The myth of a Muslim Ummah

“The primary function of myth is to validate an existing social order. Myth enshrines conservative social values, raising tradition on a pedestal. It expresses and confirms, rather than explains or questions, the sources of cultural attitudes and values. Because myth anchors the present in the past it is a sociological charter for a future society which is an exact replica of the present one” — Ann Oakley.

Indulging in illusions in today’s world is a recipe for disaster. The countries with a Muslim majority are all encircled by the world’s greatest myth, a myth that has been doing the rounds for countless years: the myth of a Muslim Ummah. In a letter published in the Gulf News, a letter writer says, “The soul of the Muslim Ummah is dead. How else can one explain the apathy of the Muslims to the plight of the Palestinians? They are being starved into submission, and we sit idly by marvelling at the next high-rise and ogling the opulence of Dubai” (‘The soul is dead’, A. Zayd, May 13, 2006).

The ‘soul’ of the Muslim Ummah is dead? There is no soul, because there is no Muslim Ummah. It is but a myth. This myth was perpetrated by theologians, and believed by most of the Muslims around the globe. It is not possible to achieve this ‘vision’ either, simply because given the dispersed nature of Muslim politics in each of the Muslim countries, there is no unified vision, nor is there a single goal among the Muslims that would lead them to act in unison. Apart from the commonality of their religion, these countries have nothing else in common. If there was such a thing as a Muslim Ummah or even a Muslim world, then the common platforms like the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) would have made some mark in the international arena, which they have continually failed to do. The OIC remains just an organisation for its hollow namesake. The Arab League too could do little to overcome the vast problems of the Arab nations, and was unsuccessful in bringing peace to the Middle East, especially to Palestinians who have been facing Israel’s aggression for over half a century now. Even though most of the important Arab countries are close allies of the US and the UK, and could exercise their influence to mediate peace in the Middle East, what has prevented them from taking a firm stand in this regard? The reason is simple: the so-called Muslim world is divided. The Arab League is paralysed because of the divisions within the Arab world, while the OIC is paralysed because of the divisions within the Muslim world.

There is Arab and non-Arab division; there is sectarian division, especially among the Sunnis and Shias, there are economic divisions between the affluent and poor Muslim nations; there is division due to vested interests, how some Muslim countries are the unalloyed supporters of one Western country or another, while some are anti-West. The main motive behind each pro-West country’s choice is that it does not want to live in international seclusion.

If there was so much unity among Muslims all over the globe, then there would not have been a Bangladesh today, there would not have been an eight-year long war between Iraq and Iran, there would not have been a war between Kuwait and Iraq.

Palestine is in shambles.
Lebanon is burning.
Kashmir is full of blood.
Iraq is destroyed.
Afghanistan is war-ridden.
Iran and Syria have been threatened by the US.

Why only Muslims? Why is the world targeting innocent Muslims? This is where the Muslims go wrong when they think that these countries are under fire because of the religion they profess. Instead, the reason is that these countries are located in geo-strategic places, and even if they had not been Muslim states, the neo-cons who rule today’s imperialistic world order, would have gone after these countries. It would not have mattered to them had the prevailing religion of these countries been Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism, these countries would have been attacked to garner economic benefits.

If there is an injustice taking place around the world, we should raise our voice against it, regardless of the fact whether the victims are Muslims or non-Muslims. When 9/11 happened, the humanitarian Muslims raised their voice against it for there is no Islamic injunction that endorses acts of violence directed against civilians. When the Mumbai blasts took place recently, the majority of the Muslims condemned this despicable act, and we can see that as Lebanon burns today, the majority of people in the West are condemning Israel. For a humanitarian, religion does not matter. Human life matters. A Muslim would feel the same pain at the killing of an innocent other religionist that he would feel for one of his own Muslim brothers under the same circumstances.

The concept of Ummah in Islam was very different from what the mullahs are preaching today. These ignorant clerics are preaching hate against the non-Muslims, which is not what Islam has taught us. We forget that Islam was the most progressive religions of its times, but these retrogressive clerics have made it sound like an archaic set of medieval beliefs. Mushirul Hasan, an eminent Indian historian of Islam, explains the true concept of the Ummah in Islam during an interview: “As enunciated in the Quran, the Ummah (community) is a very progressive idea. In its original form, it struck at the roots of parochialism and nationalism. It was an effort to create a Muslim personality that would not bear the lineage of race, language, colour and other parochial denominations. However, and this is the unfortunate part, its construction in the later centuries was designed to foster not an inclusive notion of Islam, but an exclusive notion. That’s where the distortion takes over.”

It would be hard to fight a myth that has been ingrained in every Muslim’s mind because as Françoise Giroud said, “Nothing is more difficult than competing with a myth.” But even so, those Muslims who understand how myopic and wrong this concept is must stand up and fight against it. Every Muslim must understand that the fulcrum in today’s world is not religion. Therefore, let’s dispense with the myth of a Muslim Ummah and move on. As the August 1st editorial of The Post titled ‘Enough!’ said, “…it would now be a nice time to acknowledge that the ‘Muslim Ummah’ is a myth that should finally be given a decent burial.”


