|Birth||1 October 1940|
|Death||30 July 2014|
On the early morning of Wednesday, 30 July 2014, Juma Tahir (Chinese: 居玛·塔伊尔; Uyghur: جۈمە تاھىر, ULY: Jüme Tahir), the imam of China's largest mosque, the Id Kah Mosque in northwestern Kashgar, was stabbed to death by three young male Uyghur extremists.
Tahir was appointed by the Communist Party and supportive of Chinese government policies in the region. He had been a voice for peace in the insurgency involving the Uyghurs and the Han Chinese in the region. Partly, the conflict has been fueled by severe restrictions on the practice of Islam in the area. Since the mid-1990s, the traditional methods for appointing Imams have been replaced by appointments by the state, and assassination of religious leaders have escalated. Religious leaders across denominations condemned the attack against imam Tahir.
Since 1990, the Chinese government has disallowed Uighur Muslims from selecting the imams of their mosques. All Imams are appointed and paid a salary by the government. This follows the practice in China, where clergy are considered "religious professionals" and are subject to various regulations from the government. In certain parts of Xinjiang, women, government officials, students, and youth under 18 are banned from attending services and officials and students are not allowed to observe the Ramadan fast, and passports of all Uighurs have been impounded to control Hajj pilgrimage trips. Different Muslim ethnic groups in different regions are treated differently by the Chinese government in regards to religious freedom. Religious freedom is present for Hui Muslims, who can practice their religion, build Mosques, and have their children attend Mosques, while more controls are placed specifically on Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Hui Muslims who are employed by the state are allowed to fast during Ramadan unlike Uyghurs, and increasing numbers of Hui are going on Hajj, while Uyghurs find it difficult to get passports. During a 1989 protest by Hui Muslims in Lanzhou and Beijing, the Chinese police provided protection to the protestors and vandalizers were let off lightly. The Hui do not have a separatist movement, unlike the Uyghurs,
Although religious education for children is officially forbidden by law in China, the Communist party allows Hui Muslims to violate this law and have their children educated in religion and attend Mosques while the law is enforced on Uyghurs. After secondary education is completed, China then allows Hui students who are willing to embark on religious studies under an Imam. China does not enforce the law against children attending Mosques on non-Uyghurs in areas outside of Xinjiang. Hui religious schools are allowed a massive autonomous network of mosques and schools run by a Hui Sufi leader was formed with the approval of the Chinese government even as he admitted to attending an event where Bin Laden spoke.
Uyghur views vary by the oasis they live in. China has historically favored Turpan and Hami. Uyghurs in Turfan and Hami and their leaders like Emin Khoja allied with the Qing against Uyghurs in Altishahr. During the Qing dynasty, China enfeoffed the rulers of Turpan and Hami (Kumul) as autonomous princes, while the rest of the Uyghurs in Altishahr (the Tarim Basin) were ruled by Begs. Uyghurs from Turpan and Hami were appointed by China as officials to rule over Uyghurs in the Tarim Basin. Turpan is more economically prosperous and views China more positively than the rebellious Kashgar, which is the most anti-China oasis. Uyghurs in Turpan are treated leniently and favourably by China with regards to religious policies, while Kashgar is subjected to controls by the government. In Turpan and Hami, religion is viewed more positively by China than religion in Kashgar and Khotan in southern Xinjiang. Both Uyghur and Han Communist officials in Turpan turn a blind eye to the law and allow religious Islamic education for Uyghur children. Celebrating at religious functions and going on Hajj to Mecca is encouraged by the Chinese government, for Uyghur members of the Communist party. From 1979-1989, 350 mosques were built in Turpan. Han, Hui, and the Chinese government are viewed much more positively by Uyghurs specifically in Turpan, with the government providing better economic, religious, and political treatment for them.
Much of the violence in Xinjiang takes part in southern Xinjiang, which has been the focus of anti-terrorism efforts by the Xinjiang Party Chief from 2010 Zhang Chunxian. According to Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences anti-terrorism researcher Ma Pinyan, unemployed, undereducated young people from rural South Xinjiang are susceptible to recruitment by Islamic extremists. Other Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang, including Hui and Kazakhs, are critical of and do not support Uyghur separatist efforts towards Xinjiang's independence. Uyghur Muslims are themselves divided by adherence or nonadherence to Sufism, differing ancestral homes, and linguistic and political cleavages.
Most Xinjiang separatist violence targets ethnic majority Han people, but increasing attacks against fellow Uyghurs attempt to sway moderate Muslims to separatists' extreme version of Islam. Recent years have seen attacks from Uyghur separatists all over China, including in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan, which killed 33 and injured 143; while the Shache attack days earlier left 96 dead. According to journalist Jonathan Fenby, about three dozen Uyghurs have been spotted fighting for the Levant-based Islamic State, which claims the allegiance of Muslims worldwide.
The 1990s saw the rise of the modern meshrep around Yining enforcing a stricter Islamic morality than had been traditional in Xinjiang Uyghur exiles in Almaty, Kazakhstan, issued press releases claiming responsibility for orchestrating bombings in Xinjiang via their underground terror cells. Subsequently, the antigovernment groups were organized into several groups including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO), the Uyghur Liberation Organization, etc.
