The unity of the Ummah of Islam was a key theme of the Islamic Revolution under Imam Khomeini (r.a.) He instituted the Hafta-e Wahdat (Unity Week) each year in Rabi al-Awwal, marked by annual Unity Conferences in Tehran. This tradition has been maintained since his death under the leadership of his successor, AYATULLAH SAYYID ALI KHAMENEI. Here we publish an abridged excerpt from Ayatullah Khamenei’s speech to the 17th International Conference on Islamic Unity on Rabi al-Awwal 17, 1425 / May 7, 2004.
In the Name of God the Merciful and Compassionate...
What I would like to talk about at this gathering of Muslim leaders and scholars is the unity of Muslims. Today the world of Islam and the Muslim Ummah are facing very serious problems. It is true that most of these problems emanate from ourselves. We were complacent and idle and we did not pursue the destiny of the Ummah. Some of these calamities facing us are because of our own actions, so we must make a move, change our direction, and repent.
Today Iraq is added to the problem as well. See what people in power are capable of.
There is no doubt that in recent history a very important part of such problems has been caused by the contemporary global order. The global order is a tyrannical order, not a system based on the value, worth and dignity of human life. Look at the situation of the world of Islam. For years we have referred to the situation in Palestine as a deep wound to the body of Islam, and it is getting even deeper.
Today Iraq is added to the problem as well. See what people in power are capable of. They are establishing irrational, unacceptable concepts and acting upon them as if they were reasonable and acceptable. They are doing this by force, relying on the logic of arms, and by their financial and political power. They are openly committing the kinds of crimes that are regarded as criminal and murderous by the laws and instincts of every community. Sometimes they also tag pretexts to them as justification, although they know that no one will accept them. Sometimes they don't even try to justify their acts or try seriously to cover them up. Israel explicitly announces that it will assassinate Palestinian leaders, and the US government openly and officially supports it. Such is the situation of today's world order.
Terrorism, the fight against which is used as an excuse for the US government to bully others, is now in effect accepted as legitimate, and expressed in the zionist rulers' practice. The military occupation of Iraq, the humiliation of a people, the defeat of a great and cultured country, and the occupation of a country are absolute crimes. These have been done on the pretext of human rights and defending democracy and freedom, something no one in the world believes any more. It is obvious that the Americans do not have the least concern about human rights. They themselves appoint officials, they themselves choose governors, they themselves make rules, and they themselves punish people without trying them, and condemn them to death.
This is the situation of the Muslim Ummah today, mostly because this Ummah is concentrated in rich parts of the world and because the modern technological ‘civilisation' depends on the mineral resources that can be found in plenty in these parts of the world. Because of these resources, the Muslim countries are envied and invaded by the Western powers. This is the plight of the Ummah. The question facing us is this: can the Ummah defend itself? Can we defend ourselves in the face of this terrible encroachment? The answer is of course we can. We have many tools at our disposal to defend ourselves, our rights and resources, and our existence as a separate culture and civilisation. We are a huge people; we possess vast reserves of wealth; we are blessed with outstanding men and women. We have a spiritual asset that can enable us to stand up to bullies; we have the record of a culture and civilisation that are almost unique; we have been endowed with many possibilities. So we do have the potential to defend ourselves.
So why are we not doing so? Why are we so helpless in practice? Part of the answer is that we are not united, because we are not one entity: we have been divided by our enemies under various pretexts and the massive army of Islam is fragmented into various groups whose main concern now is how to confront each other, to fight one another, to fear one another, to violate each others' rights. It is obvious that any army will be inefficient in such circumstances.
The time has come for the Muslim world to reconsider its situation. We must seriously consider the issue of unity. America's threat today is not directed against just one or two Muslim countries; the threat is directed against us. Today the zionists and capitalists behind the US government are not satisfied with just devouring one part of our homelands. They intend to take over the whole lot. The intention was the same from the beginning, over 50 years ago, when zionist, racist Israel was established. The thought also took shape in European and other Western circles about 100 years ago.
They say that they want to occupy our lands because they need them. The people are not important to them. All of us are threatened; that being the case, the rational thing to do is to unite. My recommendations and earnest demand of the Muslim governments and Muslim peoples are: to think about this problem and to work on it. I know it is difficult, but certain preliminary actions ought to be taken in any case.
Of course the enemy is not going to be idle. The enemy will be using its old tools for promoting division. The enemy will make use of cultural and racial issues. It will make use of sectarian and tribal affiliations. It will exaggerate certain issues that Islam tells us not to exaggerate. Islam teaches us that colour and race are not the benchmark for identity and distinction: inna akramakum ‘ind-Allahi atqaakum, "verily the most noble of you in Allah's sight are the most Godfearing of you". Islam stresses that Muslims' behaviour towards each other must be brotherly. Islam has not differentiated between Sunnis, Shi'as and other sects in this regard. Islam talks about Muslims: innama al-mu'mineena ikhwah, "truly the believers are one brotherhood". The Qur'an informs us that anyone who believes in the Qur'an, Islam and the qibla is a believer: all people who believe in these things are brothers and sisters. Yet many of us hide daggers behind us in order to strike our brothers. There are people who are guilty of this sort of thing in all sectors of the Ummah. We must stop them and undo the damage they inflict on us.
Today the Muslim Ummah, for its life, its dignity and to raise the standard of the deen, needs unity. What things generate divisions among Muslims? Resisting those things has priority over every other urgent necessity. Why do we not realise the need for unity among us? This grave responsibility is on our shoulders. If our enemies succeed in imposing their power and occupying our lands, the world of Islam will be left even further behind the modern world in knowledge of science, technology, and so on. We are accountable. We are all responsible for unity in the world of Islam; we are all responsible for ensuring that the Ummah does not fall further behind in any way.
One of the most important things that Imam Khomeini , may Allah be pleased with him, emphasised, from before the victory of the Islamic revolution to the last days of his life, was the unity of the Ummah, and that we must avoid magnifying small differences into enormous disagreements. Today we can see the wisdom and importance of this advice.