Revisiting the Salafi-jihadist Threat in Xinjiang

Kuo, K. T. (2012). Revisiting the Salafi-jihadist Threat in Xinjiang. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs32(4), 528-544. Link



The fear of a burgeoning Salafi-jihadism in Xinjiang has been a public driving factor in Chinese policies in the region. This menace is exaggerated. Though there may be Salafi-jihadist elements among the larger, discontented Uyghur population, it is not a mass movement posing an existential threat to the Chinese political order in Xinjiang. Nationalism fuels this Sino-Uyghur conflict while Islam functions as a pragmatic weapon. Uyghur Islam, Uyghur identity, and the history of Uyghur rebellions in the twentieth century, all undergird this conclusion. The form of Islam—Hanafi, Sufi, and indigenous customs—commonly practiced by Uyghurs is antithetical to Salafism and the state imposes constraints on religious praxis. A Muslim identity is only one among several competing identities that comprise the ethnic idea of a Uyghur. The character of Uyghur rebellions, even ones that blatantly declare jihad, demonstrates the primacy of nationalism, the absence of Salafi-jihadism, and the malleability of Uyghur identity. These three evidences bolster the case to revisit the question of Salafi-jihadism in Xinjiang and find a more complex socio-religious perspective.


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