On 24 August 1993, two men from the East Turkestan movement stabbed and killed imam Abliz Damolla of the Great Mosque in Yecheng County. In 1996, Uyghur separatists shot assistant imam Hakimsidiq Haji of Aksu Prefecture on 22 March and attacked senior imam Aronghan Haji of the Id Kah Mosque with cleavers, who survived with cuts on his head, hands, back and legs. Mullah Aronghan Haji's attacker, Nurmamat, had absorbed Pan-Islamic and Pan-Turkic ideas from being sent to an illegal madrassah by his parents since the age of 5. On 6 November 1997, a member of a Xinjiang separatist group, Muhammat Tursun, fatally shot imam Yunus Sidiq Damolla at his mosque in Baicheng County. A Uyghur separatist exile shot imam Abliz Haji of Yecheng County dead on 27 January 1998. In September 2002, Uyghur nationalists assassinated at least six Uyghur officials. On 15 August 2013, the 74-year-old imam Abdurehim Damaolla of Kazihan Mosque in Turfan was stabbed to death in front of his home by parties sympathetic to the separatist Shanshan rioters.
Imam Juma Tahir
Imam Juma Tahir, born October 1940 in Kashgar, was 74 at the time of his death. In 2003, he had been appointed as head imam of the venerable 600-year-old mosque by the Chinese Communist Party in 2003.
A Uyghur speaker, Tahir served as a member of the National People's Congress from 2008 to 2013, during which he was often supported the Communist Party. He served a term as vice-president of the Islamic Association of China. As the leading Islamic Imam, he was frequently quoted by state media "praising the communist party and condemning Uighur separatists". BBC News reported that he was "said to have been unpopular with some Uighurs due to a pro-Beijing stance". Omer Kanat of the US-based World Uyghur Congress, told the Wall Street Journal on Friday that the imam had a reputation as a "tool for the government."
Tahir consistently condemned political violence in the name of Islam, despite receiving threatening letters for doing so. Tahir had urged calm after the July 2009 Ürümqi riots which killed 200 people, telling followers not to fall "into traps set by exiled separatists". He promoted moderate, traditionally Uyghur Islamic practices against a very recent trend of strict Islamic practices, like the donning of full-face veils.
While some publications described him as a "popular imam", The Telegraph reported that he had "no shortage of enemies in the local Uighur community, who saw him as a government stooge and apologist."
During the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr in July 2014, a family of five were killed in a quarrel with the police. This led to widespread rioting in which dozens of Uyghurs were shot dead by the Chinese police. The news was suppressed for about a week, but it emerged that nearly a hundred people had died.
Two days later, Tahir was stabbed as he was returning home after morning Fajr prayer at 6.58 am on Wednesday, 30 July 2014. Shopkeepers spotted Tahir's body in a pool of blood and alerted Radio Free Asia; a French tourist also told Reuters that he saw a body lying in a pool of blood outside of the prayer hall of the mosque, and two people with knives running away. Shortly after Tahir's death was discovered, police sealed off roads in and out of Kashgar.
On 30 July, police apprehended suspects Tuergong Tuerxun (Turghun Tursun), Maimaiti Jiangremutila (Memetjan Remutillan), and Nuermaimaiti Abidilimiti (Nurmemet Abidilimit). The gang resisted arrest with knives and axes, and the first two were shot dead in the struggle, while Abidilimiti (19), was arrested. Two days after the imam's murder, on 1 August, police arrested an 18-year-old construction worker, Aini Aishan (Gheni Hasan), who had been in hiding in Hotan. Aishan, who only had a middle school education, joined a religious extremist group in January 2013, consuming and distributing contraband videos and publications that advocated terrorism. Aishan invited Abidilimiti to come to Hotan from Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, to become his disciple, teaching him that to kill Tahir in "holy war" would earn both men a place in heaven. Abidilimiti confessed to orchestrating the assassinations with his two slain accomplices under the guidance of Aishan, despite the warnings of his older brother not to join illegal religious groups.
Tahir left eight children behind; one of his daughters, Yimgul Juma, spoke at his funeral. Party chief Zhang Chunxian observed a moment of silence for Tahir as well as for the victims of the Shache attack. China offered a 300 million yuan bounty for tips on violent separatist activity. The Xinjiang regional Islamic association called on Muslims to be aware of the perils of terrorism and religious extremism. More than 107 religious leaders in Xinjiang gathered in Ürümqi to pray for Tahir, including Ebeydulla Mohammed, imam of a mosque in Kashgar; Fan Chenguang, vice head of the Ürümqi Christian Council; and Yi Xuan, of the Buddhist Nanshan Faming Temple in Ürümqi County. They expressed concerns about the security of religious leaders in Xinjiang, and vowed to step up security checks and police patrols. A Xinhua editorial announced that "the terrorists and the religious extremist forces behind them have once again trampled on basic human rights" and expressed confidence that the killers would be brought to justice for violating Chinese law.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman of the Xinjiang separatist World Uyghur Congress did not condemn the murder and attributed it to "Chinese policies in the area".
Analyst Jacob Zenn from the Jamestown Foundation disputed the idea that religious restrictions cause terrorist attacks, although he warned that jihadists manipulate perceptions of Beijing's policy. A collective editorial from the South China Morning Post advised the government to target economic development to poor Uyghurs in order to stem the "underlying causes of the unrest".
The Uyghur Eastern Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association (ETESA) which is located in Turkey, endorsed the killing of Juma Tayir, applauded attacks in China, posted on its website content from the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), and also sent Uyghurs on missions in Syria during the Syrian Civil War.