Is Muslim Unity Only A Dream?

Hands shaped heart with world map. According to World Population Review, "There are more than two billion Muslims worldwide, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world, exceeded only by Christianity. In fact, many researchers project that Muslims will outnumber Christians by the year 2050." and CountryMeters estimates more than 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide. Muslims are required to be merciful towards each other (Quran 48:29) and be like the body where if any part hurts the whole body should feel the pain (Hadith). (photo: iStock by Getty Images)

Muslims are supposed to work together towards a common goal set by the Quran and practically shown by the Prophet (PBUH) through his Sunnah. They are supposed to be brothers and sisters because they are bonded by the common ideology of the unity of God and the unity of humankind.  

These are the foundational principles of Islam. The Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) require Muslims to work for the unity of the Ummah. Muslims are required to be merciful towards each other (Quran 48:29) and be like the body where if any part hurts the whole body should feel the pain (Hadith). But, are Muslims practicing this injunction of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH)? Muslims and various Islamic organizations are working hard but it is frustratingly obvious that the above goals are ever so elusive. Instead of Muslims being united in mercy towards each other, they are, on the whole, far from it. Instead of feeling the pain and misery of other Muslims, most of us are happily enjoying our material comforts of life.

Is Muslim unity only a dream that cannot be fulfilled? Many argue that all this talk of Muslim unity is out of date. Islam may have once united Muslims but present reality makes it impossible. They say it is nice talk, which makes Muslims feel good but an unrealistic goal that cannot be achieved.  Muslims spend (and have spent) a lot of their time and emotional energy debating this issue.

We will come back to this fundamental question - is Muslim unity possible, and if it is, then how to achieve it?  But first, let us find out the present state of Muslims and compare it with Iqbal's visionary diagnosis of their problems.

Muslim misery and suffering is as common today as it was in the days of Iqbal. Every day that passes brings more death and destruction to Muslims, only at a much wider scale.  It is sad to see Muslim governments collaborating with non-Muslims to inflict damage and suffering against fellow Muslims.  Many Muslim groups are also engaged in fighting against each other in many parts of the Muslim world.  And in some countries where Muslims are in minority, their condition is even worse. As a minority they are systematically being subjected to discrimination, humiliation, persecution, torture, and rape. One wonders: is it ever going to end? 

When Greeks attacked Turkey in 1923 (at the behest of the British) Iqbal’s heart started crying.  He knew that it was not just an attack on Turkey, but it was an attack on Islam itself.  He tried to free the Muslim mind from the prevailing colonial mentality and from Muslims’ own narrow self-interests. He wrote the poem “Tolu-e-Islam” which later became one of his classic works. [Copies of this poem were sold and all proceeds were sent to Turkey] He said: 

“Hawas ne tukre tukre kar diya hay na’u insan ko

ukhuwwat ka bayan ho ja mohabbat ki zaban ho ja

ye Hindi, wo Khurasani, ye Afghani, wo Turani

tu ay sharmindayeh sahil uchhal kar bekaraan ho ja”

“Greed has torn apart humankind.  You (Muslims), become role models of love and brotherhood.  Get beyond the narrow boundaries of nationalities (like Indian, Khurasani, Afghani, and Turkish) and jump into the limitless ocean (of Islam).”

Observing the present situation in which Muslims find themselves today, Iqbal’s soul must be feeling extremely restless.  Alas!  There is no Iqbal today among Muslims who can guide the Muslim Ummah against the forces that are bent on its destruction. But the Muslim Ummah can also be torn apart due to its own internal conflicts.  

In fact, this is what is happening to Muslim Ummah today.  Probably, there are no people in the world today who have been as divided as Muslims.  They are divided along religious, political, ethnic, cultural, racial, linguistic, and sectarian lines.  These divisions extend further into subdivisions.  Status, wealth, fame, and fortune have also created social differences among Muslims.  

