Forced to sell alcohol: Why is the ‘ummah’ silent over the plight of Chinese Muslims?

Published: May 6, 2015

Chinese authorities have commanded Muslim shopkeepers and restaurant owners in a village in Xinjiang to sell alcohol and cigarettes. PHOTO: AFP

Imagine if you are a vegetarian Hindu and hold the cow sacred, that beef is shoved into your mouth. Imagine if you are a staunch Christian, that you are forbidden to baptise your newborn baby.

Painful? Yes.

Some of us may even say what’s new in this, and Pakistan’s minorities have suffered this and more. And they have. And no minority anywhere in the world should have to go through this.

But there is a huge difference in this and what is happening to the Muslims in Xinjiang province in China. In Pakistan, this is done at the hands of extremists. But in China, it is at an official level that Muslims are forbidden from practicing Islam. The last year or more has seen repeated incidents of Muslims, a religious minority in China, being coerced into going against their religious beliefs. That too under state patronage.

To remind ourselves, the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan’s bestie, is where media is still state-owned. Instead of monitoring media, they control it! Coercion is also a norm when it comes to the nation’s reproductive health decisions. While family planning is a legitimate aim, the modus operandi is faulty and against the spirit of human freedom to lead lives as they see fit.

What is happening in Xinjiang is another example of this tendency we see in China. While it is justified if China wants to mitigate extremist groups in the region, why must all Muslims in the region have to suffer because of what some are doing?

It makes one shudder to see the news and images that on social media in recent months. Imams being forced to dance, fasting being banned, women being forcibly stopped from wearing veils and men not being allowed to grow beards . The imams were, in fact, made to swear to an oath that they would not teach religion to their children. They were forced to tell children that prayer was harmful for the soul and had to chant the slogan that,

“Our income comes from the CKP (Chinese Communist Party) not from Allah (SWT)”.

In a verdict that made headlines, a court in China sentenced a Uighur Muslim man to six years in prison for “provoking trouble” and growing a beard. His wife also, reportedly, was served a two-year sentence for using a veil to cover her face.

The recent most bit of news is very disturbing. Chinese authorities have commanded Muslim shopkeepers and restaurant owners in a village in Xinjiang to sell alcohol and cigarettes, and display them in eye-catching ways to undermine Islam’s influence on locals and as part of a campaign to weaken religion, according to reports.

While extremism leading to terrorism is something every nation will deal with in its own way, reactive policies end up, in fact, further fuelling extremism. The more you try to stop something by force and not via dialogue, the more it will get inflamed. The cycle of hate and violence will continue if we keep pushing communities and people against the wall.

While the Pakistan-China friendship is encouraging for our nation, one is forced to wonder how come our rulers, who claim to be staunch Muslims, have not raised their voice against all this in any forum. Is it a case of vested interests silencing an important issue?

Sadly, Pakistan is not the only Muslim country that has remained silent on this issue. The “ummah” remains conspicuous by its absence as usual, chooses its battles wisely, and only fights for causes that have an incentive in the end. There is no one to fight for the underdog. In this case, that is the Chinese Muslims. It seems that China is too strong, and the world is too enamoured by it or too indebted to it to take up this human rights issue.

What these people are being subjected to leaves us also with another introspection in the end. Part of the problem here is stereotyping. The beard. The pants above the ankles. The burqa. The face veil. Things that are expressions of a centuries’ old faith are being seen as signature marks of extremism, so much so that peace loving Muslims face reverse discrimination in their own communities and in their own homeland.

The next time we assess someone on the basis of pre-conceived notions and stereotypes we have been fed, let us check ourselves for unfairness that we all are often guilty of.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

A writer and editor, who has worked as a Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works as a media trainer and communications practitioner. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • King

    Organized religions were invented to subdue and rule poor masses, rich only use religion for their benefit wherever necessary.Recommend

  • Samar

    This is such a disingenuous and misleading news. This rule was only passed and
    applied in a single village. It would be like Chinese articles reporting
    on isolated incidents in Pakistan as federal policyRecommend

  • girimoto

    You should be glad that government is not forcing them to sell pork. Senior Sub-Editor is comparing selling alcohol with shoving beef. Cool. I have solution to this problem, send your people to fight thereRecommend

  • girimoto

    Not a word about Salman khan who was alcohol intoxicated when he killed a poor chap. Every news channel was running as breaking news and not a single instance of mentioning the word “ALCOHOL”.Recommend

  • joe

    Muslims and communist deserve each other. They do not belong to democracy.Recommend

