Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hajim (raḥimahu Allah) was one of the most widely known and acclaimed Uyghur Islamic scholars. He produced the first Uyghur language translation of the Qur’ān in the 1980s. This monumental effort was arguably his greatest contribution to the Uyghur peoples as well as the global Muslim Ummah. Shaykh Muhammad also translated many aḥādīth and classical Arabic texts into the Uyghur language.
His life history provides lessons on the increasingly aggressive trajectory of communist-socialist repression of Islamic institutions and religious leaders in occupied East Turkestan, following the appointment of Chen Quango to the position of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) Xinjiang Committee Secretary in August 2016. It highlights the centrality of Islamic erasure to the CCP’s current efforts to supposedly ‘re-educate’ the Uyghur peoples.
Shaykh Muhammad Salih was born in 1939 in Atush county, a Kyrgyz prefecture of occupied East Turkestan. There is no evidence that he was ever involved in any form of political activism. Based on the accounts of surviving family members and media reports, he was a deeply devout religious scholar whose whole life revolved around the Qur’ān and aḥādīth. He memorised the whole Qur’ān at the age of 11.
His children followed closely in his footsteps
According to one of Shaykh Muhammad’s surviving great-grandsons, all of his children and grandchildren studied the Qur’ān. Several family members followed in his footsteps by devoting their lives to Islamic scholarship, including his daughter Nezira, who also translated many aḥādīth into the Uyghur language.
Historians note a brief period of state accommodation of Islam in some parts of East Turkestan after the end of Mao Xedong’s leadership.  Mosques were built and limited Islamic education was permitted in the 1980s, under the watchful eyes of the CCP.
This period gave space for Shaykh Muhammad Salih – and other imams who were not involved in political activism – to work and teach Islam with less interference, and even moderate support, from the CCP.
A period of state acceptance of Islam
Reports indicate Shaykh Muhammad received permission to study Islam and Arabic in Egypt. On completion of his education, he returned to take the helm of a state-managed Islamic educational institution.
He received considerable local and international acclaim for his scholarly efforts, particularly his translation of the Qur’ān.
In 1990, he received a medal from then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for his contributions to global Islam.  The shaykh is widely known and loved by Uyghurs throughout East Turkestan and the exiled overseas diaspora, as indicated by the many tribute blog posts and articles written following the sad news of his death. 
An abrupt arrest and internment in a concentration camp
Despite never overtly defying the CCP, the shaykh and his daughter, Nezira, and subsequently all members of his extended family in East Turkestan, were abruptly arrested and interned in concentration camps in 2017. A surviving family member living as a refugee overseas does not know why they were detained.
Published reports do not provide information of any specific charges against Shaykh Muhammad, but a news report mentions Nezira and her husband, a prominent Uyghur language poet, were charged with ‘religious extremism’. 
It is worth noting here that the CCP considers any form of quotidian Islamic practice, including praying, wearing the hijāb, and eating halal meat, as indicators of extremist threats to state security. In the absence of contrary evidence, one can speculate that Shaykh Muhammad and his family were detained simply because they were influential and devout practicing Muslims.
Like many other Uyghur imams who remained steadfast to Islam, Shaykh Muhammad died in a concentration camp in 2018. As is the case with other imams martyred in the camps, the exact circumstances of his death are unclear, as is the location of his grave, if one exists. His daughter Nezira is currently classified as ‘disappeared’ as her whereabouts are unknown and it is unclear if she is dead or alive.
By Dilnaz Kerim, a Uyghur sister who is living in exile and still has family members in East Turkestan, and Dr. Suraina Pasha, a political sociologist who writes on matters of human rights from a Muslim perspective.
 Uyghur Human Rights Project and Justice for All Report, 2021.