Bismillah Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem.
Alhumdulillah. Peace and blessings on Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa sallam), his Noble Companions and Family.
Brothers and sisters, Committed Muslims…
There are some elements and definitions in this presentation that have to be clarified. For a long time now, words have been used in an absent minded way; and clichés have taken on a life of their own. I would like to be conscious and thoughtful about what I am saying when we are speaking about an “Islamic Ummah”, “strategies” and “unity.” But before commencing this task of “clearing the air” I would like to say that even after all is said and explained, there is a historical and traditional momentum that cannot be stopped by one or two presentations, annual conferences, or well researched papers. These are all necessary – no doubt. But the fact of the matter is that social change will only occur when ideas become principles, and principles are channeled into policies, and policies are adhered to by a popular will, and that popular will takes its course in altering a status quo into a much better future by what will eventually become a struggle. And this struggle will vary from time to time and from place to place from a strenuous effort to an energetic attempt to achieve something to an open clash between two opposing groups. It is in reference to this fact that as much as we scholars, intellectuals, and activists try our best to shed light on issues, it remains the responsibility and the task of those who are on the front lines of what may be described as the Islamic homeland who carry with their sacrifices the supreme honor of bringing down the challenges and raising up the edifice of Muslims everywhere.
With the above said, I would like to clarify the meanings of some words. The first word that has to be elucidated is the word “ummah”. This word is used in the Holy Qur’an to refer to a consolidated body of people. Some may say a homogeneous body of people. But how does this apply to us? How should we understand an Islamic “ummah”? And the answer is stated in the Qur’an of guidance when the Almighty says
وَإِنَّ هَٰذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ
And indeed this ummah of yours is one ummah and I am your Sustainer... (Surat Al Mu’minun verse 52)
The lost meaning in this ayat by which I mean the meaning that no longer comes to mind is that Allah (SWT) is saying that we, the Muslims, have an ummah when we are politically and economically and militarily united. In other words, when we have a central authority that we refer to in matters that concern our relationships with other powers or states in the world, when we have a coordinated economic plan that distributes the wealth and resources among the total Muslim population, and when we have an interconnected military arrangement that repels and defeats aggression and invasions of hostile and evasive powers – at that time we have an ummah that meets the divine definition given to us from on high.
When we look at the hard facts of today’s world we notice that none of the above applies to the one billion and eight hundred million Muslims who exist nowadays. Therefore, if we were precise in the choice of our words, we would say that in contemporary times there is no “ummah”. There is a nostalgia about an ummah. There is wishful thinking of an ummah. And there is a strong and indispensable hope for reconstituting an “ummah”. But for all practical purposes we do not have an “ummah”. What we do have are cultures, nation-states, and “religious” affiliations that fashion themselves as “Islamic” or that genuinely think they are Islamic to the point of being the “true Muslims” but nonetheless none of them are an ummah at the political, economic, and military level of things. No doubt, there is an Islamic Culture. But an Islamic Culture cannot substitute for an Islamic ummah. Therefore, when we speak about an “Islamic Ummah” we speak about something that exists in the less-than-precise understanding of traditional thoughts or public sentiment.
The other issue that has to be made crystal clear is the word “wahdah”. This word is translated as “unity.” But what do we mean by unity? How far are we going to go in “integration” or “assimilation” to have unity among the Muslims? Here again the general discourse on “unity” keeps relatively silent about what this “unity” means. Sometimes some scholarly persons and academics speak about unity in a way that dispels or negates diversity. Does unity mean an absence of acknowledged linguistic groups of people? Does unity mean a monolithic culture that has no room for innocent etiquettes and accepted practices? Does unity bar the coexistence of schools of thought and legitimate ijtihad? And here again, unity has to be considered in matters that are economic, military, and political. When we elevate our thoughts to this level of activities we make room for our particular persons and circumstantial communities. Hence, unity does not mean forcing a language, a denomination, or an acculturation upon hundreds of millions of other bona fide Muslims, who have their own language, who are satisfied with their own school of thought, and who are comfortable with their particular development at their particular stage of being.
