Why Pan-Islamism is the biggest roadblock for Muslims' integration with modernity

It is this very nature of Pan-Islamism, of excluding culture and ethnicity as primary factors in its goal of 'Ummah' unification, that I object to

Pan-Islamism is a political movement advocating the unity of Muslims under one Islamic state – often a Caliphate - or an international organization with Islamic principles. As a form of religious nationalism, Pan-Islamism differentiates itself from other pan-nationalistic ideologies, for example, Pan-Arabism, by excluding culture and ethnicity as primary factors towards unification.

I started searching for the role of Muslims in 1947 in the formation of Pakistan and came up with the Hijrat of 1920. This lead me to the book Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918 By M. Naeem Qureshi. Which further brought up Jamal al-Afghani and his famous disciple Muhammad Abduh, who surprised me, or at least his Wikipedia entry did. His views on Islam seem very modern and liberal and he was definitely called an infidel according to his biographers, by his contemporary Muslims and both teacher and disciple fell in and out of favor with various Sultans and Kings of the then fragmenting Ottoman Empire, and the Middle East and Central Asia.

Their zeal for Pan-Islamism was in response to the hegemony of European Colonialism that they saw in their travels to various Muslim lands. But then they did not stop at just criticizing the West. Muhammad Abduh, in fact, went further and advocated that:

''...the two greatest possessions relating to religion that man was graced with were independence of will and independence of thought and opinion; and because Western civilization was based on these two principles, it had progressed to a much happier stage in the evolution of mankind."

Pan-Islamism went through its various stages, starting from the early days of Islam as a ''religious concept'' and moved on to become a ''modern political ideology'' in the 1860s and the 1870s at the height of European Colonialism when Turkish intellectuals began discussing and writing about it as a way to save the crumbling Ottoman Empire, according to the Oxford Islamic Studies site. From becoming the ''favored state policy'' as a ''defensive ideology'' directed against European political, military and economic, and missionary penetration in the East, ruling bureaucratic and intellectual Pan-Islamist elites of the fast-becoming obsolete Ottoman Empire, sought to pose the Sultan as a universal Caliph to whom Muslims everywhere would owe allegiance and obedience.

It is this very nature of Pan-Islamism, of excluding culture and ethnicity as primary factors in its goal of 'Ummah' unification, that I object to. As much as its early advocates continue to surprise me as I explore the translations of their writings, it is this core principle at its heart which stands out as a sore to seculars like me who live in places where a myriad of Islam is seen, followed and believed in. No doubt, the early advocates of Pan-Islamism wanted to offset military and economic weakness in the Muslim world by favoring central government over the periphery and Muslims over non-Muslims in dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after the Great War (World War I), but to me this ''sociopolitical solidarity'' which seeks coordination through political and economic cooperation internationally has now become an important ''political tool'' for the recruitment of extremists and terrorists in the perceived foreign aggression post-World War II.

Muhammad Abduh's conclusions from his vast array of works do not convince me that he was a true liberal and believer in social justice, even though both Jamal al-Afghani and he faced opposition not only obviously from the British rulers and diplomats but also from their own fellow compatriots and other Muslims, even down to what, we may in modern times call, inspiring their personal trolls to declare them as infidels. Abduh's quote,"Muslims suffer from ignorance about their own religion and the despotism of unjust rulers'', could very well fit into what I often call the ''Misgovernance of Kashmir'' - a term taken from the champion of Kashmiris, Robert Thorpe, a young British Army Officer who arrived as a tourist in the Valley in 1865 and wrote his first-hand observations in his book Kashmir Misgoverned and was probably poisoned because of it and lies buried in the Christian Cemetery in Srinagar.

Another quote attributed to Adbuh is uncannily similar to what independent observers post 90s started speaking of when they visited Muslim lands and their writings/observations came in the public domain due to social media networks, for example, the works of V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Pico Iyer, Hari Kunzru, Rabih Alameddine, Aatish Taseer, Kenan Malik, the various documentaries about the Middle East showing life as it truly is and the latest popular Ali A. Rizvi on his life in Saudi, Pakistan and in Canada straddling three civilizations. The quote goes: ''I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam.''

Why I am still suspicious of these two revolutionary men is because no evidence was found in their works and activism to show that they leaned towards favoring political democracy or parliamentarianism. According to both their biographers and research experts like Nikki Keddie on al-Afghani and Mark Sedgwick on Abduh, both of them were no dangerous fanatics or religious enthusiasts and belonged to the broadest schools of Muslim thought, holding political creed akin to pure republicanism. They were most obsessed with “the overthrow of individual rulers who were lax or subservient to foreigners, and their replacement by strong and patriotic men, rather than Constitutional, Civil Law and Social Reform". For me the test for a true liberal and emancipator is what they think of women's rights and I am sure they both would have failed my test in the 1800s.

Also the fact that their actual intentions of liberating men from enslavement, providing equal rights to all, abolishing the monopoly of the mullah's (religious scholar's) exegesis, and advocacy for abolishing of racial discrimination and religious compulsion was suppressed and hijacked by latter-day organisations such as the Muslim World League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Their agenda of modern Pan-Islamism projected these two as the founding fathers of the Wahabbi/Salafist ideologies (indoctrinating strains of Islamic thought, jurisprudence, interpretation and philosophy culminating in the formation of the barbaric and brutal ISIS) by linking them with leading Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb, Abul Ala Maududi, and Ayatollah Khomeini who actually stressed their belief that a return to traditional Sharia law would make Islam united and strong again (an early Islamic Kharijite extremist concept which practised takfir) is what brings me back to the ''hijacking of movements by Islamists'' for their own agendas as has been done in Kashmir since the 90s.

What could have been a simple protest against the high-handedness, interference, and pampering of India of the ruling elite turned to be a Pak-sponsored armed revolt which left a generation dead, disappeared and maimed for life, physically and mentally. The 'Tanzimat'' reform period in the Ottoman Empire has a similar disgruntlement echoing when secularization of the leadership, so that the Christian population would feel more a part of the Empire, through the promotion of a sentiment of equality for all citizens, and would be less likely to agitate for the right to self-rule; led to the formation of a constitution and a legislature. This was being achieved and had been achieved to some extent in Kashmir after 1947 but for the corrupt rule of the elite dynastic party the NC.

Similarly, the West needs to be careful who it chooses as ambassadors from the Muslim communities, now with the mass migration of Muslims into the West. For in the example of these two, one can see how organizations like CAIR/Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas can operate among the white-guilt-ridden Western countries. A much better example is to be found in my initial starting point of the role of Indian elite Muslims of the 1940s who were responsible for the Khilafat movement and found a supporter in Gandhi too. That is to be explored next.

Arshia Malik is a Srinagar-based writer and social commentator with focus on women issues and conflict in Kashmir. She makes her living as a school teacher and is an avid collector of literature. She is currently writing a book about her life as a female in Kashmiri Muslim society

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