Photo story: Islam in China – The Uyghurs (part II)

The story of the Uyghurs is a sad one. On entering China through the west, after travelling through Central Asia, one would imagine to be anywhere but in China. Kashgar, all but the westernmost city in China and the historical and cultural centre of the Uyghur people, rather reminds one of Uzbekistan or Iran, but certainly not China. The further east one travels through the enormous province of Xinjiang the more the influence of the Han Chinese becomes apparent. Uyghurs once accounted for 95% of the population but nowadays are reduced to less than 50%.

The story of the Uyghurs resembles that of the Tibetans: a story of colonization.

The story of the Uyghurs resembles that of the Tibetans: a story of colonization. Only, the land of the Uyghurs is not situated high up in the Himalayas, making it attractive to settle. Today, the Uyghurs all but lost their claim to the land they lost to the coloniser.  Although both Muslims, the Hui and the Uyghurs just coexist, and in different regions. When they do happen to live in the same region, each group seems to visit their own mosques, if only because they speak different languages.

The Uyghurs are a Turkic people and use an Arabic-based script. Most of them neither speak nor read Chinese. They feel strongly oppressed by a Chinese government policy that puts severe limits on their religious life under the guise of fighting separatism. Men are often not allowed to grow beards and women are banned from wearing headscarves. This is in sharp contrast with the Hui, who, within the limits of the so-called communist regime that is fundamentally anti-religion, enjoy relative freedom of worship. They get on very well with the Han with whom they share the language and a large part of their cultural heritage.

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