By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
There are certain Islamic terms whose clarification is very necessary. Clarifying their real import can help in promoting better relations between Muslims and others. On the other hand, a wrong interpretation of these terms can only further magnify differences between them.
One of these terms is Qaum. From the Quran we learn that the prophets addressed their addressees who did not follow the true faith as Ya Qaumi, which can be translated as ‘O my people!’ From this we learn that the believers and non-believers can share the same nationality, to use a modern term. In other words, nationality is determined by one’s homeland, not by one’s religion. The term to denote the unity formed by adherence to a common religion is Millat, while the term to denote sharing a common homeland is Qaumiyat. In today’s world, one’s homeland is considered to be the basis of one’s nationality, and Islam agrees with this principle. According to Islam, too, one’s nationality or Qaumiyat is based on one’s homeland.
In this regard, the ‘two-nation’ theory—the claim that the Hindus and Muslims of India were and are two separate nations—is an un-Islamic theory. It creates in the minds of Muslims the false belief that they are a separate nation and that other Indians belong to another nation. This is wrong even from the Islamic point of view. The true Islamic position is that the Muslims of India should regard themselves as belonging to the same nationality as other Indians. They should address other Indians as ‘On my people!’, similar to what all the prophets did.
The Quran (49:13) says:
Mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes, so that you might come to know each other.
This term ‘peoples’ in this verse indicates groups that are derived from sharing a common homeland, while the term ‘tribes’ indicates groups based on racial commonality. According to the Quran, both of these types of grouping of people are simply for the sake of knowing each other, not for indicating relationships of belief or religion.
In the period just before the Partition, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni, a well-known Indian Muslim scholar, contended, ‘In this age, people’s nationality is determined on the basis of their homelands.’ This statement was in itself correct. But I think that adding the clause or condition ‘In this age’ was improper. The fact is that one’s nationality or Qaumiyat has always been determined on the basis of one’s homeland. In the contemporary age, the only difference is that, as in many other matters, new methods of determining and identifying one’s nationality began being used. For instance, these days one’s nationality is specified in one’s passports, and passports were not used earlier. There are also new legal definitions of nationality for determining international rights. And so on. So, one can say that the term Qaum, or nation, is used in just the same sense as it was used in earlier times, the only difference being that earlier it was employed in a limited sense, while today it is used in a more expanded sense.
Some people define nationalism in an extremist fashion, so much so that they make it synonymous with religion. This is a case of ideological extremism. One can cite instances of this sort of ideological extremism in the case of some ‘Islamic scholars’, too. For instance, some modern Muslim thinkers have interpreted Islam in such an extremist manner that all systems other than Islam have been branded as Taghuti Nizams or ‘false systems’. These writers declared it haram or completely forbidden for Muslims to reconcile with such systems and to willingly live under them, so much so that they even announced that it was haram for Muslims to seek go in for education under such so-called ‘false systems’, to take up government employment, to vote in elections, or to approach the country’s courts to have their disputes solved.
This notion of ‘false systems’ was the product of some extremist minds. It does not have anything to do with the Islam of God and the Prophet. This is why practical realities compelled many of those who once upheld this erroneous notion to distance themselves from it in their own personal lives. And so, all these people have, in actual practice, abandoned this extremist theory without announcing it as such. The same happened in relation to the issue of nationalism. Some extremist Western thinkers had expanded the notion of nationalism so much that they presented it in the form of a complete religion by itself. But when this notion had to contend with practical realities, it broke into smithereens. And so, now nationalism is generally understood in roughly the same natural manner in which it is portrayed in the Quran.
Most Indian Muslim leaders who emerged in the first half of the 20th century could not properly appreciate these matters. They thought that the unnatural and extremist understandings about nation and territorial nationalism were what nationalism was actually about, and so they declared nationalism to be un-Islamic for instance, the famous Indian Muslim poet Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938). He mistook the extremist understandings of nation and territorial nationalism as synonymous with nationalism as such, and declared:
Is Daur Mai Mai Aur Hai Jam Aur Hai Jam Aur
Tehzib Ke Azar Ne Tarashwaye Sanam Aur
In Tazah Khudaon Mai Bada Sabse Watan Hai
Jo Pairahan Uska Hai Voh Mazhab Ka Kafan Hai
In this age, the wine is different and so is the wine-cup
The Azar of civilization has chiselled a new idol
Among these new gods the biggest is the homeland
Its dress is the shroud of Religion.
This understanding of nation and territorial-nationalism is undoubtedly baseless. The strange thing is that in this period when Iqbal was writing, most ulema and Muslim intellectuals were making out issues of political import to be so vital to Islam as if they were a question of life and death for the religion. However, the fact of the matter is that no political upheavals, no political successes or declines, can ever become a challenge to the eternalness of Islam. But that fact escaped many Muslim leaders. For instance, when, in the early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the Indian Muslim writer Shibli Numani bemoaned:
Zawal-E Daulat-E Usman Zawal-E Shara-O-Millat Hai
Aziz-O-Fikr-E-Farzand-O-Ayal-O-Khanama Kab Tak
The decline of the Ottoman Empire is the decline of the Islamic Shariah and the Muslim Millat
O my friends, till when will you be concerned only about your children and families?
This understanding, that the collapse of a certain government is synonymous with the decline of the Islamic Shariah and the Muslim Millat, is certainly baseless. This has never happened in the past, and nor can it ever happen in the future. The period of the four Righteously-Guided Caliphs came to an end, but the peaceful expansion of Islam carried on. And the journey of Islam continued in the same way even after the Umayyad and Abbasid Empires collapsed, and also after Muslim rule in Spain and that of the Fatimids in Egypt and the Mughals in India ended. The decline of these Muslim dynasties could not, and did not cause any decline of Islam.
In the same way, in the 20th century, a number of extremist ideologies emerged for instance, Communism, Nazism, Nationalism, and so on. But the end result of all of these was that the Law of Nature rebutted their extremist elements, and, finally, whatever remained of them was what was desirable according to the Law of Nature. This Law is superior to everything else. On its own, this Law rebuts extremist ideologies, removes them from the field of life, and, instead of them, gives balanced, moderate and proper thinking the chance to do its work.