My dad (like most Asian dads) is hugely into politics. He often spends hours glued to the screen watching each analyst give their two-pence worth about each of the issues that have gone on that day. My mother in law is also massively into this stuff. (By politics I mean Pakistani politics by the way.)
A few years ago, with the capture of an Indian pilot by Pakistan, for a while it looked like Pakistan and India stood on the brink of war. At the time, I remember they were quite literally keeping themselves updated minute by minute — and it was the topic of every conversation in the house.
One of the things they both said, was for the first time they can remember, the usual nonsense and inter-party fighting that has dogged politics in pretty much every era since inception hasn’t happened too much. At all. In fact, everyone seems extremely united over this external Indian threat.
Isn’t that interesting? The minute we see an outside threat, all differences get put aside and you unite around your commonalities. If you know anything about Pakistani politics and their never-ending squabbling, this was a pretty big deal. Here their fellow Pakistani-ness and perhaps being Muslim united them against the Indian Hindus.
Pre-partition, it was similar, although this time the threat was the white British. Here the common factor would have been we are all Indian, and therefore irrespective of religion there was unity between Gandhi, Jinnah and the Muslim/Hindu parties at the time.
In Wake Up by Chris Barez-Brown, I read when astronauts go into orbit, they often have a deep philosophical paradigm shift. When they see how big the world is from afar, they end up appreciating that we all belong to the human race and that unites us above all else. This shows them (and us) how insignificant petty rivalries are between people.
Why then, must it always take an external threat to unite people? Why can’t we see the nonsense for what it is?
What interested me the most about this was the fact that despite all these examples, Muslims today are divided more than most, whether it be by sect or by race. Despite division being warned against in the Qur’an. Allah has explicitly said there is nothing that differentiates people except their good deeds.
So why is this the case? It is either a case of being blind and inwardly focused, not looking at the bigger picture. Or even worse, being so comfortable in their current state that they can’t see that there is a threat.
Ultimately, it comes down to the two universal driving forces. Pain and pleasure. People will do whatever it takes to avoid pain, first and foremost. That’s why the external threat works so well. And secondly, a future pleasure can be used as a vision to aim to motivate people towards.
The Chinese are a consolidated behemoth country where their identity unites them and they have this big push towards their 50 year plan — to be the most powerful country in the world by 2030. And as such, they’ve achieved great things. They understand the bigger picture. Pleasure has worked well here.
The fall of the Caliphate, a century ago is perhaps a big contributor. That naturally united everyone under a collective banner, just like the European Union united European countries of different languages, backgrounds and heritage — even if it was just for economic reasons.
I think the answer lies somewhere in between.
There is certainly a case for people to wake up and focus on the bigger picture. Hamza Yusuf once said, our house is on fire but we are arguing about the remote control. Our differences would pale into insignificance when we pit them against the big picture. If only we ever did.
But on the flipside, we have to remember this Ummah is made diverse for a reason. Every single individual can benefit the collective. Not everyone is naturally an activist. Some people are more spiritually inclined, some people are more financially stronger, etc. You have some people stronger in fiqh, others in debate. It is not about everyone doing the same thing and everyone shouting loud. It’s about creating a collective cause that everyone can unite under, for the greater good. Some people, all they can do is dua. And that’s ok. Instead of seeing differences as a problem, is it in your unity in diversity that you are strengthened.
At the end of the day, the Zionists achieved their objective of Israel exactly this way. Everyone bought into this one overarching objective and everyone was aligned and focused into achieving it, whatever their medium.
What is the equivalent for Muslims? That’s the real question that needs to be asked.
A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.