Islam and Nationalism

The contents of this article are listed below:

1. Understanding the bonds with which humans identify and relate to each other in Society
2. Characteristics of Nationalism
3. Secularism and Nationalism are twin brothers
4. History of Nationalism
5. How nationalism made inroads into Muslim world
6. Rise of Nationalism as a creed and a pseudo-religion
7. Illogical Basis of Nationalism
7.1 Territory and country
7.2 Language
7.3 History, culture and civilization
7.4 Race
7.5 Political organization and economic factors:
8. Nationalism defeats its own objectives
9. Dangers of Nationalism
9.1 Tribal prejudice
9.2 Nationalism culminates in racism
9.3 Nationalism results in a desire to colonize
9.4 Narrowing man’s mental horizon
10. Islam and nationalism are two opposite poles
11. The Prohibition of Nationalism in Islam

1. Understanding the bonds with which humans identify and relate to each other in Society

The concept of nationalism cannot be 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 – spiritual bond

• A particular issue – bond of interest

• A creed – ideological bond

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. A classical example of patriotism was found during the so-called invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. Public opinion in the United Kingdom was
mobilised against Argentina through the media machinery, uniting political parties of  all shades in the process. The message was simple: “We are fighting for Queen and country.” This unity, based on patriotism, soon evaporated after the Falkland Islands were captured from Argentina.

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 affairs 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.

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. Examples of power struggles can be clearly seen in many Muslim countries, such as in Saudi Arabia where the Saud family has achieved leadership over others by force, and in Sind, Pakistan, where the Bhutto’s have secured massive influence through feudalism.

Another drawback of nationalism is that it gives arise 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 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. 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 lasting unity.

Another way people group together is on the basis of some common interest. Pressure
groups are an example of such groupings, where people unite over a particular issue which affects their life. Examples of such groups are the Suffragettes from the past and, more recently, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Anti-Nazi League, Farm Animal Welfare Council and so on. Normally, once the issue has been resolved this type of grouping disappears.

Uniting over common interest does not serve to unite people permanently because when
the issue is resolved, people will disperse. Besides, people can hold different opinions over the same issue, thus leading to a clash. For example, some people may support the deployment of nuclear weapons as a means of security whilst others, like members of
CND, will call for nuclear disarmament. Hence, common issues do not provide the basis of a permanent unity.

The final way in which people can group together is on the basis of an ideology. An  ideology is a creed that provides a set of rules and regulations according to which man lives and which he refers to in order to solve his problems . This is commonly known as an ideological bond. It only takes into account the creed and nothing but the creed.
Colour, race and gender are irrelevant. This type of bond is found amongst Muslims,
Capitalists and Communists.

Ideological bond is a permanent bond because it arises from a creed, which is an intellectual conviction pertaining to the meaning of life. The creed is never influence by colour, race, language, love of a land or local issues. Hence, it is the only basis for
permanent unity. Islam calls for this type of unity, as it will be seen later in this essay.

2. Characteristics of Nationalism

The school of nationalism is built upon two animal instincts of man which he has in common with other creatures, namely the ‘group instinct’ and the ‘love of home’.

Nationalism begins with these two instincts, eventually ending in a pseudo-religion which causes these relatively innocent sentiments to become dangerously fanatical. It is similar to tribal system. In the tribal system, wars and peace were made for the tribe’s sake. A person was proud of his membership in the tribe and very often looked with scorn upon others. The tribe was an organization under whose umbrella, the members felt secure. Nationalism also gives rise to similar sentiments.

Giving authenticity to territory, blood or language is the basis of nationalism. It bases unity on language, territory and race. Homeland and nationality become the axis of patriotism. All the loyalty is centred upon the homeland. All other loyalties such as loyalty to God, religion, belief and ideology are subordinated to loyalty to the country and nation. No loyalty should check patriotism, and when religious sentiments come in opposition with patriotic sentiments, the latter must prevail. This is a principle which no nationalist can ignore. Man lives for his country and offers his life for it, and not for anything else. It is attachment to nationality that gives direction to one’s individual and social postures, not attachment to ideology. A human being takes pride in his national achievements and feels dependent on its cultural heritage.

A nationalist believes deeply that nation and country are superior to all others, attributing all the good things to them. It considers sovereignty as a tool to protect the country and its citizens, not one for enforcing a particular ideology and system.

Economy, too, is based on national interest and welfare, not on what is legitimate or illegitimate. Culture, art, poetry and literature are the means for depicting national pride and greatness and creation of solidarity and inspiring racial sentiments.

To nationalism, the strongest factors directing individual and social life, determining intellectual and political postures, are the country and nation. Some of the other characteristics of nationalism are:

1) Belief that one should defend a compatriot against a foreigner, whether the former is in the right or not.

2) Eulogizing and almost worship of national personalities and historical heroes of one’s country.

3) Revival of past traditions such as ancient idolatry. Neo-nationalism too, in this connection, relies on myths, ancient and dead customs.

4) A tendency to distort historical facts to glorify one’s country, and to invent stories and create models to show one’s nation at its best.

5) Like old Totemism, there are special emblems in nationalism which are given sanctity. The flag, national emblem, and national anthem are considered sacred, for each of which a human being has the duty of self-sacrifice.

