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Ramadan Mubarak: A Call for Collective Liberation

By Joey Huang
By Kawsar Yasin, Contributing Opinion Writer
Kawsar Yasin ’26 is a joint History and Anthropology concentrator in Eliot House.

My first exposure to a keffiyeh was over a decade ago, when my father brought one home after completing I’tikaf — the practice of living in a mosque for an extended period of time — during the last 10 blessed days of Ramadan. He grew very close with his Gambian, Nigerian, Algerian, Pakistani, and Indian brothers who prayed Tahajjud late at night alongside him.

During his I’tikaf, my father met a Palestinian man and asked what brought him to this remote mosque in Texas. The man explained that this mosque was closest to him during the summer months, when he lived about an hour away. In a tragically ironic twist of fate, the man’s summer home was located in Palestine, Texas — the closest he could get to the homeland from which he had been cruelly expelled.

As an Uyghur, my father too remains exiled from his homeland — for him, the landscapes of East Turkistan exist solely in memory. As an homage to their shared displacement, the Palestinian man gave my father a keffiyeh on one of the final nights of I’tikaf; my family continues to wrap our copies of the Holy Quran in that very keffiyeh to this day.

This is not to say that the struggle for Palestinian liberation is strictly a religious one. The movement must recognize that in addition to Muslims, Jews, Christians, and other religious minorities live within Palestine.

However, more important than religious identity is the solidarity felt across all oppressed groups, exemplified by the bond forged between my father and the Palestinian man so many years ago in a remote Texas mosque. The two found comfort in their parallel hopes of homecoming, of a return to their lands, freed from occupation.

Despite their natural solidarity, occupying forces have historically driven wedges between men like my father and his Palestinian friend. China, the colonizer of Uyghur lands, supports — hypocritically — the establishment of a Palestinian state and defends the Palestinian people’s right to resist oppression.

Yet in a stunning display of duplicity, the Chinese government also recently detained an estimated 1,000 Tibetans for protesting the development of a dam along the Drichu River in eastern Tibet — a project that would destroy several ancient Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and villages. Evidently, the regime’s endorsement of the Palestinian cause is mere lip service.

Unfortunately, such lip service has led several Uyghur advocacy groups to release statements backing Israel after Oct. 7. Moreover, many Uyghur organizations maintain diplomatic ties or receive support from countries and organizations that also maintain close relations with Israel.

These geopolitical barriers to solidarity are a poignant reminder of the vitriol that swept our campus last semester. Intimidation tactics such as the “doxxing truck” that circled the Square, the purchasing of domains under student names, and the creation of no-hire lists labeling students as “terrorists” ran rampant. Insidiously, students with some of the most marginalized identities — Black, brown, Muslim, undocumented — were targeted.

I was no exception. My face was on the doxxing truck, a domain was purchased under my first and last name, and I was placed on a no-hire list. As one of the few Uyghur students at Harvard, these attacks furthered the language of the oppressor. They echoed rhetoric used by the Chinese government against my people, justifying the concentration camps in East Turkistan and painting Uyghurs as the enemy in the regime’s own war on Terror.

Despite efforts to silence voices like mine — voices that unabashedly advocate for both Uyghur and Palestinian liberation — the inextricably intertwined nature of the Uyghur and Palestinian struggle cannot be denied.

In his 2002 dissertation, Pan Yue, the current commissioner of China’s Ethnic Affairs Commission, called on China to learn from contemporary colonizers such as the United States and Israel to occupy Tibetan and Uyghur lands. Yue describes the westward expansion of the United States together with Israel’s controlled deployment of settlers to the occupied West Bank, demonstrating how structures of colonization and occupation have always been interconnected.

This Ramadan, I can’t help but think of Muslims across the world experiencing some of the most difficult days of their lives.

Uyghurs in occupied East Turkistan can’t fast for risk of being detained for religious extremism — some have even been forced to eat pork in direct violation of their faith. Amid a landscape of starvation, sickness, and death, Palestinians in Gaza have no choice but to break their fast with blades of grass picked from the rubble of their homes.

For these reasons, I will always shout “free East Turkistan” and “free Palestine” in the same breath.

From the mountains of Kurdistan and Afghanistan to the rolling plains of Sudan and Senegal to the vast Tarim and Congo basins, oppressed people across the world are engaged in a universal struggle for liberation, reciting the same prayers and having the same dreams.

As I think about all oppressed people struggling to observe Ramadan this year, I am continuously drawn to the timeless words from the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, Sahih al-Bukhari.

“Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no veil between it and Allah.”

Kawsar Yasin ’26 is a joint History and Anthropology concentrator in Eliot House.

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