In light of the clarifications above I would like to proceed with my thoughts on this theme of “strategy”, “Islamic Ummah”, “challenges”, and “unity”. I will not use the same sequence of words, though. With the purpose of being action or result oriented, I would say that we have to identify the reality that we are in and then identify the resources or the potential that are available to us. All this of course in light of Allah’s guidance and HIS Prophet’s guidelines.
The first area of concern is the area of challenges. And what we mean by challenges are demanding and stimulating situations. Obviously, every thinking Muslim knows that the Muslims peoples of the world [notice I did not say the Muslim ummah] share multiple conditions of adversity, affliction, difficulties, hardships, and emergencies. Political subservience to inimical powers, economic reliance upon advanced industries and technologies, and military inferiority to superpowers and nuclear powers – all these have resulted in the misfortunes under which hundreds of millions of Muslims and others are toiling every day of their less-than-productive lives. Some of these adverse conditions such as belonging to European blocs or wanting to belong to the European Union, or the host of military forces in Muslim countries being trained by their enemies or having enemies build military bases on their lands or buying old-generation military hardware and equipment from imperialists and zionists – all these may have occurred by a culture or a self-inflicted alienation away from Islam due to historical and/or traditional heritage. This area has to be dealt with subsequent to the remedy of the larger issue that has these circumstances imposed on Muslims throughout the world. The larger issue is that of imperialism and Zionism. Without going into details, and without trying to dump our miseries on outside powers, we can say with all the news items of our time that imperialism and Zionism are working night and day to stop an Islamic population in the world that is approaching two billion from awakening to the military, economic, and political responsibilities that come from being Islamic. Have we not seen the zionist spearhead lunging its military into the heart of Ghazzah with the connivance of trans-national imperialism and with, I may add, the complicity of Arabian ruling classes who have shown us on many bloody and non-bloody occasions their affinity with imperialism and Zionism and their aversion to Islam and the committed Muslims.
The first step in the right direction is to concentrate our Islamic public mind on our common enemy. Some Muslims have no choice but to do that; like the Muslims in Ghazzah and in Palestine who have their minds concentrated on the zionist enemy. Naturally, that is because they are its immediate victims. But they should not be doing this by themselves; all other Muslims everywhere should be of the same mind and of the same conclusion: the zionist enemy is the central enemy of all Muslims everywhere. It is not that simple though. Zionism is cloaked within the status quo of a larger international system that has in effect dehumanized oppressed people, and is now busy trying to demonize awakening Muslims – of all schools of thought and of all ethnicities and national origins. Zionism and imperialism are two inseparable bodies of interests when it comes to the Muslims of the world. Hence, Muslims are going to have to think at this level. Muslims cannot go on picking fights with themselves on flimsy charges of ritual, historical, or fiqhi variations when the world is picking wars with them because of their coming of political age. The way the world is operating today due to Zionism and imperialism places the Muslims who are “nationals” and “citizens” of other nation-states in civil jeopardy where they are suspect, or assumed guilty until proven innocent! In some countries Muslims are second and third class citizens! And none of this has to do with a Muslim’s school of thought or his country of origin or his mother tongue. (On occasions though, there is a hyper-sensitivity to a Muslim who is a Shi‘i, or another who is a “Wahhabi” or yet another who is from Pakistan, or Iran, or Syria, or Palestine, etc... depending on the particular heightened “threat level” that is in circulation at the time due to developments in the Islamic East.) Muslims are required in this context to raise their awareness about the nature of hostilities that are imposed on Muslim peoples all around the world. There can be no argument with the fact that knowledge is power. And the necessary knowledge we Muslims need in our time is the knowledge pertaining to the zionist and imperialist enemy who occupies our Holy Lands, who invades our countries, who loots our resources, who builds his military bases on our lands, and who poisons that atmosphere by hiding behind a mission of “civilization” and “democratization”.
