A Globalized ‘Ummah’ of Islam Mirrors a Universal Search For Kinship in an Ever-Divided World of Now …

By Vin Sharma📚🎥📸📻💻

Guest Speaker: Professor James Piscatori and Chair: Professor Salwa Ismail (Photo: Vin Sharma📚🎥📸📻💻 )

In Arabic, the word ‘Ummah’ means ‘community’ and is a historical reference to Muslims worldwide being bound together by ties of the religion. According to a UK-based academic in Islamic studies, the issue of differing interpretations has caused contradictory trends to emerge as networks are evolving their own visions of community solidarity.

Professor James Piscatori has been working extensively on pan-Islamism and Islamic transnationalism, and specifically investigating the contemporary meaning of a globalized form of Islam.

Speaking at a conference at SOAS, University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) he described an evolving discontent that has spread which requires new modern guidance due to the potential it holds of being abused for self-interest agendas. Being used as an instrument of political and social control by many is very visible, with the concept of community solidarity open for manipulation and often used to legitimise populist propaganda in local regions.

The Professor explained what he felt was the true historical purpose of community solidarity in the Muslim world:

“One of the hidden agendas of the argument is that many people do not think that a globalized version of Ummah, or a truly unifying collective brotherhood even exists anymore, but for those that do acknowledge it, often it can get misinterpreted as being something hostile and aggressive. It is in fact a communitarian idea, in that there is almost an abstract membership, or feeling of solidarity based on a set of shared principles and an assumed domain of knowledge that also has significant historical relevance,” Professor Piscatori explained during the conference.

The Digital Ummah:

He went on to describe the growth of a thriving, commercial Ummah industry that now exists where a number of non-governmental organisations with large global networks online were able to digitally spread their trans-national message. The use of a unified message to resonate nationalistic ideals, as well as also reaching beyond nation-state borders is something said to be manipulated as a form of soft power by state leaders, according to Professor Piscatori.

An audience member at the conference asked whether parallels existed between authoritarian state-manipulated interpretations of an ‘Ummah’ with the rise of populism as seen via Trumpism in America, and the growth in Far-Right Politics in parts of Europe, all of which promote exaggerated despair and a self-serving nostalgia to a previously golden age that may have once existed. The equivalent of ‘Make America Great Again’ which for many in Islam blames imperialism for dividing the Muslim brotherhood:

“There is a saying: ‘They killed us before we loved each other’ which puts blame outside of Islam for the decline of the Ummah. But whilst others argue that a sense of Muslim global unity is strong, many also believe that a more ambivalent sense of community exists in reality today which poses many questions due to so many differing interpretations that exist. It is almost as if there are now sub-groups of Ummah, and even discontent Micro-Ummahs worldwide, with many geographically displaced and often in civil conflict with others,” according to Professor Piscatori.
Professor James Piscatori (Photo: Vin Sharma📚🎥📸📻💻 )

Diversity of Discontent:

A student at SOAS, London asked the Professor whether he felt groups such as DAESH and Al Qaeda represented some of the many discontented sub-groups of the kind of global Ummah as he conveys in his lecture:

“I cannot speak on behalf of all Muslims, but I will say that all interpretations of solidarity needs proper guidance due to the potential of abuse. What I can say is that it can be used as an instrument of political and social control by many, and turns into a kind of populist propaganda tool. There is also a cosmopolitan factor that when studied, conveys universalism but does not necessarily mean inclusive for everyone, in particularly when existing amongst other faiths and identities. Sectarian factors bring with it the many problems into the modern world, the consequences of which we have seen,” Professor Piscatori replied.

President Erdogan of Turkey was mentioned by the Professor as an authoritarian leader who many declare as a modern day ‘Sultan of the Ummah’, with his use of nationalistic language and manipulating propaganda. There are also other leaders of states and tribal groups who similarly use the concept of ‘an inter-connected community spirit’ to spread their own rhetoric and to promote the replacement of a long-lost caliphate from as far back as the 7th century.

There are references beyond Islam even that describe a similar mobilization of people in a unitarian sense. In Sikhism it is described as ‘Khalsa’ and in Buddhism, the concept of collective evolution of individuals can also draw many parallels.

In Christianity, the history found in the book of Genesis also refers to everyone as belonging to one human race:

“It is clear that the feeling of belonging or sense of community has evolved to mean something very different for people around the world, and this can be linked to a number of variable factors. Stories and legends such as that of Salah ad-Din and Suleiman the Magnificent are very much part of the process of reinforcement in Islam, and with a number of symbolic elements also holding great significance and meaning, such as the footprint of the messenger, which is a type of veneration of the prophet. Even in popular culture today, much conscious effort is made by a number of pop singers for example, to promote a global, common belonging with an ancient past that is easy to identify with,” said Professor Piscatori.

Sarah Virgi is an MA student at SOAS, London and speaking about the theme of the conference she told Vin Sharma📚🎥📸📻💻

“The theme of the evening was a very consistent sociological and psychological analysis of the Ummah as it is seen and felt today among the Muslim communities, however it is not a very hopeful one and makes one wonder if such a concept is still valid and pertinent to understand and evaluate the community of Mulsims in the present context. Especially considering the divisions and discontents that it has engendered.”

Professor Piscatori concluded his talk with an almost universal search for global solidarity that he cited is not only present in Islam, but crosses nation-state divisions, ethnicity and even religion itself:

“The reality is that we are all seeking for a new world order which works for us all collectively. We are all seeking ideals, and ways in which we can all fit with other inter-connecting communities peacefully. What we must also seek however, is a way of accepting the fact that all others have the right to believe in their own perspectives and this requires acceptance of other peoples validity to co-exist. The problem now is that people have within them different ideas of what the Ummah should be, and so new articulators of the movement are required…”
“We have to also look closely at the modern condition of humanity as a whole in order to identify the relevance of inter-connectedness everywhere…”

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