by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 6, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1425)
Muslim unity is not a theory or a vague, unrealistic ideal. Allah refers to the Muslims as one Ummah (Al-Qur’an 21:92) and the believers as brothers/sisters (49:10). These realities have enormous implications for the conduct of Muslim affairs, yet neither is reflected in public policy, even if most Muslims instinctively recognise fellow Muslims as brothers and sisters in faith. In practice, the Muslim world is divided along numerous fault-lines, and nationalism reigns supreme. Muslim rulers guard their turf viciously, paying scant attention to the plight of any people, their own or others. This was not always the case. Barely 80 years ago Muslims had recognised themselves as a global community led by a khilafah, even if the institution had been weakened by centuries of deviation from the norms established by the Messenger of Allah (saw) and his righteous successors (ra).
It is tempting to blame the kuffar for the disintegration of the Ummah, but the fact is that the Muslims' own weaknesses enabled others to subjugate them, and then to impose alien systems on them. The seeds of this weakness stemmed from an internal conflict that Malek Bennabi called "the first rupture in the Ummah", when Mu'awiyya rebelled against the legitimate authority of Imam Ali (ra). Even so, the essential unity of the Ummah remained largely intact because most Muslims were aware of their obligations in the deen. This explains why even such a terrible figure in Muslim history as Hajjaj bin Yusuf responded to the cries of Muslimahs on their way to Hajj, when they were attacked by pirates off the coast of present-day Pakistan. He sent an army to deal with the pirates and the local ruler sheltering them. Today the cries of Muslim women, in Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq, Bosnia and Palestine, go unanswered because Muslims are divided and our rulers are subservient to the kuffar.
Muslim unity is not a theory or a vague, unrealistic ideal.
For Muslims unity is not a choice; it is a necessity. The kuffar have long understood its importance; Britain clings to Uncle Sam because its rulers understand the significance of power. The US is a military as well as an economic power; Britain has long been in decline, yet it is able to play a global political role because it is part of the US system. If the kuffar can unite to impose an unjust system on the world, why are the Muslims unable to unite for a just cause? Unfortunately Muslims have accepted alien values that are at odds with the principles and ethics of the deen.
Whenever the issue of Muslim unity is discussed, the first question that arises is: under whose leadership? The overwhelming majority of rulers in the Muslim world lack political legitimacy; if they do not represent the people even in their own jurisdiction, how can they possibly claim to speak on behalf of the Ummah? Yet this has not prevented dictators like general Pervez Musharraf or the tribal rulers of ‘Saudi' Arabia from claiming to speak on behalf of the Ummah. Muslim regimes claim that the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which includes 57 Muslim countries, symbolises the unity of the Ummah; in fact, as Muslims everywhere recognise, it represents only the regimes themselves.
The unity of the Muslim Ummah, which at the moment manifests itself largely in popular demonstrations in support of the Palestinians, Kashmiris, Iraqis, Chechens and other Muslims under attack, can only be translated into action and achievement if there is a clear recognition that the leading edge of the Islamic movement must be accepted as the leader of the movement. At the moment that role belongs to Islamic Iran. Unfortunately the enemies of Islam – both within the Ummah and outside it – have succeeded in alienating many Muslims from the Islamic Revolution on sectarian and nationalist grounds, blinding them to the fact that the essence of the Islamic Revolution, and the model is represents, transcend its Iranian and Shi’i context and offers invaluable leadership and lessons for all Muslims.
The achievement of the goals of the Islamic movement, beginning with the development of modern conceptual tools based on Islamic sources and principles, depends on Muslims recognising the experiences and achievements of other Islamic movements, whoever and wherever they may be, instead of fighting among ourselves and looking for solutions to the ideas and models of those who have subjugated us.