WHAT KIND OF ISLAMIC UNION?
The First World War and the Second World War taught humanity a lesson in the form of wanton slaughter on a global scale, major European cities reduced to rubble, flattened housing estates, and genocidal concentration camps. The West, caught in the middle of these wars, drew a very important lesson from these tragedies: form alliances in order to have an efficient, easier, and quicker conflict-resolution mechanism. Other European countries had tried to form alliances in the past, but these were never long-lived either because of a conflict of national interest or for some ideological reason. This time, the West knew that the desired union had to be more than just an economic or a joint defense pact; it had to be a union established upon common cultural values. Obviously, this is a lengthy process.
These wars devastated Europe's economy and industry. The survivors had to rebuild hundreds of cities, repair infrastructure, and reestablish a functioning education and health system. The war was over, but now the colonies were demanding independence. It appeared to be a hard job to create stability as well as a union amidst all of this chaos. The first step in this direction was the European Coal and Steel Federation, formed in 1951 primarily to serve and develop industry. This union eventually became the European Economic Community (EEC), then the European Community (EC), and finally the European Union (EU). Eventually, it became a strong union in which products, services, capital, and labor freely circulate between member states; a union having a common currency, compatible laws, and even state bureaucracies. Today, the EU is one of the major players on the international political stage.
The EU:A Possible Model for the Islamic Union
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has 56 member states and is the largest Muslim organization in terms of number of members and of geography. In addition, there are several regional military and trade alliances between neighboring Muslim nations, each of which fulfills important functions and represents a positive development. However, the Islamic world needs a more comprehensive union, one with permanent institutions empowered to take binding decisions, develop and implement common policies, represent the entire Islamic world, and produce solutions for all Muslims rather than just in a few regional hotspots. This union's power must be economic, military, and social. The existence of such a union will create an environment of mutual trust and agreement so that a sense of solidarity will develop. Accordingly, the member states' security concerns will be addressed, and the resulting extensive cooperation will result in higher standards of living in the member states. Acting as one body in all affairs concerning it, either directly or indirectly, this world will be able to develop strategies that are in the Islamic world's best interest.
In the second half of the twentieth century, developments in Palestine, Bosnia, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kashmir, and Aceh brought an important truth home to the Islamic world. In these regions, where thousands of civilians lost their lives, countless children were orphaned and savagery and violence reached shocking levels, the West either did not react at all or was slow to take preventive action. Such indifference reminded the Muslims once more that all of them are responsible for protecting the rights of other Muslims and meeting their needs. Therefore, the Islamic world has be very responsive and proactive, for only united Muslim nations can guarantee the safety of all Muslims by speaking for all Muslims in the international political arena with one voice.
The Islamic world has to become one bloc in terms of military, politics, and economics. An Islamic world united from within will ensure world peace and prevent radicals from moving toward a clash of civilizations based upon their ideologies of self-interest and conflict.
The Islamic Union's General Structure
The EU, a model for our proposed union, can be described as an entity in which member states' sovereignty, system of governance, and state bureaucracy would continue their functions under the umbrella of a constitution based on "European culture." Within this constitution's framework, member states would cooperate in politics, culture, and economy, and a central legislature and administration would coordinate their cooperation and represent Europe's interest as a whole.
The Islamic Union must have a structure that preserves member states' independence, national borders, rights, and interests. Each sovereign state must strive to unite under a shared Islamic culture, develop common policies, and establish the legislative and administrative organs that will implement them. The purpose here is not to achieve a structural merger of states, but to unite behind common policies and interests in order to achieve the political power that such a union would have.
In such a union, the world's Muslims will be in direct touch with one another, know each other's problems intimately, and help one another. Separatism, factionalism, and fanaticism will be put aside for the principle of Muslim unity. The fact that the Islamic world has not been able to reach consensus among the different views, systems, and models that characterize its members has prevented it from acting in unity. The proposed Islamic Union's call for unity will not be made according to race, economic condition, or geographical location, and all animosity arising from differences of race, language, or culture will cease under the umbrella of this union. Its members' sense of unity will not be based upon the superiority of one culture, nation, or group over another, but upon the spirit of solidarity engendered by equality, tolerance, love, and friendship.