Muslims are divided at the root into Sunnis and Shias.  Sunnis are further divided into Hanafi, Maliki, Shaafai, and Hanbali.  Shias too are divided into Kesania, Zaidia, Imamia or Ithna ‘Ashari, Ismalia, etc. Sunnis are further divided into Ahle-hadith and Ahle-fiqha.  In the Indian subcontinent, Ahle-fiqha are further divided into Deobandis and Barelwis.  Similar differences exist in other places as well. Are all these divisions and differences schools of thought as many Muslims claim? Whether or not we admit it, these differences and divisions do create physical, emotional, and psychological barriers amongst us. Iqbal says that these differences create prejudice in human beings:

“Shajar hay firqa arayee, ta’assub hay samar iska

ye wo phal hay jo jannat se nikalwata hay adam ko”

“These divisions are the branches of a tree; its fruit is prejudice.  This is the fruit which gets Adam (man) expelled from Jannah (peaceful life).”

Although in North America we do try to work together (despite our religious differences) in a civilized manner, our brothers and sisters back home are not that fortunate. There, these differences sometimes lead to violence and killings. Why is that despite clear warnings of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) against it? Is it due to the prejudices that are the inevitable results of our divisions, as Iqbal mentions in the above poem? 

With all these divisions and differences, can we progress in the world? Iqbal does not think so: 

“Firqa bandi hay kaheen aur kaheen zatein hain

kya zamane mein panapne ki yahee batein hain”

“Somewhere are religious divisions and somewhere are differences based on caste. Is this the way to prosper in the world?”

He further says:

“Tum syed bhi ho Mirza bhi ho Afghan bhi ho

tum sabhi kuchh ho batao ki musalman bhi ho”

“You are Syed; you are Mirza; you are Afghan.  You are everything.  Tell me, are you Muslim too?”

Here Iqbal uses the word “Syed” to represent the caste system that has penetrated Muslims (especially in the Indian subcontinent because of Hindu influence).  He uses the word “Mirza” to represent the ruling elite and the word “Afghan” to represent the differences in Muslims based on region, language, and race. 

All these differences are anti-Qur’anic.  When Iqbal poses the question, “Tell me, are you Muslim too?” he implies that those who feel proud and superior compared to other fellow Muslims because of these labels attached to their names (and not because of Taqwa), they are not entitled to be called true Muslims.

Qur’an says that those who create differences in the Deen (Islam) are among the Mushrikun: 

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا لَّسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ ۚ إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللَّـهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ

As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least: their affair is with God. He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did. (6:159) [Yusuf Ali]

وَلَا تَكُونُوا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ ; مِنَ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا ۖ كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ

And be not ye among Mushrikeen (those who join gods with God), - i.e., those who split up their Religion, and become Sects, - each party rejoicing in that which is with itself! (30:31-32) [Yusuf Ali]

The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said:

“Anyone who gets even one feet away from the Ummah has taken out the Islamic yoke from his neck, even if he prays and fasts.”  [Riwayah ‘Ahmad Wal-‘Hakim]

That is why the Qur’an calls upon all Muslims to be united and hold on steadfastly to the rope of Allah (i.e. Qur’an) and gives a stern warning to them not to create any divisions (3:103) amongst themselves. 

If we look at the global picture as a whole, we find that the number of Muslims has grown steadily to more than 1.9 billion today.  Muslims possess the richest resources of the world and the most fertile lands of the earth.  In spite of this, how ironic that the most vulnerable and the most dependent people on earth are also Muslims. 

Coming to the religious level, we find that the number of mosques is growing everywhere.  The number of Muslims going to mosques is also increasing.  The number of Muslims performing the annual pilgrimage increases every year, and in fact, has to be controlled to restrict the number.  The number of Muslim organizations has been growing steadily.  Whenever some differences arise among Muslims in one organization, they create another one and build another mosque.  Noticing such an abundance of religious fervor among Muslims, Iqbal was led to say:

“Masjid to banadi shab bhar mein imaan ke hararat walon ne

man apna purana papi hay barson mein namazi ban na saka”

“Those with fervor in their faith built the mosque in a night, but the heart is sinful and did not prostrate in years.”