Words and academic papers are not enough to bring this fact home. Words and academic papers and research are required. But if there is no actual men in the field who can fight for their dignity, go to war for their independence from Zionism and imperialism, and stand up for their liberty and freedom all we say and discuss are mere words that have no effect in reversing injustice and destroying tyranny.
The term “strategy” refers to the means that decision-makers choose to attain desired ends. Strategy is, in effect, a course of action, a plan for achieving specified goals. Although the term can be used to describe a plan for applying means to attain ends in any realm of political life, it will be used here to refer to a strategy to obtain Islamic cohesion, solidarity, and wholeness. When used in the realm of social and political Islamic integration, strategy should refer to the art and the wit of bringing about an Islamic common purpose – in other words an Islamic ummah. While the goal of this strategy may take some time to achieve, it should not be relinquished because some individuals do not have the marathon spirit to reach the final aspiration and ambition of an integrated Islamic ummah. There are some considerations to be contemplated by the Islamic State and the Islamic Movement towards the formulation of this strategy. One such consideration is the institutions that already exist. There are international forums and legal entities that are already in existence. Some of the obvious ones that come to mind are: the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Arab League, etc... There are some people who think that something can be accomplished by these types of organizations. We have a record that speaks for itself. In the course of the past century we the Muslims have had a myriad of “heavy-weight” political, military, and economic problems. All of us are familiar with these problems that extend from the Moroccan Sahara to the Moro intractability in the Philippines – and everything in-between. All of these life-and-death issues have been erupting on the watch of these types of organizations with nothing, I repeat: nothing, being done that would alleviate the pain, suffering, and dislocations that are increasing as the years go by. The litmus test is occupation of Palestine. Here again none of these organizations have been able to step in and relieve the victim populations of occupation, invasion, and dislocation. I present to you my conviction that these are spent forces of the past. If we are serious about a strategy to integrate an Islamic ummah we are going to have to consider the alternative. And the alternative is the Islamic State and the Islamic Movement. The Islamic State is the authority and governance that the Muslims have in Iran. The Islamic Movement is the assorted political parties and blocs throughout the rest of the world. A practical strategy would mean that there has to be a meeting of political minds on matters of priority that have to be sorted out by the decision makers in this range of Islamic assertion. The best starting point in formulating this strategy is to have a convergence of priorities regarding the liberation of the Holy Land. The details of such a strategy will have to be hammered out by the respective representatives of the Islamic State and Movement. Obviously, there are issues of financial support, logistical support, social support, emergency support, and military support that will have to be discussed and agreed upon.
This obviously leads us to the following sequential – the Islamic ummah. Short of being an Islamic ummah in the political sense of the word as we discussed above, we will have to work our way up. Towards that end there is an Islamic common denominator that brings together the Muslims of the world. That common denominator is the Islamic Culture (al-Thaqafah al-Islamiyyah). The harbingers of an Islamic ummah, once again, are going to have to be found in the Islamic State and in the Islamic Movement. These pioneers will have to concentrate their future planning on merging and streamlining the Muslim populace. With the current political and nationalist barriers that divide the Muslims all over the world, the only realistic hope left is to reverse the nationalist political divisions by rehabilitating the Islamic qiblah. I will say this for the umpteenth time, we cannot have an Islamic ummah without having a Makkan qiblah. Makkah is where the Islamic peoples congregate to express their brotherhood and equality. Makkah is the place where Muslims from all over the world come during Hajj and ‘umrah to express their bara’ah [severing of political ties] with the Mushrikin [Zionism and imperialism and their agents]. The Holy Sanctuary in Makkah is described in the accurate Qur’an as mathabatan li-al-nas wa amnan [a people’s place for retreat and security]. How can we put this ummah back together again without our Islamic freedom, our Islamic fraternity, and our Islamic actuation and propulsion from Makkah itself? The Hajj and the ‘Umrah should become “feeders” for this re-composition of the Islamic Ummah. There is something wrong with some Muslims who are incapable or unwilling to designate Makkah and Madinah as the political, economic, and military seat of power to which all other Muslims from all corners of the world come throughout all times of the year to be as mature as to care for themselves and express their compassion and love for their fellow- Muslims who are game and war material for the Mushrikin of our time.