3. Secularism and Nationalism are twin brothers

Nationalism is closely linked with secularism, in view of the necessity of separation between government and religion, and politics from creed. One of the basic principles of nationalism is a rejection of religious bonds and an acceptance of a secularist order.

Secularism means that religion is something subjective that must be confined to an individual’s private and family life, and religious feelings and ideas should not interfere in the socio-politico set-up, be the concern of nationalism only. So the socio-politico roots of religion should be severed from politics.

Nationalism leads directly to secularism. The belief that national unity must be based on a common land, race or language, necessitates that religion be kept apart from politics. Thus, secularism paves the way for the domination of nationalism, since according to this school of thought, religion and nationalism cannot rule at the same time in the same realm.

Secularism is the twin brother of nationalism and it changes the meaning of minorities. In a government founded on religion, the followers of other creeds and schools are regarded as minorities, but with nationalism and secularism, there are only racial, political and regional minorities. Nationalism claims that religious beliefs prevent national unity and religious minorities feel themselves alienated. The only proper basis is geographical, racial or lingual nationality. The main duty of everyone is the patriotic duty, and religious duty is subordinate to it, and confined to personal belief. The patriotic duty of everyone is to sacrifice everything, even religion, for the nation and country and serve and fight for them.

4. History of Nationalism

While some of the characteristics of nationalism may be witnessed in the tribal system of the Greek city-state many thousand years ago, nationalism as a political, social and ideological school of thought took birth in the West following the French Revolution.

The main fabric of the school of nationalism was laid by the French Revolution, where it was first put to practice. It was then that the stimulation of emotions towards the flag and country, the glorification and worship of national heroes, the composition of the national anthem, the emphasis on the sanctity of the French language and race, the creation of great national festivals and ceremonies in the style of religious rites, a pride in the history of France and a belief in the great mission of the French nation, emerged and displayed themselves one after another in the course of the Revolution.

The 19th century is called ‘the golden age’ of nationalism. It was in that century that Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine set up the foundations for American nationalism. In England, Jeremy Bentham gave nationalism a new scope. With William Gladstone, British nationalism reached its height. Nationalism spread as an intellectual movement and school in the whole of central and Western Europe. Mazzini, who rose in Italy is regarded as one of the greatest theoreticians of the school of nationalism of the 19th century. Other great propounders and banner-bearers of nationalism in that century were Giuseppe Garibaldi in Italy, Victor Hugo in France and Otto Bismarck in Germany.

The history of nationalism in the 20th century can be divided into two periods:

A- Nationalism in the first half of the 20th century.

B- Nationalism in its second half.

In the first half of the 20th century, up to the Second World War, the clearest manifestation of nationalism was seen in Europe and Japan resulting in a universal war. It revived in them the dream of colonizing the whole world, and led them to start two calamitous wars. Most scholars admit that the main cause for the First and Second World Wars was nationalistic sentiments. In this period, the true off-springs of nationalism who elevated this school to its highest position and gave it its severest form were Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, Peron in Argentina, Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal. This was the wicked product that nationalism gave to mankind and this way is still continued. Nationalism is still looked upon as a formal religion by international aggressors such as the U.S.

In the contemporary world, colonization having become a thing of the past, and the colonies having secured their independence, nationalism has come to be used by colonization and imperialism in another form, and its role is somewhat changed.

Neo-colonization uses nationalism to prevent the union of former colonies, so as to keep them weak and dependent on stronger powers.

The imperialists on realizing that they could no longer keep eastern nations under their direct yoke, and that their union would be a serious threat to their interests, started exporting nationalism to the East in a bid to weaken them and encourage conflicts among the newly independent nations of Asia and Africa. This way, they aimed at sowing the seed of hostility and dispersion among them to check their unity and solidarity. This is why we see that wherever colonization has made an exit, the rein of affairs is held by an evil westernized educated minority, and nationalistic forces are encouraged to stand against Islamic forces.

5. How nationalism made inroads into Muslim world

After failing to defeat the Muslims in the Crusades, Britain and France along with the United States focused their attention to separate Muslims from Islam. One of these means was to inject nationalism into the Muslim Ummah.

Using Missionaries who operated in the Uthmani Khilafah (Ottomans), there were many attempts (and failures) to try and establish associations and organizations of members belonging exclusively to one ethnicity (tribe) – such as “Arab” or “Turk”. In 1857, the missionaries were successful in establishing the Syrian Scientific Association and in 1875 the Secret Association was established in Beruit. These organizations, would promote “Arabism” and its related pre-Islamic culture while criticizing the Uthmani Khilafah and accusing the “Turks” of stealing the Khilafah from the “Arabs”. In this manner, Arab nationalism was re-introduced into the Muslim Ummah. By the turn of the 20th century, the fever of nationalism had spread to all corners of the Islamic regions of the Middle East.

When the Colonialists occupied various parts of the Islamic regions, by dividing it into nation states, patriotism (the temporary bond between people of a geographical location against an external threat) emerged among the Muslims as a reaction to the political and economic oppression by the Colonialists. By the time the Islamic Ottoman Caliphate was abolished Muslims were no longer bound solely by the Islamic Aqeedah. Rather, there were additional ties of race, ethnicity, tribe and geographical location.

