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Jacob M. Landau, Joseph A. Kéchichian
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam


Pan-Islam emerged in the early days of Islam, although the European appellation for the ideology calling all Muslims to unite in support of their faith gained currency after 1878, as ʿulamāʿ and fuqahāʿ employed it repeatedly to encourage believers to display solidarity. Muslim scholars wished for a universally united Muslim community, and as Islam expanded, so has its Pan-Islamic element, chiefly since the 1860s and 1870s, when European colonialism reached a peak. It then became a defensive ideology, intended simultaneously to raise the morale of the foreign-dominated Muslims, and save the few remaining independent Muslim states from a similar fate. Of these, Afghanistan and Morocco were rather peripheral geographically; Iran, overwhelmingly Shīʿī, was poorly suited to promote Pan-Islamic policy among preponderantly Sunnī populations. The Ottoman Empire, both centrally located and territorially the largest of the four, was decidedly more appropriate, especially as Arab lands languished under colonial rule.

Turkish intellectuals had been discussing Pan-Islam (ittiḥād-i Islām) since the 1860s, developing ideas to utilize the concept as a potential political weapon capable of uniting all Muslims and saving the Ottoman Empire from fragmentation. However, it was only during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909) did Pan-Islam become a favored state policy. Although Pan-Islam was adopted and promoted by some members of the ruling bureaucratic and intellectual elites of the empire, it was difficult to separate Pan-Islam from Pan-Turanism, especially as the latter confronted existential questions. In reaction to the loss of Cyprus (1878), Tunisia (1881), and Egypt (1882), both orthodox and secular intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire energetically strove to formulate political ideologies aiming at a Pan-Islam directed against European political, military, economic, and missionary penetration. It was consequently easier to market Pan-Islam, which covered made up for the loss of territories to powerful colonial entities.

The best known Pan-Islamist thinker was Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (d. 1897), an Iranian-born cleric who sought unity among Muslims to resist colonial occupation of Muslim lands. Al-Afghānī did not advocate constitutional government but simply envisioned “the overthrow of individual rulers who were lax or subservient to foreigners, and their replacement by strong and patriotic men” (Keddie, 1972, Jamāl Ad-Dīn “al-Afghānī,” pp. 225–226). Others were subsidized by Abdülhamid, whose agents spread Pan-Islamic propaganda, openly and covertly, within and without the Ottoman Empire. This sultan posed as the caliph, a would-be spiritual and temporal leader to whom all Muslims everywhere owed allegiance and obedience. The propaganda he fostered, intended to offset as much as possible the empire's military and economic weakness, had several policy objectives: to favor the central government over the periphery, and the empire's Muslims over its non-Muslims in education, office, and economic opportunities (particular attention being paid to Turks and Arabs, somewhat less to Albanians and Bosnians); to recruit the empire's Muslims and many outside it in response to the activities of some of the Great Powers, which were encouraging nationalist secessionist trends among sections of the empire's Muslims; and to enable the sultan-caliph to threaten these powers with instigating Pan-Islamic activities among Muslims living under the rule of those powers.

Actions based on Abdülhamid's Pan-Islamic policies were modest, confined to expressions of support and fund-raising, especially during wars, such as the conflict with Greece over Crete in 1897. His efforts, however, were taken seriously enough by several European powers, which refrained from attacking the Ottoman Empire while he reigned. It is no coincidence that only after his deposition (1909) and the general expectation that Pan-Islamic activities had come to an end did Italy invade Tripolitania and the Balkan peoples annex Ottoman territories to bolster their own independence. The ruling Committee of Union and Progress (popularly called the Young Turks), less dedicated to Pan-Islam, did not hesitate to exploit it then and laterd during World War I. The Ottoman declaration of war (11 November 1914) was accompanied by a proclamation of jihād and the pronouncement of five fatwās enjoining all Muslims everywhere to unite and join, with life and property, the Ottoman Empire in the jihād against Russia, Great Britain, and France (which, along with the Netherlands, were then ruling most of the nonindependent Muslim populations).

But the intensive Ottoman Pan-Islamic propaganda, carried out with full German cooperation, failed to induce Muslims in the Allied forces to revolt, for several reasons: the limitations of Pan-Islamic organization; countermeasures by the Allied Powers; the reservations of Muslims, shocked by reports of the Young Turks’ irreligiosity; the acquiescence of some Muslims (e.g., in India) in their foreign-dominated status; alternative priorities among some Muslims, such as Arab nationalist aspirations; and the alliance of the Ottomans with Christian powers such as Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The failure of Pan-Islam in World War I and the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire brought Pan-Islam to an almost total standstill in the following generation. The abolition of the caliphate (1924) deprived it of its top leadership. Attempts at uprisings by Russia's Muslims (who had exhibited Pan-Islamic leanings since the late nineteenth century) were soon crushed by the Soviet army. A Pan-Muslim mass movement in India, in the 1920s, the Khilāfat, petered out with hardly a trace. Five Pan-Islamic conventions (Mecca, 1924; Cairo, 1926; Mecca, 1926; Jerusalem, 1931; Geneva, 1935) had no follow-ups, highlighting organizational weakness. Further, Pan-Islam had to grapple with competing ideologies, universalist ones, like atheist communism in the Soviet Union and Pan-Arabism, and particularist ones, such as nationalism in Turkey and several Arab states, chiefly those that had adopted modernity and secularism as their creed and way of life.