Now, let us come to the real question.  In spite of all the speeches and the sermons exhorting Muslims to unite, we see that the result is disappointing, to say the least.  Why is that?  The only way to diagnose this problem is to find the root cause according to Iqbal.   

We will have to go deeper into our hearts to find out the root cause of our problems. If we look only at the outside, then just like a tree, we will see its trunk, the branches, and the leaves.  And if the roots have become infected with a disease, no matter how strong the rest of the tree is, sooner or later it is going to die.  Actually, its demise may be hastened even by a moderate wind.  No amount of nourishment given to the branches and leaves will help prevent its final demise.  

Obviously, the source to which we must turn to find out the root cause of the problem must provide the necessary guidance to diagnose it.  According to Iqbal, the necessary guidance to diagnose all our (not just Muslims’ but entire humanity’s) ills is contained in the Qur’an:

“Wahi derina bimari wahi namuhkami dil ki

‘ilaj iska wahi aabe nishat angez hay saaqi”

“It is the same old disease, the same psychological problem of the heart.  The cure is also the same, ‘Aab-e-Nishat’ i.e., the Qur’an.”

Qur’an says:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَتْكُم مَّوْعِظَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَشِفَاءٌ لِّمَا فِي الصُّدُورِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

“O mankind! there hath come to you a direction from your Lord and a healing for the (diseases) in your hearts, - and for those who believe, a guidance and a Mercy. (10:57) [Yusuf Ali]

Thus according to the Qur'an and Iqbal, the disease of all our problems lies in our hearts and therefore, the cure should also begin there.  Iqbal says:

“Zaban se kah bhi diya la ilaha illah to kya hasil

Dil-o-nigah Musalman naheen to kuchh bhi naheen”

“What can you accomplish by saying la ilaha with your tongue?  If your heart is not a Muslim, then it is nothing.” 

That is, the Iman should enter the depths of the heart.  Simply saying that I believe is not enough, according to the Quran (49:14).

The Qur’an says:

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ

“Of the people there are some who say: "We believe in Allah and the Last Day;" but they do not (really) believe. (2:8) [Yusuf Ali]

Those born in Muslim families cannot claim to be Momins (just like the Bedouins of Arabia) unless Iman has entered their hearts (49:14). Also, Iman is not blind faith.  The Qur’an clearly says that Iman becomes strong only with knowledge (22:54)

Therefore, the heart must be kept humble and open, so that Iman acquired by the mind (knowledge) may enter the heart.  Iman cannot enter those whose hearts have disease and those who have sealed and hardened their hearts (22:53). Qur’an says the Momins have dignity and power over others (3:139). And unbelievers will never be able to subdue and dominate Momins (4:141). 

Obviously, if we as Muslims compare ourselves with these very clear verses of Qur’an, then we have to come to only one conclusion that we are not among the Momins which the Qur’an talks about. Majority of our hearts are not open and humble.  In fact, Qur’an tells us that instead of making the heart open and humble, there are some who let their emotions and ego control them (25:43).  

Iqbal says regarding this type of person:

“Zabaan se gar kiya tauheed ka da’wa to kya hasil

banaya hay bute pindaar ko apna khuda tu ne”

“What is the benefit if you claim with your tongue in oneness of God?  You have made your emotion an idol and taken it as your god.”

How many of us (besides practicing the five pillars) are willing to go deep down in our hearts and honestly admit that we follow our emotions more often than we follow Allah (i.e. Book of Allah)?  Allah demands total and complete surrender of our wills (2:208). 