  • Patricia Foley

    In Communist China it is not surprising that religion and religious practices take a back seat. Although there is freedom of religion to a certain extent the Communist policy has always been for the common good – if they determine that Chinese people should be allowed to buy tobacco or alcohol then that is the rule of law. Communists do not restrict just Islam it is any religion. What you do in your own home is your business, but what you do out in public is theirs. The difference between Communism and Democracy is quite simple – communism focuses on the Common Good and Democracy focuses on Individual Rights and Freedoms. Being a Democrat by nature I do have to say that China has the RIGHT to run their own country they way they want to and no individual should have the right to tell them how to do it for their own personal gain. As we like to say in the west (and appropriate for the East as well) – if you don’t like it then no one is forcing you to stay. That is called freedom of choice.Recommend

  • Saeed

    Total BS….it is like anywhere in the world….you sell whatever the shop sells….or quit your job…Recommend

  • Feroz

    By the time the depth of this Chinese friendship is understood and digested, Pakistan would have become a colony of China.Recommend

  • Summer

    Wait dude, more is coming……Recommend

  • Anon

    Soon, they will forced to sell pork in their restaurants….BTW, Pakistan’s main concern is how India is treating its Muslims, so that they can legitimate their existence..Recommend

  • Whiskey Khan

    To an extent Muslims are to blame themselves, Latest band of Islam are being preached and practised as a militant religion and these restriction being imposed lately are the side effects of Islam being spread as threat to non believers. Recommend

  • ajay gupta

    In Pakistan it is done by religious extremists…..oh really? & where do they get the support from? that they will not be arrested? the victims will never get justice? Is this not the state machinery that time and again fails minorities in pakistan? now that the boot is on the other foot, it calls for a blog, eh? wake up before its too late that the chinese interest is only to loot pakistan and checkmate India. they give a hoot about its people and their religion.Recommend

  • a

    Dear author, Thank you very much for raising your voice on this very importnat issue. shame on all ICC countries for looking the other way or looking for only their national interests. Pharoah was strong too, but eventually came his endRecommend

  • wb

    “Painful? Yes.”

    Selling alcohol is not the same as drinking it. Quran has three verses about alcohol. If I mentioned them and debated them, my comment will never get passed.

    However, I can tell you that none of them talks anything against selling them.

    Nonetheless, the most interesting thing is your naive call to Ummah.

  • wb

    And besides who cares what happens to Muslims of China? Did you care about the plight of Tibetans? Did you raise your voice for them?Recommend

  • genesys

    They are silent about China but go and shoot Charlie Hebdo and hold protests and raise rallies all over the world.They have killed god know how many civilians because of perceived insults.When it comes to China all the Muslim nations have amnesia.Why?Recommend

  • The Truth

    Criticizing China seems to be against the law in Islamic Republic of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Parvez

    You’ve made a valid point……calling on the ‘ ummah ‘ to act is a waste of time. This is China we are talking of and it is very much an authoritarian regime. The fact that most Muslim countries will remain silent is because their own record is nothing to write home about. In the end it will be a ‘ gora ‘ organisation that will raise the issue on principle…….reminding the ‘ ummah ‘ how ineffective they really are.Recommend

  • ather khan

    sad. but as a weak country what can we do? when rich countries like saudi and turkey are busy in dealing the shia iran, a united stand of muslim ummah should be seen impossible. may ALLAH save these helpless people.Recommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    Pakistan can speak about abuses in Kashmir because it is a disputed territory. We speak against muslim oppression in India because we are culturally tied to that country and have strong family ties to it. When it comes to China, that is their own internal affair. We treat openly atheist people like criminals – how would we like it if they lecture us about how we disregard the rights of non believers? Atheism is China’s religion.Recommend

  • Absar

    Thanks for raising your voice, Farahnaz Zahidi.Recommend

  • Ravindra Sharma

    Simple reason for this , the Chinese money and might . Recommend

  • resilient

    Yet US enemy no.1… Shakil afridi a traitor and Mumtaz qadri a hero. Welcome to the land of hypocrites. Recommend

  • wb

    It is not the land of hypocrites. Correct yourself.

    It’s the Hindu land under the occupation of hypocrites.Recommend

  • wb

    So, when a 16 year old trouble maker gets killed in Kashmir by Kashmiri Muslim police, it is just one isolated incident. But you do project it as if all innocent Kashmiri Muslims are being culled like street dogs by the MODI government.Recommend

  • wb

    How are you culturally tied to Burma? How is Yemen a disputed territory?

