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Nationalism with Its Positive and Negative Aspects


In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

O mankind, We have created you male and female, and have made you peoples and tribes, that you may know each other... (49:13)

That is, so that you may know social relationships and help one another, not so that you may feel antipathy and show enmity to each other.


The principle of knowing one another and helping each other

To explain the principle of knowing one another and helping each other declared by the verse, I say:

An army is divided into army corps, an army corps into regiments, a regiment into battalions, a battalion into squadrons or companies and a company into squads, so that the duties of each soldier and the relationships between the members of the whole army may be established, and the army may perform a general task under the principle of mutual assistance, and that the nation may be guarded against the assaults of enemies. The division of an army into different parts is not for the purpose that the parts should compete with each other or feel enmity against each other, or that they should oppose each other. It is just in the same way that the Muslim nation is like a large army, divided into peoples and tribes. But they have numerous common factors and values which require their unity: for example, their Creator is one, their Provider is one, their Prophet is one, their Book is one, their country is one, the direction or the center toward which they turn in worship is one, and so on to thousands of other factors of unity!

Since, then, all these common factors or values require unity and mutual love, the division into peoples and tribes is for mutual acquaintance and assistance, not for mutual dislike and enmity.


Nationalism gives some satisfaction albeit it encourages self-pride, and it produces a power albeit sometimes improper.

Nationalism or ethnic differences have been given great momentum in this century. It is particularly the intriguing mischief-makers of Europe who excite nationalist feelings among Muslim communities in order to divide them up and swallow them up one by one.

Nationalism gives some satisfaction albeit it encourages self-pride, and it produces a power albeit sometimes improper. For this reason, it is not proper to advise those engaged in social life to give up the idea of nationalism. But there are two kinds of nationalism: one negative, ominous, harmful, which is fed through swallowing up others and sustained through enmity against others. This kind of nationalism is the cause of mutual antagonism and discord, so it is disapproved and rejected by both and Qur’an the Prophet, as in the hadith, Islam has forbidden the national (tribal) zealotry of the Age of Ignorance. (Sahih al-Bukhari, ‘Ahkam,’ 4, Sunan Abu Dawud, ‘Sunna,’ 5)

The Qur’an is explicit on the point as in the verse:

When those who disbelieve set in their hearts zealotry, the tribalism of the Age of Ignorance, then God sent down His peace and reassurance upon His Messenger and the believers, and fastened to them the word of self-restraint and God-fearing to which they have better right and of which they are worthy; and God has knowledge of everything. (48:26)

The sacred and positive Islamic nationalism does not leave room for the need of any negative partisan nationalism. I wonder what nation in the world has a population of more than one billion so as to enable any nationalist to have as many brothers, eternal brothers, as the number of the Muslims.


The negative partisan variety of nationalism has caused much harm during history both to the principle of Islamic unity and to Muslim peoples.

The negative partisan variety of nationalism has caused much harm during history both to the principle of Islamic unity and to Muslim peoples. For example, the Umayyads gave some preference to Arab nationalities in their government and thereby both offended other Muslims and themselves suffered many misfortunes. Also, the European nations went too far in nationalism in this century, whence the long-standing ominous enmity between the French and German peoples and the dreadful destruction of the World War – which showed how harmful to mankind negative nationalism is. And, in our history, as in the Kingdom of Babylon destroyed through the division of the tribes which constituted the kingdom, many groups or societies were formed,  at the beginning of the second constitutional period of the Ottoman State, by minorities, particularly by the Greeks and Armenians. What befell the Ottoman State thereafter and the lot of those who were swallowed by foreigners illustrate the harm of negative nationalism.

The national or tribal conflict between Muslim peoples or communities is so great a misfortune that it is like exposure to the biting of a snake in order to avoid the biting of a fly. At a time when the Western powers resembling huge dragons lie in wait for an opportunity to attack us in order to satisfy their insatiable greed, it is very harmful even to our national integrity to nourish hostility and take sides, because of national differences, against our citizens in the eastern cities and co-religionists among our southern neighbors. There is not a justifiable excuse to feel enmity against our co-religionists in the south, from where the light of the Qur’an and the radiance of Islam came to us; besides, the national conflict between Muslim peoples means to help the Western enemies.

Enmity against our southern co-religionists may result in enmity towards the Qur’an and Islam, which in fact, means a treachery to both the worldly life and hereafter of all the citizens. To destroy the cornerstones of the two worlds – this and the next – under the pretext of serving the social life through nationalism or patriotism is stupidity, not nationalism or patriotism.