One of the primary reasons for establishing the Islamic Union is to create a central authority capable of directing the general Muslim population. For this reason, the central authority must have a structure that reaches all Muslims or, in other words, must be able to accommodate all different views under its umbrella. The Islamic Union must be based on Islam's central tenets, receive practical as well as theoretical differences in views with tolerance and understanding, and successfully turn these differences into cultural diversity and wealth. These differences must not be allowed to obstruct the application of political will and joint action. All disputes between Muslim nations must be resolved, and their differences must be settled within the framework of this central authority. An Islamic Union that can manage its internal affairs will be able to resolve potential differences with other civilizations easily and to produce the joint policies that its central authority will implement and administer.
The Islamic world has many issues that need to be resolved and that are continuing problems for the international community: such political tragedies as Palestine, Kashmir, and Iraq; the ideological war on terrorism; and such social issues as underdevelopment, poverty, health, and education. These main topics are not regional or local matters; rather, they have a direct bearing on all Muslims. Given this reality, the Islamic world must achieve solidarity in order to resolve them. No one can suggest that what happens in Palestine concerns only the Palestinians, that the innocent Muslim Kashmiri civilians suffering from oppression should sort themselves out, or that starving children in some Islamic country are only the responsibility of the country in question. Muslims cannot accept this situation as a matter of faith.
However, Muslims have failed to form a strong alliance among themselves and so other—and non-Muslim—countries are offering solutions to these and similar problems. The proposed solutions, however, do not have the Muslims' best interest at heart, or else offer only short-term solutions. In many conflict-riven regions, the Muslims' relative weakness prevents them from having any real voice at the negotiating table. In addition, the so-called peace plans often incorporate certain clauses that do more harm than good. The Islamic world has an obligation to produce a joint action plan to safeguard the affected Muslims' rights.
The number of issues awaiting resolution by the Islamic Union indicate that it will have a busy schedule. To function efficiently, it needs to have a permanent operational headquarters, form the legislative and administrative organs that will coordinate their activities (including their subdivisions), and ensure that these institutions will function properly. The infrastructure that will deliver the right decisions at the right time must be built, the union must inspire trust with its activities, and its members must be reassured that their rights are fully protected.
The Islamic Union must have the flexibility to adapt to changing political conditions and the foresight to develop appropriate strategies. The need for an active central authority that can take the initiative, instead of giving reflexive responses to world events or being content with either criticizing or voicing opinions, is obvious. This center must shoulder the responsibility for coordinating, supervising, and serving the interest of all member states equally. It must consider all developments objectively and be guided by the Islamic world's demands. An Islamic Union that can arbitrate between member states, resolve their conflicts of interests, and protect Muslims in their dealings with other nations will increase the Islamic world's cultural, economic, and political influence.
For the Islamic Union to become a united force and a unifying structure, it must protect modern social values, respect the human rights of all people, and be based on democratic principles. Not surprisingly, all of these values are central to Islamic morality.
A Peaceful and Harmonious Islamic Union
The Islamic Union must work to bring peace to all people, not just Muslims, and tolerant and peaceful in its decisions and practices. The core of Islam is the good morality revealed in the Qur'an, which requires Muslims to be friendly, gentle, compassionate, tolerant, just, understanding, patient, and devoted. Islam invites people to a peaceful world:
O you who believe! Enter absolutely into peace (Islam). Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan. He is an outright enemy to you. (Qur'an, 2:208)
Muslims are defined as people who obey God's commands, try to practice the Qur'an's morality diligently, make the world a nicer place, build it up, and deliver peace and happiness. They strive to do good, pleasant, and nice things for people, and make a great effort to reflect our Lord's infinite compassion and mercy. God told His followers to be good to people, take an interest in his or her surrounding environment, and call people to the right path. The following verse describes the difference between people who have no positive effect on their surrounding environment and those who always try to do good:
God makes another metaphor: two men, one of them deaf and dumb, unable to do anything, a burden on his master, no matter where he directs him he brings no good. Is he the same as someone who commands justice and is on a straight path? (Qur'an, 16:76)
The message of this verse must guide the Islamic Union, which must be a platform for implementing Islamic morality's understanding of devotion, unity, friendship, honesty, justice, loyalty, fidelity, and service. Islamic morality guarantees people's freedom of thought and life, discourages tension and dispute between people, and even forbids suspicion, negative thoughts and words about one another. Our envisaged union must be formed by Muslims who operate on that basis and work for world peace.
