By Omar Salha
Irrespective of time, day, week, month or year, tens of thousands of pilgrims circulate the house of God, the Kaaba, worshipping God alone, devoted in their supplications, seeking forgiveness, solitude, spiritual enrichment and appreciation of life. As the call to prayer is made, pilgrims stand in unison praising the Almighty, bringing together the richness of humanity encompassing different races, tribes, clans, cultures, languages, dialects, accents, communities and societies. At that very moment when millions on the hajj stand before God, we are truly acquainted with the concept and sense of "unity in diversity." However, beyond the grand walls of the Sacred Mosque, this notion of unity holds little significant meaning in an ever-globalized geo-political world governed by capitalist imperatives.
Benedict Anderson, an academic and professor of International Studies at Cornell University, coined the term "imagined communities" in light of what he saw as an artificial construction of the nation. Imagined communities are not based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members, rather, it is a socially constructed community imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group. In other words, despite members who have never met each other, there is an image of their community in each individual's mind. The same could be said about the Muslim world today, an imagined Ummah - nation or community - where in the mind of each Muslim is the image of their fellow brother and sister in faith, yet absent in everyday conversation and connection.
The growing sectarianism and violence across the world today has left us with little reason, if any, to assume the Muslim Ummah is united in peace and harmonious relations with one another. If anything, the Muslim Ummah today is more divided, disconnected and embroiled in conflict than ever before. Ever since the inception of an international military campaign led by the United States called the war on terror, particular focus has been aimed at Muslim countries and communities. The single narrative of radical Islam was re-emphasized and the justification for the growing terror threats was linked to the strong identification, oppression and persecution of the Ummah, the global Muslim community. However, throughout history and evidently today, governments, leaders, intellectuals and politicians of some Muslim nations continue to fuel sectarian divisions and afflict suffering and pain among their own people with the complicit support of Western governments. Humanitarian catastrophes, both in the Muslim ummah and across the globe, go unnoticed at the expense of capitalist incentives and economics relations. The issue here is the growing politicization of the term Muslim Ummah and its ambiguous interchangeable use in geo-political and spiritual contexts.
Often politicized terms such as the "West," the "Near East" and "Middle East," the "Islamic world" and "Europe" are used to define and/or prescribe and represent an identity, culture(s), language(s) and faith(s). Are these labels still valid today? What is "Islamic" about the Islamic world? What is "European" about the EU? When we speak of the Muslim Ummah, does it hold the same legitimacy in geo-politics as when we speak of morality and ethics? In human societies, minds and hearts are the main arena. If we believe that we are governed by feelings as much as by thoughts, then unity in diversity is achievable through wisdom, humility, respect, dialogue and social justice, and that is true of both men and women. We must not let sectarianism prevail and allow others to seek divisions through the diversity of the Muslim community. Only if one begins to go beyond these politicized terms and understandings are we able to truly achieve a unified Muslim Ummah.
Of course, the concept of the Ummah is a pertinent reference and form of identification for every Muslim, as the Prophet Muhammad likened the Ummah to the human body: "The Muslim ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain and if the head is in pain, then the whole body is in pain." However, we see today an increasing trend of selective empathy and lack of unity where the human body has become numb and paralyzed to the pains of the Muslim community around the globe. In an age of geo-politics, it is extremely naive to assume the Muslim ummah, like a country, has a unified interest in global affairs, rather, for the purpose of political predilections there are no permanent friends, but rather permanent interests.