Book Review: The Elusive Unity

Book Review: The Elusive Unity

Title of book: Unifying the Muslim Ummah
Author: Dr Mehboobah Akhter
Publisher: Adam Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi

“O Aaron! What kept you back, when you saw them (the Israelites) going wrong?” asked Prophet Moses to his brother Aaron. (Qur’an, 20:92). “Did you disobey my order?” continued Moses (Qur’an, 20:93). Such is the significance of “unity” for an “organised community” that Aaron replied: “Truly I feared, lest you should say, ‘You have caused division among the Children of Israel!” (Qur’an, 20:94). This doesn’t, however, mean that a community for which the pivotal principle is monotheism could maintain its identity and distinction on the basis of “unity sans principles”! What it means is that chaos, confusion, discord, disharmony and schism have a tendency to put a community to such disarray that the haplessness of its socio-religious structure becomes the reason of rot for those social groups which otherwise could be looking towards it for guidance.
No wonder then that when Shaikh al-Hind Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan, one of the stalwarts of the Indian Freedom Movement, was released from the Prison of Malta (thus called Aseer-i-Malta, the Prisoner of Malta) by the Britishers, declared quite emphatically that there were only two reasons for the Muslims’ decadence: i) internal division and ii) indifference to the Qur’an (Wahdat-iUmmat, Mufti Muhammad Shafi). When seen minutely, the first reason of Muslim decadence, that is, internal division, in itself gushes forth from the Muslims’ indifference to the Qur’an.
This theme of discord and disunity among the Muslim Ummah has been elaborated in many a book over the years. Recently, a teacher of Islamic Studies, Dr Mahboobah Akhter (Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, Dept of Higher Education, J&K) has come up with a new title, ‘Unifying the Muslim Ummah’, which not only elaborates the theme of discord among the Muslims but has pinpointed some of the possible remedies for its eradication as well.
The book begins with a brief “Foreword” by the renowned academician of Islamic Studies and Comparative Religion, Literature and Philosophy, Prof Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi, who has been the teacher and guide of the author. As the author has identified the “unifying appeal” of the teachings of Islam in general and the principle of monotheism in particular as the antidote to the discord, the learned professor has noted this orientation of the book in his “Foreword” to the book (p. vi).
In the “Preface” to the book, the author has in a way set out the shape not only of the main cause of discord but its remedy as well. The author is of the opinion that there have been several attempts for the unification of the Ummah but to no avail because, according to the author, there has been “the absence of a single and uniform ‘Aqidah and Manhaj’ (creed, methodology and approach)” (p. xiv). Therefore, the author continues, “unity should be based on the Book of Allah […] and the Sunnah of His Messenger […]” (p. xv). The “Introduction” of the book again emphasises the inseparability of Islam as worldview or “religion of unity” which naturally stems from the concept of monotheism and the concept of “unity” as such, which stems from the literal meaning of the term “unity”, that is, something being “integrated”, “intact” and “strong” (p. 1). So, the author says, a community having the concepts of “One Lord” and “One Book” should reflect the intrinsic integrating force of these concepts (pp. 10-11).
The main content of the book, however, consists of Chapter II entitled “The Way of Salvation”. This chapter gives a thorough treatment to unity that is or should be the necessary outcome of the concept of Tauhid (monotheism). The author is of the opinion that the natural differences (of race, colour, language, for example) among people (here, Muslims) should in no way lead them to discord and disharmony keeping in view the Qur’anic precepts which encourage them to find common grounds even with non-Muslims, such as, the People of the Book (BanuIsara’il). In this regard, the author has quoted the Qur’anic verse: “Say, O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you – that we will not worship [anything] except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah” (3:64).
Naturally, this worldview of Tauhid has no soft corner for any kind of Shirk because any amalgamation of the two cannot be thought of and, if there is a mix up of the two concepts, it is tantamount to dismantling the “edifice of Tauhid”. As such, the author, deriving from the Qur’an and Hadith, has also highlighted how Islam, in general, treats polytheism and the shades thereof (pp. 88-100). Since one cannot understand the significance of Tauhid without having recourse to the Qur’an and the Prophetic Traditions (Ahadith), therefore, the author has also emphasised on how a “return to these fundamental sources of Islam” can lead Muslims to mutual harmony on the basis of the fundamental “principle of Tauhid”. To highlight the view, the author has quoted the Qur’anic verse: “It is not [suitable] for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed into a plain error” (33:36).
Keeping in view the individual differences (of constitution, temperament, etc.) among people, it is but natural that a society has to live with these differences, though always trying not to compromise on the fundamentals and trying to resolve the differences in an amicable atmosphere of mutual respect. Therefore, the author has also dedicated a section of this chapter to the “ethics of disagreement” (pp. 171-180). However, a believer’s attitude is always determined by his or her attachment to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, therefore, “love of Allah” has also been given a space by the author (pp. 185-187).
Thus, in spite of a didactic tune and with a pinch of exhortation, the book makes a nice addition to the scholarship on the general theme of “intra-Muslim unity” and, to quote Ms Tajalli Maryam, the author’s comrade perhaps, from her ‘Words of Encouragement’: “Unifying the Muslim Ummah comes at a time of acute and painful divisions and conflicts in the Muslim world” (p. xxii). The book would indeed benefit the students of social sciences in general and those of Islamic Studies in particular.

The writer is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at GDC Kokernag. [email protected]

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