The Qur'anic morality requires that Muslims refrain from war and conflict and resolve disputes by dialogue and agreement. The Qur'an considers war to be an unwanted necessity and a last resort that must abide by strict humanitarian and moral rules. Muslims are charged with always siding with peace and agreement, and fighting only in self-defense if attacked by the enemy. God reveals that it is evil-doers who begin war and that He does not like them:
Each time they kindle the fire of war, God extinguishes it. They rush about the land corrupting it. God does not love corrupters. (Qur'an, 5:64)
Our Prophet Mohammed's (may God bless him and grant him peace) life shows that war is only fought for defensive purposes when all else has failed. The Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) over a period of 23 years. For the first 13 years, Muslims lived as an oppressed minority community under pagan rule. Many Muslims were physically tortured, some were killed, and others had their property looted. As a community, they were constantly exposed to humiliation and threats. Nevertheless, they remained peaceful and continued to invite the pagan Makkans to peace. When the oppression reached unbearable levels, the Muslims migrated to Yathrib (later Madinah), where they found freedom and friendship, and where they gradually established their own rule. Not even then did they declare war on the aggressive pagans of Makkah.
The nature of an Islamic society is measured and balanced, for people are invited to do good and commanded to refrain from evil. Surat al-Baqara 2:143 states that Muslims are witnesses as well as role models to people as a "middlemost community." Another verse reveals that they are required to be an example of good for humanity:
You are the best nation ever to be produced before mankind. You enjoin the right, forbid the wrong, and believe in God. (Qur'an, 3:110)
An organization formed by Muslims who abide by God's teaching is obviously required to protect and represent this good morality and show the Islamic Union's way forward. It must first resolve intra-Muslim disputes and deliver peace to the Islamic world, oppose any movement that incites violence and war, and constitute a preventive force against all warmongers. Furthermore, it must cooperate with the international community on terrorism and international crime, as well as on matters of general concern (e.g., weapons of mass destruction), and even lead the fight against these threats.
A Generator of Solutions
We have briefly mentioned some problems (e.g., Palestine and Kashmir) that the Islamic Union could resolve quickly. Thus, once it is established, this union will have to shoulder huge responsibilities and become an organization that can generate realistic and appropriate solutions.
The current situation has a negative effect not only on Muslims, but also on many innocent people around the world. Untold millions continue to suffer from the curses of corruption, poverty, immorality, the unfair distribution of wealth, ruthlessness, tyranny, conflict, and injustice. Babies die because there is no food, children and the elderly are left to fend for themselves on the streets, refugees are forced to live in tents or barracks, and sick people cannot afford any medical treatment—all of these problems affect not only the Islamic world and the underdeveloped world in general, but also, to a lesser extent, the developed world.
Many innocent and needy people are waiting for a helping hand. The Muslims' responsibilities in this regard are as follows:
What reason could you have for not fighting in the Way of God—for those men, women, and children who are oppressed and say: "Our Lord, take us out of this city whose inhabitants are wrongdoers! Give us a protector from You! Give us a helper from You!?" (Qur'an, 4:75)
The Islamic Union will resolve the disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims as well as conflicts between Muslims. Currently, even intra-Muslim disputes are being resolved by Western countries or international organizations under their control. Foreign powers, unfamiliar with Muslim history and culture, do not appear to be capable of delivering appropriate solutions, even if they do provide some little help from time to time. Muslim nations should solve their own problems, for then their problems will not be dragged into the international arena, the proposed solutions will be in their interest, and a united Islamic world will send out a message of power and stability. One of the Islamic world's greatest troubles is its current inability to produce such common policies and effective strategies even on matters of direct concern.
