Seminar examines the impact of nationalism on the Ummah (Crescent Int.)

Report on the Muslim Institute World Seminar on the ‘Impact of Nationalism on the Ummah’ published in Crescent International, 1-15 September, 1985. It was also published in Issues in the Islamic movement vol. 7 1985-86 (1405-06), pp. 68-76. Writer unknown.

More than three hundred Islamic scholars, writers, journalists and academics attended the Muslim Institute’s annual international seminar on July 31 at the Institute of Education in London. The fourth in a series on The World of Islam had as its theme ‘The Impact of Nationalism on the Ummah’. Although it was a four-day extended session, not all the papers could be presented.

Dr Kalim Siddiqui, Director of the Institute, set the tone with his paper Nation-States as Obstacles to the Total Transformation of the Ummah, which made a powerful denunciation of nationalism for causing the disintegration of the Ummah. He contended that the nation-States have to be dismantled in order to set up Islamic States. Nation-States are not only incapable of solving their own problems, but they are propped up by foreign military, political and economic aid packages. Dr Siddiqui stressed that nationalism, on which the nation-States are based, is itself an alien concept planted by the colonial powers by devious means. The post-colonial elites blended Islam with nationalism in order to make the latter acceptable.

The nature of change being inevitable, what the Muslims need is one Ummah, one State and one Imam or Khalifah. Dr Siddiqui pointed out that this goal can be realized because the Qur’an is a fathomless source of knowledge and the Summit is a record of the transformation of the Hejaz; a model derived from them must transform the Ummah as western civilization is totally incompatible with Islam. Muslims must find alternatives to socialism, democracy and, above all, to the nation-States. The setting up of a global Islamic movement is the first step towards it.

Citing the example of the ulama in Iran as having broken the dominance of Iran for the first time in contemporary history, Dr Siddiqui warned that as the power of global kufr fights Islam at every step both internally and externally, the total transformation of the Ummah will require a total struggle at all levels of the Ummah. In this ‘new Makkan period’ the Ummah needs to define its position clearly with a forthright declaration that it recognizes no nationalism and that there is no compatibility between the Ummah and the millat of kufr and its offshoots: nation-States, socialism, democracy, and so on.

Dr Siddiqui underlined the importance of a muttaqi leadership and the need for a prolonged process of ijtihad for the transformation of each nation-State into an Islamic State. Concluding his address, he reminded the Ummah: ‘We have to eradicate all traces of nationalism from the Islamic movement before we can challenge and defeat the power of nationalism…  ultimately the shape of the Ummah will be determined by the shape taken by the Islamic movement today’.

In a discussion of the inaugural address, Dr Ibrahim Shatta declared that the Muslims need to mobilize the masses who are the key to the success of the global Islamic movement. He pointed out that the misery in Muslim societies was caused by its leadership, and most Islamic parties in Muslim countries have never been given the chance to implement the Shari’ah. Muslims should, therefore, try to correct themselves first  before they deal with the superpowers. He urged all the Islamic movements to declare their solidarity with the Islamic movement in Iran which should be accepted as a model.

Dr Ahmed Muhammad al Badawi‘s paper, The Islamic View of Nationalism, emphasized three points: that all human beings, the children of Adam alaihi sala’am and Hawwa, have two components, the material and the spiritual, and nationalism introduces a split between them; that as Prophet Ibrahim was the father of all Muslims with a link to Makkah because Allah had assigned him to ‘clear My House’, Makkah has no national boundary and is open to all Muslims; and that the unity of Muslims should be on the basis of Islam. Taking pride in nationality takes one back to the age of jahiliyya, and nationalism leads to the breaking down of relationships between Muslims.

Dr Hussain Moosavi’s theme was that the people are one nation but nationality is a disease. It misguides and leads them away from Allah’s path. According to the Qur’an three factors cause deviation from Allah’s Path: self-desire, ignorance and oppression.

Dr Murtaza Garia dealt with The Concept, Theory and Practice of Nationalism in the Light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, tracing its historic origin in the Protestant movement of Christianity, its role as an instrument of European colonialism/imperialism and the eventual relegation of religion to a secondary place by it. Nationalism therefore violates the essence of the teachings of the Qur’an, and its universality. The Islamic State cannot become a vehicle of nationalism.

