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Islam, Nationhood and the Indian Ulema

By Ammar Anwer


A nation state is a form of a state in which people who share the same history, language, culture and traditions live under the same territory ruled by a single government. It is different from city-states and traditional empires in that the nation-state claims sovereignty over a fixed territory. The sovereign territoriality of a state is represented by a capital city, a flag, an anthem, a passport, a currency, armed forces, national museums and libraries, embassies in other sovereign states and usually a seat in the UN.

Muslims generally regard this concept of state formation to be alien to Islam. They believe that Islam considers all the Muslims to be one single nation notwithstanding their cultural differences. The political system set up Islam in the eyes of most Muslim is caliphate. Islamist radical outfits like Al-Qaeda and ISIS also believe in the concept of caliphate and their aim is to establish a single state for all the Muslims. Therefore, this question has been asked frequently that whether or not Islam really rejects the concept of Nation-States and should we be the custodians of the entire Muslim community or should we just protect and safeguard the interests of our own respective nation states?

To answer this question I would go 69 years back and spotlight the opinions of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani, two of the most prestigious Islamic scholars of Indian subcontinent during the 1940’s. Of the leading tolerant Muslims who have left a deep impact on the idea of pluralism in Islam, Maulana Azad stands out unique. Azad was a man of constant introspection and critical self-examination. Azad will not only be remembered in the history of India for the role he played in the national liberation movement of the country, but he will also be considered as a Muslim leader who stood for a dialogue among Muslims and Hindus.

After 1920 a radical change appeared in the views of Azad and he ceased to be a revivalist Muslim and embraced Indian secular nationalism as a political philosophy. The evolution of Azad’s outlook from pan-Islamic to secular nationalist, with no doubt, was determined by his friendship with Gandhi and by the rise of the communal problems in the Indian liberation movement. Azad believed that the“ two-nation theory” offered “no solution of the problem of one another’s minorities, but only lead to retribution and reprisals by introducing a system of mutual hostage.”

Maulana Azad considered it impractical to suggest that religion can unite people of different cultures. Another scholar who opposed partition of India and advocated composite nationalism was Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani. Madani who said:

“All should endeavour jointly for such a democratic government in which Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis are included. Such a freedom is in accordance with Islam”

Madani opposed the divisive policy of the country and forcefully argued that all communities living in India constitute one nation. At the year-end of 1937, Madani addressing a political meeting in Delhi made a few very strong points. He said:-

“In  the  modern  age,  nations  are  formed  by  the  countries  and  not  by  race  or  religion. See  all  the  inhabitant  of  England  comprise  one  nation,  which  includes  the  Jews,  the Christians,  the  Protestants,  and  Catholics.  The same thing is with America, Japan and France”.

Madani sought the basis of his political alliance with Indian National Congress, on the basis Misaq-e- Medina (Charter of Medina).

“By  composite  nationalism  I  mean  ‘nationalism’,  the  foundation  of which  was  laid  down  by  Prophet  Mohammad  (PBUH) in  Medina.  That  is  to  say,  the people  of  India  as  Indians,  as  a  nation  united  (despite  religious  and  cultural diversity),  should  become  one  solid  nation  and  should  wage  war  against  the alien  power  that  has  usurped  their  natural  rights.  It  is  incumbent  upon  every Indian  to  fight  against  such  a  barbaric  regime  and  throw  off  the  shackles  of slavery.  It  is  important  not  to  interfere  in  another’s  religion    rather  all nations  (communities)  living  in  India  are  free  to  practice  their  religion,  live by  its  moral  values  and  act  according  to  their  religious  traditions..”

Both Maulana Azad and Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani presented strong theological arguments to support the modern concept of nation-states. The idea that all Muslims are like one nation has brought Muslims nothing but destruction. It is also very impractical. I strongly believe that it is time that Muslims from all around the world should stop believing in this unfeasible concept and protect and safeguard the interests of their own respective states.


Ammar Anwer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan