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Islam and Politics ( 13 Sept 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Neither Nationalism nor Islamism but Humanism



By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam

September 14, 2013

Three “isms” in one line would beg the proper explanation of each “ism”. First, what is nationalism? It is the mobilization of a nation, which is a group that identifies itself such as, based on a shared understanding of a common culture, history, land and descent, in pursuit of political goals. These typically include national survival and self-rule.

Islamism, although, refers to the political use of Islam; I would define it as a group identity in which members of the Muslim community are part of one family while others are not; they (non-Muslims) are the outsiders.

And finally humanism is the doctrine which states that people’s duty is to promote human welfare, without any bias against any religion, caste, creed, colour or sex. The most important thing to focus upon is humanity.

Now when these three “isms” have been defined we can proceed further. We have been created (or evolved!) in such a way that we always tend to divide people or things based upon some characteristics. Our brain is hard-wired into focusing at things which are of our importance and ignoring those things which are not relevant to us. It has been evolved in such a way so as to meet emergency situations effectively.

Here comes the importance of groups and identity. We are, at one time, members in a variety of different groups: members of our nation, various professional associations, teaching group, student group, religious group, sex group, financial group etc. As long as these identities do not clash with each other, we do pretty fine. But as soon as there are antithetical demands among various groups then we feel the heat and we don’t know what to do. If pressed immensely, we choose, consciously or unconsciously, that group which is the most important for us and our well being.

For example, an Indian Muslim has two identities attached to him: one, he is a part of the whole Muslim community and secondly he is also a part of India. Suppose he is asked to sing ‘Vande Mataram’. If he thinks that ‘Vande Mataram’ is Haram (prohibited according to Islam) and if his identity as a Muslim is stronger, then the end result of the clash between the two identities of being a Muslim and being an Indian, will not lead him to sing that song; similarly if his identity as an Indian is stronger than his identity as a Muslim then he will sing the song.

But life is not all that easy that we have to face only two opposing identities. At any given point in time we have to choose that identity which is stronger and all the time when these clashes of identities (like to sing or not to sing) go on sub-consciously, it leaves us strained and stressed. What we need to do to resolve this issue is to have an overarching identity or a group which overpowers all other identity or group. If this is done then there will be a drastic decline in the clash of sub-identities because our one overarching identity will be compatible, and not in conflict with other identities.

Is nationalism that identity? The answer, according to me, is no. Although nationalism has been a very strong and is still a very potent force, it is limited in its scope to its national borders. It divides people in terms of nation: ‘I am an Indian, you are an American’; ‘I am from the ‘Great’ Britain and you are from Somalia’ etc. This can never be that overarching identity; majority of wars have been fought either for defending or promoting the identity of his or her nation.

Is Islamism that identity? Again, the answer, despite what the fanatics claim, is no. This is because it, too divides the world, like any other religion, on the basis of a believer and a disbeliever. In the case of Islam: a Muslim and a Kafir (or a ‘Mushrik’). It can, however, become the overarching identity, unlike nationalism, but the price for it is very, very heavy. It will cost around the life and/or conversion of over 5 billion people!

Their solution has been divided into two parts: first, kill all the infidels those who deny that there is one God and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is His Messenger; and second, force others to convert into the fold of Islam. Only when all these 7 billion people (with the exception of about 1 billion children and lunatics, who will not be held responsible) believe in the same way then only can there be the establishment of the overarching identity. But the main problem with this idea is that, it is not at all feasible and it is not realistically possible.

Finally, is humanism that identity? In my humble opinion, it is. The reason I say this is because it keeps humans above anything in this world. First comes humanity, the well being of humans, then something else will come. And if we could garner this idea that our most important identity is that of humanism then, I believe most of the clashes of our sub-identities will subside.

Humanism is not the perfect solution, because there are other living creatures as well, like plants and animals and I feel sorry to ignore them in this overarching identity. But to aspire for the equal importance of humans and animals, plants and other living things is too much and it is idealistic, to say the least. By limiting ourselves to the level of humanity is more than enough.

One of the roles of the group, among others, is to divide into ‘us’ and ‘them’. if we make humanity as our most important group then, all the humans will be ‘us’ and all the non-humans will be ‘them’. And since most of the non-humans are harmless, as long as we don’t mess with them, we will lead a stress free life. We need to realise that human dignity is the most important thing in life and the right to life is the most important right in life.

1.       The Encyclopedia of Political Science, CQ Press George Thomsan Kurian

2.       Islamism actually “refers not to a theological doctrine but to the political use of Islam. In that sense, Islamism must be distinguished from fundamentalism, which advocates a return to the founding texts of Islam. Islamic fundamentalism becomes Islamism only when its ideology is used to impose a strictly interpreted model of original Islam based on sharia, or Islamic law, on society and on the state”. (The History of Terrorism, Gerard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin)