Nationalism—A Concept Alien to Islam

By U. Mahesh Prabhu

As an egalitarian nation, India has the constitutional obligation to guard the religious liberties of every citizen. Hence, recently, when Mohammad Zubair, a corporal with the Indian Air Force, was ordered to shave off his beard to maintain uniformity, he took no time in moving the country’s judicial system. ‘A true Muslim must keep his beard’, contended Zubair’s attorney, stating that it was an essential part of his faith as per the ‘Hadith’ and ‘Sunna’ (recorded customs). ‘We have the constitutional right to belief and practice of religion,’ he said, seeking protection of his ‘right’ to grow a beard.

But is growing a beard really mandatory in Islam? Yes, the Prophet has said, as reported by Abdullah-ibn-Umar, ‘Act against the polytheist, trim closely the moustache and grow your beard’. Thus, following these directives of the Prophet, Zubair is following his faith. But didn’t the Prophet, in the same statement, also say ‘act against the polytheist…’? Then, if promoted through the ranks, would Zubair not work against the ‘polytheist’ Hindus? Would he not follow the directives of his Prophet then also and seek to kill his ‘polytheist’ countrymen?

For years now, Muslim scholars, intellectuals, and journalists, have complained of ‘deprivation’ and the ‘lack of special privileges’. They have presented in a very viable way as to what it is that they lack. But have they ever spoken gratefully of the privileges they have received? Not that I can remember of!

What people don’t know is that in the righteous context, Islam is totally opposed to the idea of Nation. Nationalism as a concept is absolutely alien to Islam, because it (nationalism) calls for unity based on family and tribalistic ties, whereas Islam binds people together on ‘aqeedah’ (belief in Allah and His last messenger). Islam seeks ideological bonds.

Abu Dawood narrates that the Prophet said, ‘He is not one of us who calls for ‘assabiyyah’ (nationalism/tribalism) or who fights for ‘assabiyyah’ or who dies for ‘assabiyyah’. In another Hadith, the Prophet is found stating, ‘Leave it (nationalism, racism, and patriotism), it is rotten.’ [Muslim and Bukhari] and in the Hadith recorded in Mishkat al-Masabith, the Prophet is found saying ‘Undoubtedly, Allah has removed from you the pride of arrogance of the age of ‘Jahilliyah’ (ignorance) and the glorification of ancestors. Now people are of two kinds-either believers who are aware, or transgressors who do wrong. You are all the children of Adam, and Adam was made of clay. People should give up their pride in nations because that is a coal from the coals of hellfire. If they do not give this up, Allah will consider them lower than the lowly worm which pushes itself through ‘Khara’ (dung).’ [Abu Dawood and Tirmidhi]

There are many examples in the ‘Seerah’, where the messenger of Allah rebukes 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 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 differences between them. As a result, there was a call to arms.

When the news reached the Prophet, he is said to have exclaimed, ‘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 honored you thereby and made a clean break with paganism; delivered you thereby from disbelief; and made you friends thereby?’

Not only does Islam forbid people from grouping on nationalistic ties, but it also prohibits the establishment of more than one state, irrespective of whether these states are based on nationalism or otherwise. The only state that is allowed for Muslims is the Islamic State, one which is governed exclusively by Islam.

Given this, it is clear that Islam is completely against any nation, and this includes Indian nationalism.

The essential question, that which baffles my mind is: would not tomorrow those ‘devout’ Muslims claim, as their constitutional right, to abstain from their nationalist commitments on the ground that Islam directs them to be so? What would be the stand of our Judiciary then?

Author is Fellow of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London (UK).

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