Ahmed Ibrahim Abushouk
The Muslim world and Muslim ummah are commonly used terms, both in popular public discourse and in intellectual-academic works, suggesting some kind of coherent unity. At the same time, the socio-political and economic diversity of Muslim countries from Mauritania to Indonesia and from Zanzibar to Turkey has led some Western scholars to ask: is there any form of unity behind the current diversity of the Muslim World? The present article denies the objectivity of this question and argues that the foundations of Muslim unity were laid during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and took an institutionalized shape during the period of his first successors. This early unity of the ummah functioned as an effective force behind the rapid spread of Islam from its cradle in Arabian Peninsula into a cosmopolitan array of cultures, where the Muslims absorbed the cultures of the liberated territories within the fold of Islam and gave Islam an international dimension. However, this assumption does not claim that the unity of the Muslim ummah had never been shaken by internal conflicts among Muslims themselves or external threats from colonial forces. It argues that these two factors had greatly weakened the unity of the Muslim Ummah, and led some scholars to challenge its authenticity and raise clouds of doubt about its existence throughout the history of the Muslim world.
The present article addresses these issues from different perspectives. It first highlights the distinctive features of the Muslim ummah, and traces their development during the period of the Prophet and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs. It secondly discusses the majors challenges that threatened the unity of the Muslim ummah after the decline of the Rightly Guided Caliphate in the 7th/1st century, and investigates how Muslims overcame these challenges and contributed positively to the development of their brilliant civilization. The last part of the article is confined to the discussion of the proposals presented by some Muslim scholars and politicians to triumph over the crisis of the political unity of the Ummah that emerged after the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924/1343.