The important question that arises is why the idea of nationalism which penetrated Islamic lands through Western ideas and colonial plots, was welcomed by some sections of the Muslim masses and how did it expand??

Firstly, the masses could not see the difference between ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’ and to their unconscious mind, both concepts seemed to denote the same idea as that of Islamic ‘Ummahism‘. From the beginning, Islam had created a strong feeling of the ‘Ummah‘ and had divided the world into the “House of Islam” and the “House of War”. The masses believed nationalism to be the same as ‘Ummahism‘ and therefore welcomed it.

Secondly, contrary to the main pioneers of nationalism, who propagated it as a result of their dependence on colonial powers and the West, the masses manifested nationalistic sentiments in opposition to social tyranny or to the colonial influence of Britain and France. To the masses, nationalism was a sentiment, not a school, but to the Western, so-called ‘enlightened class’ and politicians, it was an ideology and a political creed.

6. Rise of Nationalism as a creed and a pseudo-religion

Man cannot live without a faith, an ideology, to which he can show affection and love. In the Middle Ages in the West, this faith, ideology, were found in Christianity and the religion of the Church. But Christianity was an unrealistic, imperfect and one dimensional religion, and since it had an unscientific and anti-intellectual basis, it could not last as a permanent and universal religion and ideology.

The Renaissance and subsequent changes dealt the church a heavy blow, and Christianity could no longer make its presence felt as a living faith in Europe, and soon became a dead creed.

In the absence of an inspiring force that would revive them, the westerners were left in the dark. Christianity was dead. Since man cannot live in a vacuum (of belief) and needs an ideology to follow, to inspire and love, ‘Aazar, the idol-maker’ of Western ideas hewed the idol of nationalism, and offered it to the West as a new religion and a new god to fill the vacuum and that was welcomed by thirsty devotees. This vacuum was later on filled by Marxism, and both these schools owed their creation to the weakness and failure of Christianity in satisfying the religious longing of Westerners.

7. Illogical Basis of Nationalism

Herbert Luthy says: “Nationalism is a creed based on a handful of dogmas that cannot be accounted for from a scientific and intellectual point of view, and have authenticity only in the minds of their followers.”

Nationalists have been unable to explain explicitly how their principles can be applied universally, and what are the factors which build up the independent identity of a nation and what is the distinction of a nation which naturally or psychologically sets it apart from other nations, so that these qualities cannot be found in any other nation. The works of the nationalist propounders give us no indication in this connection, but a show of such disharmonious ideas which are not logically acceptable.

Nationalist theoreticians rely on geographical, lingual, racial, political, economic, cultural and historical factors, and regard the territory, country, blood and history as the factors that build up a nation’s separate identity.

Now we will analyze the validity and logic of each of the above factors as a so-called unifying factor and as a yardstick for measuring the independent identity of a society.

7.1 Territory and country

These words are rather conventional, than natural. A human being feels at home to be in his town, village and locality as a result of persistent suggestion from outside.

If one is to consider more than the above, why should he regard himself an Egyptian and not an Arab?? And if he is a member of the Arab world, why not be an Asiatic?? This is something conventional and personal, not logical. Why should a man, born in Ireland, consider his country to be Britain and not Ireland?? The frontiers of many countries are imaginary demarcations. Nationalists want the people to show attachment to these crooked lines that colonial powers have drawn on the maps of Asia and Africa, and turn this affection into an ideology. They drew these lines, made them look real and forced people on this side of the line to consider themselves as belonging to that country, and those outside that line as foreigners, without giving a logical reason for it. The attachment of a person to his land is natural, not logical. When it is suggested constantly to a person that a country is his homeland, he comes to believe it, and to consider others as aliens. From a geographical viewpoint, ‘homeland’ is constantly changing. What Afghanistan is today, was considered Iran yesterday. Why then should an Afghan regard himself an Afghan and not an Iranian? This is only a matter of suggestion.

7.2 Language

The German school of nationalism with Herbert Luthy (1744-1803) and Johan Fichte (1762-1814), particularly, who had been its greatest representatives in the 18th and 19th centuries considers language and history to be the most important factors behind the national identity of a people. They regard language as being especially significant in the creation of a national spirit and identity. Following them are some nationalists of the Islamic world like Namegh Kamal of Turkey and Nadim of Egypt who attach the greatest importance to language as a basis of nationality. But the fact is that the language and common history of a people have not been sufficient in themselves to kindle a national awareness.

The Americans of George Washington’s time had the same language and history as those of England, and yet they segregated from Britain and became an independent nation. Switzerland has three different languages in three regions, and yet the feeling of nationality is strong there. If language is a determining factor of unity and independent national solidarity, why did not England and North America form a single nation in spite of their common language?? Why did not the Latin American countries (except Brazil) which have a common language like Spain, Brazil or Portugal become united??

We do not want to deny the role of a common language in accelerating the process of unity and solidarity, since it is evident that language is a means of direct communication, offering a nation a common literature. What we mean is that language is not the principal factor in shaping nationality, even if it speeds the process. Many nations have become nations in spite of differences in languages (like Switzerland), while there are many nations which are remote from one another in spite of a common language. Thus language cannot be regarded as a firm basis for nationality. Nasser and other Arab nationalists tried to set up a united Arab nation on the basis of a common language but they failed. The Maronite Christians and Muslims of Lebanon speak the same language but they have been fighting each other for the last six years, and these Christians feel closer to the Europeans than to the Muslims.

