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Nationalism and Islam

By:
Abū-L-‘Alā’ Mawdūdī
Document type:
Articles and Essays

Nationalism and Islam

Abū-L-‘Alā’ Mawdūdī

Commentary

Mawlānā Mawdūdī received an early traditional religious education, which was supplemented by his self-taught knowledge of Western thought. He pursued a career in journalism and in 1933 assumed editorship of Tarjuman al-Qur'ān [Exegesis of the Quran], which throughout the years served as a vehicle of his thought. He has been perhaps the most systematic modern Muslim writer, and his many writings have been translated into English and Arabic and circulated throughout the Muslim world. In 1941 Mawdūdī established the Jamā‘at-i-Islāmī [the Islamic Association], an extremely well organized association committed to the reestablishment of an Islamic world order or society (politically, legally, and socially). Although originally against any form of nationalism and thus opposed to the establishment of Pakistan, Mawdūdī nevertheless migrated to Pakistan, after the partitioning, where the Jamā‘at-i-Islāmī has been very active in politics.

Mawdudi, together with Sayyid Qutb, may be regarded as the intellectual inspiration for the younger generations of the Islamist movement. Although Hasan al-Bann‘ continues to be held in great esteem among this movement’s followers, their urgency to reestablish the Caliphate resonates more in Mawdudi’s and Qutb’s thought. In this selection, published in 1947, Mawdudi rejects nationalism as a way to animate Muslims. Contrast his view with Bazzaz’s in this connection. As Mawdudi puts it, Islam’s goal is a world state, while nationalism would frustrate this purpose; even a mild nationalism requires its advocates to make invidious distinctions between their group and others. By contrast, Islam is universalist in scope and purpose.

Even a cursory glance at the meaning and essence of nationalism would convince a person that in their spirit and in their aims Islam and nationalism are diametrically opposed to each other. Islam deals with man as man. It presents to all mankind a social system of justice and piety based on creed and morality and invites all towards it. And then it admits him in its circle, with equal rights, whosoever accepts this system. Be it in the sphere of economics or politics or civics or legal rights and duties or anything else, those who accept the principles of Islam are not divided by any distinction of nationality or race or class or country. The ultimate goal of Islam is a world-state in which the chains of racial and national prejudices would be dismantled and all mankind incorporated in a cultural and political system, with equal rights and equal opportunities for all, and in which hostile competition would give way to friendly co-operation between peoples so that they might mutually assist and contribute to the material and moral good of one another. Whatever the principle of human good Islam defines, and whatever the scheme of life it prescribes, it would appeal to mankind in general only when they would free themselves of all ignorant prejudices and dissociate themselves altogether from their national traditions, with their sentiments of racial pride, and with their love of sanguinary and material affinities, and be prepared, as mere human beings, to enquire what is truth, where lies righteousness, justice and honesty, and what is the path that leads to the well-being of, not a class or a nation or a country, but of humanity as a whole. . . .

As opposed to this, nationalism divides man from man on the basis of nationality. Nationalism simply means that the nationalist should give preference to his nationality over all other nationalities. Even if he were not an aggressive nationalist, nationalism, at least, demands that culturally, economically, politically and legally he should differentiate between national and non-national; secure the maximum of advantages for his nation; build up barriers of economic preferences for national profit; protect with tenacity the historical traditions and the traditional prejudices which have come down to wake his nationality, and breed in him the sentiments of national pride. He would not admit with him members of other nationalities in any walk of life on an equal basis. Whenever there is a chance of his nation obtaining more advantages, as against the other, his heart would be sealed against all sentiments of justice and propriety. His ultimate goal would be a nation-state rather than a world-state, nevertheless if he upholds any world ideology, that ideology would necessarily take the form of imperialism or world domination, because members of other nationalities cannot participate in his state as equals, they may do so only as “slaves” or subjects. . . .

The Fundamental difference between Nationalism and Islam

. . . The law of God (the Sharā‘a) has always aimed at bringing together mankind into one moral and spiritual framework and make them mutually assistant to one another on a universal scale. But nationalism at once demolishes this frame-work with the noxious instruments of racial and national distinction, and by creating bitterness and hatred between nations makes them fight and exterminate rather than help one another.

The Sharī‘as of God provide the highest opportunities of free contact between man and man because on this very contact depends the progress of human civilisation and culture. But nationalism comes in the way of these contacts with a thousand hindrances; it makes the mere existence of foreign nationals in a country impossible.

The Sharī‘as of God want that every individual, every nation, every race should obtain full opportunities of developing its natural characteristics and its inherent potentialities so that it may be able to subscribe its due share to the collective progress of mankind. But nationalism urges upon every race, every nation, that it should secure power and degrade and disgrace and belittle other races and nations and bring them under servility, and deny them any chance of developing their natural talents and resources, and deprive them even of the primary right of mere existence.

The fundamental principle of the Sharī‘as of God is that the rights of man are based on moral code and not on force. That is, if the moral law sanctions a right to a weak individual or weak people, the powerful individual or the powerful people must honour this right. But in contrast to this nationalism establishes the principle that “might is right” and that the weak has no right because he has no might. . . .

Again an essential feature of this nationalism is that it makes man opportunist. The Sharā‘as of God are given to man to make him live by principles and relate his behaviour to permanent laws which would not alter with individual or national interests. But, unlike it, nationalism makes man unprincipled. A nationalist has no principles in the world except that he wishes the good of his nation. If the laws of ethics, injunctions of religion, and principles of culture serve his purpose he would put his faith in them gladly, but if they interfered with his interest he would set them aside and invent and adopt some other principles and theories.

But a more direct conflict between nationalism and the Sharī‘as of God occurs in yet another way. It is obvious that whatever messenger is sent by God, he must take birth in some nation and in some country. Again, the Book of Laws which he would be given must necessarily be in the language of the country to which he has been deputed. Moreover, the sacred and holy places associated with the mission of that Rasūl [messenger, prophet] must be situated mostly in that particular country. But in spite of these limitations the truth and that divine teaching which a Rasūl brings from God, is not confined to one nation or country, it is intended for humanity at large. The entire human race is called upon to believe in that Rasūl and his teachings, and whether that Rasūl has a limited mission, as Noah and Moses and many other Rasūls had, or a universal mission, as Abraham and Muhammad had, in either case all mankind are ordered to respect and believe in every Rasūl and when the mission of a Rasūl is universal, it is natural that the Book of Laws given to him by God must acquire an international status; the cultural influence of the language he speaks must be international; the sacred places associated with his mission, in spite of their being situated in one country must become centres of international importance. And not only that Rasūl but also his companions and the prominent persons taking part in his movement at its inception, in spite of their being connected with one nation would become the heroes of all nations. All this falls contrary to the taste, temperament, sentiments and thoughts of a nationalist. The national self-consciousness of a nationalist can never brook it that he should take as his heroes persons who do not belong to his nationality; accept the central importance and sanctity of such places as are not situated within his country; admit the cultural influence of a language which may not be his own; secure inspiration from traditions which may have been imported from outside. He would regard all these things not only as foreign but would look upon them with that displeasure and hatred with which everything of foreign invader is received, and would endeavour his best to eliminate and cast out all these external influences from the life of his nation. It is the natural demand of his nationalistic sentiment that he should associate his sentiments of sacredness and sanctity with his own homeland, that he should sing hymns to rivers and mountains of his own country, that he should revive his ancient national historical traditions (traditions which this foreign religion describes as the relics of the age of ignorance) and pride in them, that he should relate his present with his own past and link his national culture with that of his ancestors in a chronicle sequence, that he should take as his heroes, historical or legendary, persons from his own nation and take inspiration only from their deeds, imaginary or real. In short, it is in the nature and constitution of nationalism that it should condemn everything that comes from outside and praise all those things which are the products of its own home. The ultimate goal to which this path leads is that even the religion which has been imported must be completely abandoned, and those religious traditions which may have come down to a nationalist from the “age of ignorance” of his own national history be praised and glorified. Many nationalists might not have reached this ultimate goal and might be lingering somewhere midway, but the path they are traversing only leads to this goal.

Bibliography references:

From Nationalism and India (Lahore: Maktaba-e-Jama‘at-e-Islami; new edition, 1947), 10–12, 24–28, 30–34.

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