In marking this year’s International Women’s Day, and sharing the 4th part of this blog-series, I relay the profound conversation I had with a Uyghur mother of five children who travelled from East Turkestan and settled in Istanbul. Of the conversations I was blessed to have with the sisters, this one had to be the most profound.
After she most kindly welcomed me into her home, we sat in the living room. We spoke for a long time about various struggles on her journey. What touched me the most was her unwavering īmān, courage, and optimism despite the hardships she faced.
Education and employment inequality
In 1988, I graduated from Serad University in East Turkestan. But they didn’t give us a job after we graduated.
The Chinese told us that there were a lot of work opportunities, and that companies were ready to employ us. However, when we would arrive at the companies and explain our skills and education, they would turn us away and say,
“You are Uyghurs. Here, we are in need of Chinese; we don’t need Uyghurs.”
We have thousands of Uyghur students who have graduated from university, yet end up jobless. Unfortunately, many people who come from China that are illiterate, unprofessional, immoral, and mistreat people, are given jobs and positions just because they are Chinese.
But people from our country who have graduated from university, and are skilled and knowledgeable, cannot find work. For example, someone who graduated in electrical engineering, and spent years studying and interning in this field, once they graduate, they are not given a job in their field.
There is also pressure from the Chinese workers who force us to make friends with Chinese students. University education is only taught in the Chinese language.
In my case, I was allowed to study in my mother tongue until I graduated from high school, but once I entered university, the whole curriculum was only in the Chinese language. Is this not oppression?
Me and my family, we saw a lot of injustice and violations against the Uyghur nation. The Chinese are very much against Islam.
When students who are hardworking become more practising Muslims, or even if a sister decides to wear long skirts, they kick them out of school. From 1999 to 2010, there were many university students who, for example, would study medicine for seven years, but when such students would begin to become more practising Muslims, they would be thrown into prison immediately.
Reducing Uyghur population through forced abortions
My husband had studied the Arabic language, he would teach others how to read the Qur’ān and about how Islam is the religion of Haqq (truth).
For this reason, he was imprisoned for three years. After he was released, he was restricted in travel and would need police permission to leave the city.
My husband was arrested every year. Therefore, he was not at home for at least six months of the year. I gave birth to my children in East Turkestan, and could not leave the house in an effort to protect my children.
In the middle of the night, the police would come to our home, armed with guns, and knock on the door.
“Who is living here? How many children are in this home?”
We were not allowed to even sit comfortably in our own home. We were constantly moving. We moved eight times within just four years. All of this was in order to protect my children.
For these reasons, I had to leave East Turkestan.
It is very difficult for a mother to raise her children alone. The Chinese would vaccinate our Uyghur children, this led to widespread incidents of our children dying. By doing this, they wanted to reduce our population. That’s why I gave birth to many children as a form of resistance to their plans.
When myself and other Uyghur women became pregnant, we could not leave our homes after four or five months; we could not even go to our parents’ house. This was as a precaution, so that the authorities would not learn about our pregnancies. If they heard about our situation, they would have forcefully taken us to the hospital to do a forced abortion. This is how they killed the children of many women who were even eight months pregnant.
There are cameras and big doors at the entrances to our streets and homes. You can only go in and out with a card, all of our movements automatically updated in the police system.
We were under constant control and surveillance, as if we’re living in a dungeon. Every neighbourhood is like this. There are sixteen cities in East Turkestan, every city is like this.
They began introducing this systematically in 2013, new control systems such as entry cards and others were put in place. Cameras would be installed in front of every home. Would anybody like to live in such a place? You feel like you are living in an open-air prison.
I have four children; however, I was not able to hold their hands and comfortably take them to the park. We couldn’t roam the streets. It was so difficult for us to live there.
If we stand against the Chinese, we must either be prepared that we will be killed, or we will adopt and change to be Chinese, as they are. That’s why, no matter what happens to us, we placed our trust in Allah and came here [to Istanbul], so that we can educate our children well and live freely.
Leaving East Turkestan
I was able to travel directly to Türkiye because the Chinese played a big game with the Uyghurs.