Moreover, in every country, we come across several languages, not one. What is called a dialect is in fact a different language. Is it easier for a Persian-speaking individual to understand the Afghani Dari or the Azari of Tabriz?? The people of Arabia do not understand even ten percent of the Arabic of Libya. All these facts show that language is a weak factor and basis of nationality and any reasoning opposing this assertion will be illogical and defective.

7.3 History, culture and civilization

It is true that the history and culture of a people create a feeling of unity and of communal interests, but nationalists forget the fact that in the East, especially in the world of Islam, the unity of history, culture and civilization is based on belief, not on geographical factors. Culture and civilization-wise, post-Islamic Iran is more close to Arab countries and Pakistan, than to the ancient Zoroastrian culture. Similarly, Egypt in its culture and civilization is closer to post-Islamic Iran than was the Pharaonic civilization. Our history and culture are based on ideology and belief. All the Muslims after the rise of Islam have the same history and culture. The past civilization of Iranians, Arabs, Turks, Pakistanis and Indian Muslims is nothing but an Islamic one. Nationalism tries in vain to call this civilization an Iranian or Arab civilization in order to rouse the national sentiments or unearth the decayed bones of pre-Islamic history and culture which has nothing to do with our present culture and civilization. That is why the relics of those civilizations cannot warm the hearts of the people in comparison with Islamic history and civilization, and lead them towards unity and victory.

Nationalists do not only try to revive the memory of the ancient civilization through exaggerations, suppositions, bombasts, self-Praise and fallacious reasonings, but they also resort to a scorn of Islamic history and civilization in order to elevate the racial greatness of Iranians, Arabs or Turks, and, try to ignore Islam altogether. But this is wrong and prejudiced and it defeats the objective. As a teacher  has pointed out: “During the whole course of history, the Iranian race (and the Turks, Arabs and other Muslim nations) has never found a better opportunity than the brilliant Islamic centuries to show its talent and ability.

Contrary to the nationalists, since the seventh century A.D., Iran, Turkey and the Middle East embraced Islam, so strongly that their history is the same as that of Islam, and their course has been the same with the course of Islamic history, culture and civilization. The greatness and honor of these nations lie in their share in promoting Islam and in their creation of a magnificent Islamic culture and civilization. They are the achievements of these Islamic nations whose past history is not in any way comparable with their religion, and if Islamic countries wish to be proud of their past, they have no basis but Islam.

Moreover, the choice of history as a factor in building up a man’s identity is a feeble and illogical one, since the frontiers of countries have not been the same throughout history. Afghanistan was once part of Iran. How then can history be considered as the basis of independent nationality??

7.4 Race

Most nationalists regard race as a factor which determines nationality. But a careful analysis of it shows the weakness and illogicality of it, like other factors based on prejudice, illusion and superstition.

What is racism?? It is a feeling of unity based on kinship. The first line of this attachment is an objective reality, namely the bond with one’s father and mother. When this is extended, it reaches one’s family, tribe and lastly one’s race. But extending it to race, the bond becomes so remote from common ancestors that the racial root cannot be scientifically and logically proved. Has there ever existed in history a thing called the Aryan or Semitic race?? Moreover, who can prove that a man is an Aryan?? For example half of the Iranians are Sayeds, who are descendants of the Prophet of Islam who was not himself an Aryan. Can those non-Sayeds claim that during these thousands of years, their blood has not been blended with non-Aryan blood??

Belief in the race and racial unity has no objective and scientific reality; it is only a subjective illusion on which nationalism wishes to base its social-political relations. How comical and illogical!

Thirdly, if we were to adopt blood as a basis, as racism and nationalism do, why should we not have our first ancestors, namely Adam and Eve, as the basis of human generation. In such a case, instead of racism, we may turn to humanism, and instead of nationalism to internationalism. This would be a more logical and convincing idea than the question of race which cannot be proved. Even if the Aryan, Semitic and other races have a historical authenticity, if we do not stop at this point and go far back in history, all these races end In common ancestors. Then why should we not adopt this as a basis?

7.5 Political organization and economic factors:

Some nationalistic schools consider political organization and economic factors as the basis of nationality. From apolitical angle, the Irish form part of Britain, and yet they consider themselves independent. There are many similar cases in the present and past history.

Economics has sometimes acted as a factor of unity like the union of the customs among the various German provinces between 1819 and 1952, which was a prelude to their political union. But such cases are only exceptions to the rule. Economic harmony and collaboration of various groups are not the requisites of national unity.

It is thus clear that the main foundations of nationalism are weak, invalid and illogical, even though they may help occasionally in rousing nationalistic sentiments. They are not determining the fundamental factors behind unity and solidarity. An effort to create unity on the above basis leads to greater differences and conflicts among human beings. A unity based on geographical boundaries, race or language cannot include all human beings. It is more like walls set up between them, separating them, and intensifying their division. Ideological boundaries can expand without force or imposition with the free acceptance of that school by individuals and nations, and intellectually it is not impossible for it to end with the unity of all mankind.

