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The Uyghur People: 8 Things to Know

Written by Derek Joseph on

If you’ve been tuned in to recent news, you may have heard of the Uyghurs. This Central Asian people group, which lives predominantly in China, has been in the headlines in light of the extreme persecution they are facing in China. Now, large corporations like H&M are paying attention while others, like Disney, are receiving backlash for denouncing the actions of the Chinese government.

Here are eight things to know about the Uyghur people to help you pray for them.

1. The Who?!

Uyghur can also be spelled ‘Uighur,’ and in English is most closely pronounced ‘WEE-gur.’

2. Where Do They Live?

Uyghurs are native to Xinjiang (SHEEN-jong), the most northwestern province of China. Xinjiang borders India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, Tibet and a few other countries. However, in the last few decades, the Uyghurs have been more dispersed throughout China, and there are small pockets of them in other countries as well.

3. How Many Uyghurs are There?

The Chinese Communist Party claims that there are 12 million Uyghurs in China. Human rights organizations—whose estimates are more credible—claim that there are 25-35 million.

4. What Language Do They Speak?

The Uyghurs speak the Uyghur language, which is Turkic. It’s written with the Arabic script and is unrelated to Chinese. That said, most young Uyghurs also speak Chinese.

5. Religion?

The Uyghurs are predominantly nominally Sunni Muslim. By nominally, I mean that they identify as Muslim in the way that so many Italians identify as Roman Catholic. There is a small minority of radicals who have engaged in some violent activity.

6. How Many Uyghur are Christian?

Historically, before Islam gradually overtook the Uyghur people, they believed in various pagan religions. Also, some were Buddhist and others were Nestorians. At one in point in the early 1900s, there were roughly three hundred Christian Uyghurs, but a short-lived Islamic local government later stamped them out. Currently, the best estimate for the number of genuinely converted Christian Uyghurs is around two hundred.

7. So, What’s Happening?

The Chinese Communist Party has been gradually trying to force the Uyghurs to assimilate into Chinese Communist culture. This has culminated in the building of an estimated 380 Re-Education Camps, which house at least one million Uyghur people, as well as people from other Central Asian minority groups. Escapees from the camps have reported sixteen-hour-a-day brainwashing sessions, torture, beatings, forced sterilization, drug experimentation, and rape.

8. How Can I Pray?

The Uyghurs need Jesus. The two biggest obstacles to their conversion are fear of rejection by family and fear of persecution from the Chinese Communist Party for being both Uyghur and Christian. The handful of Uyghurs who are Christians need the Spirit to keep them in the faith and give them courage to be faithful witnesses to Christ.

Let’s pray for the Uyghurs—especially our Uyghur brothers and sisters.

Derek Joseph

Having worked on staff with Cru for ten years and serving for seven years as a Bible teacher in China, Derek has a unique perspective when it comes to global outreach. Currently, he is utilizing that passion by serving at a local church in Zionsville, Indiana.

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