What is relation between Islam and nationalism? Does Islam approve of nationalism or rejects it. Many Muslim theologians and intellectuals maintain that Islam does not approve of nationalism. Islam, they maintain, is an international religion and cannot be confined to any territorial limits. The noted poet from India Muhammad Iqbal said in one of his verses that what is nation (watan) is Islam's shroud (kafan).
What Iqbal means to say is that nationhood is death of Islam. Muslims constitute an ummah and ummah cannot be confined to any territorial limit. However, Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani, the eminent Islamic theologian from India, maintained that nation is a geographical concept whereas ummah is a religious or spiritual concept. Muslims are ummah and are, in that sense, an international community. But, the Maulana says, one should not confuse between the concept of nation and the concept of ummah. The former is a political category whereas the latter is a religious category.
Thus it is interesting to note that Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani who was also the president of the Jami'at al-'Ulama-I-Hind', refused to support two nation theory propounded by Jinnah and his Muslim League. He, instead supported the composite nationhood (Muttahida Qaumiyyat) and had written a book called Islam aur Muttahida Qaumiyyat (i.e. Islam and Composite Nationalism).
It is quite interesting to note that Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani quoted, in his above book, the covenant which the Prophet (PBUH) drew up with people of Madina belonging to different religions and tribes (it is called the Mithaq-I-Madinah). The Maulana called it the predecessor of the modern concept of nation. The Prophet drew up the covenant between different religions (Jews, Muslims and pagans) and various tribes (Jewish, Muslim and Pagan) and described this composite community as ummah wahidah i.e. one community. Thus the Prophet (PBUH) transcended the boundaries of religion to constitute a geographical community.
Again, the concept of nation is certainly of modern origin. It originated in Europe in 17th century after the Protestant movement challenged the authority of Catholic Church. These nations came into existence on the basis of common language and culture and a sense of shared history. After break up of the Papal authority there was no common religious bond and this religious bond was replaced by common language and culture.
It has also been maintained by many Muslims that in Islam religion cannot be separated from politics thus maintaining unity of religion and politics. These theologians and intellectual thus deny legitimacy of secular nationalism completely. They think that secularism has no place in Islam and secular politics should be completely rejected. Like nationalism, secularism too, is a modern concept and one cannot find any precedence for secularism in the Qur'an and Sunnah.
But we find both nationalism and secularism in many Muslim countries. Turkey, for example, is both secular as well as a nation state. Even Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world today is a secular nation. Many such examples can be multiplied. It would be very difficult to find unanimity of opinion on such controversial issue. What is needed is ijtihad and creative and imaginative thinking which does not clash with fundamentals of Islam.
In fact right in the beginning of Islam there was no political theory. There was, as we have shown in our book The Islamic State, there was no concept of state in the Qur'an or in the hadith literature. The very concept of state did not exist among the Arabs. It is tribal chiefs who took all decisions in Mecca through a tribal council called mala'. There were no state institutions like the police or army even after the Prophet of Islam established a political unit in Madinah. It would be difficult to describe it as a full-fledged 'Islamic State'. Everyone worked voluntarily inspired by moral and spiritual teachings of Islam and under the direct guidance of the Holy Prophet.
There were no defined functions nor there were state functionaries maintained by the state funds. All these functions were purely morally inspired and only reward expected was in akhirah i.e. the Hereafter. If one fought against the enemies it was also voluntary courting martyrdom for a moral cause and, if won, could get a share in the defeated enemy property as per the well- established tribal practice.
Similarly, for internal law and order or security there was no police or para- military force. Even the offenders tended to treat their offence as offence against Islamic morality rather than against the state and more often than not, they voluntarily presented themselves for punishment so that they are not punished in the Hereafter by Allah. Obviously such a moral dispensation cannot qualify as a state. It was moral rather than political community.
Since we cannot call it a state it cannot qualify for a term like the Islamic state. This term will not be found even during the Umayyad or Abbasid period. The Umayyad or Abbasid political establishments were known as Caliphate rather than Islamic State. The terms like the Islamic State or Islamic nation are modern day terms. The word khilafat also does not connote any concept of state but of succession to the Prophet.
The mode of succession also was full of controversy. There was no unanimity among Muslims as to who or how one would succeed to the Prophet, through nomination or election? It was this question which brought about formal split among the Muslims. Those who are known as Sunnis maintained that succession should be through bay'ah (pledge of loyalty) of the believers and those called Shi'ahs maintaining that the Prophet (PBUH) had nominated his successor.
Thus the concept of Islamic state cannot be traced to Qur'an or Sunnah as no such concept existed in those days. The Caliph was treated as the supreme leader of Muslims who led them in religious as well as worldly matters. Again, he was more of a religious and moral leader than a political one. His primary duty was to guide the believers in the light of the Qur'an and Sunnah and by evolving ijma' (consensus) among them on controversial matters. The khilafat did have well defined concept of functions, rights and duties. The whole discourse was a moral and not a political discourse. The word siyasah also came into existence much later and was derived from the function of tending and controlling horse. A ruler was also thought of tending and controlling people. There was no such division as the state and civil society.