Nationalism creates division among mankind and thus, it cannot lead to universal unity. In such a unit, the questions of minorities and aliens, too, become insoluble. But an Ummah founded on belief is an ‘open unit’ and it can admit people from every race, color, language and territory who accept that belief. This unity can, therefore, expand and lead to man’s universal brotherhood.

In fact the only proper, scientific and logical basis for nationality and unity is belief and ideology. Other factors as compared to these are insignificant.

Thus we see that none of the principles that nationalists rely on are universal and logical. But the nationality based on belief and ideology which Islam upholds has an intellectual authenticity and is justifiable. Those who have the same ideology possess the same world vision, religious belief, culture, objective and destination, form thus a single Ummah.

8. Nationalism defeats its own objectives

The aim of nationalism is the creation of unity, but its result is the reverse and it defeats its own objective. The means adopted by nationalism to realize its objectives of creating unity is to kindle sharp sentiments of solidarity on the basis of race, language or nationality.

But in every country, there exist racial and lingual minorities. When these minorities come to face nationalistic sentiments incited by the propaganda of the majority, they may lose their own independent identity within the majority and react. It is often seen that such propaganda directed at inciting nationalistic sentiments by the majority rouses a regional, racial or lingual nationalism among the minorities and results in the dispersion and disunion of the country.

Logically there is no reason why the majority’s nationalism should be considered right and the minority’s one wrong. Why should British nationalism be regarded as right and laudable, while the Irish one, as blameworthy and condemnable. If Iraqi Baathists have the right to speak of Arab nationalism all day and night, why shouldn’t an Iraqi Kurd have the right to turn to Kurdish nationalism. If territorial, racial and lingual prejudice is good, then it is good for both sides, and if it is bad, it is so for both. We cannot judge by two different criteria. If the nationalism of America’s whites is good, why should that of its blacks be bad??

We see, then, that nationalism has no logical basis, and it defeats its own purpose, and has to establish solidarity by force. It secures what is contrary to its goal, namely division and dispersion.

Contrary to the nationalists’ claim, it is not ideological beliefs, but nationalistic feelings which check unity and produce division in the country. The result of half a century of the nationalistic propaganda of Reza Khan and Muhammad Reza was rebellion in Kurdestan and Turkeman Sahara.

Nationalism has at no time been able to solve the question of racial, lingual and regional minorities. On the, contrary it has intensified oppositions and made them perpetual.

As the criterion is race, language or territory, and as race and language and the like are not changeable, therefore those not belonging to a certain race or having a certain language are always regarded and live as a minority group and cannot share the sentiments of the majority. Those who through emigration or change of geographical boundaries or invasions become nationals of a country, even after many generations and centuries, feel themselves to be a segregated and alienated group, and others feel the same towards them. Armenians in Turkey, Syria and Iran, and Kurds, Scots, Irish and American negroes are the clearest examples of this.

9. Dangers of Nationalism

To glorify itself, nationalism generally resorts to suppositions, exaggerations, fallacious reasoning, scorn and inadmissible self-praise, and worst of all, it engages in the distortion of history, model-making and fable-writing. Historical facts are twisted to imaginary myths as it fears historical and social realism.

Misinterpretation of history is one of the greatest harms of nationalism. It may be argued that the case is so where an extreme form of nationalism exists. But that is not the case. Any kind of nationalism by essence inclines towards self-pride and scorn of others, for so long as it does not rouse in people a false sense of pride in their nation, how can it turn national prejudice in favor of itself and against others??

9.1  Tribal prejudice

As nationalism is based on man’s animal instincts, not on belief and intelligence, therefore, tribal prejudice is its foundation and one of its peculiarities.

The accidental birth of a person in a certain country gives him the wrong baseless idea that he may scorn others and consider them as enemies. Having been born in Europe and having a white skin for example, he gives himself the right to plunder the blacks and refuse to employ towards others criteria he uses towards his own compatriots. Even a genius like Einstein is disliked by a German because he is a Jew. Taking birth in Germany or France, both a matter of accidental birth in a certain land and not one of conscious choice, is no reason to dislike other, be prejudiced and evaluate human beings with two different criteria.

Can anything be more inhuman and unreasonable that to prefer a wicked, corrupt and incompetent compatriot of the same race or language to an honest, benevolent and competent person who is born beyond one’s frontiers??

A person is judged on the basis of his race, language, country and considered a compatriot or alien, without the least consideration of his deeds, virtues or views. Human honor and good deeds are disregarded simply because one is born in a certain land. The yardstick for evaluating the individual becomes territory and blood, not action, faith, chastity or obligation.

The more popular nationalism becomes, the more intense will fanatical ignorance and racial prejudice become, and the more limited will be one’s vision. A nationalist defends everything related to his country solely through intellect or reflection. He considers everything outside his country as alien and ignominious. Right and wrong become meaningless concepts.

This is fanatical ignorance which is strongly condemned in Islam, it is inherited from the inhuman tribal system, but with a more dangerous dimension.

9.2  Nationalism culminates in racism

Nationalism inevitably ends in racism and racial prejudice. In any land where it attempts to base unity on the co-existence of a particular group so as to create fanaticism and make that group an independent, separate unit, it must attribute a certain name to that group like Iranian, Turk or some other name; it must brainwash those in that group into believing that they are superior to other on the basis of their race, blood etc. Without attention to the criteria of virtue, belief and action. Eventually, other neighboring countries come to manifest similar feelings, leading to perpetual clashes, rivalry and racial hostilities.