Gurinder said…
Pretty damn good editorial. And pretty damn well written too. Mehmal, as we, your humble underlings, always love to shout at the top of our voices, here it goes with all the sincerity I can gather: Mehmal you really frikkin' rock!!
Shahzad said…
Decent article/blog. Excellent references to quotes by Ann Oakley (Myth) and Mushirul Hassan (Muslim Ummah) bind the whole piece together.
In the current world, like any other point in the history, self-interests and hunger for dominance govern the actions of nations and overrule any moral, ethical or legal boundaries.This game of power has always been there but roles have been switched over the period of time.
We should stop complaining and as you pointed out well, it's time to wake up and dispel the myths that are so finely integrated into our daily lives and that harm us day in day out.
Good job!!
Phil said…
A message for the 85% of the Muslim world that doesnt even have access to Internet :/

'Raising our voices', how does that help in, take e.g., Egypt or Iraq?
Muhammad Ali Asghar said…

Ahmed Sajjad said…
Ah Yes, the real concept of theummah is dead, and dead concepts, as nobel as the one of the ummah should be buried very decently, IF we believe that it cannot be given a new dose of what is was meant to be.
Hamza Mujahid said…
I realize that a Muslim 'Ummah' does not exist at present. But I don't agree with your conclusion that it is a 'myth'. Agreed that the exclusive and unjustly agressive face of the ummah that is presented by our so called 'religious' people is not what it was supposed to be. But does this mean that the ummah cannot exist at all?? Does this not mean that people who do understand and appreciate the true spirit of our noble religion say 'enough' and take the lead in becoming the representatives of islam - and play their part in restoring a muslim ummah as the progressive, inclusive body it was meant to be?

Your writing is certainly impressive and I agree with most of what you say. But I think you're being a wee bit cynical in claiming that ummah is a 'myth'. I for one believe that a united, progressive ummah is not a matter of if but when. However, I fear the 'when' is still a long way off!
O. Riz said…
Concepts like that of 'no Muslim Ummah' cause wars. This would
certianly wont go down well with the religious fundamentalists, who
are still shrouded in mountains armed to the teeth willing to die for
their cause, and prove their point. The weak political figures we
always cry about would also abandon the helm come time to face the
guerrilla war some really powerful fundamentalist groups could fight.
Lets leave what is dead and what is alive about the religion to
religious hardliners, who are ever so fervent in fixing the world to
their liking (Chisrtianity, Judaism, Islam). We, on our part should
not promote any ideas that might lead to unrest, as God does not like
people who cause unrest. Doing this does not involve the need for any
sort of a dead or alive Ummah.

"This is where the Muslims go wrong when they think that these
countries are under fire because of the religion they profess." -Wow!
Stroke of genious? Last time I checked people like Castro, Kim Jong Li
were alive and well, running their countries.

"Instead, the reason is that these countries are located in
geo-strategic places, and even if they had not been Muslim states, the
neo-cons who rule today's imperialistic world order, would have gone
after these countries." -So they will hit Central Asian, and South
American states too?

"A Muslim would feel the same pain at the killing of an innocent other
religionist that he would feel for one of his own Muslim brothers
under the same circumstances." -Wrong! Who are we trying to fool?

"Every Muslim must understand that the fulcrum in today's world is not
religion." -It might be so, but the fulcrum of a Muslims' life, single
or collective, IS his religion!
mehmal said…
Guri paa ji, tussi kujh ziada ee tareef kar ditti aye *blush* waise ai editorial nayi si, ai mera weekly column si :=P

Thanx Shahzad, Muhammad Ali & Ahmed Sajjad :-)

Phil, even if 85% of the Muslims don't have access to the internet, the other 15% can still try to raise their voice and make 'some' difference. If we don't try and just sit there helplessly, then what's the difference between us and others? About Iraq, Egypt, etc... if people keep raising their voice against the injustices being done there, something will be done eventually. It will definitely take time, won't happen overnight but we MUST keep trying :-)

Hamza, I seriously don't think that in today's world, we can actually form an ummah. Muslims live in different regions of the world, why do they have to form a 'Muslim' ummah, why can't each country have a regional body, like the EU. Why can't Pakistan, India and Bangladesh form some body, which would help them socially and economically, why does it have to be an 'ALL MUSLIM' body?

O Riz, I am in a hurry right now, but will come back to your comments soon insha'Allah :=D
Waqas said…
Well, Its one the the most flawed & Biased Commentary over an issue of Muslim/Islamic Ideology.

Writer Seems to just be fulfilling his obsession of being leftist without having the details of subject.
mehmal said…
Waqas, first of all, I am a woman, so writer is not fulfilling "his" obsession of being a leftist :)

secondly, yes I am a leftist but what has that got to do with this article? I am also a Muslim and wrote this quite objectively. I wrote this 4 years ago but look what the WikiLeaks cables released last night revealed. Saudi Arabia wants the US to bomb Iran. What does that tell you? That our Muslim brethren love each other so much that they want each other to be nuked? Awww, how nice! What about the Iran-Iraq war that went on for a decade; what happened to the 'Muslim ummah' when Iraq attacked Kuwait; why did West Pakistan slaughter its own people in East Pakistan that eventually led to the creation of Bangladesh? You need to get over this delusion of a Muslim ummah because we're all selfish and only harp the name of 'Islam' when in reality we just don't care!

Please read this article and educate yourself:
Anonymous said…
She seems to be a little confused regarding the term "ummah", never exploring it etymologically or historically or theologically, simply asserting it was the creation of scholars - pretty poor approach.
Secondly, she seems to then fall into the post-colonial way of looking at the divided Muslim world in order to conclude the notion of ummah always was a myth - easily alleviated by by reading a little history.
salah said…
It is clear that this writer has absolutely no understanding of what an ummah is and this really is an absurd statement for a Muslim to assert, but on the other hand it is typical of a Muslim who is declined in their thinking. Moreover this writer is clearly a product of western thought whose "mis-education" has served the interest of islamophobes. She should probably revisit her aqeedah to learn that it is her intellectual basis from which all of her thoughts must emanate, and it is there where she will learn just what an ummah is.

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