In December 2015, China said,
“We are giving passports to everyone.”
They encouraged us to travel abroad, toured every neighbourhood, came to our homes, and would ask why we hadn’t gotten passports.
When we got our passports, it cost just ₺250. Before that period, they would not issue a passport, even if you paid ₺250 million!
That’s when we realised that most likely there was a catch and a game. But living in East Turkestan was very difficult. My only choice was to oppose the Chinese and face death, but I have children. If something happened to me, who would look after them?
My husband could not get a passport, because he was imprisoned for “political reasons”. A black mark had been put on his identity, so he could never get one. My children miss their father a lot. I miss my husband, my parents, and my homeland, too. Myself and my children cried a lot for a year. I was three months pregnant when I left East Turkestan, so my little girl was born when I arrived. We used the money we brought with us for a year, and then we ran out of money and had no-one who could send us any.
When I found out about the Nuzugum Foundation, I registered my children. I also studied the Turkish language and trained in some skills so I could work. I would make jewellery boxes and was involved in stitching quilts at a workshop. In the past, I read many books about children’s education, so I worked on a project to teach children aged 3-6.
Since I arrived in Türkiye, I have not stopped for a minute. I also have to look after my children. My Uyghur friends supported me a lot, I could not cope without them. May Allah bless them. There are days that I feel very tired, sometimes I just want to drop everything, and run and escape somewhere.
Trust in Allah
It is only such īmān and belief that gives us strength, inshāAllah. No matter how difficult our hardships, our Prophet (ﷺ) and other prophets also had great difficulties.
I get up at 04:30 in the morning and do not rest until midnight. However, I do not show this to people. Rather, I try to energise them, because I have read this in the Qur’ān and ḥādīth. When people see me, I try to look like I don’t have any problems. I try to give them energy and motivation as well. I invite them to learn and to read, alhamdulillāh.
We have seen much persecution and oppression. Alhamdulillāh, we support each other as relatives do to each other. When the days get tough, we gather together, we share our troubles, we cry, we pray, we read the Qur’ān. Alhamdulillāh.
Once a week, I gather my children for a family halaqa. We talk about our mission and purpose and we make du’ā for half an hour or one hour. I make du’ā for them, for Allah to keep them firm on Islam, and for Allah to remove the sadness from their hearts. I say to them that if you do not all have a profession, I will not be content.
I remind them and say,
“You live in such a comfortable place. You live freely as you want. In our country, people can’t even make wudū. They can’t breathe, they live in a dungeon.”
I say that we need to know the value of this freedom.
“The world is watching; they watch like a movie, because China has power”
We are so sad that our homeland is in the hands of one of the most immoral and filthy nations in the world. There is no justice in the world right now. You say so, but you can’t do anything.
We have cried for many years, we have been persecuted for many years. The world is watching; they watch like a movie, because China has power. They just watch.
In fact, we Uyghurs, as humanity, are a nation like cotton; we cannot harm anyone. We are very hospitable. When the Chinese came to our hometown in the 1940s, they were hungry, thirsty, and barefoot. Our parents gave them food and water, as a gesture of human kindness, because they heard these visitors were hungry.
But they slowly settled in, with all sorts of tricks; they persecuted and deceived our people a lot. The Uyghurs never expected the Chinese would do something so bad, because we see everyone and hold them to the same standards to which we hold ourselves.
But they did so many bad things. Our country is a very rich country. We cannot extract the underground riches, but the Chinese are taking advantage of our resources.
Uyghurs made du’ā for attendees at Stand4Uyghurs protests
We have heard in the news that Muslims in England came to the streets for East Turkestan, we also made so much du’ā for them.
As the Uyghur community, we would like to thank all of our brothers and sisters who are supporting us in London.
On this #InternationalWomensDay, we remember our Uyghur mothers and daughters, as they face untold suffering at the hands of the Chinese regime.— Islam21c (@Islam21c) March 8, 2023
May Allah grant them the best in this world and the next! (1/2)#Stand4Uyghurs pic.twitter.com/T1fJUOeD1K