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Patriotism, Nationalism, and Group Spirit in Islam

By:
Rashīd Ridā
Document type:
Fatwa

Patriotism, Nationalism, and Group Spirit in Islam

Rashīd Ridā

Commentary

He studied at the Ottoman government school and at Shaykh Husayn Jisr's school, both in Tripoli, Lebanon. Here he made his first contact with Muhammad ‘Abduh, and later, in 1897, when he took refuge in Egypt, he became ‘Abduh's faithful disciple and guardian of his ideas. In 1898, Ridā founded the periodical al-Manār, which was the most important voice of Islamic reform in the Arab world. The following selection is a fatwā (legal opinion) given by Ridā in response to an inquiry from an Indonesian Muslim.

In this fatwa (authoritative religious opinion by a qualified jurist), which appeared originally in 1933, Rida cites a sound tradition (one of the authentic hadiths) of the Prophet in which he rejected “group spirit,” where “group” originally meant relatives who are heirs. Its meaning had since broadened to mean “one’s people.” Rida seems to be saying that if group feeling is used narrowly on behalf of one’s relatives, one’s people, or one’s fatherland, it is to be rejected, because it is bound to betoken prejudice. But group spirit in the defense of the Islamic community against invasion is commendable. Rida defends patriotism on grounds that it involves by and large the same principle that applies in Islamic law regarding defense and protection of the non-Muslim who enters the territory of the Muslims. If this is a categorical duty for Muslims in regard to non-Muslims, then it also applies in the case of a territorial state that consists of Muslims and non-Muslims. Patriotism implies that Muslims band together with non-Muslims to advance and protect the interests of the state.

To the Excellent and Learned Shaykh Rashīd Ridā, may God give you long life.

Greetings and peace. In my country, Indonesia, at present there is a strong movement for independence involving a continual struggle against the colonialists. Unfortunately, in the midst of this holy war a group of ‘ulamā1 ‘ulamā’: religious scholars. [Ed.] have risen up forbidding patriotism and making war on patriots in the name of the Islamic religion and its doctrines. They claim the patriots have deviated and are inciting enmity among the masses and their leaders. As a result the patriots are caught between two fires, that of the colonialists and that of the ‘ulamā’.

I am aware of the development of the national movement in Egypt and I know that religious men were in the avant garde of the combatants carrying the banner of nationalism. . . . Yes, I refer to the men, the students, and the ‘ulamā’ of al-Azhar2 al-Azhar University: Center of Islamic learning in Cairo. [Ed.] who led demonstration after demonstration and fell in the squares and in the streets. Because of this I turn to you to ask for clarification on these matters, especially the following questions. An answer will help Indonesia and point out the way of truth and guidance.

1. Is it correct that there are hadīths forbidding the notion of patriotism and nationalism?

2. Are his (Muhammad) sayings “There is no group feeling in Islam” and “There is no one among us who invokes the invocation of the jāhiliyya3 Jāhiliyya: the period of “ignorance” before Islam. [Ed.] two clear hadīths forbidding patriotism?

3. Is there a distinction between group feeling and patriotism? Is patriotism included in the notion of group feeling? What was group feeling among the Arabs?

4. What is the view of Islam concerning the idea of patriotism and does this idea run counter to Islamic unity? What is intended by Islamic unity?

5. It is known that Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abduh, the great philosopher, was the father of patriotism and of patriots. In his house in Halwan, Sa‘d (Zaghlul) grew up and there the men of Egypt met. What do you, his disciple and biographer, judge in this matter?

6. What kind of patriotism should Muslim youth have?

Answer of al-Manār:

These questions on the subject can be reduced to one problem with subdivisions. . . . Consequently, we will answer them with a single comprehensive yet brief answer. . . . “Group feeling” among the Arabs is related to “the group,” i.e. a man's people who take sides with him; that is, they protect and defend him and aid him whenever he needs help or is wronged. The word “group” originally signifies the relatives of a man who are his heirs; then it becomes used in a wider sense. The word derives from ‘isb, an ivy plant which winds itself around a tree or the like.

