Mushidah Mahmood: We Live Off Humanitarian AId
ACTNews, KAYSERI – Mushidah Mahmood flipped the baking tray inside the oven in her living room. The oven looks like a sideboard, but with a big pipe that is connected to the roof of her house. From this oven, the heat spread all over the room, warming the whole house against the cold air that flows through the walls and floors despite being covered with thick carpets.
“This is a multifunction heater. It can be used for warming the room, cooking and baking,” explained Mushidah, a Uyghur asylum seeker in Kayseri, Turkey. For her, the room heater is quite versatile and efficient to use in the winter. She does not have to install a central heating system like other Turkish houses.
A living room in a house where Mushidah’s family lives in Kayseri, Turkey
For the past year, Mushidah has been struggling to raise two sons in Kayseri, Turkey. The financial aid and food packages that she receives periodically must be used as efficient as possible because she does not have much money.
Mushidah stated that her family depends on humanitarian aid from several NGOs in Kayseri. As a mother and the sole breadwinner, there’s nothing she can do to support her two teenage sons. She explained that it is not easy for her and her local neighbors to get a job in Kayseri.
“But at least it’s easier to live here than in Istanbul. There, the life cost os much higher and the neighborhoods are densely populated,” added Mushidah who lived in Istanbul after leaving Xinjiang in 2017.
Mushidah cooking on the stove that she also uses as a room heater
Despite being a metropolitan city like Istanbul, Kayseri offers a quieter atmosphere, far from the hustle and bustle of a big city. In the city, over 1,500 Uyghurs seek asylum, as stated by Seyit Abdulkadir Tumturk, a member of the Kayseri-based National Assembly of East Turkestan.
“The street on which the neighborhood is located is called Old East-Turkestan Street. The neighborhood is 55 years old, built initially for Uyghur asylum seekers emigrating to Turkey in the 60’s. This neighborhood also houses Uyghur asylum seekers who just came from China, many of whom are fatherless families like Mushidah’s,” said Tumturk.
His organization assists the newly-arrived asylum seekers to live in Kayseri. “We do our best to find them places to live and we help them with the rent, especially if they are fatherless and economically underprivileged. This is our responsibility as their brothers,” added Tumturk.
Mushidah’s house in Kayseri
Striving for their freedom to practice Islam
In Mushidah’s memory, Ghulja (Yining) was a lush hometown. Almost all of her family and relatives lived in the city located in northwestern Xinjiang. “Most members of my extended family lived there. You can say that we lived quite prosperously there,” said Mushidah.
Unfortunately, living in Ghulja was very challenging for Mushidah and her family. As a Muslim, her religious freedom was restricted even just to wear hijab. She had no choice but to stay indoor to avoid getting outside without hijab.
As the time went by, the oppression that she and other Uyghurs faced became even harsher. The worst was when she found out that her husband died in the reeducation camp.
Mushidah survives by moving to Kayseri with her two sons
“Before he died, my husband was imprisoned simply for owning a book about Prophet Muhammad’s hijra. When I heard that my husband died in that camp, we decided that my family can no longer stay in Ghulja. We had to go,” said Mushidah.
With the money she earned from selling her two houses, she was able to pay the expense for her family’s departure from China. Mushidah estimated that it costed her 45 thousand Yuan to pay for her family’s flight. Upon their arrival to Turkey, she had only a little money left to rent a house, buy food and support her sons’ education.
“Now we live a peaceful life in Kayseri. I often miss Ghulja. But what is life worth without being able to worship Allah? If I were to compare my life here and my old life in Ghulja, here is better. I can wear hijab, fast and pray. My sons can study Islam and worship Allah in freedom,” stated Mushidah.
SOS for Uyghur I team visits Mushidah’s house
“You are all my brothers”
Indonesia is not an unfamiliar name to Mushidah. She knows the country from the television drama she used to watch online in her hometown five years ago. Mushidah heard the name once again when the support from the people of Indonesia reached the Uyghur diaspora in late 2018.
It never occurred to her to finally meet the people of Indonesia. She warmly hugged the Sympathy of Solidarity for Uyghur I team when they visited her house to bring food packages for her family. Similar food packages were also handed out to 26 other poor Uyghur families living in Kayseri. The aid was funded by the zakat of the people of Indonesia administered by Global Zakat - Aksi Cepat Tanggap (ACT).
Food aid was also received by other 26 Uyghur families in Kayseri
“These foodstuffs are very beneficial for us. But the most important thing is your arrival here all the way from Indonesia. You know, you are all my brothers. We are bonded by our sense of humanity and our Islamic sense of brotherhood,” said Mushidah. She briefly stopped. Tears were seen trickling from her eyes. “May Allah shower His blessings to you and other Indonesians. May we all be united in His Jannah,” she stammered, overwhelmed with immense gratitude.
She’s sure that the Indonesians’ empathy for the Uyghurs is a starting point for the International awareness about the oppression faced by the Uyghurs.