Therefore, the problems which we Muslims are facing today are the outward symptoms of the root cause, i.e., the internal friction in our hearts between obedience to Allah and obedience to our own emotions and egos.  And it is this internal conflict that is referred to as the disease of the heart by the Qur’an.  Iqbal too echoes this same theme of the Qur’an when he says:

“Batil du-ee pasand hay haq la sharik hay

shirkat miyan-e haq-o-batil na kar qubool”

“Batil (as opposed to Haq; the Truth) likes to compromise but Haq is uncompromising.  Do not accept the middle ground between Haq and Batil.”

Therefore, as long as we Muslims keep compromising the TRUTH contained in the Quran, there is no hope for a cure of our collective mental, psychological, and emotional ills.  We do not know how many psychological, emotional, and mental forms of idols we carry all the time in our hearts and minds.  Qur’an demands us to cleanse and purify our hearts from all kinds of Ilah.  These subtle forms of shirk are addictive and like a slow poison have a deadening effect on our hearts and minds.  Iqbal in his unique God given style says:

“Dile murda dil naheen hay ise zida kar dobara

ki yahee hay ummaton ke marge kuhan ka chara”

“The deadened heart is not a heart.  Make it alive again.  This is the only way to cure the age old diseases of nations.” 

How to revive and resuscitate the dead heart; Iqbal says it is only possible through Qur’an:

“Gar tu mi khahi Musalman zeestan – neest mumkin juz ba Quran zeestan”

“If you wish to live the life a Muslim, then it is not possible except by the Quran.”

‘Aisha (R) said: “The Prophet (PBUH) was a walking Quran.” Thus the Sunnah is to live by the Quran and not just read it for earning reward for the hereafter.

Iqbal says about our Sahaba (R):

“Wo mu’azziz they zamane mein Musalman hokar

aur tum khwar huey tarike Quran hokar”

“They had dignity and power in the world because of Islam. And you are suffering humiliation and defeat because you have left the Qur’an.”

Quran says that our Prophet (PBUH) will complain to Allah that my people left the message of the Quran (25:30).

Iqbal emphasizes that there are plenty of roadblocks in the path of the Quran.  No less is the roadblock presented by some religious scholars in the name of Islam. Iqbal says:

“Khud badalte naheen Quran ko badal dete hain

huwey kis darja faqeehane haram be taufiq”

“These people don’t change themselves but they change the Qur’an (by their interpretations). How unfortunate are these custodians of haram (Islam)?”

He further says:

“Ahkam tere haq hain magar apne mufassir

taaweel se Quran ko bana sakte hain Pazhand”

“O Allah! Your guidance is no doubt The Truth.  But our interpreters can turn Qur’an into Pazhand by their interpretations.”  

[Pazhand is the book compiled by the followers of Zoroaster which according to them is the interpretation of Avesta, the book of Zoroaster in which his followers inserted their own thoughts.]

And finally, Muslims should always keep in front of them the following verse, which describes the law for change. It is a fact that Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they bring about change in their own selves (13:11).

Iqbal echoes exactly the same message of the Quran in his own God given style when he says: 

“Khuda ne aaj tak us qaum ki haalat naheen badlee

na ho jisko khyal aap apni haalat ke badalne ka”

Let us conclude with the folowing message of Iqbal:

“Manf-e-at ek hai is qaum ki nuqsaan bhi ek 

ek hi sab ka nabi deen bhi iman bhi ek

harame paak bhi Allah bhi Quran bhi ek

kuchh bari baat thi hote jo Musalman bhi ek”

“There is ONE common gain and ONE common loss for all Muslims.  (Remember the Prophet’s hadith that all Muslims are like a body.) ONE Prophet (PBUH) for all and ONE Iman for all.  ONE Kabah, ONE Allah and ONE Qur’an for all.  How great it would be if Muslims also were ONE!” 

Let us pray to Allah to unite our hearts in the path of Islam. It is Allah’s promise that if we do that, then we will regain our dignity, power, and glory (24:55). And Allah does not break His promise (2:80).

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