In many non-Muslim majority countries, Muslim groups are fighting for independence in areas where Muslims are in a majority. This is happening, for instance, in Kashmir, Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, Chechnya, Sinkiang, and so on. Muslim groups living in these areas consider the non-Muslim states they are fighting against to be illegal occupying forces. Much blood has been spilled in the course of these conflicts, but no there has been no positive fall-out at all. These conflicts have only made the situation worse for all concerned parties, including, and especially, these Muslim groups themselves.
Sometimes, the justification given for these violent conflicts aiming at separation or independence is that non-Muslim majorities are allegedly destroying the Islamic identity or culture of these Muslim minority groups. Hence, it is claimed, their demand for independence is Islamically-legitimate in order to preserve their faith and Islamic identity.
This politics of separation which Muslims are engaged in in different countries is, however, totally un-Islamic. It has nothing to do with the Islamic teachings. In Quranic terms, it is called muzahat (9:30), that is, imitation of non-believers. Politics of this kind is derived from a modern concept called ‘self-determination’. According to modern political theory, ‘self-determination’ is the right of a nation or people to determine its own form of government without influence from outside, or, in other words, the right of the people of a given area to determine their own political status. It is this political concept that Muslims have sought to induct into Islam.
It is totally wrong to claim that any particular country or nation is trying to destroy Muslim culture, and so to use this as a justification for violent conflicts in the name of self-determination is unacceptable. In the modern world, everyone is free to adopt their own culture. I have travelled all over the world, and I can say that I have never found any country where efforts are being made to destroy the Muslims’ identity. It is an entirely wrong allegation.
Sometimes, Muslim minorities’ struggle for independence and separation from a non-Muslim majority state is sought to be justified by claiming that these states are, in a very well-planned way, working to reduce Muslims in Muslim-dominant ‘occupied’ regions into a minority. Hence, it is argued, it is Islamically-legitimate to seek separation and independence from non-Muslim-majority states.
This argument, too, is completely wrong. Islam never enjoins upon Muslims to establish a separate state or to strive for political independence. According to Islam, the political system is a matter of social conditions. It is social conditions that determine the political system. It is quite un-Islamic to launch a movement for the establishment of a political system based on some self-styled model. It is also wrong to say that any particular country is planning to reduce areas of Muslim-majority into Muslim-minority territories. To launch violent struggles to separate from existing states is intolerable for every country, even for a Muslim country. So, what is happening in Sinkiang (in China), or Arakan (in Myanmar) or in other such places where people are being killed in large numbers in the wake of violent movements for separatism is only the price that Muslims are paying for their wrong policies. What these countries are doing is as defence and not as offence.
I repeatedly stress the importance of dawah for Muslims. The Muslims’ duty in every part of the world is only one, that is, dawah work, inviting people to God’s path. Muslims must do peaceful dawah work, and leave all other things upon God. Dawah is a binding Islamic duty. Dawah, naturally, demands close interaction with people of other religions—and excellent and very natural opportunities for this exist in countries where Muslims live with people of other faiths. In this regard, when many Muslim ethnic groups in various non-Muslim-majority countries demand separation and independence (as indeed many Indian Muslims did in demanding Pakistan in the years leading up to the Partition), they are themselves harming prospects for dawah, because in the Muslim-only countries that they want to have, free of non-Muslim presence, the opportunities for dawah would naturally be much less than if they lived as minorities in non-Muslim majority countries.
The politics of separatism is a killer for dawah culture. Dawah requires universality and tolerance, while separatism kills the universal spirit. This kind of policy is a political innovation. It has nothing to do with Islam. In this regard, it is very instructive to note that Sufis generally did not have this sort of ghetto mentality, and, instead, actively sought to interact with and even live among non-Muslims. And they played a very important role in dawah.
The Sufis were right. They rightly presented Islam before non-Muslims. Those who are against Sufis are not so because of any justification from Islam, but because of their own self-styled thinking. They try politicizing Islam, and due to this mindset they do not appreciate Sufism. The political and cultural separatism that they advocate makes these people a major barrier to dawah work.
In other words, this tendency of Muslim separatism is greatly inimical to dawah, and hence not Islamic. This sort of separatism, both political and cultural, is wrong. Islam does not enjoin these kinds of separatist policies. This politics of separation is a sin, and not a virtue. And due to this, Muslims are being deprived of God’s help. Thus, everywhere their activities are proving to be counterproductive as they are against the Divine scheme of things. Muslim leaders were successful in creating Pakistan, but after sixty years of its creation, Pakistan is a failed state because it did not receive God’s blessings.
How does one account for this marked tendency to Muslim separatism across the world? Sometimes it takes the form of wanting a separate, Muslim-only or Muslim-majority country. When this is not possible, then it sometimes takes the form of Muslim ghettoism, with Muslims wanting to live in Muslim-only spaces, to have social interaction only among themselves, as far as possible, to send their children to Muslim-only schools, to make friends only with Muslims, and so on.
What is the reason for this? The answer to this is that in the modern age, Muslims have developed a wrong concept of identity, and they want to preserve this so-called identity of theirs. Thus, they have become extremely identity-conscious. It is because this unnatural identity-consciousness that they are making ghettos everywhere: ghetto country, ghetto colony, ghetto institutions, ghetto society, etc.
The contemporary Muslim separatism is a new phenomenon. It has nothing to do with Islam. The fact is that in the 19th and 20th centuries, Muslims adopted a political policy that was un-Islamic and unrealistic. Thus, it naturally failed. It is this failure that has led to a defeatist mentality among Muslims. Present-day Muslims are living with this defeatist mentality. And, it is this defeatist mentality that has given rise to the phenomenon of Muslim ghettoism.
But unlike what some Muslims may believe, there is no sanction for this in Islam. You cannot find a single reference for this in the Quran or Hadith. Also, you cannot find any example of this kind of politics in the biographies of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and in the accounts of the lives of the Sahaba, the Prophet’s Companions.
Some Muslims might think that this sort of ghettoism and separatism, whether cultural or political, is justified in the name of the unity of the global Muslim ummah and Muslim brotherhood. But this is false. In fact, this kind of separatism has created more differences among Muslims. For example, Pakistan was founded in the name of Muslim unity. But now in that country, Muslims are fighting among themselves. In India, we are living in peace, while in Pakistan Muslims are living with fear and amidst violence. This is the case of all those pockets where Muslims have established their “ghetto lands”.
(Maulana Wahiduddin Khan heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org A prolific writer, many of his writings can be accessed on http://www.cpsglobal.org/articles/mwk and on www.spiritofislam.co.in)