Islamic Nationalism Research Paper


Religious nationalism tends to place the nation at the forefront of human existence and defines this nation regarding religion. Thus, Islamic, or Muslim, nationalists would most probably represent their nation as a community of Muslims throughout the world, sharing the same religious ideas and thoughts.

However, some researchers of Islam claim that nationalism is “a concept alien to Islam because it calls for unity based on family and tribalistic ties, whereas Islam binds people together on the Aqeedah, that is belief in Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saaw)” (Ahmed, Karim). Nationalism, in their view, has, therefore, no place in Islam, since the religion is supposed to bridge the gap between its believers uniting them in one big family. Even in Iraq, the opposition to the US occupation bridges the more or less tribal or sectarian Sunni-Shiite divide and uniting the population in a struggle against the West. To this one can object, that, first, there have been numerous clashes between Muslim nations in their history (Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait can be one example). Second, unity between Muslims does not dispute the perception of Islamic nationalism as an ideology that draws a broader divide between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The term “Muslim Nationalism” is most relevant to the description of places and communities where Muslims form a minority. Thus, in India Muslim minority conceive of itself as a population group distinct from the mainstream Hindus and act as a separate group, allowing researchers to treat their perception of themselves as “Muslim Nationalism”.

Muslim Nationalism in India
The existence and development of Muslim nationalism in India was defined by the political boundaries of this nation that only includes 20% of Muslims among its population. Despite their numerical minority, the Muslims have always felt that they have made “massive cultural and economic contributions to India’s heritage and life merited an assuredly significant role for Muslims in India’s governance and politics” (Wikipedia).

The reality of Muslim nationalism in India embraces the partition of the nation into two distinct groups, with Hindus and the Muslims who often demonstrate hostility towards each other. The Muslims take their roots in the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, ancient Muslim states that are often regarded as the heyday of the nation. The Muslim conceptualization of themselves as a separate entity takes roots in Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s two nation theory that declared the existence of two separate nations on the territory of India (Praveenkumar 2002). This ideology is projected upon India’s complex ethnic structure that would mingle “a Bengali Muslim, a Tamil Muslim, a Bohra Muslim” and others (Praveenkumar 2002).

What is remarkable about Muslims as a group in India and justifies the talk of “Muslim nationalism” in the nation is the presence of common leaders and organizations that strive to represent of all Indian Muslims. All India Muslim League founded in 1906 by Islamic activists as one of the examples. Early Islamic scholars Syed Ahmed Khan, Syed Ameer Ali, Aga Khan, poet Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal and politician like Choudhary Rahmat Ali all sought to represent the Indian Muslim community, often espousing separatist ideas (Wikipedia).

In contrast, the Indian National Congress that sought to present itself as a secular party was often regarded as a Hindu creation that in the first place expressed the interests of this religious group.

Although some Indian Muslim leaders like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed chose to participate in the Indian Independence Movement along with the Congress, later on, many Muslims began to suspect that their interests are downplayed by this party. An example is Shah Bano case, where the Muslims were unable to obtain a verdict that would agree with Shariah and accused the Congress of “pandering” Muslim votes (Praveenkumar 2002). The spin-off of Pakistan, which is a topic for another detailed discussion, became possible due to the push from Indian Muslims for an independent Islamic state that would support them inside India.

Thus, Muslims in India view themselves as a separate community, different from mainstream Indians. Although co-existing within one state, both Muslims and Indians are aware of the need to protect their respective interests against each other.

Bosnia: Muslim Nationalism against pan-Islamism
The emergence of a Muslim population in Bosnia happened as a result of the Turkish invasion, which led to the acceptance of Islam by some groups. Within the political boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, becoming a Muslim was “a way to elevate their status in the eyes of the occupying Muslim Power” (Israeli 2004). When the Turks withdrew, Bosnia was left with three population groups: Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. Through a long history when the territory changed hands, being first a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then Yugoslavia, the three groups maintained rather tense relations.

The creation of a separate territory called Bosnia-Herzegovina elevated the identity of the Bosnian Muslims as it created distinct political boundaries for the Bosnians to associate themselves with.

After Yugoslavia collapsed, Bosnia had “to assert its Muslim identity because it had none other, in spite of the fact that the majority of its population was either Serb or Croat” (Israeli 2004). The revivalist trend was associated with the ideology proposed by Alija Izetbegovic and his party Stranka Demokratske Akcije (SDA) that appeared in 1990. SDA served as a vehicle for expressing Muslim ideas and was accused of trying to push other groups to the periphery. Hence the conceptualization of Bosnia as a Muslim state, despite lack of Muslim dominance in population.

Bosnian Muslim movement offers an exciting example of how Muslim nationalism squared off with Panislamism – the idea of the unity of all Muslims, regardless of nationality. Starting out as a movement united by religion, SDA gradually began to demonstrate a more national flavor and a narrower focus on local, European, problems as opposed to integration into the Muslim world. Thus, after 1990, the national name “Muslim” was substituted by the name “Bosniak”, despite the opposition of the pan-Islamist faction within SDA. Also, the party even suggested: “pilgrimage to Ajvatovica to a patriotic gathering” turning “this Bosnian “mini hadj” into a replacement of the real hadj” (Bougarel 1999). This demonstrates that Bosnian leaders finally used Muslim identity as a way to differentiate themselves from Serbs and Croats living in the same territory, rather than a symbol of unity with the Islamic nations. This can make the Bosniak nationalist movement an example of Islamic nationalism as opposed to Panislamism.

Muslim nationalism can be interpreted in some ways. In most cases, it serves as an ideology that helps Muslims differentiate themselves from non-Muslims, especially in nations in which these communities co-exist. It can also be taken as a sign of broader unity with Muslims around the globe and in this case, converges with Panislamism. Overall, Islamic nationalism seems to be more closely tied to opposition to the “others” and attempts to separate, as well as greater relevance to local problems.

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