History bears witness to the fact that nationalistic sentiments have always ended in racism. The Greeks at the height of their civilization called non-Greeks as ‘barbarians.’

Aristotle said:

It is nature’s will that barbarians be the slaves of the Greeks.” The Jews who were a national unit before being a religious unit, regarded themselves as God’s selected people. The Romans at the height of their civilization believed that there were only three nations on earth, the Romans, their confederates and the ‘barbarians’ (non-Romans).

9.3   Nationalism results in a desire to colonize

Nationalism results in a desire to dominate and colonize seeking domination due to three factors:

1- Strong prejudice

2- Superiority complex

3- Self-interest (and disregard of others interests)

Nationalism relies on all these three factors and that is why it eventually leads to domination and colonization. Nationalism has been the cause of clashes, aggressions, and constant rivalry between nations, causing much riot and bloodshed the world over. When a country thinks only in terms of its own interests and gives itself the right to dominate others, the result will obviously be conflicts, aggressions and colonization. Some think that this is only true of extreme nationalism. But history has taught us that there are no such things as healthy or unhealthy nationalism, since nationalism in whatever form ultimately ends in chauvinism and racism.

As mentioned in the previous chapters, the savage colonialism of the West in the 19th century which spread over the Third World was caused by nationalistic sentiments. The calamitous World Wars and the Nagasaki and Hiroshima disasters and hundreds of other wars which have tainted man’s history with blood, are living proofs of nationalism as a dominating evil force.

Nationalism is a factor of expansionism and a basis of injustice and aggression. It has been the source of imperialism and it cruelly transgresses over weak nations, imposing its illegitimate ambition on others in the name of national desires and national expediencies.

9.4  Narrowing man’s mental horizon

Nationalism narrows man’s mental horizon in two ways: Firstly, it discourages man to think of the whole of mankind and of ways to help and guide the latter. It encourages him to consider his compatriots only and limit the radius of his vision within the framework of frontiers. Secondly, it encourages man to reject belief, the spirituality, the intellect, and to focus on land, blood, country and race, thereby narrowing down his mental horizon.

Nationalists are the slaves of emotions, and have no regard for the intellect and intelligence. Ideology, on the other hand, relies extensively on reflection and by creating a sense of obligation and responsibility, the intellect comes to dominate over emotions and not the other way round as is the case with nationalism.

10.  Islam and nationalism are two opposite poles

Simple patriotic sentiments, so long as they do not contravene the higher conviction of man is permissible in Islam, like the affection one feels towards one’s father, son and family. But nationalism does not stop at simple sentiments. It is a socio-political creed and an actual way of life which aims at controlling man’s individual and social conduct. Islam, too, being a school having its own independent, spiritual, practical, political and social system and comprising a particular set of beliefs, it naturally comes into conflict with the school of nationalism.

Unlike other religions such as Christianity, Buddhism etc, Islam is not confined to religious rites and metaphysical convictions. Had Islam been only a religion of devotions, it might have agreed with nationalism. But Islam is a religion with a social and philosophical worldview, and provides for economic and political principles. Nationalism, too, has its own social and political principles based however on different beliefs and criteria. Therefore, conflict between Islam and nationalism is inevitable. The Islamic ideology is not compatible with any other ideology on the question of sovereignty over the private and social life of Muslims. A Muslim cannot at the same time be a Muslim and a polytheist, or a Muslim and communist. In Islam, there is no room for one to be a loyal and genuine nationalist. It is a question of identity, and one negates the other.

Nationalism is incompatible with Islam, both schools having two opposite ideologies. These two assume two totally opposite poles in their spirit, essence, direction and goal.

Nationalism attaches value only to the historical traditions, culture, civilization, ideas and historical figures of its own nation, but Islam’s vision goes beyond the frontier, race, tribe and nation.  Musa (alayhissalaam) (Moses), Nabi ‘Eesa (alayhissalaam) (Jesus) , and Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) are considered as belonging to all mankind. Islam wishes all nations to regard the Qur’an as their Book, and the Ka’aba as their Qibla.

It is very hard for nationalism to accept this view. According to its limited vision, it considers the entry of Islam as a transgression or as something dangerous. It associates the nation to Cyrus and Darius, not to Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). It intends to revive its ancient past which Islam calls paganism. Islam curses the Pharaoh, but Egyptian nationalism makes him a national hero to be worshipped.

The logical result of this attitude is to revive national creeds. It is not surprising that during the nationalistic regime of Pahlavi, the creeds of Zoroastrianism and Baha’ism which were regarded as Iranian faiths, were encouraged by the regime. In the time of Hitler’s domination over Germany, Nazi thinkers belonged to one of the two following groups: one group considered Christ as a Palestinian Jewish descendant and thus rejected Christianity, and the other group turned to Christianity and wanted to prove that Christ was not Palestinian, but of the Nordic race.

Islam says that all the Muslims in the world are members of the same body and all Arab, non-Arab, Turk, Afghan, Indian, black, white and yellow belong to one ummah in their belief. But nationalism considers the religious solidarity of a country with other nations as a danger for national and tribal identity.