Ayatullah Ja’afar Subhani, focusing on Nationalism from the Point of View of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, said that the western phenomenon of nationalism had driven a wedge between religion and politics and led some people to believe that they are superior to others. Those Muslims who adopted the philosophy of nationalism had no link with Islam. But he asserted that the universal message of the Qur’an, which cannot compromise with anything alien, defines the status of Muslims on the basis of piety. The jahiliyya idea of one group being superior to another is anathema. The concept of nationalism has caused considerable damage to mankind for its adherents have revived expansionism, domination and oppression of one people over another, and has destroyed Islamic unity which was established by the Word of Allah.

The opening session ended with a lively discussion by various participants. It was suggested that there should be more than one Islamic State for a single State would be vulnerable to external aggression. More States need to be changed to Islamic States so that collectively they constitute a superpower. Shaikh Toure made a strong plea for Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s paper to be adopted as the basis of a charter for the global Islamic movement, observing that the worst enemy of Muslims is not the US but the love of dunya and fear of death. Shaikh Ibrahim Alawneh said that the writ of Allah should spread over the entire world but Allah will not change the status of a people until they change it themselves. He also observed that other Islamic movements should not be criticized for this destroys and further divides the global Islamic movement; Islamic movements need to be involved in the day-to-day political struggles of the people and that political parties cannot succeed in bringing about Islamic changes because party interests tend to supersede Islamic interests.

Dr Muhammad Abdelloui opened the second day’s session, after the recitation of the Qur’an, with his discourse on The Concept of Nation and Ummah in Modern Islamic Thought. He explained that the concept of Ummah is not abstract but based on the model of Medina which evolved during the lifetime of the Prophet, and religion is the underlying and important feature shared by one Ummah. If each member of the Islamic society, dissatisfied with the status quo, were to attempt to reform it, it would be fulfilling its duty to the Ummah. Dr Abdelloui asserted that the Ummah which was fragmented by the forces of colonialism and nationalism would be integrated by ijtihad and jihad.

Conflict between Islam and Nationalism in the Arab East and West was presented by Abdul Mamun bin Ali, who said that historically the development of nationalism had been detrimental to the Ummah: ‘Arabization’ had resulted in conflict between various States. Nationalistic trends initiated by the Christian minorities and others were the beginning of the break-up of the Ummah. Islamic unity, viewed as a permanent threat by the colonizers, was countered by a revival of tribalism and nationalism and, in the post-colonial period, by modernization and materialism.

Dr Mohammad Yahia’s Critique of the Ideas of Arab Nationalism, presented by his sister, Dr Naquiba Hassan, argued that the secular alien ideas of Arab nationalists led to a materialistic view of economics. The battle cry of the Arab nationalists, freedom and independence, eliminated Islam from their identity, causing disunity, as in the Palestine issue. The most frequently used arguments of Arab nationalists were that the majority should rule and that there would be progressive secularism. They had tried to change Islam in secular terms under the slogans of ‘revivalism’.

Muhammad Ibrahim Asghartadeh’s paper, Nationalism and the Theory of Development, explained systems like capitalism and communism, and the emergence of the ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ worlds. With the exception of Iran, since most non-western countries had systems of government imposed by the west, the west had an assured market for manufactured goods as well as a supply of raw materials. Not only capital but western culture also contributed to the development of western tastes and requirements. Through ‘cultural consumerism’ in Muslim countries the west had paved the way for creating a ‘westernized’ middle class which facilitated western interests.

Dr Izzat Azzizi in his speech Nation States and their Impact on Muslim Societies recounted the effect of nationalistic ideas on Islamic societies: in the religious context, nationalist ideas had become an alternative to religion; in the social context, systems like socialism and capitalism had led to the deviation of the political system from the Islamic laws of unity, so that countries had become enslaved to their colonizing powers; in the cultural context, secular educational systems had replaced the Islamic, weakening the Islamic fabric of culture; and in the ethical context Islamic laws were eliminated destroying the moral basis of Islamic societies and facilitating western ideas.