This brings us to the last segment of this presentation. Unity is a word dear to every Muslim. And there have been attempts at different types of unity in the past. At one time there was an attempt at unity during Muslim rule in al-Andalus (Iberia). And as history would show us that unity was temporary and reactive – it did not have the necessary components to sustain it. In times before that there was an impermanent unity between Egypt and Syria which last long enough to liberate the Holy Land from European occupiers. In recent times there have been many attempts at unity, especially in Arab countries. (In the late 1950's, early 1960's there was a unity between Syria and Egypt called the United Arab Republic, that was followed by frustrated attempts at unity between Egypt and Iraq, Egypt and Yemen, Egypt and Libya, Libya and Tunisia, Sudan and Egypt, the “Maghribi Unity” an endeavor to bring together North African states, minus Egypt...etc... All, regrettably failed.). We also witnessed the unraveling of what used to be East and West Pakistan. Under the nationalist friction between the two sides of Pakistan, Bangladesh declared itself a full fledged nation-state. All these breakups can be attributed to the absence of a populist Islamic polity. All the above nation-states are secular with an Islamic veneer. And that is a formula for trouble. Even today’s nation-states that do not have Islamic leadership leading the people out of the secular wilderness and an Islamic populace generating a confidence in the leadership – without this we can expect more of the same; i.e., nation disintegration, civil wars, failed states, and further occupations of Islamic lands.
Once again, the leaders and scholars in the Islamic State and Movement are going to have to show the rest of us the way to unifying our objectives, priorities, and procedures. There is going to have to be a worked out plan by these leaders and scholars that will give the coming ummah its established order of importance and urgency. We have many problems to solve. Our problems are increasing. These problems have to be sorted out and placed on a scale of most important to least important. And a tightly knit and cohesive pan-Islamic strategy for unity has to evolve from the meeting of Islamic minds and hearts in the person of ‘ulema’ and experienced members of the Islamic State and Movement.
We live in a time in which much ado has been made about fiqhi distinctions or what some may call ‘aqeedi differences. This aberration has to go. And it will go once we settle on the fact that the goal of Islamic political, economic, and military unity by necessity needs social, ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity. Centralizing a Government does not contradict decentralizing its administrations. Muslims have to be diffused with the knowledge that they can have a political, economic, and military seat of power in Makkah while simultaneously having their own cultural, “national”, and denominational freedom in their own geographical region. And between these two accomplishments there shall be no segregation, discrimination, or exclusion.
