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Pan-Islamism (Arabic: الوحدة الإسلامية) is a political movement advocating the unity of Muslims under one Islamic country or state – often a caliphate – or an international organization with Islamic principles. Pan-Islamism was launched in Turkey at the end of the 19th century by Sultan Abdul-Hamid II for the purpose of combating the process of westernization and fostering the unification of Islam. Pan-Islamism differentiates itself from pan-nationalistic ideologies, for example Pan-Arabism, by seeing the ummah (Muslim community) as the focus of allegiance and mobilization, excluding ethnicity and race as primary unifying factors. The major leaders of the Pan-Islamist movement were the triad of Jamal al-Din Afghani (1839 - 1897), Muhammad Abduh (1849 - 1905) and Sayyid Rashid Rida (1865 - 1935); who were active in anti-colonial efforts to confront European penetration of Muslim lands. They also sought to strengthen Islamic unity, which they believed to be the strongest force to mobilize Muslims against imperial domination. Following Ibn Saud's conquest of Arabian Peninsula; pan-Islamism would be bolstered across the Islamic World. During the second half of the twentieth century; pan-Islamists would compete against secular nationalist ideologies in the Arab World such as Nasserism.

الإسلامية الوحدة nasserism

1. Classical Doctrines

The Arabic term Ummah, which is found in the Quran[1] and Islamic tradition,[2][3] has historically been used to denote the Muslims as a whole, regardless of race, ethnicity, etc.[3][4] This term has been used in a political sense by classical Islamic scholars e.g. such as al-Mawardi in Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah, where he discusses the contract of Imamate of the Ummah, "prescribed to succeed Prophethood" in protection of the religion and of managing the affairs of the world.[5][6][7][8] Al-Ghazali also talks about Ummah in a political sense[9][10] e.g. in his work, "Fadiah al-Batinyah wa Fadail al-Mustazhariyah".[11][12]

Fakhruddin al-Razi, who also talks about Ummah in a political sense, is quoted as saying the following:[9][13]

The world is a garden, whose waterer is the dynasty, which is the authority. The guardian of this authority is the Shari'ah and Shari'ah is also the policy which preserves the kingdom; the kingdom is the city which the army brings into existence; the army is guaranteed by wealth; wealth is acquired by the subjects (Ummah) who are made servants via justice; justice is the axis of well being of the world.
—al-Razi in his Jami al-'Ulum[9][13]

According to some scholars, the ideology's aims takes early years of Islam – the reign of Muhammad and the early caliphate – especially during Islamic golden age as its model, as it is commonly held that during these years the Muslim world was strong, unified, and free from corruption.[14]

2. History

2.1. Origins

Many scholars assert that the doctrines of pan-Islamism could be observed as early as during the era of Islamic Iberia, Emirate of Sicily, the Gunpowder Empires (Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal Empires) and several Muslim sultanates and kingdoms, despite the presence and employment of non-Muslim subjects by Muslim powers.[15] During the 18th century, multiple movements for puritanical Islamic renewal would emerge. Amongst these, the revivalist movements of three leading religious reformers— Shah Wali Allah of Delhi (1702–1763), the Arabian Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792), and the Nigerian Uthman dan Fodio (1755–1816)— are widely regarded as the precursors of the modern-era Pan-Islamist thought. Despite their calls for puritanical reform; these movements were not politically concerned with the international situation of the Muslim world, and had not elaborated comprehensive pan-Islamist programmes to combat the Western threat. Since they did not call for the revival of an international Islamic entity; their ideas and impact were limited to the local regional contexts of West Africa, Arabia, and South Asia.[16]

In spite of their diversity, these eighteenth-century Muslim reformers were united in their condemnation of declining morality and calls for the revival of scripture-based piety. Inspired by these movements, Islamic reformers at the turn of the 19th century adopted novel strategies for overcoming the crisis faced by the Muslim World by adapting to the fast-paced transformation of its era. Their proposed approaches now oscillated between an open admiration for the technology-mediated Western ideology of societal progress and a clear rejection of it on the grounds of the axiomatic superiority of an idealized Islamic culture, rooted in Scripturalist injunctions. Two major scholars of early colonial Egypt ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti (d. 1825) and Rifa‘a al-Tahtawi (d. 1872) represented these intellectual trends. While Rifa'a al Tahtawi exemplified the former, 'Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti represented the latter, Scriptural-oriented approach.[17]

