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PAN-ISLAM. Since about 1878, the European appellation, for the ideology calling all Muslims to unite in support of their faith has been Pan-Islam. As a religious concept, it has existed since the early days of Islam; `ulama’ and fuqaha’ employed it repeatedly to encourage believers to cooperation and solidarity. Their ideal was the universally united Muslim community, that of the early days of Islam or of the extensive Muslim empire of past times. As Islam is a highly political religion, so was its Pan-Islamic element, chiefly since the 1860s and 1870s when European colonialism reached a peak. Then it became a defensive ideology, intended simultaneously to raise the morale of the foreign-dominated Muslims and to save the few remaining independent Muslim states from a similar fate. Of these, Afghanistan and Morocco were rather peripheral geographically; Iran, overwhelmingly Shi`i, was hardly suitable to promote Pan-Islamic policy among preponderantly Sunni populations. The Ottoman Empire, both centrally located and territorially the largest of the four, was decidedly more appropriate.

Turkish intellectuals had been discussing Pan-Islam (ittihad-i Islam) and writing about it, since the 1860s as a potential political weapon capable of uniting all Muslims and saving the Ottoman Empire from fragmentation. However, only during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-igog) did Pan-Islam become a favored state policy, adopted and promoted by some members of the ruling bureaucratic and intellectual elites of the empire. In reaction to the loss of Cyprus (1878), Tunisia (I) M (I) ), and Egypt (1882), both orthodox and secular intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire energetically strove to formulate political ideologies aiming at a Pan-Islam directed against European political, military, economic, and missionary penetration. The best known was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897). Others were subsidized by Abdulhamid, whose agents spread Pan-Islamic propaganda, openly and covertly, within and without the Ottoman Empire. This sultan posed as the caliph, a would-be spiritual and temporal leader to whom all Muslims everywhere owed allegiance and obedience. The propaganda he fostered, intended to offset as far as possible the empire’s military and economic weakness, had several policy objectives: to favor the central government over the periphery, and the empire’s Muslims over its non-Muslims in education, office, and economic opportunities (particular attention being paid to Turks and Arabs, somewhat less to Albanians and Bosnians); to recruit the empire’s Muslims and many outside it in response to the activities of some of the Great Powers, which were encouraging nationalist secessionist trends among sections of the empire’s Muslims; to enable the sultan-caliph to threaten these powers with instigating Pan-Islamic activities among Muslims living under the rule of those Powers.

Actions based on Abdulhamid’s Pan-Islamic policies were modest, confined to expressions of support and fund-raising, especially during wars, such as the conflict with Greece over Crete in 1897. His efforts, however, were taken seriously enough by several European powers, which refrained from attacking the Ottoman Empire while he reigned. It is no coincidence that only after his deposition (1909) and the general expectation that Pan-Islamic activities had come to an end, did Italy invade Tripolitania and the Balkan peoples annex Ottoman territories to bolster their own independence. The ruling Committee of Union and Progress (popularly called the Young Turks), less dedicated to Pan-Islam, did not hesitate to exploit it then and in World War I. The Ottoman declaration of war (i1 November 1914) was accompanied by a proclamation of jihad and the pronouncement of five fatwas enjoining all Muslims everywhere to unite and join, with life and property, the Ottoman Empire in the jihad against Russia, Great Britain, and France (which, along with the Netherlands, were then ruling most of the non independent Muslim populations).