The Islamic Union must find solutions for the Muslim nations as well as for all people seeking peace and security. Each nation has its own political, demographic, and economic problems, and different regions have their own regional problems too. Although each of these problems requires different solutions and measures, the fundamental problems and their solutions are everywhere the same. Much suffering and trouble is caused by the fact that the Qur'an's morality is not practiced as it should be, which means that the required solutions are not devised according to its guidance. If just and realistic solutions are to be reached, such qualities as open-mindedness, flexibility, and free thinking, together with honesty, devotion, justice, and helpfulness, all of which are derived from the Qur'an's morality must guide the Muslims.
There is an important link between solving economic problems and social morality. For instance, one of the greatest economic problems is social injustice, which is essentially a moral problem. There can be no social injustice in an Islamic society, for God requires that all surplus goods or wealth be shared with the needy and prohibits conspicuous consumption. Financial means should not constitute the basis for privilege and become a value shared by the few, for the Qur'an's morality requires social solidarity and awareness of one another's needs. Sincere Muslims have such a devotional character that they give their food first to the poor and the captives, even if they are in need themselves. They do so only to earn God's good pleasure, for:
They give food, despite their love for it, to the poor and orphans and captives [saying], "We feed you only out of desire for the Face of God. We do not want any repayment from you or any thanks." (Qur'an, 76:8-9)
The solidarity and cooperation between individuals can easily be achieved in international relations, for Islamic morality will guide the union's member nations. It is intolerable that some countries enjoy exaggerated luxury while, in another country, thousands of newborn babies die of starvation. Every conscientious person should be disturbed by this situation.
Many charitable and international organizations are actively seeking to assist these poor and suffering nations. However, their efforts usually do not go beyond delivering aid packages to the affected regions. And, this aid often does not reach its intended recipients due to the failures of the underdeveloped nation's system and their mafia or gang-type organizations. All of these must be eradicated, and a new mentality based on conscience and common sense must be nurtured through mass education campaigns.
When wastefulness is prevented, when solidarity develops and sharing is encouraged, and especially when people have learned to be guided by their conscience, such economic imbalances can be eradicated. The most suitable structure to implement these solutions will be the Islamic Union.
Private and Individual Rights Must Be Just and Respected
In a society shaped by true Islamic morality, individual rights and freedoms are very important. Personal rights and freedoms are guaranteed so that people can live a free and dignified life. God has revealed in the Qur'an that all people are equal in His presence, for superiority is based upon one's awareness of God, and He commands Muslims to be just, tolerant, forgiving, and understanding toward people. Therefore, they must respect differences and be fair when evaluating them.
Our Prophet's (may God bless him and grant him peace) practices in the first Islamic society (Madinah) have shown the way for all Muslims with regard to social structure and governance. The "Constitution of Madinah," considered the Muslims' first constitution, reflects an advanced level of understanding of law and exemplifies Islamic society's sense of justice and individual rights. Under it, all people of whatever religion were given their fundamental rights and freedoms, and people's property, life, family, and places of worship were safeguarded. With this agreement, everyone could live under one political entity and peace was brought to tribes that had been feuding with one another for many years. Outside of the Constitution of Madinah, the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) always treated the pagans fairly, honored their pleas for safety and protection and desired friendly and civilized relations between people.
Fourteen centuries ago, Islam brought such values as individual rights, law and order, equality before the law, and economic freedom to humanity. As Islam spread, the justice that prevailed throughout its domain became the envy of all nations. This sense of justice, which is still remembered today with respect and approval by many Western thinkers, led many people and nations to embrace Islam and welcome Muslim rule. Our Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant him peace) practiced the Qur'anic system of justice in the best possible way, and his Companions and Muslims in general continued to practice this superior morality. This enabled the Muslims to become a community that achieved justice between people:
Among those We have created there is a community who guide by the Truth and act justly according to it. (Qur'an, 7:181)
Islam teaches freedom of thought and participation in government. A broad-based consultation process is one of Islam's most fundamental social requirements, for God commands Muslims to govern by mutual consultation, namely, to discuss their affairs among themselves:
[Believers are] those who respond to their Lord and perform prayer, manage their affairs by mutual consultation, and give of what We have provided for them. (Qur'an, 42:38)
When action follows consultation, all individuals will have had an equal chance to voice their opinions and then to consider the matter from many different perspectives. This reduces the possibility of error and, therefore, results in an agreed-upon and appropriate decision.
