Does Pakistan Need To Look Towards A Post-Ummah Islam?

A religion-based nation has been the ideal for all Muslims but its practical implementation has not been possible since the early days

Does Pakistan Need To Look Towards A Post-Ummah Islam?

We in Pakistan have been dealt a raw shock by the growing closeness between our historic adversary India and our traditional allies in the nations of the Arabian Peninsula. This growing partnership appears to be holistic in economic and diplomatic fields. Pakistanis were particularly pained on the proposed communication linkage of India and Europe through UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel, bypassing Pakistan and Iran. The route was inaugurated by the Indian Prime Minister and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in Delhi during the recently concluded G20 meeting on a map that showed Jammu and Kashmir as part of India. Pakistan, to this author's knowledge, has not protested to Saudis on this display of raw realpolitik. Other nations on the eastern coast of Arabia too have paid court to the Indian leadership. Having sacrificed the interests of Palestinians to befriend Israel, the Arabs now appear ready to jettison Pakistan to enhance their relations with India. 

The concept of the Ummah, a unity of believers without regard to their social, economic or ethnic circumstances, based on belief in one Allah and his last Messenger (PBUH), is one of the core concepts of Islam. The Prophet (PBUH) established a faith-based brotherhood between the Muslims. When a person accepts Islam, they end their affiliation to their heathen past, including their parents, siblings and relatives, and begin a new journey of life amongst other Muslims. The Prophet (PBUH) visualised a faith-based nation spread over the whole world; across geography, culture and race. The Quran says:

The believers are like brothers to one another; so, promote peace and reconciliation among them […]” (Surah Hujurat: Ayat 10). 

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another […]” (Surah al-Tawba: Ayat 71).

These are just two of the many instructions of the Holy Book and the Hadith that preach unity of Muslims. The Quran teaches caution towards the non-Muslims even if they are believers of the earlier Holy Books, and goes further in Surah Al-Maidah:51;

"O believers! Take neither Jews nor Christians as guardians—they are guardians of each other. Whoever does so, will be counted as one of them. Surely, Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people."

It is, then, true that Islam enjoins all Muslims to be one nation. In the 19th century, Jamaluddin Afghani (1839-1897) and Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) embarked on a mission to unite Muslims to free them from colonial subjugation. Having been a nationalist in his youth, Allama Iqbal, too was smitten by Afghani's ideas and entered the pan Islamist phase declaring that:

"To guard the holy house, we are one from the shores of the Nile to the land of Kashghar."

In Talu-e-Islam, he wrote: 

"Break the idols of race and ancestry, merge in the mainstream of Millat (Muslim nationhood); Let there be neither Turks, nor Persians, nor Afghans."

A religion-based nation has been the ideal for all Muslims but its practical implementation has not been possible since the early days of Islam. The early splits, soon "After the Prophet (PBUH)" (as compiled by Lesley Hazleton from al-Tabari), were outwardly smothered but the rebellion against the third Caliph, and the tragic events thereafter till the cessation of the Zubayrid Caliphate, demolished all semblances of Islamic unity. It should have also terminated any lingering notions of faith-based unity but as an ideal, the concept persisted. 

Since the 16th century, the Persians, the Turks and the Arabs have been antagonists, often forming unions with non-Muslims against one another, as is expected in a Chanakyan world. Real world issues didn't provide the space for them to resolve their issues in line with the demands of Muslim unity. These nations live in a practical world and still don't believe in any Ummah based unity.

In medieval India, Timur plundered the Delhi Sultanate ruled by the fellow Turkish Tughlaq dynasty, Babur ousted the Afghan Lodhi dynasty, Mughals broke up Muslim states of the Deccan, Nader Shah looted Mughal jewels and Abdali pillaged Mughal Delhi and Muslim Lahore; walking away with Muslim wealth and Muslim princesses. Islam or unity in the name of Islam has never been a barrier for worldly gains. 

The Arabs of the modern era are never encumbered by demands of the Ummah. Though both organisations are toothless, yet the Arab League, formed on common ethnicity and language, is more potent than OIC, formed on common religion. The Arabs, on their part, have been comfortable with taking India onboard in OIC, but have refrained due to Pakistan's concerns. In future, those concerns are likely to be overruled.

The idea of Muslim unity or an Ummah has never been significant to Arabs, Egyptians, Iranians or Turks (of Central Asia and Anatolia); the four regions that can rightly claim to be the custodians of Islamic theology. The Muslims of Southeast Asia, extending from Thailand to Philippines, constituting a large number, have also not figured prominently in quest of Ummah based unity. It is the Muslims of India, specifically those in the north, from the Hindukush in the west to the various hill tracts of Arakan Mountains in the east, who seek refuge in the concept of Ummah due to the intense Hindu-Muslim hostility created by a violent history. Indian Muslims in the Deccan, despite the “rigid social segregation” (words used by Indian President AJP Abdul Kalam in his autobiography Wings of Fire) but not in any physical danger, have been comfortably settled with their Hindu neighbours and don't look to north across the plains or to the west across the Indian Ocean for protection. 

It is the Muslims of north India, who, feeling in mortal danger of being marginalised at best and eliminated at worst, have traditionally looked across the mountains in the west to seek allies and succour. The most intriguing, and unfortunate, instance of such an endeavour was the request of Shah Waliullah to Ahmed Shah Abdali to liberate the north from the Maratha occupiers of Delhi. That amounted to a call to hyenas for protection of lambs against jackals. In the end, Abdali caused more grief to the Muslims of Punjab and Delhi than the Marathas. By bloody persecution of Sikhs, he also caused an unbridgeable divide between the Sikhs and the local Muslims, who otherwise had been living peacefully in the villages of the Punjab. 

Post-independence Pakistanis, in self-illusion, proclaimed themselves as a fort of Islam. Our myopic leaders preached that we were a star in the comity of Muslim brethren. Sadly, this was nothing but delusion; fed to the unwitting ignorant masses, who were looking for something cheerful after having sacrificed so much, as in the case of my own family. They contributed in blood and tears for the cause of a separate homeland but found their dreams broken on the altar of greed and rapacity of our leaders. The promises of democracy, welfare, justice and equality were discarded and a fable of Islamic leadership was fabricated. A nation that first begged for US wheat to feed its people and then lined up for Middle Eastern handouts to survive economically. A nation that failed to find a consistent way of government, could not build religious and social harmony and couldn't even establish schools to educate its children, was naively taking on the mantle of leadership of a vague Islamic world. It is now apparent that all these fantasies were fed to persist with the same kind of plunder and loot that foreign raiders practiced on this hapless people.

The sooner we realise, the better it would be: that we live in post Ummah world. Every nation has to fend for itself. The Rohingyas of Myanmar are weak, hence persecuted and no nation will come to their aid or speak for them. Palestinians cannot find support amongst their fellow Muslim and Arab brethren. Chechens suffered alone as did Syrians and Libyans. Now, by all indications due to their extensive and deepening economic relations with India, the Arabs will stay aloof from the Kashmir issue. Ummah would offer nothing but a few words of consolation, even if that.

There was a time in 1960s when our Muslim neighbours and China looked at us as a promising leader and partner. Since then, Pakistan has only looked towards them for financial relief. 

Pakistan has to learn to stand on its own feet. Poor governance can only lead to breakdown of society, disruption of education, economic meltdown and unchecked corruption; the very ills that are at the root of our perilous existence. Kleptocratic and despotic rule can only earn this nation ridicule. Looking for help from the Ummah in these conditions is neither dignified nor graceful conduct.

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: