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Nationalism? How silly. 9 January 2007

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Iqbaliat, Islam and contemporary society, Land of the pure...and the not so pure.

allama-iqbal.jpgIt is instructive that whilst the concept of the ‘nation state’ as a political or social construct has all but disappeared from Europe, the ‘cradle’ of post medieval nationalism and nationhood, it remains a powerful force in much of the Muslim world, from Egypt to Turkey, and from Pakistan to Malaysia.

This of course, in addition to being inimical to everything Muslims should believe in, and ought to do, is also rather silly. Arbitrary lines in the sand, put there on the whims of our erstwhile colonial masters or representing long-extinct tribal/ethnic affiliations, should not, and cannot, demand fealty from any sane, thinking individual. The ‘rational being’, or even the ‘reasonably sentient being’, should find this absurd: it is perfectly natural, even laudable, to have allegiance to ideas and ideologies, to be loyal to people and to their history, and to love those close to, or similar to, one; but isn’t it absurdly illogical to extend this allegiance, this loyalty and even this love to something as meaningless as a line in the sand, an obscure poem (aka the national anthem) and some random geometric patterns (aka the ‘national flag‘)?

Of course, I am not really saying anything new above (there’s a surprise!) or adding to the sum-total of human understanding, but sometimes, it helps to re-state the bleedin’ obvious by regurgitating, reheating or repeating that which has already been said before, and in this, as in most other cases, the most relevant 20th century Urdu-speaking person to turn to is the ‘Allama himself.

There. If that exciting, enticing and alluring paragraph does not get all the 2.4 readers interested in this post, nothing will. :-)

Without further twitterings from me, here’s Dr Iqbal on ‘Wataniat‘ ie the nation-state as a political construct.

Iss daur main may aur hai, jaam aur hai, jum aur

Saaqi ne bina ki rawish-e-lutf-o-sitam aur

Muslim nai bhi ta’ameer kia, apna harum aur

Tahzeeb ke azar ne trishwai sanam aur

In taza khudaon main baRa sab se watan hai

Jo pairhan iss ka hai, woh mazhab ka kafan hai

Yeh but keh tarasheeda-e-tahzeeb-i-navi hai

Gharat gar-e-khashan-e-deen-i-nabawi hai

Baazu tira tawheed ki quwwat se qawi hai

Islam tira dais he, tu Mustafawi hai!

Nazzara-e-deerana zamanay ko dikha dai

Ai Mustafawi, khaak main iss but to mila dai

Ho qaid-maqaami to nateeja hai tabahi

Rah bahar main azad-e-watan, soorat-e-maahi

Hai tark-e-watan sunnat-e-Mahboob-e-Ilaahi

Dai tu bhi nabuwwat ki sadaqat peh gawahi

Guftaar-e-siyasat main watan aur hi kuch hai

Irshaad-e-nabuwwat main watan aur hi kuch hai

Aqwaam-e-jahan main hai raqabat, to issi sai

Taskheer hai maqsood-e-tijarat, to issi sai

Khaali hai sadaqat sai siyasat, to issi sai

Kamzor ka ghar hota hai gharat, to issi sai

Aqwam main makhlooq-e-khuda bat-ti hai iss sai

Qaumeat islam ki jaR kat-ti hai iss sai



1. knicq - 11 January 2007

Quite a take sir. I have been wrestling with the idea of nationalism, patriotism and the paraphernalia of the two for sometime myself.

The Muslim nation is one nation, one ummah. Despite the lines drawn in the sand, this fact is often underlined when a new atrocity is perpetrated in one of our lands by our enemies and the Muslims worldwide irrespective of the color and origin of their passport feel the pain and collectively whimper their protest. I am not so sure, however, that the concept of nation state has disappeared from Europe – not that its appearing or disappearing should have any bearings on how we choose to exist in our part of the world – There is a general march towards a lesser emphasis on the concept, and that is necessitated by harsh economic realities taking shape in the eastern part of the globe, as well as those already threatening from across the Atlantic – harsh for the Europeans that is. When the time comes, and I believe it is upon us already, the Muslim states will find that their very existance wil depend on their willingness and alacrity in reconsidering those lines in the sand. Unfortunately the threats we face, and the misfortunes we suffer are political and ideological and hence far more direct. I continue to hope against hope that a direct threat will jolt us into reality.