The concept of civil society is also a modern concept when people got civic rights and the whole political discourse became discourse of rights, not of duties. Those who propound the theory of Islamic state lay stress mainly on duties of believers, not of their rights. One cannot think of modern state without the concept of rights. In the theory of Islamic state the whole discourse - whether it pertains to the rulers or to the people - is a moral discourse and in terms of duties.
Modern democracy cannot function without the concept of, as pointed out, rights. In the Islamic discourse minorities are treated as dhimmis i.e. responsibility of the Muslims to protect them and to provide them the security of life and property. Thus Muslims have duty towards minority but there is no concept of minority rights as such. In modern nation state minorities have well defined rights and they can sue the state if these rights are denied to them.
Thus it will be very difficult to talk of Islamic State in the early period in the modern sense. All modern Muslim states are territorial states with well-defined territorial limits whereas we find no such concept in earlier political theories like those of Mawardi who is first major political thinker among the Muslims.
When the khilafat came into existence after the death of Holy Prophet there was no concept of territorial limits. Islam was essentially confined to the Arabian Peninsula. When the first caliph Abu Bakr took over as the first caliph Islam had not spread outside Arabia but then began the Muslim conquests and soon entire Roman (Byzantine) and Iranian (Sassanid) empires were humbled and large parts of their territories became part of Islamic Caliphate.
It was even theorised, after incorporation of these territories that there can only be one caliph, not even one. The caliph was also known as Amir al-mu'minin i.e. the leader of the believers and there could be only one leader of all believers, not two. Thus the whole concept was of (religious) belief, not of territory at all. During the Umayyad period this concept of one caliph for entire Islamic world persisted but this became irrelevant when the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads and Umayyads established a parallel caliphate in Spain. Again this had to be justified that there could be two Amirs of believers.
It was just the beginning. Subsequently more and more rulers came into existence and territory rather than religion, became fundamental category. Now each ruler had well defined territory over which he ruled. The moral also began to be overshadowed by the political. The political had of course established its predominance over the moral of early caliphate during the Umayyad period itself. There was hardly any Islamic teaching which was not violated by them. It was far from being an Islamic regime. It was perceived to be quite tyrannical and all prominent companions and companions of the companions of the Prophet were against the Umayyad regime. It was during such regime that a hadith began to be circulated that to be Islamic it was enough if prayer (salah) was established which the Umayyads did. All other cardinal principals of Islam like justice, equality, compassion, piety etc. were not necessary. Still the Umayyad rulers claimed to be caliphs. The Umayyads also spread the doctrine of jabr (divine determination) as against that of qadr (freedom) to establish that what was happening was inevitable and out of divine will and nothing could be done about it, it being the divine will.
The Abbasid dynasty proved no better. It should also be seen that both Umayyads as well as Abbasids were dynastic rule and had nothing to do with the earlier Caliphate model which was far from being dynastic. The Khilafat was close to elective principle than the dynastic principle. It was because of its elective principle that it was held sacred by Muslims, particularly Sunni Muslims. The Caliphs, unlike the Umayyad and Abbasid rulers, were far more committed to Islam, its values and its teachings. So at all these stages it hardly makes any sense to call these establishments (early Khilafat, Umayyad and Abbasid rules as Islamic State.
In fact, as pointed out before, the very term Islamic State is a modern one coined during the colonial period in nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The medieval period had no concept of state. This concept is fairly modern one. A modern state has a constitution, well -defined powers and a political structure. As against the state there is notion of a civil society which also has its well-defined role and notion of rights. As far as 'Islamic state' is concerned it is very difficult to define its structure.
For example the 'Islamic State' of Saudi Arabia has no constitution or democracy. The Saudi rulers maintain that the Qur'an is their constitution. There is no concept of civil society in Saudi Arabia as citizens have no rights, they only have duties. Maulana Maududi, on the other hand, talks of 'theo-democracy' rather than democracy. In this 'theo-democracy' too, there is no notion of civil society or human rights. The state cannot even legislate as the Shari'ah is the only legislation and no one has power to alter it. And according to the Islamists, Shari'ah is very comprehensive divine legislation and so there is no need for any legislation except on some subsidiary matters.
Iqbal, the noted poet, was supporter of ijtihad and thought that the parliament in an Islamic State would bring about necessary changes in Islamic Shari'ah t6hrough ijtihad i.e. creative interpretation of the Islamic law. Thus as far as Iqbal is concerned, the Parliament shall have legislative powers but as for other Islamic thinkers it will have hardly any legislative powers.
