The History of Islamic Unity

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It is generally understood that when the Muslims follow the basics of Islam they can establish unity and solidarity among themselves. When they have not done so, the results have been tragic.

The Qur’an, which illuminated the universe with its revelation, is a remedy for troubles of the mind, heart, soul and interior realm of man, and it is the only true solution to all man’s needs.It also contains many kinds of solutions which will provide peace and tranquillity to man in the exterior world.

In this context, just as the Qur’an opens up the dead-end ways of a society full of savagery and crudeness, returning them to safety and sanity with the illuminated remedies that it has brought within itself, it has also revived and rebuilt the social life with its principles of unity and solidarity .

Islam, which was established on the principle of ‘tawhid’ (oneness, unity), demands the unity and togetherness of hearts. Also, the unity in the creed entails unity and integration in social life. Hearts which had been hardened in the age of ignorance as a result of losing basic moral principles were softened by the effect of this illumination, and they became united and got along with each other.

The believers, whose brotherhood was registered not just till the death, but eternally, a brotherhood which was the result of the divine contract of; إِخْوَةٌ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِنَّمَا, and which was far beyond blood-brotherhood, laid the foundations of a civilization with such integration as the world has never seen.

These gentle people attained material and spiritual victories which were much greater than their normal capacities would have allowed, being the recipient of the principle in the verse; كَم مِّ ن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللّهِ

(“Many small companies have overcome a numerous companies by Allah’s leave”, (Baqara, 2:249)), with the mystery of brotherhood and having a common goal and duty and the understanding of unity and brotherhood which is called ‘ithar’ (preferring your brother’s desire to your own).

Thanks to this understanding of unity, those different strata of the society which were far from each other became integrated; the bonds of love among them were strengthened. This feeling of fraternity removed the arrogance of tribalism and animosity which were said to be incurable. A society of Companions formed who were tolerant and would make sacrifices for each other.

This concept of unity and solidarity which began in Mecca was continued in Madina. Though they were cousins, the Aws and Khazraj tribes, had ill-treated each other for years because of disagreements among them, they now gave up their old enmities and took on the zeal of Islam through which they would sacrifice their lives for each other.

The Qur’an relates as follows regarding the distinguished morals of the Muhajirs and the Ansar, the believers from both  Mecca and Madina:

“Those who, before their coming, had their abode (in Madina), preparing it as a home for Islam and faith, love those who emigrate to them for God’s sake, and in their hearts do not begrudge what they have been given, and (indeed) they prefer them over themselves, even though poverty be their own lot. (They too have a share in such gains of war.) Whoever is guarded against the avarice of his own soul – those are the ones who are truly prosperous.” (Hashr, 59:9)

This understanding of the Companions of preferring their brothers to themselves in everything worldly provided them with many victories, removed obstacles for them and made them just and worthy administrators of the Arab peninsula.

They conquered the whole Arab peninsula, Iran, Cyprus, North Africa, some parts of Anatolia and gained victories over the seas.

This situation lasted till the end of the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs and beginning of the era of the Umayyads.

These victories and achievements which started during the era of bliss, if they had continued in that momentum, would have made it possible to reach Far East Asia and the Pacific Ocean. However, the momentum faltered and the energy which needed to be exerted in external projects unfortunately began to be consumed in internal disputes.

In the perspective of the principle that, “numerous harmful obstacles appear before works of great good, as Satans always strive greatly against those who try to do these works”, evils and mischiefs spread by the plots of spiritual and human devils, and the unity and integration of the ummah began to break down.

The Umayyads made the integration of Umayyad-Arab ethnicity the basis in the running of the state instead of Islamic fraternity. Their regarding new converts from the other nations as ‘mamalik’ (slaves) and humiliating them caused tension in the social life of Islamic community.

They oppressed people and caused the great harm in Islamic history since the principles of negative nationalism are contrary to those of justice and righteousness.

In brief, since the Umayyads incorporated this nationalism into their politics, they both offended many Muslims and were themselves subjected to many disasters. As a result, the principle of the unity of the Muslims was shaken, which is a prerequisite for a religion of unity, and deep scars were made whose negative and harmful effects have continued until our times and have not yet been resolved.

Later, when the Abbasids took over the banner of caliphate, they changed from the politics of the Umayyads and they made Islamic fraternity the basis of their rule. Thus they carried out the duties of administrating the Islamic ummah for a long time, a fact which was heralded in a hadith.

The Abbasid dynasty, which reigned between 750 and1258, is the longest lasting dynasty in the history of Islam after the Ottomans. The Islamic civilization saw its most glorious times during the reign of this dynasty.

The earlier times of the Abbasids are the most important times which in effect sealed the Islamic culture and civilization. A variety of institutions and disciplines of knowledge were formed during this time, and they developed in the course of time and became effective in the birth of the renaissance and modern European civilisation.

The formation and compilation of the Islamic disciplines and dispositions such as tafseer (commentary of the Qur’an), Islamic law, hadith, and Islamic theology, the development of the schools of law, sufism, philosophy and hikmah (wisdom) took place in this time. In brief:

Imam al-Azam (Abu Hanifa), Imam Shafii, Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal in Islamic law; Tabari, Zamakhshari, Fakhr al-din al-Razi in Tafseer; Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasai in Hadith; Imam Ash’ari and Imam Maturidi in Islamic theology; Abdul Qadir Gilani, Ahmad al-Rufai, Bayazid al-Bistami, Junayd al-Baghdadi, Ma’ruf al-Karkhi and Imam al-Ghazali in Sufism; and almost all of the scholars in Qira’ah (recitation of the Qur’an) were examples of the hundreds of scholars who were raised in that age.

There were also many scholars of the natural sciences, such as astronomy, geometry, algebra, medicine, chemistry, geography, etc., who were raised at this time, famous in the history of science and the effects of whose lives and works are felt even today.

The works of these scholars affected deeply not only the Islamic world, but also the Europe of the Middle Ages, transferring from Syria to Spain and Sicily.

Allah (SWT) granted the Abbasids to reign for five hundred years running the state based on the principles of unity, alliance and solidarity, instead of tribalism and negative nationalism.

In the last period of the Abbasids, things deteriorated and stability could no longer be maintained. The reign of the Abbasid dynasty ended tragically with its destruction by Genghis and Hulagu Khan of the Mongols, as it was indicated in a hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) as follows: “Alas to the Arabs due to a coming evil upon you!”

Though the caliphate of Islam lasted symbolically after fall of the Abbasid dynasty, and there were Islamic states in many places, the ummah was waiting for somebody who could deservedly represent all Muslims, and the Ottomans took over this important duty, being the recipients of the verse: “O you who believe! Whoever of you turns away from his Religion, (know that) in time Allah will raise up a people whom He loves, and who love Him, most humble towards the believers, dignified and commanding in the face of the unbelievers, striving (continuously and in solidarity) in Allah’s cause, and fearing not the censure of any who censure. That is Allah’s grace and bounty, which He grants to whom He wills. Allah is All-Embracing (with His profound grace), All-Knowing.” (Maida, 5:54)

While the Ottomans were a small lordship on the frontiers, Allah (SWT) granted them to establish first the unity of the Turkish lordships in Anatolia and then gradually the unity of all Islamic geography. With the conquest of Istanbul, which was heralded by the Prophet (PBUH), the Ottomans became the representatives and guardians of the whole Islamic world beginning from 1516, both de facto and legally.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Ottomans were at the peak of their power, their reign spread to three continents and they dominated most of south-eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

The total area ruled over by the Ottoman Empire during this period consisted of 24 million kmcomprising 29 states and three tax-imposed princedoms. The Ottoman Empire was not an empire based on ethnic roots. It was an initiative of unity established many centuries ago and which survived and flourished for 600 years. which structures such as the EU are struggling to establish today, and it was a wonderful example of unity of the Islamic world.

The fact that there are now nearly sixty countries on the soil which was once ruled by the Ottomans shows how great a service they performed.

The Ottomans were representative of the unity and togetherness of Islamic communities and states over a great geographical area for many centuries, and they were the protectors and servants of the rights, justice and morals of the Muslims. This feature of the state was so obvious that the Ottoman empire became a place of asylum for non-Muslim people.

It can be seen how successful the Ottomans were in providing Islamic unity and togetherness, as well as justice and righteousness, from the fact that tears and blood have been permanently shed in conflict after conflict since the end of the Ottoman empire. It may be said that neither the Muslims nor the non-Muslims have seen real happiness and stability since the collapse of the Ottomans.

In brief, the Ottomans established Islamic unity and supremacy for six centuries over a wide geographical area in a way that has rarely been seen in human history.

However, eventually the balances of political and military power changed, and the Ottoman dynasty collapsed in 1922, followed by the fall of the Islamic caliphate two years later. Today, the Christian and Jewish communities have their spiritual leaders and representative institutions, yet the Islamic world is still seeking to restore its representative of an order which had lasted for 1300 years, and it feels the pain of this void deeply.

I would like to mention the explanation that Imam Bediuzzaman made about the tragic end that the Ottomans experienced, because of its importance:

In a veracious dream that came to me during the fifth year of the First World War, the following question was put to me:

“What is the reason for this hunger, financial loss, and physical trial that now afflicts the Muslims’?”

I replied in the dream:

“From the wealth He bestows upon us, Allah Almighty required from us either a tenth or a fortieth so that we may benefit from the grateful prayers of the poor, and so that rancour and envy may be prevented. But in our greed and covetousness we refused to give zakat, and Allah Almighty has taken from us a thirtieth where a fortieth was owed, and an eighth where a tenth was owed.

“He required of us to undergo, for no more than one month each year, a hunger with seventy beneficial purposes. But we took pity on our instinctual souls, and did not undergo that temporary pleasurable hunger.

Allah Almighty then punished us by compelling us to fast for five years, with a hunger replete with seventy kinds of misfortune.

“He also required of us, out of each period of twenty-four hours, one hour to be spent in a form of Divine drill, pleasing and sublime, luminous and beneficial. But in our laziness we neglected the duty of prayer. That single hour was joined to the other hours and wasted. As penance, Allah Almighty then caused us to undergo a form of drill and physical exertion that took the place of prayer.”

We hope that the Islamic world will be able to establish unity and solidarity among them as a necessary basis of tawhid with the wisdom that they learned from history, and that they will then experience a period of time similar to the age of bliss.