Bismillah. This is by Rashad Ali (edited by myself), in response to a discussion about whether or not Muslims can be loyal citizens of non-Muslim countries whilst remaining part of the fellowship of the people of God (which is what the Qur’anic term “ummah” means, eg in Surah al-Anbiya’ or The Prophets). It is reproduced here to stimulate discussion of this vital topic.
Ummah is not a simplistic Muslim political bloc in the Qur’an & Hadith. It is used at times to mean the faithful, as in the verse, “You are the best nation” (Al-Imran or the Family of Imran), although even Umar was said to have held the view that this referred primarily to the Companions. Sometimes in the political sense it does not imply folk of one religion only, but rather society as a whole, composed of different religions – as in the Sunnah description of the Jews and Muslims of Madinah as one Ummah (nation), separate from all other nations (ref: the Mithaq or Covenant of Madinah).
It was on this basis that jurists have explained the special tie that nations and people within a country have to each other. Sheikh al-Islam Syed Husain Ahmed al-Madani explains this point of the relationship with the nation in his book Islam aur Qaumiyat Mutahidda (translated into English as “Composite Nationalism & Islam”). This is why in fiqh terms it has always been the case that certain countries and empires can have treaties of peace with others whilst other countries/empires ruled over by Muslims don’t – this is a historic fact and a shar’i reality – see Sheikh Afifi al-Akiti’s fatwa refuting suicide bombing where he mentions this.
In Muslim belief, everyone from the time of the Prophet till the day of judgment is the Ummah of Muhammad (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam). Ibn Hajar explained in the Fath al-Bari that some (the ummah of istijabah) have accepted the Prophet’s invitation to Islam. Others are still being called and hence they are the Ummah of Da’wah. Sheikh Shinqiti also mentions this in his tafsir, the Adwa’ al-Bayan.
In classical fiqh terms, if you lived in a land then your relationship meant that even if that land was at war with the Muslim empires you took no part and it was forbidden to do so; in fact this was the case if you had a treaty with that country and others did not – as alluded to in the Qur’an itself. Sarkhasi elaborated further and explained that any country which gave Muslims safety to live and practice their religion and was attacked, then the Muslim living within that country should join the military ranks and fight to defend such a country, citing the example of Ja’far bin Abi Talib, who according to the Mujtahid Imam, fought alongside and gave support to the Negus of Abyssinia.
There is a further extension of this in fiqh terms related to defining the land as a homeland for Islam. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami gave the fatwa that any land or empire where Muslims could practice their faith belonged to Dar al-Islam (as the Shafi’i madhhab states) and therefore if it was attacked by rebels or foreigners the Muslim majority countries/empires were obliged to fight to defend its integrity.
So, I don’t think the simplistic approach of “We are one Ummah etc.” is quite clear in the text or in fiqh terms. It all depends upon the political and social analysis that is made and then we decide what is the most appropriate form of response. Today, scholars like Mufti Juday and Sheikh Ibn Bayyah have taken the view that we live in an unprecedented situation, where in the western world we are given citizenship rights, not subjects as all were in the past of the king or caliph, but citizens who can all participate in shaping the governance and laws and rules of our society. This is a new reality which allows the practice of faith and political rights and respecting difference and religious rights. This means we interact with it accordingly – we have a social contract in a metaphysical, political and religious sense. Our loyalty is to fulfilling such agreements and respecting these political and social agreements and our faith ensures such fealty and loyalty. As Allah says in the Qur’an, “Awfu bi l-‘Uqud” (5:1) – fulfil your undertakings and obligations.
In this sense we are a part of this society and Ummah and we have responsibilities here and now which are our primary responsibilities. This is so, whilst not forgetting that we are a part of humanity, to whom we have responsibility also, as the Prophet said to the companions in a mass-transmitted authentic hadith as mentioned by Najm al-Din Haythami, “You do not have faith until you have mercy.” The companions responded, “We have mercy for one another.” The Prophet sallallahhu alaihi wasallam, replied, “You do not have faith till you have mercy, and you do not have mercy till you have mercy for mankind, each and every one of them (al-nas jami’an).” And yes, within it we do identify with our fellow Muslims, but not as an exclusivist brotherhood, as the Prophet included all people within the brotherhood of mankind, as indicated in the hadith, “None of you has faith till he loves for his brother (in the narration of Imam Bukhari in his Tarikh: ‘… loves for mankind’) what he loves for himself.” Imam Nawawi explained that “brother” here primarily referred to the non-Muslim brothers of the early converts to Islam, and so the hadith applies to non-Muslims (and Muslims) generally and hence to the whole of mankind.