Until then however even if we can maintain the sanctity of those lines drawn in sand by our colonials I would not be very disappointed with us.

2. Abu Abdur Rahman - 11 January 2007

Thank you for your comments sir, and your views are welcomed and appreciated. Always helps to have someone intelligent and well-informed contribute here, makes a nice change ;-)

1. I agree, the concept of nationhood has certainly not disappeared from Europe, but the ‘nation-state’ as the defining social, political and administrative unit is a thing of the past. Anecdotal evidence makes for a poor argument, but I will request you to indulge me nonetheless – I happened to be sitting with a Norwegian at lunch today, and he bemoaned the fact that Norway had voted against joining the EU in 1994. It was, even at that time, the odd one out amongst the four Nordic countries. The anti-EU brigade in 1994 had given the rationale that as its Eastern neighbours (the Baltic states and so forth) could not benefit from the European project, it would be wrong for Norway to do so. However, that no longer applies, as everyone and anyone, from Estonia to wee Latvia and through Lithuania, is now in the EU or getting there, and Norwegians are thus seriously concerned that in a continent of submerged or amalgamated national identities, they continue to retain theirs. Another referendum will be organised there in the future and of course, the result will be a resounding yes – most continental Europeans seriously believe in the social-democratic European ideal.

2. I wished I could share your optimism that a time will come when Muslim states would “find that their very existence will depend on their willingness and alacrity in reconsidering those lines in the sand” – the Muslim states, as currently structured, would not. In any case, these divisions have been with us since the murder of Sayyedina ‘Uthman, and I doubt they would disappear overnight. Tawaif al-Malooki has been the hallmark of our nation for over a millennium. The ‘Allama may fervently hope that a direct thread would jolt us into unity (as in “aik houn Muslim haram ki paasbani ke liye… neel ke saahil se le kar, taabkhak-e-kashgar”) but such unity would not only be impossible to achieve in the current composition of our Ummah, it would also be unworkable. And in any case, a sizeable minority of the Ummah would not give two hoots about the paasbani of the Haram, as long as it had its Qum, its Karbala and its Najaf!

3. I am not sure I understand your last sentence. I don’t feel that maintaining the sanctity of those lines in the sand drawn by the kuffar is, or should be, a priority. Please elaborate for us simpletons :-)

3. ayesha - 12 January 2007

You know it’s paradoxical: on the one hand, Iqbal satirises the concept of nationalism and then he exports the very same to propound Muslim nationalism. Yes, the idea of Muslim nationalism expressed in the form of the Ummah predates Iqbal – but the irony is still there. At the end of the day while the Ummah is an elusive dream, modern day nationalism as practiced in our country is nothing more than a virulent form of xenophobia.

4. Abu Abdur Rahman - 14 January 2007


I am not sure there is a paradox – Iqbal not only satirises the concept of nationalism, he actually is severely critical of it, but only in the sense that it has no relevance for a Muslim.

So Iqbal is critical of nationalism as a Muslim, and strongly feels that loyalty to a national identity as opposed to loyalty to the concept of the Ummah is unIslamic, a view that many others before him have also articulated but few have done it as eloquently or with such resonance for a South Asian Muslim.

I think a key difference between the “modern day nationalism” on one hand and the concept of the Ummah on the other is that whilst the former is narrow, constricting and separatist, the latter is inclusive and egalitarian. The whole purpose of the Ummah, as practised in the earliest days of Islam, and as it should still be practised, is that each and every Muslim is an equal member of it, and there is no bar on membership due to race, tribe or nationality. Anyone, anywhere, can be part of the Ummah if only she/he chooses to, and anyone new entrant will then have exactly the same rights, responsibilities and role as every other member of the Ummah.

All of this is of course impossible with ‘modern-day nationalism’, either in theory or in practise, as all nationalism defines itself on narrow, parochial definitions of race, ancestry or geography – all completely inimical to the Islamic concept of the Ummah.

Thank you for stopping by… :-)

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