    You spare no occasions to talk about or even involve in that?

    By the way, atheism is nobody’s religion. Atheism is not a religion by any stretch of imagination. Get your basic facts straight.Recommend

  • marik

    The brave new world of communismRecommend

  • Asfandyar Khan

    The question should be
    Why Farahnaz zahidi just now remembered the *plight” of chinese muslims after “investment” of chinese? It not that you actually care about them, i havent seen an article from you on myanmar and india or CongoRecommend

  • mimi sur

    You will get the same behaviour, the way you behave others . Have you ever heard, in any country, where Hindus or Christians wages terrorism and ask for a separate state ? Have you ever heard when a knife wielding Hindu/Christian attacked and killed many people ? No…or May be rare. But this is common in Xinjiang . So face the music.Recommend

  • Lone Wolf

    If you are so culturally tied to that country, when asked for a separate nation in the first place……..?Recommend

  • wb

    All correct. But unfortunately, these Muslims are not outsiders. They’re Chinese by ethnicity, nationality and origin.

    Who will take them even if they want to leave?

    Pakistan will not, it has never taken anyone. It treats its own people as outsiders.Recommend

  • Sane

    Religious extremist in Pakistan under the garb of Muslim are basically implanted agents of Pakistan enemies. Why you have so much sympathy that China is looting Pakistan. Shouldn’t you be happy. If this is China we agree to this ‘loot’ and this shall also yoke India. Pakistan is chnaging rapidly despite all your ill and otherwise efforts. We have won the proxy war imposed on us by our enemies. Do you need to name ‘enemy’.Recommend

  • Raj – USA

    Truth of the matter is that every non-muslim country in the world is supportive of and inspired by what China is doing. They have forbidden all five pillars of Islam.
    Shahadah (no god but Allah) Chinese say No Allah;
    Salat: Namaz 5 times a day. Mosques not allowed to make any prayer calls. Imams forced to say that religion is harmful to soul, imams forced to promise they shall not preach religion, even what parents teach in their homes are monitored. Muslims under 18 years of age are not allowed in mosques.
    Zakat: Muslims in China are not in a position to give Zakat. Even if some can, they avoid due to fear of being monitored.
    Swam: (Self control) China not only forces muslims to eat and during fasting hours of Ramzan, they also monitor and restrict food and liquid intake by muslims during feasting hours. They do it throughout the month of Ramzan and have been doing it for 5 nears now.
    Hajj: Government employees are fired if they take vacation to go on Hajj. Travel documents to muslims are denied in many cases for Hajj pilgrimage.
    China has active campaigns and TV ad’s against veil and beard. Their top official media carried headlines calling muslims as a bunch of uncultured and violent people.
    ET itself has published all these news just in the last 3 years. Google it. Try converting a Chinese to Islam in China. All the above restrictions apply to all muslims throughout China and some Pakistanis may say that it is applied only in a very small area. They say so, just to hide their shame and inability to do anything. The Ummah cannot do anything as Western countries are fed up with what muslims have been doing there and like to emulate China. France and Germany have already started. We hear voices in USA and UK also. China has restrictions for other religions also but they are not even a tenth of what they are doing and have been doing for over 5 years to Islam/muslims. When muslims start demanding sharia in every country they move to, try to convert all non-muslims everywhere by any means, we would only see reaction as what China is doing.Recommend

  • tsds erbil

    This is Fascist reactionary propaganda of the Infamous unholy Red Mosque Brigade !Recommend

  • Curious George

    Ms. Sur, are you forgetting something? (True, there are no acts of terror currently being carried by non-Muslims in far-away foreign countries.)Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    The US State Department actually just released such an annual report on religious freedom.Recommend

