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Book Review
A Blueprint for Ummah’s Revival 


Name of the Book: The Ummah Pan-Islamism and
Muslim Nation-states
Author: Ishtiyaque Danish
IOS, Price not mentioned/ pp 233 h/b 
ISBN: 81-85220-85-6

This book is part of an ambitious project of the Delhi-based Institute of Objective Studies to take stock of the Ummah’s situation at the turn of the millennium in diverse fields. Under this project nearly a dozen books covering major areas of Muslim lives appeared last year, authored by known Muslim social scientists of the country.

Dr Ishtiaque Danish works here on a vast canvas, stretching back to the earliest years of Islam—its historical experience, its growth, its engagement with other civilisations, and its present struggle to emerge as the beacon of a just world order.

Grim harvest of British duplicity: Martyrs at Jenin refugee camp after Israeli raid. The division of Palestine is yet another legacy of British colonialism.

The Ummah today largely lives in Muslim hearts and minds, as an ideal realised intellectually and emotionally by Muslim peoples of the world, but is no longer a political reality. Not that Muslims have not tried hard to attain the Ummah status politically. However, shifting geopolitical realities have conspired to keep this goal elusive.

Dr Danish rightly argues that the post-colonial emergence of Muslim states was less of a natural development than the outcome of the British Empire's redrawing of maps meant to “divide Islam against itself”. That is a fact, but nothing could be done about it at the end of World War II by the Ummah.

Even today, when the United States has put the Middle East once again on the drawing board, there is very little that the Ummah can do about it. Dr Danish has deep suspicions about the very idea of Muslim nation states rising in the post-colonial era to replace the Ottoman caliphate.

Theoretically, nation states do not really fit into an Islamic vision that sees a caliphate as a truer representation of the Ummah’s aspirations. The Muslim nation states of the Middle East did not emerge "naturally", unlike the European nation states did following the Treaty of Westphalia. There was something contrived and conspiratorial about the birth of Arab nationalism and redrawing of the Middle East map.

These are facts of history that possibly cannot be undone now, howsoever unpleasant they might be. Changes in the map, as proposed by the United States, would be fraught with terrible loss of life and much else. As terrible as the birth of Arab nationalism and Middle Eastern nation states, with Britain acting as the mid-wife.

Arab nationalism, Arab socialism and their other ideological clones have not taken the Middle East anywhere. With this region, rightly regarded as Islam’s heartland, in a historical morass, the rest of the Muslim world has reason to feel frustrated. Islamists too have to realise that all over the Muslim world, they have been caught in a completely avoidable conflict with their own states and their own governments, whatever the legitimacy of these governments. This internal conflict is a terrific drain on the Muslim world's human resource.

The rejection of nation states on the part of Islamists has led to great repression by these states and their governments. In effect, the ruling class and government machinery consists of Muslims (most of the time practising Muslims) who are caught in an adversarial relationship with some of the best and the brightest (as represented by Islamists) of their own people. This terrible waste of Muslim energies, requires fresh thinking on the issue by Islamists worldwide.

Dr Danish does come up with a model of a "fulcrum state", which could, in fact, be a "superstate" like the European Union, comprising quite a few Mid-Eastern states of today. What would emerge according to Dr Danish’s model may not be a replica of earlier caliphates, yet would be quite close to them.

There are quite a few "ifs" that go with the Danish model, the most important being "if only the big powers allow the emergence of such a fulcrum state". With the entire Muslim world’s GDP being one-third of Japan’s (the Saudi GDP being smaller than a single large multinational company’s turnover), with the entire Muslim world’s military-technological powers put together not matching even a second rank power’s, with the US and Israeli declared intent not to allow even the minimum deterrent military capability to be developed by any Muslim country, the idea of a "fulcrum state" sounds utopian.

Despite its present limitations, however, the Ummah remains what the prophet (PBUH) said it is – a single body which feels the pain of the slightest injury to even its far-flung parts. That gives us the hope that a political structure corresponding with this remarkable emotional solidarity and empathy can emerge some time in future.

There are quite a few people who at one time believed that the OIC could be the stereotype of a post-modern caliphate. Developments since its inception have belied the hope. The Arab League too turned out to be an illusion. Dr Danish is of the view that by their very nature of being conglomerations of contrived nation states (an anathema to Islamists), these two organisations don’t hold any promise.

All said and done, there is need for Muslim social scientists to develop a new academic paradigm to study the post-colonial Muslim situation. The present Islamist paradigm fails to take into account the reality on the ground, and thus excludes itself from the Muslim mainstream, alienates its own people, its own states and its own resources, inviting terrible reprisal from Muslim states themselves. The rest of the world is even more hostile.

Dr Danish’s book, in its large sweep and clear Islamic perspective, tries to articulate Muslim aspirations that have deeply affected Muslim worldview through the centuries. It is an interesting study that forms the nucleus for further such studies on this crucial subject that engages Muslims of all political and ideological stripes.

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