Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness against you. Surah Al Baqarah, verse 143
In 1938, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani issued a statement claiming that nations were determined by territories, and that the Muslims of India must forego their claim of being a separate nation and consider themselves part of the “Indian Nation.” In response to Maulana’s claim, Iqbal wrote his article “Islam and Nationalism,” reiterating his belief that Muslims are a separate nation, quoting the above mentioned verse of Quran, and stating that the basis of a nation, as defined by the Quran, is not territorial.
Nations are, in fact, formed by faith, shared history and uniform culture.
All this political debate and controversy amongst the Muslims were actually the aftermath of the abolition of the Khilafah – the Ottomon Caliphate – by the Turks in 1923. The caliphate had been a symbol of unity for most of the Muslim Ummah, at least to some extent, but for the Muslims of India, it held the most special, sentimental, almost sacred value; a passion which had been demonstrated on the streets of India during the Khilafat Movement a few years back.
The abolition of such an institution left the Indian Muslims feeling insecure and disheveled , and gave rise to a debate amongst the Muslim leadership and ulema of the sub-continent, about the future political organisation of the Muslims worldwide. Some spoke of creating a new caliphate, while some utterly disheartened ones like Maulana Madani advised his fellow Muslim countrymen to give up their political ideals altogether and assimilate themselves within the Indian nation.
Iqbal, and other level minded Muslims, however, considered taking the middle road on this matter. Iqbal, first of all, was of the opinion that the abolition of the Khilafah was a wise decision of the Turks, and he endorsed the stance taken by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on this point. In Iqbal’s opinion, the Turks had taken the modern course which was completely in keeping with the dynamic, ever evolving spirit of Islam:
“The Turks argue that in our political thinking we must be guided by our past political experience which points unmistakably to the fact that the idea of Universal Imamate has failed in practice. It was a workable idea when the empire of Islam was intact…Far from serving any useful purpose it has really stood in the way of a reunion of independent Muslim states.” (lecture 6, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam)
In Iqbal’s opinion, global events had led the Muslims quite naturally towards their destined course of action – “an international ideal” – which Islam had, in fact, meant for them in the first place:
“For the present every Muslim nation must sink into her own deeper self, temporarily focus her vision on herself alone, until all are strong and powerful to form a living family of republics…It seems to me that God is finally bringing home to us the truth that Islam is neither Nationalism nor Imperialism but a League of Nations which recognises artificial boundaries and racial distinctions for facility of reference only, and not for restricting the social horizon of its members.” (Lecture 6, Reconstruction)
We, the Muslim nations of the world have up until now failed to heed this advice of a great visionary. Even in Pakistan, we completely ignored this well-meant advice of the man we consider to be the spiritual father of the nation, and wasted our time in running after the elusive ideal of the so-called Muslim Ummah, trying to bring all ‘braadar Islami Mumaalik’ under one flag, instead of focusing on strengthening ourselves first.
We failed to acknowledge the simple fact that in this vast world containing a population of 1.6 billion Muslims, if each Muslim country focuses on implementing the true ideals and democratic practices of Islam within itself, we have a better chance of unifying under those very ideals and making the world a better place!
That is, however, not to say that Muslims are not connected to each other on a global level. Iqbal believed that the Muslim Ummah is a miracle of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and it is the love for the Prophet (PBUH) that binds it together in the form of a collective self or ego. In Iqbal’s opinion:
“Islam is non territorial in its character, and its aim is to furnish a model for the final combination of humanity by drawing its adherents from a variety of mutually repellant races and then transforming this atomic aggregate into a people possessing a self consciousness of their own … Islam … has succeeded to a very great extent in creating something like a collective will and conscience in this heterogeneous mass.”