  • Rawal Khan

    Nonsense. What’s wrong with selling alcohol? I’m a Muslim, the consumption of alcohol is forbidden, not the buying or selling.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Dear U still believe in all those – Akhand Bharat stuff .. Learn to let go ….Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    Let us not assume that freedom is a universally understood word. It varies by different nations and cultures and subcultures. To make you feel better, China is an equal abuser of all religions and human rights. (Don’t even try to have a second child in China. They will hang in the public square. Though there are noises being made that this policy could change is precipitously “falling” – from $1.3 billion to 1.4 billion today. Although they may be too late as Mother Nature may have other plans: The chemical, hormonal effluence created by their blind adoption of Western lifestyles since the 1980s may have destroyed or interfered with their ability to be fertile.) The last time I checked, China (i) is the largest repressive dictatorship (and what other kinds are there?) in the world controlled by a few good men (Communist Part members); (ii) it officially recognizes just 5 religions and freely interferes in all of them; (iii) it is a signatory of the Marxist credo (and perhaps rightly so) that “Religion is the Opiate of the Masses”; (iv) it is already a cocky smirking $8 trillion (surpassing Japan) and throwing its weight around poor defenseless countries; and poured more concrete in the last few years than the US did in the previous 100. (v) the Mafia’s favorite material for silencing restive enemies was to bury them in concrete. Have the Chinese learned from them? We can only guess but wouldn’t know for sure. Anyway, do not try to upset the $46 billion applecart by raising such uncomfortable questions.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    “Common Good” is defined by the dictators in charge; not by the individual or the “hidden hand”. Even in a flawed democracy, people can express that “common good” better than a handful of privileged, autocratic few. Anyway a Pakistani blogger has the freedom to write about their abuses, even though it shows a wee lack of irony and self-knowledge.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    In America there is a saying: “Money talks, and B******T walks.”Recommend

  • Zafar

    ” ….,one is forced to wonder how come our rulers, who claim to be staunch Muslims …”,

    No Ma’am, they are not they just claim to be.

    “…. have not raised their voice against all this in any forum”

    Beggars do not get to choose …… China is throwing us a bone and I do not think that they would want to know what it tastes like.

    “Is it a case of vested interests silencing an important issue?”

    Yes it is, China is a communist country with a slave economy. If the champions of human rights and democracy (EU, Canada, UK, Australia, U.S of A) are silent about the Human Rights abuses by China and still get their goods manufactured for cheap in China, I guess us, the people ofKashkolistan should do the same and get what we need from them … later on when we have enough face to speak up, then we can.Recommend

  • Zafar

    Wahabi Saudi and Sunni Turkey should not fight with Shia Iran … they should sit together, Wahabi Saudi, Sunni Turkey and Shia Iran and talk to each other.Recommend

  • Zafar

    I think it is the Slogan of French nation “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” or was it China?? … Correct me if I am wrong!!!
    China is a communist country with worst human rights abuses, you know it, I know it and the world knows it … if the all powerful west, being Champions of freedom of speech, expression and insult, are silent and not making a fuss about how their goods are manufactured by slaves in China and are buying and consuming Chinese manufactured goods … why should a poor and economically challenged country like ours go on and make enemies of the only people who are showing a bit of interrest in us??? I know it burns India to the core but hey …. what can we do??
    I know we have raised our voices against ills in other countries but hey … China is spending money and that is in our national interest and last I remember National Interests trumps Human rights, Ummah and fellow Muslim brethren any day of the week.
    Here we are discussing China and Pakistan, well actually, Pakistan’s silence over the mistreatment of fellow Muslims in China … I believe that none of the Charlie Hebdo attackers were Pakistani or Chinese for that matter.Recommend

  • akram

    because of the huge Chinese investment, we should not stop citing truth. what’s wrong is wrong and must be condemned. I have read many more articles on Chinese treatment of minority Muslims and its awful and embarrassment for whole ummah who is dead silent. talk about wanting to go to another war in Yemen for Saudi masters but not a single condemnation of ill treatment of Muslims in chinaRecommend

  • akram

    that is why we need introspection before lecturing others.Recommend

  • Jay

    I believe it too and one day we will take it back …. Hindu land is occupied , temple destroyed . pay back aint far !Recommend

  • ak

    because in india Muslims have rights (rather separate rights)..As per international studies, in the subcontinent, minorities are treated better in India (comparatively)

    While in china, Pak, etc they are second or third class citizen.
    There lies the hypocrisyRecommend

  • ak

    Culturally ties to even Palestine?

    That must be a very long umbilical cord :)Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “how would we like it if they lecture us about how we disregard the rights of non believers? Atheism is China’s religion.”

    Don’t you believe in the concept of Umma and brotherhood?

    ” We speak against muslim oppression in India because we are culturally tied to that country and have strong family ties to it.”

    Why being so anti American then, they are hardly doing anything against Indian Muslims, why cry foul over what Israel does in West Asia, the bottom line is your Chinese phobia has not yet caught up with the phobia you have for the Christians, Jews and Hindus, just a matter of time though because no client state would ever enjoy the kind of relationship Israel does with US.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Yes, let go of the Chinese Muslims for the larger good of Pakistan because Pakistan is the bulwark of the Muslim world.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Does it apply only to the Chinese Muslims considering the recent news about Chinese Imams dancing to the mandarin tunes?Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “but as a weak country what can we do? ”

    What shall a strong muslim country do in a situation like this, wage a war?Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Come out of your dreams, a country will not stop having strategic interests just because they are a Muslim country and a part of a utopia called umma.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “In the end it will be a ‘ gora ‘ organisation that will raise the issue on principle…….reminding the ‘ ummah ‘ how ineffective they really are.”

