Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author e-mail alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
I can't imagine what I would do if someone told me they wouldn't let me fast. Not because I was sick or it would somehow be detrimental to my well-being, but simply that I couldn't because they didn't want me to. A small minority population of Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, are facing this reality.
What the U.S. State Department has called "repressive restrictions on religious practices" in a global report on religious freedom, the local government of the Xinjiang region has justified in a statement it released saying "the county committee has issued comprehensive policies on maintaining social stability during the Ramadan period." The result? A minority group that has already been held down for some time is now being pushed down even more. The statement also says, "It is forbidden for Communist Party cadres, civil officials (including those who have retired) and students to participate in Ramadan religious activities."
To anyone who would say that the Uighurs somehow deserve to be treated in this way because of the way some Muslim countries treat minorities really makes no sense. I don't think we should justify a wrong that is done by saying someone else is doing something wrong. It's still wrong in both instances. No one deserves to be treated like that and it's not OK for those who are in positions of authority to abuse that authority by creating unjust policy measures against minority groups under their responsibility. If you are saying they do deserve to be treated like that simply because they are Muslim, then you are a foolish person and I feel sorry for you.
In Burma, the situation is also hostile. Even before this Ramadan, but also during it, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority community living in the Arakan region, have been consistently targeted by security forces, resulting in the deaths and murders of many. A huge number of the Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh, but more likely are being pushed into the neighboring country. Close to 100,000 have become internally displaced in their own country. For those who don't know what it means to be part of an "internally displaced" population, I visited Sri Lanka about two years ago on a U.S. State Department trip and during that time met with large groups of people who had been evicted from their home towns by the Tamil Tigers, and found no other town in their own country that would let them in. They were forced to live, and unfortunately still do, in underdeveloped areas with little to no electricity, limited access to medical supplies, and no established educational system for children of all ages. There were no roads that lead to their villages because people didn't live on that land, so why build roads to go there? For those who had homes, they were over-crowded with as many as six or seven living in one or two rooms. When I asked them what their biggest challenge is, most everyone responded, "People have forgotten us."
The Tamil Tigers are no longer in power, so these people in Sri Lanka don't have to look over their shoulders in case someone was coming to massacre their entire village, which was a reality once before. The Muslims of Burma, the Rohingya, still have to deal with a systematic killing undertaken by the security forces in the region while living as an internally displaced population.
We sometimes get desensitized to whats taking place in the world around us. Many of us are just not informed. In a society that embraces ideas of individualism, we chase after goals and objectives that keep us from really being attuned to what life is like for people other than ourselves. Our own sense of entitlement leads to us to believe that we are somehow deserving of what we have been given. Why am I more deserving of drinking a glass of clean water than a 5-year-old Burmese girl who has been waiting for two days for her father to walk through their front door, but unfortunately will never see him again? How am I more entitled to the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the money I spend? Circumstances have played a role in me being where I am. I decide if I graciously will share of what I have with those who do not, or I will keep only to myself.
Each of these people in China and Burma, and in many other parts of the world where there is oppression and injustice, has a name. They have a life, they have a story. If you have the means to do so, bring awareness to their situation from your action. And at the very least keep them in your thoughts. It would not be right of us to let them be forgotten.
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