After World War II, changing circumstances have again favored Pan-Islam, although Arab nationalism overshadowed Islamism. At first, secular pan-Arab parties—like the Baʿth—came to power in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Syria, while Islamist movements, led by Sayyid Quṭb, were repressed. Pan-Islam reversed its position of popularity with relative relaative to nationalism and pan-Arabism in 1967 after the devastating Arab defeat in the Six-Day War against Israel. In fact, rising Islamic fundamentalism comprised an element of Pan-Islam, as the preaching of Muslim solidarity, as a step toward union, found ready ears. Newly independent Muslim states with the political means to promote the fulfillment of Pan-Islam, and several with the economic capacity to do so, embarked on critical programs. The latter, Saudi Arabia foremost among them, set up Pan-Islamic international organizations for this purpose. The Muslim World League was founded in 1962 and served as an umbrella organization for many nongovernmental Islamic associations and groups. Likewise, the Organization of the Islamic Conference was established in 1969, to coordinate Islamic solidarity and promote Pan-Islamic political and economic cooperation internationally. In 1979, the Islamic Revolution in Iran ousted Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi from power, and, a decade later the Afghan Mujāhidīn successfully forced the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Indeed, the breakdown of the Soviet Union afforded Pan-Islam new opportunities to co-opt the newly independent former Soviet republics, while the futile attempts of Saddam Hussein of Iraq in 1990–1991 and Muʿammar al-Qadhdhāfī of Libya in 1992 to recruit all-Muslim support against “foreign aggression” indicated that Pan-Islam was still considered an important political tool. Remarkably, the sum total of dramatic events throughout the Muslim world mobilized Islamists, as various branches of the Muslim Brotherhood challenged both secular nationalist and monarchical governments. In Pakistan the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī enjoyed popular support, while in Algeria the Front Islamique du Salut won the canceled elections of 1992. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr emerged as a Pan-Islamist force in Central Asia, and in the early twenty-first century, various Pan-Islamist groups emerged in Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula that further enlarged the gulf separating Muslim nations. Ostensibly one of the leading Pan-Islamic movements, al-Qaʿida positioned itself in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, though its preference for violence limited its popularity. When the alleged al-Qaʿida leader, Osama Bin Ladin, was assassinated on 2 May 2011, the leading Pan-Islamist movement was significantly weakened.



  • Aziz, K. K.. The Indian Khilafat Movement: A Documentary Record, 1915–1933. Karachi, 1972. Documentary record.
  • Charmes, Gabriel. L’avenir de la Turquie: Le panislamisme. Paris, 1883. The first book informing Europe of Pan-Islam.
  • Chejne, Anwar G. “Pan-Islamism and the Caliphal Controversy.”Islamic Literature7, no. 12 (December 1955): 5–23.
  • Donohue, John J.,  and John L. Esposito, eds. Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Fuller, Graham E. The Future of Political Islam. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Hegghammer, Thomas. Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Provides an overview of the so-called rise of Islamist militancy in Saudi Arabia and tackles the history of the global jihadist movement.
  • Keddie, Nikki R.“Pan-Islam as Proto-Nationalism.”Journal of Modern History41, no. 1 (March 1969): 17–28. Important historical analysis.
  • Keddie, Nikki R. Sayyid Jamāl Ad-Dīn “al-Afghānī”: A Political Biography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.
  • Kidwai, Mushir Hosain. Pan-Islamism. London, 1908.
  • Kramer, Martin. Islam Assembled. New York, 1986. Pan-Islamic congresses.
  • Landau, Jacob M.“Al-Afghānī's Panislamic Project.”Islamic Culture26, no. 3 (July 1952): 50–54.
  • Landau, Jacob M.The Politics of Pan-Islam: Ideology and Organization. Oxford, 1990. Contains a detailed bibliography (pp. 382–425).
  • Lee, D. A.“The Origins of Pan-Islamism.”American Historical Review47, no. 2 (January 1942): 278–287. Brief, classic study of the subject.
  • Levtzion, Nehemia.International Islamic Solidarity and Its Limitations. Jerusalem, 1979. Useful survey of currently active Pan-Islamic organizations.
  • Maududi, Siyyid Abul Aʿla. Unity of the Muslim World. Lahore, 1967. Distinguished Pakistani's thoughts on Pan-Islam.
  • Qureshi, M. Naeem. “Bibliographic Soundings in Nineteenth-Century Pan-Islam in South Asia.”Islamic Quarterly24, no. 1–2 (1980): 22–34. Systematic bibliographic survey.
  • Qureshi, M. Naeem. Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918–1924. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 1999.
  • Sheikh, Naveed S.The New Politics of Islam: Pan-Islamic Foreign Policy in a World of States. London, Netherlands: Routledge Curzon, 2003.
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