2.2. Modern Era

Late 19th century

In the modern era, Pan-Islamism was championed by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani who sought unity among Muslims to resist colonial occupation of Muslim lands. Afghani feared that nationalism would divide the Muslim world and believed that Muslim unity was more important than ethnic identity.[18] Although sometimes described as "liberal",[19] al-Afghani did not advocate constitutional government but simply envisioned “the overthrow of individual rulers who were lax or subservient to foreigners, and their replacement by strong and patriotic men.”[20] In a review of the theoretical articles of his Paris-based newspaper there was nothing "favoring political democracy or parliamentarianism,” according to his biographer.[20]

While Afghani was an advocate of revolution from above, his student 'Abduh (who was also a Freemason[21]) believed in revolution from below, through religious and educational reforms. Despite al-Afghani’s tremendous influence on ‘Abduh, the latter eventually would distance himself from Afghani's political path. He instead focused on gradual efforts in the field of education, which he viewed as more effective instruments for reform. He criticised Afghani and pan-Islamist intellectuals for their political activities. Afghani had bitter arguments with Abduh and regularly accused him of timidity and dispiritedness.[22]

Early 20th century

Islamic jurist Muhammad Rashid Rida -a student of Abduh and Afghani- on the other hand, was an avowed anti-imperialist and an exponent of a puritanical revolution, inspired by his nostalgia for the early eras of Islam. According to Rida, the state-sponsored scholars neglected the revival of early Islamic traditions in the Muslim Ummah. He believed that the unification of the Islamic community would only be possible through the restoration of an Islamic caliphate which implements the Sharia (Islamic law). His influential Islamic journal Al-Manar promoted anti-British revolt, as well as Islamic revivalism based on the tenets of Salafiyya. Positioning himself as the successor to the pan-Islamist activism of Afghani and 'Abduh; Rida called for a pan-Islamic project based on revival of the Islamic caliphate led by Arabs and the reformation of Muslims. During the 1920s, Rida formulated the comprehensive Islamic state doctrine in his famous treatise al-Khilafa aw al-Imama al-‘Uzma ("The Caliphate or the Exalted Imamate") in which he called upon Muslims to strive to build a political system based on faith; rather than nationalism. He opposed the rising embracal of Western ideas amongst Muslims, arguing that only a return to Islam would restore the rightful position of Muslims in the modern age. Pan-Islamic networks, led by Rashid Rida and his associates, played a central role in later development of Islamist movements.[23][24][25]

Articulating his Pan-Islamist vision, Rashid Rida wrote in Al-Manar in 1902:

"In sum, what I mean by Islamic unity is that the leaders (ahl al-Hal wal-'aqd) among the scholars and notables should meet and compile a book of ordinances which is based on the deeply-rooted fundamentals of the Divine Law, agrees with the needs of the time, is easy to use, and is free of disagreement (khilaf). The Supreme Imam then orders the rulers of Muslims to apply it (al-'amal bihi)"[26]

Post-Ottoman era

After the Abolition of Caliphate in 1924, Pan-Islamism mobilized Muslim masses of both traditionalist and reform movements in Islam, inspired by the ideas of Rashid Rida. The Reformist movements led by Rida, would become more fundamentalist and literalist; emphasizing adherence to the idealised era of the Salaf and attempt to revive lost traditions.[27] Rashid Rida's socio-political views symbolised the convergence of the doctrines of the reformist, Salafist and pan-Islamist movements.[28]

The evolution of the early Pan-Islamist movement in the post-colonial world was strongly associated with Islamism. Leading Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb,[29] Abul Ala Maududi, and Ayatollah Khomeini all stressed their belief that a return to traditional Sharia law would make Islam united and strong again. Extremism within Islam goes back to the 7th century to the Kharijites. From their essentially political position, they developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shiʿa Muslims. The Kharijites were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to Takfir, whereby they declared other Muslims to be unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death.[30][31][32]

In the period of de-colonialism following World War II, Arab nationalism overshadowed Islamism which denounced nationalism as un-Islamic. In the Arab world secular pan-Arab parties – Baath and Nasserist parties – had offshoots in almost every Arab country, and took power in Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria. Islamists suffered severe repression; its major thinker Sayyid Qutb, was imprisoned, underwent torture and was later executed.[33] Egyptian president Nasser considered the idea of Muslim unity as a threat to Arab nationalism.[34]

In the 1950s, Pakistan 's government championed Muslim cooperation like many other Muslim countries however Pakistan’s efforts were complicated with its involvement in Baghdad pact and pro western foreign diplomacy in light of the Palestine-Israel conflict, however later relations would be much better. Many Muslim countries suspected that Pakistan was aspiring to leadership of the Muslim world to in foreword help western powers in relations with other Muslim states. [35]

Six-Day War

Following the defeat of Arab armies in the Six-Day War, Islamism and Pan-Islam began to reverse their relative position of popularity with nationalism and pan-Arabism. Political events in the Muslim world in the late 1960s convinced many Muslim states to shift their earlier ideas and respond favourably to Pakistan's goal of Muslim unity. Nasser abandoned his opposition to a pan-Islamic platform and such developments facilitated the first summit conference of Muslim heads of state in Rabat in 1969. This conference was eventually transformed into a permanent body called Organisation of Islamic Conference.[36]

Post 1979: Iranian Revolution and Afghan jihad

In 1979 the Iranian Revolution ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from power. Ten years later in 1989; the Afghan mujahideen, with major support from the United States , would successfully force the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Pan-Islamic Sunni Muslims such as Maududi and the Muslim Brotherhood, embraced the creation of a new caliphate, at least as a long-term project.[37] Shia leader Ruhollah Khomeini[38] also embraced a united Islamic supra-state[39] but saw it led by a (Shia) religious scholar of fiqh (a faqih).[40]

These events galvanised Islamists the world over and heightened their popularity with the Muslim public. Throughout the Middle-East, and in particular Egypt, the various branches of the Muslim Brotherhood have significantly challenged the secular nationalist or monarchical Muslim governments. In Pakistan the Jamaat-e-Islami enjoyed popular support especially since the formation of the MMA, and in Algeria the FIS was expected to win the cancelled elections in 1992. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hizb-ut-Tahrir has emerged as a Pan-Islamist force in Central Asia and in the last five years has developed some support from the Arab world.[41]

A recent advocate for Pan-Islamism was late Turkish prime minister and founder of Millî Görüş movement Necmettin Erbakan, who championed the Pan-Islamic Union (İslam Birliği) idea and took steps in his government toward that goal by establishing the Developing 8 Countries (or D8, as opposed to G8) in 1996 with Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh. His vision was gradual unity of Muslim nations through economic and technologic collaboration similar to the EU with a single monetary unit (İslam Dinarı),[42] joint aerospace and defense projects, petrochemical technology development, regional civil aviation network and a gradual agreement to democratic values. Although the organization met at presidential and cabinet levels and moderate collaboration projects continue to date, the momentum was instantly lost when the so-called Post-Modern Coup of February 28, 1997, eventually took down Erbakan's government.[43]


