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Why Islam despises nationalism – part II

By SAYYID QUTB

Summary: The Jews successfully employed nationalism as a weapon to destroy Christendom, dividing it into several political entities, each with its own national church. Now they are trying the same tactic to divide the Muslim community.

Author Biography: Sayyid Qutb is the author of In the Shade of Qur’an, a commentary on the Qur’an from which this article is extracted. The Egyptian Islamic activist was executed in 1966 for his outspoken activism.

We will now consider some aspects of the divine wisdom behind making faith the supreme tie of Islamic society. Faith is indeed the noblest characteristic of man which distinguishes him from animals. It relates to the spiritual side of human existence which no class of animal shares.

Indeed, even the most hardened atheists have come to acknowledge that faith is an essential quality that categorically distinguishes man from animals. Hence, in a society which achieves the highest standard of human civilization, faith must be the constituent tie, because it is man’s most distinctive quality.

Indeed, no human grouping can be based on anything which man shares with animals, such as land, meadows, interests and borders; for these are akin to an animal enclosure with its fencing. Nor can a human society be based on ties of blood, ancestry, clan, nation, race, language or colour. Again, all these are common to both man and animals. Man is indeed distinguished from animals by his reason and what relates to his heart and mind.

Similarly, faith is closely linked to another factor that distinguishes man from animals, namely, his free-will and ability to choose. Every human being is able to choose his or her own faith when they attain a reasonable standard of maturity. Thus human beings are able to determine the type of society in which they choose to live, and the type of ideological, social, political, economic and moral system they advocate.

By contrast, no human being is able to choose his ancestry, colour, community or race. Nor can he determine in which geographical area to be born, which mother tongue to speak, or indeed any of the ties on which jāhiliyyah (ignorant)communities are based. All these are determined before a human being is born.

If his destiny, both in this life and the life to come, or indeed in only this life, is based on considerations in which he has no say, then his free choice is negated. Thus, one of the most essential and distinctive characteristics of his humanity, which God has established, is lost. When a community is based on the tie of faith, and not on any consideration in which man has no say, it can establish a society that is open to all.

People of diverse races, colours, languages, lands and ethnic origins will freely choose to join this society, knowing that nothing can stop them from doing so and no artificial barriers are erected to prevent them from joining. What determines their ability to join are man’s most distinctive qualities. All human potential and talents thus contribute to the establishment of a civilization that benefits by the qualities of all races. It never closes the door to any talent because of colour, race, family or land.

When Islamic society was built on this basis, it gave prominence to the distinctive qualities of man, in preference to those that man shares with other creatures. It soon achieved spectacular results for its being open to all, erecting none of the artificial obstacles that are more suited to animals. The special characteristics of different human races and communities were able to work together, without barriers, and they soon produced a superior human structure.

In that superior Islamic community, Arabs, Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, North Africans, Turks, Chinese, Indians, Byzantines, Greeks, Indonesians and Africans, as well as many others, brought in their diverse talents to contribute to the building of Islamic civilization. It was never an Arab or national civilization, but an Islamic one based on faith.

All were equal in that society, strengthened by a strong tie of love, and sharing a common objective. Their unifying tie was always their belief in the One God, their only Lord. No other grouping in human history has ever been able to achieve such unity and equality.

In history, the best known grouping of different communities in the past was that of the Roman Empire, which included a large variety of races, languages and peoples. But that group did not come about through any distinctively human characteristic, nor was it based on an ideal like faith. It was, on the one hand, based on class, dividing people into masters and slaves throughout the Empire. On the other, it was racist, giving the Romans superiority over all others. Hence, it never aspired to the level attained by Islamic society.

In recent history similar groupings flourished, such as the British Empire. Yet it was largely an heir to the Roman Empire in as much as it was nationalistic and exploitative, promoting the superiority of the British people and exploiting the resources of Britain’s colonies. The same applies to all European empires: the Spanish and Portuguese at one stage, and later the French. They were all in the same low category.

Communism tried to establish a different type of grouping that overcame barriers of race, nation, land, language and colour. But it was established on a class rather than human basis. Whilst the Romans gave superiority to the aristocrats, Communism gave it to the Proletariat. Its main emotion was its unabating grudge against other classes.

Such a small, hateful group could not promote anything other than man’s worst qualities. Its ideal was to enhance and promote the animal aspects in human life, which it considered to be man’s basic needs. These were food, shelter and sex. Needless to say, these are the basic needs of animals. It also considered human history as nothing more than a search for food.

