Letter to China: My Uyghur friend Zainur has been detained in one of your camps for two yearsNovember 13, 2019
“Even with sanctuaries as rare as they are in China, Zainur, like so many other Uyghurs desperately clung to any semblance of the sacred. Most times she would mime the gestures of prayer wherever she sat or stood.
Sometimes she dared to go through the actual motions in their entirety, once I assured her it was safe. And sometimes I watched as she hesitatingly mimicked the positions of ruku and sujood, bowing and prostration, with her finger. Her finger. One evening while on the train, she rested her head upon my shoulder and began to mumble al-Fatihah, the first chapter of the Quran, squeezing my hand for every change of position. She later told me how at home in Xinjiang, in the city of Kashgar, for every salah, or daily prayer, she sought out her mother and did the same.
“My mother is my masjid,” she told me. “Maybe sisters are the next best thing.””
“She said it often when she would tell me about what was happening in her home town. They barred women from the masjid. They scanned the faces of anyone who entered the masjid. They scanned faces at markets and airports. They banned the hijab. They banned fasting. Neighbors are disappearing. Cameras are everywhere. We buried our books. They told us to remove the locks from our doors. They took my passport. “I don’t know why.””
“One old Uyghur friend was still at university, awaiting graduation. She knew she would be sent to a camp if she could not find a job. She mentioned her siblings. Prisons now claimed all of her brothers. Camps swallowed up a sister, cousins, and friends. Forced labor. Factory work. Police work. Disappearances. Unknowns. Some knowns. Zainur?
Zainur has been in a detention camp since July 5, 2017.”