Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain spoke at an event organised by the Cordoba Foundation and the East London Mosque to raise awareness about the plight of Uyghur Muslims in China on 13th February 2019, held at the London Muslim Centre.
In addressing the audience, the Secretary General spoke about the important need to dismantle the barriers that are designed to stop us from recognising the humanity of Uyghur Muslims, and that only when that is achieved that we then start to break down the propaganda that tells Uyghurs to conform to a nationalistic vision that denies their rich heritage.
He also set out steps that people can follow to help end the torture and mass incarceration of Uyghur Muslims, including lobbying power, organising public meetings and events and utilising social media and national media to keep raising awareness about the issue.
Read his full speech here, or below:
Thank you to all of you for coming to tonight’s public meeting. As the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, I am honoured to address you all and discuss this incredibly pressing and important issue.
Our responsibility as Muslims to respond to the injustices that happen around us is heightening every single day.
Every single day, we hear more reports and more witness statements that the Uyghur Muslims, and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, are being oppressed in the most brutal way.
Imagine the place that you have always lived turning against you.
Imagine, you are no longer allowed to speak your mother tongue, the language of your people, in public.
Imagine, that even when you do speak, it is with fear and self-censorship, in a climate of intense surveillance.
Imagine hiding pages of the Qur’an in your freezer, so that you don’t fall foul of random checks.
Imagine knowing that physical and psychological torture await you in secretive re-education camps, should you be picked up off the streets and detained for no reason.
Now imagine that all of this is state-sanctioned, legal and practiced by the government.
For Uyghur Muslims in the Xinxiang region, this is a reality that has been ongoing for decades now. Little by little, we’ve seen the flames of bigotry fanned higher and higher to the point where up to one million of our fellow Muslims are being held in re-education camps. That’s nearly 10% of the entire Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang.
Recently we’ve seen a swell of damning reports from activists, journalists, human rights organisations and political leaders in the UN, but how did we get to this position today?
Are we ignorant of the Chinese government’s campaigns against Islamic practices? Is this the first time we’ve heard that there’s a crackdown on Uyghurs practicing their faith? No, it isn’t. So how many of us are able to empathise and do everything in our power to stop it?
I know, it can feel disempowering for many reasons: distance, capacity, power and resource. I feel this too, on a personal level. All of us question our role and ability to do something to help.
But we have many instances in our history to reflect on, when Prophets and people of God have felt powerless, but have continued. When it feels as though we have no power to change a situation, we have to remind ourselves it starts with intention and a small action.
So let me tell you – when people come together, be they Muslim or not – for a just cause, to protest injustice and to struggle for what is right, that very act can be the most empowering message.
If we loudly refuse to accept injustice, then those who suffer it know that they are not alone.
If we recognise and support our Uyghur brothers and sisters, if we dismantle the barriers that are designed to stop us from recognising their humanity, then we have started to break down the propaganda that tells Uyghurs to conform to a nationalistic vision that denies their rich heritage.
I want to set out a few things that we can focus on.
We’re very privileged to be living in the UK, where we can voice our concerns openly. Let us take advantage of this privilege that isn’t afforded to our Uyghur brothers and sisters.
Firstly, let’s educate ourselves. Reach out to any Uyghur Muslims who may be living or working in your local area. Contact Rahima and others who have built a small community in London and ask what is needed. Donate your time, skills and energy to the ongoing efforts.
Secondly, use mosques, centres and institutions as places to gather and show support. Talk about Uyghur Muslims in Jummah Khutbah’s, but go further and organise meetings afterwards to run local actions. These actions can be anything from a small protest to a large public event with speakers and human rights activists.
Thirdly, use lobbying power. We at the Muslim Council of Britain have written to the Chinese Embassy, and the Foreign and Commonwealth office to ask exactly what they’re doing in response to the reports.
The FCO have told us that they’ve raised the recommendations put forward by the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. So we know that there are people in government willing to raise this issue.
Keep the pressure on, and ask them to go further.
Fourthly, use social media and mainstream media to raise awareness. It is up to us to keep this issue on the agenda. Keep tweeting, writing, take part in online campaigns and always seek out Uyghur Muslims whose voices should be amplified.
Finally, keep talking amongst each other, and renewing your intentions. Accompany everything you do with sincerity and prayer.
In almost all struggles against injustice, it is civil society – every day, ordinary people – who must stand up, bear witness and act for change.
Let us take on this responsibility, for those who cannot.