Nationalism and Islam in Egypt by Dr Ibrahim al-Desouky Shatta referred to the conflict between the nationalistic and Islamic trends in Egypt, giving its historical background. He singled out Gamal Abdal Nasser as the pioneer of Arab national ism in Egypt and Hasan al-Banna’s al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon as the movement which combatted it. After using the Ikhwan for his own purposes, Nasser destroyed it. The Muslim masses who suffered under him rejected secular policies during Sadat’s time and Sadat’s execution revived the image of Islam as the only force within Egypt, distinguishing it from the forces of nationalism.

The highlight of the afternoon was the address by the 94-year-old mujahid from Bangladesh, Hafizjee Huzoor. His message, presented by Professor Akhtar Farooq, was that unity of thought could be achieved by reading the Qur’an and the duty of Allah’s khalifah on earth was to establish Allah’s rule. A great number of Prophets who had been sent by Allah had worked to establish justice. As such extermination of oppressors was important. Departure from the path of Allah led to anarchy. Nationalism had destroyed the unity of the Ummah. The responsibility of establishing Allah‘s Khilafah is a great challenge to the Ummah for the establishment of the lslamic States and then uniting them under the common banner of Islam.

The last paper of the day was by Dr Abul Fazal Ezzati, who pointed out various aspects of Islam and nationalism.

Taking part in the panel discussion, Dr Mohammad Shafiq said that there could be no mixture of Islam and nationalism because the bond of Islam transcends regional and ethnic boundaries. The reason for this bond not materializing in Pakistan was because the ruling elite there preferred to rule rather than to work towards the establishment of an Islamic State. Jalaluddin Rahmat commented that Islam and nationalism have been fighting for supremacy in Indonesia. He differentiated between three types of Islam: of the practising Muslims, the ruling elite and of the nominal Muslims. He reminded the audience that Pancasila was put forward by Sukarno when the Islamic movement was purged in Indonesia

Dr Essam el-Eriani suggested that Islamic meetings and seminars should concentrate on action rather than on making speeches, and said Muslims should do what they advocate, if they really wished to see changes. According to Dr Al Sayyed Fehmi Shinnawi, Arab nationalism is practised by the rulers while Arab unity is a feeling among the masses across the Arab world. Shaikh Nader al-Tamimi proposed that the Seminar participants form a general assembly. The formation of a coordinating committee by the Muslim Institute which could be called ‘Organization for the Defence of the Islamic Mujahideen’ to monitor illegal arrests, killings of Muslims, and confiscation of literature.

On the third day, Professor Malick N‘Diaye spoke on Nationalism as a Tool of the Missionaries in Africa, explaining how missionaries used nationalism for their own purposes. When the French occupied parts of West Africa they adopted Arabic as it was the language of communication. But under missionary pressure all Qur’anic teaching was taken under French supervision, ulama were arrested en masse, and Hajj restrictions ensured that between 1911-17 only 11 pilgrims from Africa made the Hajj!

Dr Riaz Ahmad, who spoke on The Islamic Movement and Nationalism, referred to the divisive role of nationalism in the Islamic movement, and held it responsible for undermining the culture and beliefs of the Ummah under the guise of modernization. He declared that there could be only two kinds of Islamic parties, the Hizb-e Allah and the Hizb e Shaitan. Hassan el-Tall’s paper was on The Impact of Nationalistic Thought on the Arab World. He argued that the absence of Islam from the daily lives of the people had made the acceptance of nationalism all the more easy.

Ustaz B Yunis Muhammad‘s theme was The Break up of the Sokoto Caliphate. He refuted British claims that there was a degeneration of the Caliphate at the time of its conquest. Large scale resistance to the British in 1903 was evidence of its strength, not a sign of its weakness. He stressed that the Sokoto khilafah, comprising 30 emirates under one khalifah that lasted a century, was a revolutionary movement based on the application of the Shari ’ah with jihad and hijrah as obligatory duties.

Dr Farouq Hamada followed with his treatise on The Structure of the Ummah in Islam and Modern Thought. His basic premise was that Islam had faced many challenges during its entire history and had overcome them all. Even the modern challenge of independence of races and ethnic groups has not destroyed the Ummah because the Qur’anic Ummah is limited neither by time nor by place. An Ummah united by the bonds of common concepts, traditions, laws, worship and language – the language of the Qur’an – cannot perish even though it may be weakened.

