An Elusive Unity by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (September 07, 2018)
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Unity of the Ummah is a precious value in Islam. The reason is quite clear: people believing in a single, Almighty God (Allah) and his last Prophet (PBUH) and the Book of Allah revealed on the Prophet, the Quran, are naturally expected to be one in their world view, their sympathies and their concerns.
However, the stark reality is that they are not one. They were never really united in their history. Even today, the worst fratricidal wars are intermittently breaking out from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen to Iraq and Syria between Muslims. This is a picture of complete disunity and disarray, inviting foreign intervention and interference.
This column is particularly addressed to Muslim youth, our hope for the future. They must address the issue because tomorrow they will have to deal with it. They are our leaders of tomorrow. I have tried to deal with it on an intellectual and conceptual level in my booklet Healing the Ummah, which is a collection of four of my articles written on the issue from diverse angles.
To deal with an issue successfully, we must know its conceptual contours well, which will help us deal with the issue on the ground, in our day-to-day life. You can read it on our website (www.iosworld.org) or order a hard copy. It contains a nucleus around which more practical and workable ideas can be developed for the Ummah to come to terms with this issue.
Hoping you would access the recommended reading material, I would like to add a few observations. People have counted 20-25 sects, subsects, sub-subsects and cults within Islam. Because they believe in Unity of Godhead (Allah), His Book (the Quran) and His Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) they are Muslims. However, we tend to reject all understandings of Islam other than our own. We reject all other versions as heresies and their followers as non-Muslims. As a reaction, they reject everyone other than themselves as non-Muslims.
Difference of perspective does not, should not, lead to violent conflict. Hence, all violent conflicts among Muslims in the name of religious difference are illegitimate. Then there are political conflicts in areas like Afghanistan Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Turkey that are not only political, but sectarian and ethnic.
Certain religious and political conflicts are basically ethnic conflicts, often disguised as sectarian conflicts. To limit these and gradually extinguish the fire of violent conflicts, we have to understand the basic philosophy of “identity and difference.” We have to accommodate the fact that within the larger rubric of Islamic identity there are legitimate differentiations of sect, subsect, school of fiqh, tribal usages, local identities and other markers of differentiation. In short, we have to accept diversity and stop taking our own group as only true Muslims.
Many of our conflicts, disguised as religious strife, are actually conflicts over political control and control over economic resources to benefit the ruling elite and their families by excluding larger masses of people in our societies. The powerful and the deprived could be from different ethnicities and religious sects. However, the strife is not primarily over these issues, but over control of economic resources.
Happily, the resolution of such conflicts is not impossible. My advice to the youth is to study the models of resolutions of people’s conflicting interests and pre-empt violence. An early model is our Prophet’s (PBUH) resolution of conflict over placing the Hajr aswad in its niche in the Ka’aba. The Prophet (PBUH) resolved the conflict and pre-empted violence between two groups decades before he was appointed as a Prophet (PBUH) by Allah Subhanhu Ta’la. Since then many successful models of limiting and ending violent conflict worldwide have emerged. My advice to you is to read them in conflict-resolution literature. Lead the Ummah towards healing its wounds and help us knit ourselves together again. Best of luck!