But the intensive Ottoman Pan-Islamic propaganda, carried out with full German cooperation, failed to induce Muslims in the Allied forces to revolt, for several reasons: the limitations of Pan-Islamic organization; countermeasures by the Allied Powers; the reservations of Muslims, shocked by reports of the Young Turks’ irreligiosity; the acquiescence of some Muslims (e.g., in India) in their foreign-dominated status; alternative priorities among some Muslims, such as Arab nationalist aspirations; and the alliance of the Ottomans with Christian powers such as Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The failure of Pan-Islam in World War I and the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire brought Pan-Islam to an almost total standstill in the following generation. The abolition of the caliphate (1924) deprived it of its top leadership. Attempts at uprisings by Russia’s Muslims (which had exhibited Pan Islamic leanings since the late nineteenth century) were soon crushed by the Soviet armed forces. A Pan-Muslim mass movement in India, in the 1920s, the Khilafat, petered out with hardly a trace. Five Pan-Islamic conventions (Mecca, 1924; Cairo, 1926; Mecca, 1926; Jerusalem, 1931; Geneva, 1935) had no follow-ups, highlighting organizational weakness. Further, Pan-Islam had to grapple with competing ideologies, universalist ones, like atheist communism in the Soviet Union and Pan-Arabism, and particularist ones, such as nationalism in Turkey and several Arab states, chiefly those that had adopted modernity and secularism as their creed and way of life.

Since the end of World War II, changing circumstances have again favored Pan-Islam. Rising Islamic fundamentalism comprised an element of Pan-Islam. The preaching of Muslim solidarity, as a step toward union, found ready ears. Newly independent Muslim states had the political means to promote the fulfillment of Pan-Islam, and several also had the economic capacity to do so. The latter, chiefly Saudi Arabia, set up Pan-Islamic international organizations for this purpose. The Muslim World League (founded 1962) serves as an umbrella organization for many nongovernmental Islamic associations and groups. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (established 1969) is an association of Muslim governments; it seeks to coordinate Islamic solidarity and promote Pan Islamic political and economic cooperation internationally. The breakdown of the Soviet Union has afforded it new opportunities for co-opting the newly independent former Soviet republics.

The attempts of Saddam Hussein of Iraq in 1990-1991 and Mu’ammar Qadhafi of Libya in 1992 to recruit all-Muslim support against “foreign aggression” indicate that Pan-Islam is still considered an important political tool.

[See also Abdul hamid II; Congresses; Khilafat Movement; Muslim World League; Organization of the Islamic Conference; Ottoman Empire.]


Aziz, K. K., comp. The Indian Khilafat Movement, 1915-1933. Karachi, 1972. Documentary record.

Charmes, Gabriel. L’avenir de la Turquie: Le panislamisme. Paris, 1883. The first book informing Europe of Pan-Islam.

Chejne, Anwar G. “Pan-Islamism and the Caliphal Controversy.” Islamic Literature 7.12 (December 1955): 5-23.

Gibb, H. A. R. “The Islamic Congress at Jerusalem in December 1931.” In Survey of International Affairs, 1934, edited by A. J. Toynbee, pp. 99-109. London, 1935

Keddie, Nikki R. “Pan-Islam as Proto-Nationalism.” Journal of Modern History 41.1 (March 1969): 17-28. Important historical analysis. Kidwai, Mushir Hosain. Pan-Islamism. London, 1908.

Kramer, Martin. Islam Assembled. New York, 1986. Pan-Islamic congresses.

Landau, Jacob M. “Al-Afghani’s Panislamic Project.” Islamic Culture 26.3 (July 1952): 50-54.

Landau, Jacob M. The Politics of Pan-Islam: Ideology and Organization. Oxford, 1990), Contains a detailed bibliography (pp. 382-425). Lee, D. A. “The Origins of Pan-Islamism.” American Historical Review 47.2 (January 1942): 278-287. Brief, classic study of the subject.

Levtzion, Nehemia. International Islamic Solidarity and Its Limitations. Jerusalem, 1979. Useful survey of currently active Pan-Islamic organizations.

Mawdfidi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la. Unity of the Muslim World. Lahore, 1967. Distinguished Pakistani’s thoughts on Pan-Islam.

Qureshi, M. Naeem. “Bibliographic Soundings in Nineteenth-Century Pan-Islam in South Asia.” Islamic Quarterly 24.1-2 (1980): 22-34. Systematic bibliographic survey.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/pan-islam/

  • writerPosted On: June 24, 2017
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