Islam, which follows a method laid down by God, is unique in promoting and enhancing the most distinctive human qualities to building human society. This certainly remains exclusive to Islam. Those who abandon the Islamic way in preference for any other method based on racial, national, patriotic or class values are indeed the enemies of man. They do not want man to benefit by his God-given superior qualities, nor do they want human society to benefit from the best talents and potential of its constituent races, bringing all their experiences into a harmonious whole.

It should be mentioned that some of those to whom God refers [in Q6:20) when He says: “Those to whom We granted revelation know it as well as they know their own children,” are hostile to Islam, yet they know its points of strength and its method of action. They have not overlooked the fact that making faith the basis on which a community is founded is one of Islam’s major strengths. Since they want to destroy Islamic society, or at least weaken it to a degree that enables them to control it, avenge themselves on Islam, exploit its followers and their land and resources, they are keen to disrupt the basis on which it is founded.

They try hard to divert Muslims from the worship of God alone so that they turn to the worship of new idols whether it be fatherland, nation, or race. Such neo-idolatry came to prominence under different names during different epochs of history, such as Shu`ūbiyyah and Turanian nationalism, and more recently Arab nationalism. At times, these idols are given different names, each supported by a different group.

Such groups engage in in-fighting within a single Islamic society founded on faith and regulated by Islamic law. Their aim is to weaken the foundation of Islamic society and make anyone who rejects their idols an outlaw in his community or a traitor to his country.

The most hostile camp that continues to undermine the solid foundation of Islamic society are the Jews. They successfully employed nationalism as a weapon to destroy Christendom, dividing it into several political entities, each with its own national church. In this way they were able to break through the Christian grouping within which they were encircled. Now they are trying the same tactic to divide the Muslim community.

The same was done by Christian imperialists in the Muslim world. They tried for centuries to stir ethnic, racial and national hatred within the Muslim community that embraces all ethnic entities on an equal footing. In this way, they were able to satisfy their ancient grudges against Islam, inherited from the days of the Crusades. They managed to tame the Muslims into accepting European imperialism. They will continue to do so until God enables the Muslims to destroy this evil neo-idolatry. This will open the way for the new rise of Islamic society on its solid and unique foundation.

A Unique Community

People cannot extricate themselves from the state of pagan jāhiliyyah (ignorance)as a community unless the basis which brings them together is that of faith. Submission to God alone is not complete unless this rule is established in their minds and in their community.

There must be only one sacred thing which is revered. There can never be a multiple of ‘sacred’ things. The community must have a single slogan. There must be only one qiblah [i.e. direction faced in prayer] which remains the focus of everyone’s wholehearted attention.

Idol worship is not confined to worshipping idols made of stone or gold, or even to worshipping legendary gods; it can take numerous forms and shapes. Islam, however, cannot tolerate that people fight under the banners of such false gods when it calls on them to believe in God alone and to submit themselves to Him only.

For this reason Islam divides all mankind into two nations: the nation of Muslims who follow the prophets, each in his own time until the last Messenger was sent to mankind as a whole, and the nation of non-Muslims who worship all forms of tyrannical idols.

When God identified the Muslim nation, He defined it as the nation of the followers of His messengers, each in his own time, and then said: “Your community is but one community, and I am your only Lord, therefore worship Me alone.” (21: 92) He did not tell the Arabs that they belonged to the Arab nation, either when they were ignorant, or when they were Muslim. Nor did He tell the Jews that their nation was that of the Children of Israel, or the Hebrew nation, both when they lived in ignorance and in those periods when they submitted themselves to God alone.

The Prophet’s companions, Salmān, the Persian, and Şuhayb, the Byzantine, and Bilāl, the Abyssinian, were not considered to belong to Persia, Byzantium or Abyssinia.

Indeed, the Prophet said to all Muslims, Arabs, Persians, Romans and Abyssinians alike: your community is that of the believers who have earned the title of Muslims by submitting themselves truly to God throughout the ages, during the times of Moses, Aaron, Abraham, Lot, Noah, David, Solomon, Job, Ishmael, Idrīs, Dhulkifl, Zachariah, John and Mary as mentioned in Sūrah 21, verses 48-91.

This is the Muslim nation according to God’s definition. He who wishes to take a line other than God’s, let him do so, but he must not claim to belong to Islam. We, who have submitted ourselves to God alone, acknowledge no nation as ours except the one God has defined for us. He indeed tells the truth and He is the best of judges.

This part of the author’s commentary on the 10th Chapter of the Qur’an, Surat Hud. The first part of this series is accessible here.

 

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