  1. e.g. [Quran 21:91]
  2. e.g. Sahih al-Bukhari Vol. 9, Book 92, Hadith 384
  3. Denny, F.M., “Umma”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 19 June 2020
  4. Watt, W. Montgomery (1972). Muhammad at Medina. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  5. Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah by al-Mawardi, Chapter 1
  6. Fauzan, Ahmad. "Leadership Character According To Imam Al-Mawardi And Its Relevance In Indonesia: The Study Of The Book Of Al-Ahkam As-Sulthaniyyah." JURNAL PENELITIAN (2018): 39-50.
  7. Mansor, Wan Naim Wan. "Abu Hasan al-Mawardi: The First Islamic Political Scientist." (2015): 1-8.
  8. Gökkir, Necmettin. "Muslim Community/Ummah in Changing Society: Re-Contextualization of the Qur'an in Political Context." Hemispheres 24 (2009): 29.
  9. Akram, Ejaz. "Muslim Ummah and its link with transnational Muslim politics." Islamic studies (2007): 402.
  10. Kirabaev, Nur, and Maythem Al-Janabi. "Political Philosophy of Al-Ghazali." 4th International Conference on Contemporary Education, Social Sciences and Humanities (ICCESSH 2019). Atlantis Press, 2019.
  11. Ghazali, Fadiah al-Batinyah wa Fadail al-Mustazhariyah
  12. Andalusi, Abdullah (22 September 2017). "Imam Ghazali's Movement for the Unification of the Ummah & Caliphate". 
  13. Lambton, Ann KS. State and government in medieval Islam. Routledge, 2013.
  14. George Saliba (1994), A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam, pp. 245, 250, 256–257. New York University Press, ISBN:0-8147-8023-7.
  15. Chapra, Muhammad Umer (2014) (in en). Morality and Justice in Islamic Economics and Finance. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 62–63. ISBN 9781783475728. 
  16. Aydin, Cemil (2017). "Chapter 1: An Imperial Ummah Before the Nineteenth Century". The Idea of the Muslim World. Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London, England: Harvard University Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 9780674050372. ""Three leading renewal advocates— Shah Wali Allah of Delhi (1702–1763), the Najdi Muhammad Ibn Abd al Wahhab (1703–1792), and the Nigerian Uthman dan Fodio (1755–1816)—are often considered originators of pan-Islamism.... these disparate three were not especially concerned with the global situation of Islam or an imagined Muslim world. They didn’t respond to European empires encroaching in the Indian Ocean and on African coasts. They didn’t elaborate pan-Islamic ideas about the Western threat or attempt to formulate an essentialist global Islam. They also did not have any global impact.... their ideas and influence should be understood in their particular contexts of West Africa, Arabia, and South Asia"" 
  17. Al-Rasheed, Kersten, Shterin, Madawi, Carol, Marat; Hartung, Jan-Peter (2015). "3: Who Speaks of What Caliphate?: The Indian Khilafat Movement and its Aftermath". Demystifying the Caliphate: Historical Memory and Contemporary Contexts. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 82. ISBN 978-0-19-932795-9. 
  18. World Book Encyclopedia, 2018 ed., s.v. "Muslims"
  19. such as by a contemporary English admirer, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, (see: Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt (London: Unwin, 1907), p. 100.)
  20. Nikki R. Keddie, Sayyid Jamal ad-Din “al-Afghani”: A Political Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 225–226.
  21. American Oriental Society (1843). "Journal of the American Oriental Society" (in English). Journal of the American Oriental Society. ISSN 0003-0279. OCLC 47785421. 
  22. Motadel, David (2014). Islam and the European Empires. Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. 35, 184–187. ISBN 978-0-19-966831-1. 
  23. Motadel, David (2014). Islam and the European Empires. Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. 35, 175, 187, 190, 197. ISBN 978-0-19-966831-1. 
  24. Milton-Edwards, Beverley (2005). Islamic Fundamentalism since 1945. 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN: Routledge Publishers. p. 23. ISBN 0-203-57276-9. 
  25. M. Bennett, Andrew (2013). "Islamic History & Al-Qaeda: A Primer to Understanding the Rise of Islamist Movements in the Modern World". Pace International Law Review Online (PACE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW) 3 (10): 344–345. 
  26. M. Seikaly, Samir (2009). "1- Appropriating the Past: Twentieth-century Reconstruction of Pre-Modern Islamic Thought". Configuring Identity in the Modern Arab East. Beirut, Lebanon: American University of Beirut Press. pp. 24. ISBN 978-9953-9019-6-1. 
  27. Achcar, Gilbert (2010). The Arabs and the Holocaust:The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. 26 Westbourne Grove, London w2 5RH, UK: Actes Sud. pp. 105–106. ISBN 978-0-86356-835-0. 
  28. Saler, Michael; Hanssen, Jens (2015). "17: The Middle East". The Fin-De-Siècle World. 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN: Routledge. pp. 275. ISBN 978-0-415-67413-3. 
  29. (in en) Shaykh al Fawzān Warns Against The Books of Sayyid Quṭb | Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al Fawzān,, retrieved 2021-05-19 
  30. "Another battle with Islam's 'true believers'". The Globe and Mail. 
  31. "Archived copy". 
  32. Jebara, Mohamad Jebara More Mohamad. "Imam Mohamad Jebara: Fruits of the tree of extremism". Ottawa Citizen. 
  33. "Nationalism vs Islam". Al Jazeera. 18 February 2008. 
  34. H. Rizvi (15 January 1993). Pakistan and the Geostrategic Environment: A Study of Foreign Policy. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 72–. ISBN 978-0-230-37984-8. 
  35. H. Rizvi (15 January 1993). Pakistan and the Geostrategic Environment: A Study of Foreign Policy. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 71–. ISBN 978-0-230-37984-8. 
  36. H. Rizvi (15 January 1993). Pakistan and the Geostrategic Environment: A Study of Foreign Policy. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 73–. ISBN 978-0-230-37984-8. 
  37. Farmer, Brian R. (2007). Understanding Radical Islam: Medieval Ideology in the Twenty-first Century. Peter Lang. p. 83. ISBN 9780820488431. Retrieved 29 December 2016. 
  38. Khomeini stated that Muslims should be "united and stand firmly against Western and arrogant powers."[43] "Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belong to the great goals of the revolution."[44] He declared the birth week of Muhammad (the week between 12th to 17th of Rabi' al-awwal) as the Unity week. Then he declared the last Friday of Ramadan as International Day of Quds in 1981.[45]
  39. " ... the imperialist at the end of World War I divided the Ottoman State, creating in its territories about ten or fifteen petty states. Then each of these was entrusted to one of their servants or a group .... In order to assure the unity of the Islamic ummah, ... it is imperative that we establish a government ... The formation of such a government will serve to preserve the disciplined unity of the Muslims .... "[46]
  40. Khomeini, Ruhollah, Islam and Revolution, Mizan Press, p.59
  41. Hizb-ut-Tahrir's Growing Appeal in the Arab World Jamestown Foundation
  42. [1] Erbakan currency
  43. [2] D8 History
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