Who Are the Uyghur Muslims in China?

Muslims exit Hetian mosque in Xinjiang province. Servais Mont / Contributor / Getty Images

The Uyghur people are a Turkic ethnic group native to the Altay Mountains in Central Asia. Throughout their 4000-year history, the Uyghurs developed an advanced culture and played an important role in cultural exchanges along the Silk Road. During the 8th-19th centuries, the Uyghur empire was a dominant force in Central Asia. The Manchu invasion in the 1800s, and nationalist and communist forces from China and Russia, have caused Uyghur culture to fall into decline.

Religious Beliefs

Uyghurs are predominately Sunni Muslims. Historically, Islam came to the region in the 10th century. Prior to Islam, the Uyghurs embraced Buddhism, Shamanism, and Manicheism.

Where Do They Live?

The Uyghur empire has spread, at times, throughout Eastern and Central Asia. The Uyghurs now mostly live in their homeland, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. Until recently, Uyghurs made up the largest ethnic group in that region. Minority Uyghur populations also live in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and other neighboring countries.

Relationship With China

The Manchu Empire took over the region of East Turkestan in 1876. Like Buddhists in neighboring Tibet, the Uyghur Muslims in China now face religious restrictions, imprisonments, and executions. They complain that their cultural and religious traditions are being annihilated by oppressive government policies and practices. China is accused of encouraging internal migration into the Xinjiang province (a name which means "new frontier"), to increase the non-Uyghur population and power in the region. In recent years, students, teachers, and civil servants have been forbidden from fasting during Ramadan, and were forbidden from wearing traditional dress.

Separatist Movement

Since the 1950s, separatist organizations have actively worked toward declaring independence for the Uyghur people. The Chinese government has fought back, declaring them outlaws and terrorists. Most Uyghurs support peaceful Uyghur nationalism and independence from China, without participating in violent separatist clashes.

People and Culture

Modern genetic research has shown that Uyghurs have a mixture of European and East Asian ancestry. They speak a Turkic language that is related to other Central Asian languages. There are between 11-15 million Uyghur people living today in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Uyghur people are proud of their heritage and their culture’s contributions in language, literature, printing, architecture, art, music, and medicine.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Huda. "Who Are the Uyghur Muslims in China?" Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/who-are-the-uyghur-muslims-in-china-2004483. Huda. (2020, August 25). Who Are the Uyghur Muslims in China? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/who-are-the-uyghur-muslims-in-china-2004483 Huda. "Who Are the Uyghur Muslims in China?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/who-are-the-uyghur-muslims-in-china-2004483 (accessed May 30, 2023).