No wonder than that in most of the Islamic countries there is either no democracy, parliament etc. or quite controlled kind of democracy. But all these states in Islamic countries do have well-defined territories and no Islamic country is prepared to cede an inch of its territory. That clearly means that these countries do have well- defined territorial limits. Nation is defined within well-defined territorial limits. Thus nationalism has been accepted by all Islamic countries in the Islamic world. They have also accepted the concept of citizenship as territory alone cannot make a nation.
Thus nationalism is an accepted phenomenon throughout Islamic world. And the nation states exist in all Muslim countries. It is also true that a Muslim from one Muslim country cannot freely go to another Muslim country without valid travel documents and these documents will permit him a limited stay in the host country. This is precisely what Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani points out in his book Muttahida Qaumiyyat Aur Islam that the concept of ummah cannot be political but religious and spiritual.
Muslims throughout the world do not constitute a political community. It was possible only in early period of caliphate - during what is called the period of Khilafat-I-Rashidah when Muslims could move from one part of the Caliphate to another part. There were no restrictions. But when many Muslim rulers emerged on the scene restrictions began to appear. And now in modern nation-states no Muslim can go and settle in any other Muslim territory unless permitted to do so according to the rules. Thus the concept of the modern nation state has been universally accepted by all Muslims including the Islamists. Ummah, no longer means and Islamic political community.
The religious minorities in these Muslim nation states are no longer treated as per the Shari'ah concept of dhimmis but as citizens according to the constitutional provisions of the country. The nation state, be it Muslim or otherwise, is a political and not a religious entity. And citizenship rights are given not on the basis of religion but on the basis of birth in a particular territorial state.
Even Saudi Arabia, which claims that the Qur'an is its constitution, does not allow Muslims from other parts of world to settle in its nationally defined territory. Even for the purpose of Haj one has to obtain visa. Had the Saudi Government followed the Qur'anic model, it should allow all those Muslims, whoever wishes to settle down in its territory as all Muslims are an 'ummah'. But the Saudi Arabia does not allow any non-Saudi Muslim to settle down in its territory. How can then it claim that Qur'an is its constitution?
Thus in modern times the concept of ummah can only be spiritual and religious and not political. Islam, as a religion, is followed by Muslims holding very different nationalities and enjoying different degrees of political rights in their nation states. The territorial spread of these Muslim states is such that even a confederation is not possible. Also, despite belonging to one religion Islam their mutual relations are not always cordial. In many cases they are hostile and antagonistic.
Let alone all Islamic states, even the Arab states cannot come closer and form a confederation. Iraq invaded Kuwait and Arab states were divided into two hostile camps and even invited the USA to invade Iraq and compel it to vacate Kuwait. Many Arab states support the USA in its campaign against Iraq. Had there been acceptable concept of one ummah in political sense such developments would not have occurred. The European nations have created European Union despite different languages and cultures and absence of shared sense of history. But though there is common language Arabic, one religion and one culture, Arabs have not been able to form any such Union of Arab States, let alone of all Muslim countries.
It should also be stressed that except some on the extreme fringe, Muslims generally no longer talk of one ummah in political sense. Nationalism and Islamic State has by and large., come to be accepted throughout the Islamic world. Also, despite having common Shari'ah law there are greatly differing political and social needs for legislation and body of legislations in these Islamic countries differ widely form each other. Except a few Muslim countries like the Saudi Arabia Islamic criminal code has been almost abandoned in most of the Muslim countries. It was done so in the colonial period.
It is true that some Muslim countries are trying to bring back the Islamic criminal code but it is more to win political legitimacy by undemocratic rulers than a felt religious need of the Muslim masses. Many Muslim countries like the Sudan and Nigeria have significant proportions of non-Muslim (Christian) population and it creates great difficulties to apply Islamic criminal code to these non-Muslim citizens.
As Muslims have accepted notion of nationalism they should also strive to re-think various connected legal issues through the process of ijtihad and evolve new body of legislation fit for modern composite nation states. Today majority of Muslims in the world live as religious minorities in several non-Muslim countries. And, most of them enjoy all citizens' rights (though there may be some or the other difficulties) the Muslim majority countries should also treat their non-Muslim minorities as equal citizens not only as a reciprocal measure but as a matter of principle.
It is true that the concept of dhimmi was quite progressive one when Islam established its hegemony in the world in 7th and 8th century but today, with modern concept of citizenship of a nation state, it is certainly inadequate. Thus the concept of dhimmi should be replaced with the concept of citizenship for non-Muslim citizens in all Muslim majority countries.
Also, Islam had evolved the principle of full freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, which was most modern in its content and this should be practised unambiguously by all Muslim political regimes. The Holy Prophet of Islam had given full freedom of faith to not only Jews, but also to pagan Arabs in Madinah through the Covenant of Madinah. This needs to be followed meticulously by the modern political regimes.
Lastly, as nation states have been fully accepted by all Muslim countries they should also accept democratic way of governance which too, is quite in keeping with the Qur'anic spirit and the spirit of Sunnah. Dictatorship, dynastic or military rule is, on the contrary, quite contrary to the spirit of Islam.