Beijing used the feast to broadcast fake videos of Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs celebrating in a strange way. Some concessions were made this year, but within a climate of terror.
by Laila Adilzhan and Serikzhan Bilash
Eid al-Adha, called Kurban by Turkic populations including the Uyghurs and Kazakhs, is one of the two official holidays for Muslims, commemorating Abraham’s (Ibrahim’s) willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. On that day, men from each family traditionally go to the mosque for a special morning prayer, wear their best clothes, cook the most appreciated dishes. They visit relatives, parents, and neighbors, and welcome guests to their homes. Young people greet their older relatives and neighbors by kissing their hands as a sign of respect. They give each other presents. They sacrifice a cow, a sheep, or a camel. They make a donation. What Muslims do not do on Eid al-Adha is dancing or playing music in public squares.
Last week, the CCP posted several photos and videos of Turkic populations joyfully celebrating Kurban in Xinjiang. In the videos, Muslims were dancing in traditional costumes in public squares. The Chinese Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, also published on Twitter a video of Muslims in Hotan celebrating by dancing and playing musical instruments. In a few hours, the tweet gathered hundreds of critical comments and ridicule. Muslim netizens were shocked by this way of celebrating the holiday. They wrote comments such as, “Who are they? Which Muslim would celebrate the holiday like this?,” “Muslims do not dance in the squares during the feast. All of them go to visit their elders. The perceptions you are trying to fabricate do not work. I wish freedom to our brothers and sisters as soon as possible,” “What kind of people are these, no Muslim people we know have such an Eid al-Adha celebration, so I’m asking, did you just fabricate them?!” Nobody believed the videos, and everyone assumed some Muslims were forced to celebrate in such a way just to take photos and videos and show them to the world. It looked ridiculous, that the CCP doesn’t even know how Muslims in Xinjiang usually celebrate the holiday.
However, it would be untrue to state that nothing changed this year. Ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang told Bitter Winter that the attitude of Xinjiang authorities regarding the holiday was somewhat different. For the first time since 2017, the CCP allowed ethnic Kazakhs to celebrate the holiday and slaughter sheep for Kurban. For the first time since 2017, Xinjiang authorities allowed ethnic Kazakhs to go to their graves to pray for their deceased family members, and to mosques for the obligatory prayers.
These concessions were obviously the result of international pressure, including from human rights activists in Kazakhstan. However, ethnic Kazakhs are still very much scared in Xinjiang. Since 2012, several mosques in Xinjiang have been under tightened control, and those who enter must register. As a result, there are very few people going to the mosques. In counties, towns, and villages where mosques were once crowded, now prayers there gather 3 or 5 Muslims at best.
In some mosques in Xinyuan County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture (Kaz. Kunes), the believers found that the mosque’s presiding imam was not present, as several Muslim religious leaders had been arrested and sentenced to heavy prison terms back in 2017 and 2018. The believers did not dare pray on their own, and dispersed automatically. According to the Islamic rules, without a presiding imam the believers can temporarily choose a person with religious knowledge to lead the collective prayer service, but they all left without praying for fear of being arrested by the Security Bureau for “illegal religious activities.” Before the holiday, Xinjiang authorities had decided that five categories of people would not be allowed to attend mosques, including those on low-income insurance, government officials, those under 60, CCP members, and those without “worship permits.”
Sanctions by the United States and other Western countries made the CCP realize that it should make some compromising gestures to deceive the West for economic gain, and reduce diplomatic pressure. But these gestures remain of limited practical scale, although they are magnified by the propaganda.
On Ethnic Kazakh issues specifically, Chinese Communist authorities are facing a dilemma.
If they keep arresting Kazakhs in Xinjiang, the independent Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights Organization will continue to expose the CCP crimes, fueling the Kazakhs’ opposition to the Belt and Road project in Kazakhstan. This will attract Western sanctions, and resistance and hatred from Kazakhs against the CCP’s Belt and Road program in Kazakhstan. If the detained Kazakhs are released or allowed to return to Kazakhstan to reunite with their long-lost families, with the help of Atajurt many will bravely come forward and expose their suffering in the Xinjiang transformation through education camps. This would add to the international condemnation of the CCP throughout the world.