The most important aspect of consultation is that each representative does his or her best to respect and understand the different viewpoints. Their main concern is to find the right ideas, rather than who proposed them. In other words, consultation's main purpose is to make those decisions that are in society's best interest. Islamic morality requires that Muslims not insist upon their own views, but adopt the view that is closest to their conscience and justice. Muslims must refrain from the insistence and pride inherent in thinking that "my views are the best, my views must be recognized by all," for such behavior does not please God. Muslims must know that that there is always someone who knows more than they do, and that it would be a grave error to insist that their own ideas are the best:
Over everyone with knowledge is a knower. (Qur'an, 12:76)
The Islamic principle of consultation is a leading light for the Islamic Union, which must be built on a political culture of free speech without fear of recrimination, where their rights are safeguarded, and where everyone's views are listened to with equal respect. In this way, its member nations will develop societies in which people respect each other's views; where equality, justice, and freedom rule; and where oppression and injustice are eradicated. Such achievements will enable the Islamic world to guarantee the Muslims' safety and happiness, and also will become the driving force of our world's culture and civilization.
The Ultimate Goal: Developing the Islamic World
One of the Islamic world's most serious problems is its general underdevelopment. Therefore, one of the Islamic Union's priorities must be to develop the Islamic world by supporting the poorer countries and resolving their economic problems. This can be done by fighting poverty,—encouraging new investments, creating jobs,—achieving law and order throughout society, removing economic injustice and guaranteeing social justice, and strengthening international as well as regional cooperation and dialogue.
Problems and tensions within the Islamic world caused by financial inequality must be reduced. A union and cooperation between Muslim nations in the economic, political, and, most importantly, the cultural arenas will enable the underdeveloped nations to advance rapidly. Moreover, those that have the necessary infrastructure in place will be enabled to maximize their productivity. Such a union will benefit economic growth and scientific and technological development.
Economic growth will increase investment in science and technology, and technological advancements will fuel further economic growth. Economic development will raise educational standards, and society will develop in many ways. Under the umbrella of the Islamic Union, individuals will be able to travel freely without the obstacles of visas or borders, and a system of free trade and enterprise will drive the Islamic world's rapid growth and development.
This development will naturally result in the Islamic world's modernization and reaching the standards found in the developed world. While Islam's economic principles diverge from the hedonism that dominates the majority of the West, free trade is just as essential to Islamic societies as it is to Western societies. Islam recognizes everybody's right to private ownership and free enterprise, but Islamic morality places certain responsibilities on individuals in order to achieve social justice. The poor have a share in the wealth of the rich, but not in the form of enforced taxation. Rather, the rich give this share to the poor willingly because of their beliefs. Islam's version of social justice is not achieved by central planning and enforcement, as socialism proclaimed but failed to deliver, but by the society's dominant moral values. Islamic morality also prevents the rich from indulging in conspicuous consumption and extravagance.
The materialistic social model encourages consumption, selfishness, and the ruthless oppression of others by individuals who have lost their respect and love for their fellow citizens. Over the past two centuries, this social model has come to dominate the majority of the Western world and has eroded its traditional Judeo-Christian moral values. As a consequence, many Western countries are forced to fight widespread drug abuse, prostitution, corruption, gambling, alcohol abuse, and organized crime. Furthermore, weakening religious beliefs has created an identity crisis: Materialist philosophies, which assert that the purpose of life is to acquire material wealth and live a life of pleasure, cannot satisfy people's spirituality and so end up creating a void of aimlessness. Under the banner of freedom, its adherents abandon themselves to their own selfish desires.