Thus, nationalism’s vision about society and politics is quite opposite to that of Islam, and these two cannot go together. That’s why the nationalists of other Islamic lands regard separation from Islam a condition for nationalism to succeed, even if they do not utter it. Their acts reveal their hatred towards those who seek Islam.

Nationalism is based on giving authenticity to racial and national units. It divides human society into limited and independent units according to geographical boundaries or factors of race, language, history, political organization etc., and considers all others outside these units as aliens, and very often encourages hostility between them. Nationalism does not address the whole of humanity, but restricts itself to national units, and its goal is the establishment of national states, not a universal society.

But Islam addresses all of mankind as a single unit. Its system is not for a nation, a race, a special region, but for the whole human society. Those who accept this system are regarded as equals and brothers, and have equal rights and duties in devotion, politics, economy and social life. The ultimate goal of Islam is to establish a universal monotheistic society which goes beyond geographical, racial, lingual and cultural boundaries, and joins them all in one community. Islam condemns the division of mankind on the basis of blood and territory in national and racial units, and grants no authenticity to national and racial differences. Its only test of individual worth is chastity, belief, faith and good deeds. The Quran emphasizes the universal unity of mankind:

 “O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], and from them both He created many men and women.” (Qur’an 4:1)

Differences in race, tribe, nation and family have no legal authenticity and they are not the basis of unity or criteria of superiority and inferiority. They are only the means of facilitating human relations:

 “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allâh is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa” (Qur’an 49:13)

Thus, divisions into tribes and groups is for the purpose of knowing one another better, not for taking pride, showing love or hate, seeking superiority or engaging in disputes. The only criteria are faith, belief and chastity.

There is not a single verse in the Qur’an concerning the authenticity of nationality and division of mankind on the basis of land and blood. The Qur’an calls all men to kindness and happiness, not to national and racial privileges.

Nationalism believes the country to be the focus of loyalty while Islam believes God and His religion should be this focus. As the Quran says:

“The command (or the judgement) is for none but Allâh. He has commanded that you worship none but Him;” (Qur’an 12:40)

In nationalism, deep affection to’ one’s country is a basis, whereas in Islam, the basis is belief in God and absolute loyalty to Him.

“You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help” (Qur’an 1:5)

Nationalism aims at having man given the greatest share of his loyalty and affection to the country, and to even subordinate the loyalty to God to the love of the nation. This in itself is a kind of polytheism.
To nationalism, what matters the most is national interests, whether from an individual or social point of view, but in Islam it is love of God and divine injunctions. Love and hate, friendship and enmity, war and peace are all for the sake of God and His religion. No other factor is of importance.

“Say (O Muhammad Sallallaahu alayhi wasallam): “Verily, my Salât (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allâh, the Lord of the ‘Alamîn (mankind, jinn and all that exists) ;” (Qur’an 6:162)

In nationalism, sovereignty belongs to the nation and the criterion is national interests. But in Islam, God is the sovereign, and no other factor is of significance before His laws.
“So the judgement is only with Allâh, the Most High, the Most Great!” (Qur’an 40:12)

Nationalism considers all people in a country as compatriots and those of other nations even if they are Muslims as foreigners. Islam believes in the contrary: All relationships, even that of a son, father, wife, husband, are subordinated to belief, and those who do not believe in the school are aliens in spite of their close relationships:

“O you who believe! Take not for Auliyâ’ (supporters and helpers) your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the Zâlimûn (wrong-doers).” (Qur’an 9:23)

11.  The Prohibition of Nationalism in Islam

Nationalism is a concept alien to Islam because it calls for unity based on family and tribalistic ties, whereas Islam binds people together on the ‘aqeedah, that is, belief in

Allah and His Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam). In other words, Islam calls for the ideological bond.

Grouping together on tribalistic lines is clearly forbidden. It is narrated by Abu Dawud  that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said:

He is not one of us who calls for ‘asabiyyah, (nationalism) or who fights for ‘asabiyyah or who dies for ‘asabiyyah.

And in another hadith, the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) describes the one who calls for  nationalism as being like the worm that crawls in the bottom of the dung, and in the hadith recorded in Mishkat al-Masabih, the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said:

He who calls for ‘asabiyyah is as if he bit his father’s genitals

There are many examples in the seerah where the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had rebuked those who upheld nationalism. On one occasion a party of Jews conspired to bring about disunity in the ranks of the Muslims after seeing the ‘Aus and Khazraj within Islam. A youth from amongst them was sent to incite remembrance of the battle of Bu’ath where the ‘Aus had been victorious over the Khazraj, and he recited poetry to bring about division between them. As a result there was a call to arms. When the news reached the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), he said:

O Muslims, remember Allah, remember Allah. Will you act as pagans while I am present with you after Allah has guided you to Islam, and honoured you thereby and made a clean break with paganism; delivered you thereby from disbelief; made you friends thereby?

When they heard this they wept, and embraced each other. This incident clearly highlights how the messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) rebuked any forms of tribalism. Allah  then revealed,

“O you who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared and die not except in a state of Islam. And hold fast together all of you to the rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favours on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace you became brothers; and you were on the brink of the pit of fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah make His signs clear to you that you may be guided.” [Qur’an 3:102-103]

It is transmitted by at-Tabarani and al-Hakim that in one incident some people spoke very lowly about Salman al-Farsi (radhiyallahu anhu). They spoke of the inferiority of the Persian in relation to the Arabs, and upon hearing this the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasalla ) declared, “Salman belongs to ahl al-bayt (the Prophet’s family).” This statement of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) disassociates all links based on lineage and tribal considerations.