A strategy for Islamic togetherness does not evolve in a vacuum. There are circumstances and developments that have to be taken into consideration when thinking through the details that go into an Islamic strategy of that range. An immediate shortfall which we have to confess to is the fact that we have not come together to size up our problems, as numerous as they are and as enduring as they have become. Some of the problems that occupy our time and effort are the following:
There are many other chronic and acute problems that we have not put on a list of priorities. The result is that we do not have a collective effort to tackle these problems one by one on a scale of most urgent to least urgent. And because we do not have such a worked out plan we cannot pool our human and natural resources and capabilities to solve these problems, or at least to decrease their severity. And once again, as much as some people would like to skip over this fact, the issue is that we need to have our qiblah. Makkah can no longer remain a city off limits to the leaders and scholars of the Islamic State and the Islamic Movement. When will the time come when any Muslim and every Muslim is free to travel to Makkah, to attend Islamic Conferences in Makkah, to convene Islamic conferences (such as this) in Makkah, and even to settle in Makkah [if he or she is able to do so]? It has been a waste of time and energy to have the past generations of Muslims stream through Makkah for a couple of weeks and then be virtually forced out of it as if it were forbidden territory! The facts on the ground compel us to turn to the leaders and scholars of the Islamic State in Iran to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility in giving direction and momentum to a strategy for Islamic Unity. This, obviously, can only be done with the active and unflinching cooperation of the different wings of the global Islamic Movement. Thus, we also call upon the leaders and chairmen of the global Islamic Movement to step up to the responsibilities of our time and place their hands in the hands of their brethren in Islamic Iran to sort out the priorities on our joint way to Islamic solidarity and unity. If an Islamic State and government had been successful in Egypt or Turkey or any other country we would have said the same thing. This is not a matter of superiors and inferiors, Arab and ‘Ajam, nationalism or sectarianism. This is a matter of Islamic survival. Every year that passes without concrete and demonstrable steps towards closing our rank and file will be a year of division, reversals, and tragedy. We have already seen in the past months how the collaboration of imperialist and zionist forces brought death and destruction to the exposed and vulnerable Palestinians in Ghazzah. If we have a repeat of that the blood of the innocent will be on our conscience...
The Islamic Republic of Iran has shown and proven throughout the course of the past years its sincerity and devotion to the central issue of the Muslims worldwide: the issue of occupied al-Quds and occupied Palestine. What remains is for the rest of the Islamic Movement to acknowledge this fact and behave accordingly. And this does not mean that the Islamic Movement is going to be taking orders from the Islamic State as much as it means that the Islamic Movement is going to have to align itself with the Islamic State to do what has to be done.
We pray to the Almighty to guide us all on a course devoted solely to HIM, and on this course to HIM to bring our hearts together and to bring our minds together and to bring our actions together. We ask the Almighty to deliver us from these trying times and to dissipate all the calamities and misfortunes that have inflicted us for the past century or so.
We also pray and beseech the Almighty to guide and protect the Islamic leadership and the Islamic State and Movement from all conspiracies and enemies – foreign and domestic.
We salute the unending efforts of all the members of the Majma’ al-Taqrib Bayn al-Mathahib al-Islamiyyah, first and foremost among them the two honorable Ayatullahs Wa‘ez-zadeh Khorasani and Mohammad ‘Ali al-Taskhiri.
Our heartfelt greetings to all the Muslims who are on the front lines who are teaching us the alphabet of Islamic togetherness and unity. It is they who are ahead of us and we are feeling our way in light of our thoughts and minds to be with them and to make it possible for the eventual movement of the whole ummah to be with them in unison as we all correct the wrong – which is the brutal occupation of our Holy Lands.
إِن تَنصُرُوا اللَّهَ يَنصُرْكُمْ
… if you strive to support Allah He will support you... (Surah Muhammad verse 7)
Our wholehearted congratulations to all Muslims on this gracious occasion – the birth-week of Allah’s beloved Prophet Muhammad (P) and his grandson Al Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq.
قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّهُ
Qul in kuntum tuhibbun Allaha fa-ittabi‘uni yuhbibkumu Allahu... [Say: If you [the committed Muslims] love Allah then follow me [Muhammad] then Allah will love you... (Surat Aal Imran verse 31)
By the virtue and grace of this time of year and the birth of these divinely beloved we invoke Allah’s mercy and compassion to bring us all together in the spirit of ithaar [selflessness]. For HE has the power to do what HE wills.
And may the blessings and mercy be upon the shuhada’ [martyrs] who have preceded us and paved the way for us to be here together today. Their lives and their death were never in vain. We honor them from the bottom of our hearts and with the fiber of our soul. We will never forget them. And we pledge to be with them on the Day of Truth.
Wa al-Salamu ‘aleikum wa Rahmatu Allahi wa Barakatuh.
With the peace, grace, and blessings of Allah.
This discussion paper was presented by Imam Muhammad Asi on the occasion of the second International Islamic Unity Conference on 13 March 2009.