Muslim unity is not a theoretical concept that can be toyed with; it is a Qur’anic command that must be obeyed. Allah (swt) commands us in the noble Qur’an, “And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with Allah, and do not draw apart from one another (i.e., do not create divisions in your ranks) …” (3:103).
There are frequent calls issued from various platforms urging Muslim unity. The most persistent calls are made during the Islamic Unity Week that is observed every year in Tehran coinciding with the birthday of the noble messenger of Allah (pbuh). Among Muslims there is a difference of opinion about the exact date of the Prophet’s birthday: some Muslims say it is the 12th of Rabi al Awwal while others say it is the 17th. In order to accommodate both positions, the Islamic Unity Week encompasses both dates. Scholars from all Schools of Thought in Islam are invited to participate in the Unity Week conferences. Over the last two years, physical participation has been limited due to the pandemic but that has not dampened the spirit of unity or calls for it.
Let us understand what Muslim unity means. It does not mean that every Muslim should hold identical views, especially relating to Islamic history. What Muslim unity means is that Muslims should stand together for the sake of truth and justice. They should unite to oppose the forces of oppression and tyranny.
Calls for unity clearly imply that there is disunity among Muslims. This needs elaboration. At the level of the masses, there is unity among Muslims. This is reflected in the Muslims’ concern for the suffering of their brothers and sisters in such places as Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Nigeria and Afghanistan, to name just a few locales. In order to operationalize this genuine yearning for fellow Muslims, there has to be institutional support. This means support at the level of the state. That is where the problem arises.
While Allah (swt) has designated us as “one Ummah” (21:92), the Muslim world is divided into nation-States. These are artificial constructs imposed by the colonial powers, primarily Britain and France, during their rampage through the Muslim world in the last two centuries. In many cases, arbitrary lines were drawn dividing people that had a common language and cultural background. Such boundaries have created endless problems for Muslims.
Further, most rulers in the Muslim world are illegitimate who have been imposed and propped up in power by the same colonial powers that drew the lines in the sand to create these little sheikhdoms and kingdoms. At every stage, these rulers have betrayed the Ummah for their narrow personal interests. The most recent example is the betrayal of the Palestinian people through what is referred to as ‘normalization’ with the Zionist entity. It is essentially a stab in the back of the Palestinian people. They were not consulted before these regimes went ahead with their so-called normalization. Not surprisingly, the Palestinians have rejected and condemned what is referred to as ‘normalization’. They call it surrender.
Let us turn to the question of the process of operationalizing Muslim unity. It does not mean uniformity. Muslim unity can exist at multiple levels. The most important is the unity of purpose. This is the ideal situation when Muslims collectively strive to achieve a common goal and objective. The other is unity of interests. At this level, while Muslims may not have a common purpose, it is in their interest to cooperate to achieve their mutual interests. The lowest level of unity is that of expediency.
While Muslims ought to operate at a much higher level, given the prevailing situation, even the unity of expediency is better than disunity where Muslim energies are dissipated in mutual recriminations and disputes. All too often, Muslim regimes are at each other’s throats trying to undermine others while the enemies of Islam and Muslims benefit from such divisions. This was witnessed most recently in the Saudi-engineered spat against Qatar (2017-2021) that resulted in unnecessary problems. While they have made up when the Saudis realized the futility of their adventure, they have not rectified their atrocious conduct against the people of Yemen. Syria, too, is recovering from 10-years of bloodshed caused by the same illegitimate regimes that act at the behest of their Western masters.
So, what needs to be done? The answer is simpler than most people imagine. Factors that impede the realization of unity must be removed. This means the removal of illegitimate regimes. Ture, this is not so simple. There are many challenges in the way but once conceptual clarity is achieved, other steps can be taken.
This is the task of the global Islamic movement. Often sincere Muslims make the mistake of assuming that they can operate within the Jahili system to bring about change. Such faulty thinking has led to disastrous consequences.
In studying the Seerah of the noble messenger (pbuh), we find that at no stage did he attempt to seek approval of the Jahili system in Makkah nor did he ask them to provide him a platform in Dar an-Nadwa, the Makkans’ discussion chamber, so that he could present his message to them. In fact, at one stage, the Makkan chiefs came to him with a power-sharing arrangement. Before the Prophet (pbuh) could respond, Allah’s revelation came in very clear terms, categorically rejecting the offer (Surah al-Kafirun ).
This brings us to the question of the mobilization of the Muslim masses for the struggle to achieve justice in society. This requires muttaqi leadership, articulation of the directional course and single-minded dedication in pursuit of the objective. If the leadership is sincere, the masses will not hesitate from making great sacrifices. It also will not require huge numbers. Throughout much of Islamic history, small numbers of committed Muslims have defeated much larger and better equipped foes. This was witnessed in Badr 1500 years ago and has most recently been witnessed in Afghanistan against the invading crusading armies.
Muslims can imagine what more can be achieved if they were united. The suffering of Muslims can be brought to an end through unity and sincerity.