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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

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What do Muslims believe about a worldwide Muslim community (ummah)?

Muslims believe that they are members of a worldwide Muslim community, known as the ummah, united by a religious bond that transcends tribal, ethnic, and national identities. This belief is based upon Quran 2:143, which declares that God created the Muslim ummah to serve as witnesses of God's guidance to the nations.

Islam was revealed in a time and place in which tribal loyalty was considered a person's most important identification. The individual's status was based upon membership in a particular tribe. Islam declared the absolute equality of all believers. The primary identity of the Muslim was as a Muslim, rather than as a member of a tribe, ethnicity, or gender. This radical egalitarianism shattered the importance of tribal identities and fostered the belief that Muslims should always defend and protect other Muslims. Quran 9:71 says: “The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another. They enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil. They observe regular prayers, regularly give alms, and obey God and His Messenger [i.e., Muhammad]. On them will God pour His mercy, for God is exalted in power, wise.”

Ummah is often used to refer to the essential unity of all Muslims, despite their diverse geographical and cultural settings. The traditions of the Prophet (hadith) speak of the ummah as the spiritual, nonterritorial community of Muslims that is distinguished and united by the shared beliefs of its members. This concept became particularly important during the nineteenth-century era of European colonialism and the rise of nationalism. Islamic resistance movements called for the defense of the ummah against European intrusions throughout the Islamic world. The Ottoman Empire also appealed to the unity of the ummah as a way of reinvigorating Islamic solidarity. Nationalists, although trying to unite their countries on the basis of national loyalty, did not challenge the authority of the concept of the ummah and in fact used it as the basis for calling for political unity. Although nationalists since the 1960s have called for a separation of national and religious identities, Islamists continue to support the notion of membership in the ummah as the primary identity for all Muslims, rather than ethnic, linguistic, or geographic identities. Contemporary Muslims still believe in the ummah as a social identity, despite the secularization of public life and contemporary emphasis on national political identities.

Muslims have been commanded to protect each other and to consider their identities as Muslims to be more important than any other identities they might have. They refer to their membership in the Muslim ummah as the reason for their concern for Muslims throughout the world. Causes that have received broad attention from the worldwide Muslim community include the Afghan struggle against Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989, ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims in 1994 and of Kosovar Albanian Muslims in 1997, and the ongoing plight of the Palestinians, as well as conflicts and occupations in Iraq, Kashmir, and Chechnya. Muslims have also been active in fund-raising to assist victims of natural disasters in the Muslim world, such as earthquakes and floods in Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

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