Nationalism.. An Erroneous Concept

For most of this century, the Muslim world continues to hobble along a treacherous path that has been constructed for them by others. The destination for this course is one that they have led us to believe is beneficial and worthy of striving for. The fuel for this journey is extracted from the false concepts that Imperialist implanted in the Muslim World.

Origins of Nationalism

One of these poisonous concepts that stigmatises the Prophet’s (saw) Ummah is Nationalism. It is a dangerous concept that has become the emotional basis for the state of the Ummah today and one which visibly fortifies the division among those who profess to believe in the same ideology. Furthermore, the Muslims identify themselves as Turkish, Arab, African and Pakistani. If this is not enough, Muslims are further sub-divided within each country or continent. For example, in Pakistan people are classed as Punjabis, Sindhis, Balauchis and Pathans. This fragmentation continues to gain momentum amongst the Muslims.

The Muslim Ummah was never confronted with such a dilemma in the past during Islamic rule. They never suffered from disunity, widespread oppression, stagnation in science and technology and certainly not from the internal conflicts that we have witnessed this century like the Iran-Iraq war. So what has gone wrong with the Muslims this century? Why are there so many feuds between them and why are they seen to be fighting each other? What has caused their weakness and how will they ever recover from the present stagnation?

There are many factors that contributed to the present state of affairs, but some of the main ones are the abandonment of the Arabic language as the language of understanding Islam correctly and performing Ijtihad, the absorption of foreign cultures and thus the abandonment of Islamic beliefs, the gradual loss of central authority over some of the provinces, and the rise of Nationalism since the 19th Century.

Nationalism did not arise in the Muslim world naturally, nor did it come about in response to any hardships faced by the people, nor due to the frustration they felt when Europe started to dominate the world after the industrial revolution. Rather, nationalism was implanted in the minds of the Muslims through a well thought out scheme by the European powers, after their failure to destroy the Islamic State by force.

Nationalism Defined

The concept of natiis very large and cannbe understood without studying the way humans identify and relate to each other in society. This study will enable a differentiation to be made between various forms of grouping and nationalism. Human beings can identify or group together on the basis of:

  • Love of a particular land or a country – patriotism
  • Tribe, lineage or race – nationalism
  • Religion – mere spiritual rituals
  • Faith or Aqeedah – creed

Patriotism arises when people come together due to the love of a country. It is a form of unity that comes about when that particular country is under external threat e.g. military conflicts with other nations. The effect of this bond results in people of different backgrounds setting their differences aside to form a common front in support of the government. The concept of patriotism is often confused with nationalism. The inherent weakness of patriotism, as a basis of uniting people, is that it unites people temporarily, and only then if an external threat is looming in the horizon. Hence, patriotism has no role to play during peace time, and it cannot, therefore, be a basis of a permanent unity.

Nationalism is a bond between people that is based upon family, clan or tribal ties. Nationalism arises among people when the predominant thought they carry is that of achieving domination. It starts from the family, where one member asserts his authority to achieve leadership in the affair of the family. Once this is achieved, the individual extends his leadership to the wider family. In this way, the families would also try to achieve leadership in the community they reside in. The next stage is that of tribes competing with each other, all trying to dominate others in order to enjoy the privileges and the prestige that comes with this authority. This breeds arrogance and ignorance along with extreme pride.

Nationalism cannot unite the people because it is based on quest for leadership. This quest for leadership creates a power struggle between the people and this leads to conflicts among various strata of society. Another drawback of nationalism is that it gives a rise to racism. This is expected if people are allowed to compete with each other on the basis of their race. Some whites, for example, may see themselves as superior to the blacks, or vice-versa, leading to polarisation of the races and a divided society.

The spiritual bond among non-Muslims is a grouping of people based on their ‘religious belief’ which is not a comprehensive belief covering every aspect of life. An example of a spiritual bond is when people identify with each other on the basis of being a Christian, a Hindu or a Jew. Islam is not classed among these as it is a Deen rather than a religion. The term Deen comprehensively takes on the meaning as “A complete way of life”. This spiritual bond does not unite people on issues other than matters of belief and worships, hence it is limited and cannot be the basis of any complete unity.

[This article was published in the 19th issue of Nida’ul Islam magazine (, July – August 1997]


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