The next speaker was Mohammad al-Asi on Nationalism from an Ethnographic and Divine Perspective. He systematically analyzed Arab nationalism and showed how the disintegration of the Uthmaniyyah khilafah was a result of the imperialist force of Arab nationalism. It destroyed the Islamic fraternity, making it easier for imperialist and zionist forces to penetrate the Ummah. The development of other types of nationalisms occurred as a reaction. Zionism was actually invited by Arab nationalists like Michael Aflaq. In fact, Jewish nationalism was facilitated by Arab nationalism. Men like Gemal Abdel Nasser victimized anyone who projected Islam as a revolutionary ideology.

In the panel discussion that followed, a number of observations and comments were made by different participants. Responding to some points made by Dr Ezzati in his paper on Thursday, Ayatullah Subhani stressed that the Qur’an had recognized the existence of tribes, as long as their system did not contradict Islam. What is rejected by Islam, however, is the use of nationalism to create barriers between different parts of the Ummah.

The open session on the future of the Ummah and the lslamic movement started with Tengku Hassan di Tiro’s remarks that the Javanese regime in Indonesia had abolished Islam as a political religion replacing it with Pancasila. He also gave a historical analysis of Acheh Sumatra’s long history of jihad and how the Dutch martyred many Islamic leaders

Based on a selection of text books used in Afghanistan, Dr Mobin Shorish showed how the influence of nationalism was spread in Afghanistan: they glorified pre-Islamic history: gave a nationalistic twist even to books on dinyat, and emphasized differences between people. He asserted that if Islam has survived in Afghanistan it is because of Russian brutality and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Shaikh Toure seized the opportunity again to reinforce his earlier suggestion to establish the leadership for the global Islamic movement. Shaikh Alawneh suggested visits by Islamic workers to Muslim countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia; the holding of seminars in other parts of the world and opening regional Islamic centres for the exchange of information.

On the final day of the Seminar Dr Abdel Karim Soroush focused on the alienation of the individual. Human beings who develop a wrong concept of themselves live according to it and become alienated because their real identity and conceived identity do not concur. ‘Islam, on the other hand, is a religion of tranquillity and if we find Allah, we find ourselves’, he said. Since the alienated individual draws his inspiration from this false identity, and regards nationalism both as an outlet and a goal, he transfers his energies to developing a nationalist identity.

Dr Haddad Adel in his paper The Double-edged Rusted Sword of Nationalism ridiculed the tendency of many Muslim countries to search for identities in their pre-Islamic history, which shows that the sword of nationalism which was once so sharp has now become rusty. Having achieved their goals the nationalists have found that they are still dependent on their colonizers because the system they left behind is totally dependent on colonial management. Despite the existence of the so called ‘independent’ States, colonial interests have been preserved. Dr Haddad Adel explained that because the new form of colonialism is invisible many people are not aware of its existence. Nevertheless the Muslim masses have realised that the path of lmam Khomeini has shown it to be one in which the Ummah can become one entity. Nationalism did not give Iran the strength that Islam did. Warning against complacency, Dr Haddad Adel said that since the enemy, nationalism, is threatened by Islam, it will try to split the Ummah along sectarian lines to make the Shi’as more Shi‘a and the Sunnis more Sunni. Muslims must be aware of this danger.

This was followed by presentation of the Seminar Resolutions and their approval to the resounding cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’.

After the Resolutions were passed unanimously, Dr Kalim Siddiqui summarized the deliberations of the four-day world seminar and highlighted its main conclusions. He noted that the discussions which had taken place within the framework of the global Islamic movement were free from regional or sectarian bias; ‘the participants have taken a major step towards the emergence of a body to coordinate the global Islamic movement’; no words had been uttered in defence of nationalism; and there was complete agreement on the place of Iran in the global Islamic movement.

While admitting that no liberation will have any meaning without first getting rid of nationalist leaders, Dr Siddiqui declared that it is the weakness of the Islamic movement that allows the nationalist rulers of Muslim nation-States to maintain the status quo. ‘Palestine cannot be liberated until Syria, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and others have been liberated’, he concluded.