It is also transmitted, in two different versions, by Ibn al-Mubarak (rahimahullah) in his two books, Al- Birr and As-Salah, that some disagreement occurred between Abu Dharr and Bilal (radhiyallahu anhum) and Abu Dharr (radhiyallahu anhi) said to Bilal (radhiyallahu anhu), “You son of a black woman.” The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was extremely upset by Abu Dharr’s (radhiyallahu anhu) comment, so he (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) rebuked him by saying, “That is too much, Abu Dharr. He who has a white mother has no advantage which makes him better than the son of a black mother.” This rebuke had a profound effect on Abu Dharr (radhiyallahu anhu), who then put his head on the ground swearing that he would not raise it until Bilal (radhiyallahu anhu) had put his foot over it.

The incidents above demonstrate that tribal ties have no place in Islam. Muslims are commanded to stick together and not to disassociate themselves from each other just because they comes from different tribes. The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) also said,

The Muslims are like a body, if one part of the body hurts, the rest of the body will also suffer

meaning that the Muslims, whether they are of Chinese, African, European or Asian origin, are one Ummah and they cannot be separated from each other. No tribalistic ties should ever break their unity.

Some people claim that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) approved of nationalism because during the migration to Madinah, he (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said about Makkah with tears in his mubarak eyes, “You are the most beloved land of Allah to me.” However, this saying has nothing to do with nationalism, and this can be seen from the full saying which people often do not quote, “You are the most beloved land of Allah to me because you are the most beloved land of Allah to Allah.” The Messenger of Allah’s (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) love for Makkah was based on the noble status that Allah has given to Makkah, and not because he (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was born there. All Muslims should have this love and affection for Makkah because it is the most beloved land in the sight of Allah. After all, the Muslims pray towards Makkah and go there to perform hajj there as it houses the Ka’ba. The above saying of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) therefore has nothing to do with nationalism.

Not only does Islam forbid people from grouping on nationalistic ties, but it also prohibits the establishment of more than one state, whether these states are based on nationalism or otherwise. The only state that is allowed for the Muslims is the state of Islamic Shari’ah, which is a state that is governed exclusively by Islam. Allah addressed the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam),

“And rule between them by that which Allah revealed to you, and do not follow their vain desires away from the truth which came to you” [Qur’an 5:48]


“And rule between them by that which Allah revealed to you and do not follow their whims, and beware (be on the alert) that they may deviate you away from even some part of what Allah revealed to you.” [Qur’an 5:49]

The speech of Allah  to the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhu wasallam) is a speech to his  Ummah unless specific evidence comes to restrict this. In this case, there is no such restriction, and so it becomes obligatory for the Muslims to rule according to Islam. And ruling according to Islam leaves no room for nationalistic constitutions whatsoever because what is applied, and what forms the criteria for judgement, is the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallan).

Ruling according to Islam can only be achieved in one state, with Islamic Shariah. It is reported in Sahih Muslim that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As (radhiyallahu anhu) narrated that he heard the

Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhu wasallam) say,

He who gave the bay‘ah to an Imam, giving him the clasp of his hand and the fruit of his heart has to obey him as long as he can. If another comes to dispute with him (his authority) strike the neck of that person.”

Abu Said al-Khudri (radhiyallahu anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said,

If a bay‘ah is taken for two Khaleefahs, kill the latter one.”

And ‘Arafaja (radhiyallahu anhu) said that he heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) say,

If someone comes to you when you are united over one man and wants to break your strength and divide your unity, kill him.

This unity of the Muslims was clearly highlighted in the document that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) wrote when he established the Islamic Statw in Madinah. In this document, which was to regulate the relationships of Muslims and non-Muslims in the Islamic State, the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said regarding the Muslims, “Allah’s covenant amongst them is one” and “Believers are brothers to the exclusion of others” and “The peace of the believers is indivisible. No separate peace shall be made when believers are fighting in the way of Allah.” These statements serve to indicate that Muslims are one body and they are not to be treated separately.

Furthermore, the obligation for having one state, and not many nationalistic states, also comes from the Ijma’ of the Sahabah. When the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) left this world, the Sahabah convened to discuss the appointment of the Khaleefah in the courtyard of Bani Sa‘ida. One person had proposed that the Ansar should elect their own amir and the Muhajireen their own, but Abu Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu) narrated the hadith that forbids the Ummah from having more then one leader. So the Sahabah never allowed more than one ruler and their consensus is a legitimate evidence for us.

Islam therefore leaves no room for the Saudi state, an Egyptian state, or a Pakistani state. Islam calls for one state with one ruler where all Muslims are tied together by the ‘aqeedah of Islam. And this is a matter decided by Islam to which we must submit to, for Allah says,

  “It is not for a believer (male or female) that when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter that they should have any choice in the matter.” [Qur’an 33:36]

And those who still uphold nationalism, remember what Allah  says,

“Those who oppose Allah’s order have to be warned that a calamity may strike them or a painful doom may fall upon them.” [Qur’an 24:63]


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