It is well known that one of the imperatives of Islam is its prohibition of partisanship in wrong for the sake of relatives, people, or fatherland. It prohibits enmity and divisions among Muslims arising from the partisanship of any group, country, or region against their brothers in religion and against others except those against whom war should be waged.

The Prophet made this clear in his words: “Group spirit is a man's supporting his people in wrong.” The Imām Ahmad4 Ahmad ibn Hanbal: founder of one of the four main Sunni legal schools. [Ed.] related this.

It is also well known that another imperative of Islam obliges its people to attack and combat the foreigners who attack them. All the jurisprudents have declared that holy war is a duty incumbent on all individuals when an enemy commits aggression against Muslims or occupies any of their lands. This is warding off wrong, so it is shameful ignorance to prohibit it and to deduce the prohibition from the group feeling of the Jāhiliyya, such as that which existed between the ‘Aws and the Khazraj5 ‘Aws and Khazraj: tribal groupings at Medina. [Ed.] among the Ansār,6 the Ansār: “helpers” of Muhammad at Medina. [Ed.] which was prohibited by some hadīths.7 Hadīths: traditions of the Prophet Muhammad; narratives of what the Prophet said, did, or permitted. [Ed.]

This is the summary answer to the first three questions.

The contemporary notion of patriotism expresses the unity of the people of different religions in their homeland, and their cooperation in defending the homeland they share. They cooperate to preserve its independence, to win it back if it was lost, and to develop it. In the islands of Indonesia this does not appear as it does in Egypt.

Islam's view of this is that Muslims are obligated to defend the non-Muslim who enters under their rule and to treat him as an equal according to the just rules of the Sharī‘a.8 Sharī‘a: Islamic law. [Ed.] Consequently, how could it not be allowed to join with them in defending the country, preserving its independence and developing it? The Companions of the Prophet exempted the dhimmī9 dhimmī: the protected people in a Muslim country, i.e. the Jews and Christians. They paid a head tax for this protection. [Ed.] who joined them in war from the head tax during the Caliphate of ‘Umar, as we have demonstrated from evidence in the tenth volume of the Manār Commentary.10 Manār Commentary: a commentary on the Qur'ān begun by Muhammad ‘Abduh and continued by Ridā, published in the periodical al-Manār. [Ed.]

The type of patriotism that should adorn a Muslim youth is that he be a good example for the people of the homeland, no matter what their religious affiliation, cooperating with them in every legitimate action for independence, for developing science, virtue, force, and resources on the basis of the Islamic law of preferring the closest relations in rights and duties. In his service of his homeland and his people he must not, however, neglect Islam which has honored him and raised him up by making him a brother to hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world. He is a member of a body greater than his people, and his personal homeland is part of the homeland of his religious community. He must be intent on making the progress of the part a means for the progress of the whole.

Bibliography references:

From Fatwās, trans. from al-Manār, vol. 33 (1933), pp. 191–92. Find it in your Library

Notes:

1.ulamā’: religious scholars. [Ed.]

2. al-Azhar University: Center of Islamic learning in Cairo. [Ed.]

3. Jāhiliyya: the period of “ignorance” before Islam. [Ed.]

4. Ahmad ibn Hanbal: founder of one of the four main Sunni legal schools. [Ed.]

5. ‘Aws and Khazraj: tribal groupings at Medina. [Ed.]

6. the Ansār: “helpers” of Muhammad at Medina. [Ed.]

7. Hadīths: traditions of the Prophet Muhammad; narratives of what the Prophet said, did, or permitted. [Ed.]

8. Sharī‘a: Islamic law. [Ed.]

9. dhimmī: the protected people in a Muslim country, i.e. the Jews and Christians. They paid a head tax for this protection. [Ed.]

10. Manār Commentary: a commentary on the Qur'ān begun by Muhammad ‘Abduh and continued by Ridā, published in the periodical al-Manār. [Ed.]

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