A delegation of pro-government clerics from Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE praise China's efforts to combat 'terrorism' despite ongoing persecution of Muslim minority
By Areeb Ullah
January 11, 2023
Emirati academic Ali Rashid al Nuaimi, among other Islamic scholars as part of the World Muslim Communities Council visiting a centre against terrorism in the Xinjiang province (Screengrab)
Uyghur activists described a visit by a delegation of Islamic scholars to Xinjiang province as "propaganda" that serves China as it continues to deny claims it has imprisoned thousands of Uyghur Muslims.
Thirty Muslim scholars from 14 Muslim-majority countries, including pro-government clerics from Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE, visited Xinjiang province as part of a delegation organised by the World Muslim Communities Council (WMCC).
Pictures posted by Chinese state media showed the WMCC delegation, headed by Emirati academic Ali Rashid al-Nuaimi, visiting various sites as part of their multi-city tour of Xinjiang province.
Founded in the United Arab Emirates, the WMCC said its aim is to support Muslims in non-Muslim majority countries and to protect them "intellectually, spiritually, and from racial discrimination or ethnic cleansing".
In a press statement by the WMCC, Nuaimi, who has championed normalisation between Israel and the Arab world, repeated China's claims that its crackdown on Uyghurs is part of its policy to combat terrorism in the Xinjiang province.
But Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, hit back at Nuaimi's claims and said China often used the pretext of combatting terrorism to justify criminalising "everyday and legal forms of religious behaviour, such as wearing a beard or hijab and possessing a Quran.
"It is outrageous that the WMCC has participated in this propaganda visit and is now echoing the Chinese government's narrative," Isa told Middle East Eye.
"This was a wasted opportunity to ask real questions about the actual conditions of Uyghurs and openly condemn the current genocide, and show that as ''representatives' of the global Muslim community, they genuinely care about the Uyghur Muslims."
Isa added: "Certain scholars, especially the ones from countries that have experienced genocide against Muslims, such as Bosnia, have failed to learn from past experiences and stand up for victims of atrocity crimes elsewhere."
The Chinese government is accused of detaining more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the eastern Xinjiang region and subjecting the community to abuses some have labelled a genocide. China denies all allegations of abuse.
'Whitewashing China crimes'
Abduweli Ayup, an Uyghur language activist from Kashgar, described the trip as "whitewashing" China's crimes against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Feeling particularly incensed by representatives from Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, attending the delegation, Ayup recounted how disappointed he felt at the sight of Bosnian scholars participating in the visit.
"When the Bosnian genocide took place, I remember how Uyghurs in Kashgar, where I am from, raised money for the Bosnians," Ayup told MEE.
"Now those same Muslim men and women are languishing in Chinese concentration camps because they dared to practice their faith in China."
Other members of the WMCC delegation include Usaama Al Azhari, Egyptian President Abdel Fateh el Sisi's adviser on religious affairs, and Mestaoui Mohamed Slaheddine, adviser to the Tunisian Prime Minister.
In an interview with the Emirati channel Al Ain, Azhar on Monday described China as "brotherly" and said the visit was "critical to exchange experiences [of fighting terrorism]."
Last year, China's foreign minister attended an Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) meeting in Islamabad with Uyghur campaigners criticising the body for not speaking up about their plight.
This delegation's latest visit comes after claims that Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been deporting Uyghurs to China despite concerns over their safety if sent back.
Last April, Amnesty International called on Saudi Arabia to immediately release four Uyghurs, including a 13-year-old girl and her mother, who were at risk of being taken to repressive internment camps if sent back to China.
Buheliqiemu Abula and her teenage daughter were detained in Mecca and told by police they faced deportation to China.
Abula is the former wife of Nuermaimaiti Ruze, who was also detained in Saudi Arabia in 2020 after they took a pilgrimage to Mecca.