­tiv­ity and re­spect, say­ing the ex­trem­ists ex­ploit mis­steps and use them to turn peo­ple against the au­thor­i­ties.

Wa­hap Ha­lik, di­rec­tor of the Tourism Depart­ment at Xin­jiang Univer­sity in­Urumqi, the cap­i­tal of Xin­jiang, who has con­ducted re­search in south­ern Xin­jiang for more than 20 years, said many vil­lagers can’t speak Man­darin, China’s of­fi­cial lan­guage. That­makes it dif­fi­cult for them to learn about the wider world and also pre­vents them from keep­ing up with so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ments, which makes it eas­ier to ma­nip­u­late them.

Wus­man Si­mayi, a pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Hu­man­i­ties at Xin­jiang Univer­sity, said the ex­trem­ists want peo­ple to be poorly ed­u­cated and iso­lated from so­ci­ety so they can be eas­ily con­trolled. “They tell peo­ple that learn­ing about sci­ence will make their chil­dren lose their faith. They claim ad­vanced trans­porta­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools are the work of pa­gans, and Mus­lims are pro­hib­ited from us­ing them. They even say TV is evil and any­one that watches it will go to hell,” he said.

The hard-lin­ers also or­der women to cover their faces in pub­lic and not to work or so­cial­ize. Wus­man said many women are forced to wear veils by their hus­bands, which is an in­fringe­ment of their rights.

In 2010, France— home to about 5 mil­lion Mus­lims — be­came the first Euro­pean coun­try to ban the wear­ing of the niqab and the burka – which cov­ers the en­tire body – in pub­lic places. The leg­is­la­tion was pro­posed by then-pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, who said the gar­ments im­prison women and con­tra­dict the na­tion’s val­ues of dig­nity and equal­ity. A ban was in­tro­duced in Bel­gium the fol­low­ing year, and a num­ber of coun­tries are con­sid­er­ing fol­low­ing suit. Wus­man hopes that China will im­pose a sim­i­lar ban soon.

The preven­tion of ter­ror­ism and the elim­i­na­tion of re­li­gious ex­trem­ism have be­come top pri­or­i­ties for the Xin­jiang gov­ern­ment, which has is­sued sev­eral doc­u­ments defin­ing ex­treme re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties, and or­dered of­fi­cials at all lev­els to crack down on an­ti­so­cial and life-threat­en­ing be­hav­ior prompted by re­li­gious be­liefs.

Amir has posted no­tices in the en­trance hall of his hos­pi­tal to re­mind peo­ple that the niqab is not tra­di­tional Uygur cloth­ing, and also that it’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate for young men to wear long beards.

“Ex­treme re­li­gious thoughts in peo­ple’s minds are more dif­fi­cult to treat than dis­eases in their bod­ies,” he said. Con­tact the writer at cui­jia@chi­


Med­i­cal staff in Aksu pre­fec­ture in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion sign their names on a pa­per of com­mit­ment to show their op­po­si­tion to ex­trem­ism.

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