Islamic morality, on the other hand, frees people from all kinds of worries and anxieties that trouble their minds. Believers only heed God and seek to win only His good pleasure. Fully aware of their responsibilities to our Lord, they live by their conscience at all times and, as such, are content and well-balanced individuals. They offer their environment goodness and beauty. This morality frees people from the pressures of envy, excessive desire, fear of the future and death, and other attitudes and fears that are incompatible with religious morality. Freed of these negative characteristics, they experience the freedom and peace derived from submitting to God.
Therefore, the development and advancement encouraged by the Islamic Union will not be identical to the development envisaged by the West. During its period of development, the West experienced great social injustice. For instance, the driving force of development in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England was ruthless exploitation. The working classes endured terrible working and living conditions. Children as young as 7 or 8 were made to work in filthy coal mines for 16 hours a day; many of them died before they were 20 years old. In the 1840s, the average life expectancy of coal miners fell to an average of 17 years.16 On the other hand, the rich lived in excessive luxury and extravagance. All industrialized Western countries went through these horrific experiences, and they built themselves upon the exploitation and oppression of millions of poor people.
The developmental model of a society dominated by Islamic morality will comprise social justice. The West suffered great injustice during its own development because its leaders adhered to materialism's misconceptions of human nature. Islamic morality, however, requires people to be entrepreneurs and pioneers in all fields, as well as compassionate, selfless, and just to others. Throughout the rise of Islamic civilization, Muslims were world leaders in economics and very successful traders. However, the resulting wealth did not remain in the hands of the few, but spread throughout society. Such social aid institutions as charitable organizations, social complexes, soup kitchens, caravanserai (large inns), public baths, and libraries show that wealth and culture did not remain in the hands of a few Muslims, but were accessible to all. The envisaged Islamic Union must adopt this developmental model.
Another aspect of this developmental model is open-mindedness. Islamic morality requires Muslims to be open-minded or, in other words, that they maintain dialogue with other cultures and benefit from their achievements. For this reason, Muslim thinkers and scientists examined earlier Greek, Chinese, Roman, and Indian scholarly works, from which they acquired knowledge and then developed and enriched with an Islamic understanding. The Islamic world of today must examine other cultures, in particular those of the West, benefit from their accumulated knowledge, and then use and advance them further for their own—and humanity's—benefit.
Trying to isolate the Islamic world from other cultures making it self-contained will not benefit Muslims. Islamic morality demands that technology be used to the full. For instance, Muslims must build their own film industry to teach humanity righteousness and goodness, as a counterweight to films that seek to impose a materialistic twist on Islamic morality. If some art trends contain negative influences, Muslims must produce a more beautiful and splendid art form. If people admire the impressiveness, cleanliness, comfort, and liveliness of cities, Muslims must build even better cities and make the world an even better place in which to live.
Surely Muslims can build a civilization comparable to the great Islamic civilization of the past, but to do so they must live according to the aesthetics and artistry, open-mindedness, moderation, and justice of the Qur'an's values. Islamic art, culture, and civilization will not only bring prosperity to Muslims, but to all of humanity. The world's greatest libraries, most stunning architecture, cleanest streets, the brightest lit roads, and best schools, universities, and hospitals will be built by Muslims, and all people will have equal access to them.
The rise of Islamic civilization is possible under the leadership of an Islamic central power, and the twenty-first century can be an enlightening one for the Islamic world. At a time when globalization is gaining momentum, Muslim nations must resolve their conflicts; enter into joint scientific, technological, and trading ventures; and combine their forces in the interest of all Muslims.
Finally, it must be stated that Muslims do not divide the world into two opposing poles: "Westerners" and "Muslims." First, the majority of Western people are People of the Book and therefore share many of the Muslims' moral and religious values. That is why many aspects of Western culture (e.g., freedom of belief, democracy, and family values) are central to Islamic morality as well. On the other hand, many people in the West have chosen Islam as their religion and continue to do so. Considering that the Qur'an's values have so far not been made available correctly and comprehensively in the West, it is realistic to expect many more people to embrace Islam. Muslims must adopt this attitude to the West and its culture. Also, they must remember that some circles have been under the influence of materialistic philosophies for over two centuries, and that they still need to be freed from their prejudices. This is the responsibility of Muslims.