My Chinese Village (Part-8)

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An Ancient Local Language
As Muslims, we know the power and importance of language. Our religion, din al-haqq al-islam, encourages all Muslims to learn to read and aquire knowledge. Even before embracing Islam a thousand year ago, the Uyghur people had a written language with its own unique alphabet. Like all old languages, Uyghurje has a wealth of proverbs. One such Uyghur proverb is the following:  

Yahxi gep taxni yarar ("Good words break rocks!") Of course, Allah says in the Holy Qur'an in surah al-baqarah, ayah 263: "Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury."

From the desert towns and villages of Uyghuristan, archaeologists-scientists who study the material remains from past human life and culture-have unearthed valuable manuscripts and other cultural relics of ancient Uyghur life. Many of these objects were found well-preserved in dry caves and in sand-covered ruins.

Last summer, I went with my family to visit my aunt who lives in Turfan in the eastern part of Uyghuristan. To get there we had to travel around the northern edge of the Takla Makan Desert, the largest desert in all of China. One hundred years ago, European scientists began to discover amazing cultural artifacts in this region of our country. Many of the manuscripts and cave paintings belonged to the time when the Uyghur people were Buddhist. However, other manuscripts and bits of old Chinese paper and palm leaves had very strange writing on them.

The language was eventually read and discovered to be unlike any other in Central Asia. It was a European language, not a Turkic, Indian or Chinese! At the same time, perfectly preserved 3,000-year-old mummies (dead bodies of human beings or animals that have been naturally dried and shrunken) with long reddish blond hair were found in sand-covered tombs in the Takla Makan Desert.

Who were these people and did they speak this ancient European language? Scientists now believe that this language (called Tocharian) was indeed spoken by these red-haired people. They were perhaps nomads who had left the area of present-day southwest Russia and settled in our part of Asia.

What does all of this prove? These discoveries prove that Uyghuristan has always been a region where different peoples — even some from as far away as Europe-met and lived together. In the illustration is an old manuscript written in the Tocharian language on old Chinese paper. It was found in one of the caves used as monasteries by ancient Buddhist monks.

Tocharian was written and spoken until one thousand years ago. What happened to its speakers? They all embraced Islam-just as the Uyghur people did—and then mixed with the other peoples of Uyghuristan. Allah, al-'Alim (the All-Knowing), alHakim (the Most Wise), says in the Holy Qur'an in surah al-hujurat, ayah 13: "O Mankind! We have created you fiom a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another ..."

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Luqman Nagy

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