    Correct, and the response by the Pakistani part of the Umma would be a conspiracy theory by the Gora’s against Chines- Pakistani friendship.Recommend

  • Critical

    How are you culturally tied to Palestine??? Burma??? USA??? Denmark??Libya??

    How come you start protesting the moment you hear something flared up in that country???Recommend

  • Asfandyar Khan

    Name the country where riots happen on weekly bases and in major one 5/6 thousands die within hours
    hindustan is the name.Recommend

  • RFD

    Have you heard of Nagaland? Bodoland? Assam? This is where the
    Indian Army wages it’s reign of terror. The Muslims villagers who
    were massacred by hindu mobs in Tripura. The three Muslims men
    who were burnt alive in Mizoram. And Arunachal Pradesh where there
    is an insurgency and the local indigenous tribal people are decimated and
    killed indiscriminately, to suppress them And transplant them by hindu
    settlers. An on going genocide, by hindus.Recommend

  • Zafar

    What makes you think I believe in Ummah??? …Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    What will they talk about? Saudis used the Americans to fight the Iranians for decades, the same Americans now need the Iranians in Iraq, it is payback time for Iran.Recommend

  • Haris

    awwwwww! the writer doesn’t even know that China is a secular country and is not just anti Muslim. If you are living in China you have to follow the Chinese law and not Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Islamic law.
    Oh yes, the reason to post this is simple “why should we miss a single opportunity to bash our own country”
    Btw one innocent question: how many times has China objected to our internal issues?
    Another simple question. If some stupid people protest on the streets by blocking roads and making MUSLIMS suffer because someone in Denmark made a cartoon, do we support it? Then why should we protest against the Chinese?Recommend

  • Virendra Kaul

    Farahnaz, In Pakistan too discrimination is done at the hands of the state. Take example of Ahmedis for instance.Recommend

  • Virendra Kaul

    Why is Pakistanis obsessed with india? First look after your minorities both as religious as well as ethnicRecommend

  • Virendra Kaul

    You first have ethnic and cultural ties with Kashmiri Pandits whom you have thrown out and continue opposing their return. Isn’t this called munafaqat?Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Wrong Answer, Fail. 0/100Recommend

  • Gratgy

    “We treat openly atheist people like criminals”
    Are the atheists not culturally tied to you or belong to your own country?
    Speaks volumes about your community, When in minority ask for special rights, when in majority, treat the minority like criminals
    Way to go champ!Recommend

  • Gratgy

    China is Pakistan’s new East India Company. Get used to thisRecommend

  • Gratgy

    It was the local Bodo tribal villagers who killed the Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. North East India is Christian Dominated. LMAO at your lack of knowledgeRecommend

  • Ranjan

    You speak as riots happens in India like bombs blast in Pakistan. Can you just google when was the last time a Hindu-Muslim riot happened in India? You just keep on repeating Godhra-2002, Babri Masjid-1992, and Sabana Azmi not able to find home. But we get news of someone stoned to death/burned alive due to blasphemy from Pakistan now and then. Better to look at your own country than pointing fingers at India all the time.Recommend

  • can’tbelieve

    are you for real ? get out of the rock you are hiding under and smell the Chinese coffee.your Uighur brothers are crying of inhuman treatment….. how hypocrite can you become ?Recommend

  • Candian Hindu

    Imagine if you are a Pakistani Hindu and can’t register your marriage.Recommend

  • Jor El

    “We speak against muslim oppression in India because we are culturally tied to that country and have strong family ties to it.”
    No, u chose not to be part of that country, n left it in 1947 … u have no rights to speak about anything that goes over there …Recommend

  • Jor El

    ur above assertion is as gud as ur spelling …Recommend

  • Rafasa Arandas

    I thought most Pakistanis prided themselves on their Turkish and Mughal heritage, yet few seem willing to support East Turkestan…Recommend

  • Jayman

    Deeper than ocean and higher than Himalayas friend only has the best interests of Muslims at heart.
    Besides, Pakistan is a land where ideologies change at the sight of money. Look elsewhere if you’re looking for a principled stance.Recommend