Type of nationalism bringing about solidarity

The other kind of nationalism is that which is positive and, arising from the intrinsic requirements of social life, brings about mutual assistance and solidarity, produces a beneficial power and causes the Islamic brotherhood to be stronger.

This kind of nationalism should serve Islam and build a stronghold to protect it; it should not take the place of Islam. For the brotherhood desired and established by Islam is manifold and counts in both the Intermediate and Eternal Worlds. It is because of this that, however strong a nationalist brotherhood is, it can be only as strong as a single aspect of the Islamic brotherhood, so to substitute it for the Islamic brotherhood is as foolish an act as replacing the diamonds in a citadel with some stones from that citadel.

So, children of that country who are followers of the Qur’an! You have carried, not for six hundred years but for a thousand years, since the time of the ‘Abbasids, the flag of the Wise Qur’an, over the three continents and challenged all the world. You have made your national feelings and solidarity a stronghold to protect Islam, and, repelling the dreadful assaults of the whole world, you have been included in the meaning of the verse,

God will bring a people He loves, and who love Him, humble towards believers, stern towards unbelievers, striving in the way of God, and fearing not the reproach of any reproachers. (5:54)

You should now be afraid of, and refrain from, being led by the deceitful instigations of Europe, being included in the meaning of the first part of the verse mentioned above,

O you who believe! Whosoever of you turns from his religion...

A reality worthy of note: The Turks are more in number in the world Muslim population than any other people, and all of the Turkish people, wherever they are in the world, are Muslims. They are not, unlike other peoples, divided into two groups, as Muslims and non-Muslims. Although the smallest communities are even divided into two groups, all of the Turkish peoples are Muslims and some Turkish communities, like the Hungarians, who did not accept Islam, have lost their Turkish identity.

O Turkish brother! You should, more than anyone else, be careful! Your nationality is blended with Islam, being inseparable from it. If you separate them, you will be lost! All your past accomplishments form a pride for you and an honorable record of your services to Islam. As it is impossible for any power on earth to remove this record, do not, yourself, remove it from your heart!..


The progress of Asian peoples is possible through religion

The awakening peoples of Asia follow the idea of nationalism in blind imitation of Europe and sacrifice many sacred things for its sake. However, just like a suit which, though of the same kind of cloth, is not fit for every body, or just as an old prayer leader is not made to wear clothes suitable for dancing the tango, so should each people aspire to an authentic style: if Europe is like a market-place or barracks, Asia is like an arable field or a mosque. A businessman may go to dance but a farmer not. The conditions of barracks are not the same as those of a mosque.

  • Also, the appearance of the majority of the Prophets in Asia while the philosophers usually emerge in Europe is a sign from the eternal Destiny that the vitality and progress of Asian peoples is possible through religion and spirituality. Philosophy and science should support religion; they should not be substituted for it.
  • Second, indifference to religion, after false comparison of Islam with Christianity, is a grave mistake. It should, instead, be carefully noted that Europe is devoted to its religion, that some Western leaders like Wilson, Lloyd George and Venizelos are as fanatically devoted to their religion as a priest.
  • Third, the comparison of Islam with Christianity is a false one, since Europe progressed when it reformed its religion. Besides, religion caused internal wars in Europe for three hundred years and became a means in the hands of despotic rulers and priests to crush the poor and common people and intellectuals. But in Islam, as witnessed by history, religious devotion caused an internal war only once, and whenever Muslims have followed Islam earnestly, as in the case of the Islamic state of Andalusia, that greatest teacher of Renaissance Europe, they realized much greater progress than their contemporaries. Whenever they, by contrast, have been indifferent to religion, they have declined and fallen to a miserable state.
  • Further, with its numerous principles of compassion such as the obligation of giving the prescribed alms (zakat) and the prohibition of interest, Islam protects the poor and common people, and it regards – through its many warnings like Will you not exercise your reason? Will they not contemplate and reflect? Do they not ponder? – intellect and science as proofs for its truths, and protects men of sciences and encourages them to further and further researches. It is thus the citadel of the poor and of the scientists. For this reason, it can never be justifiable to regret being a Muslim.


The difference between Islam and other religions including Christianity lies in the following fact:

Islam is founded upon pure monotheism, denying any intermediary or intermediate causal creative or formative effect in the universe. Whereas, Christianity admits, on account of ascribing to God a son or begetting, influences of this sort, it allows saints and elders certain partnership in the manifestation of God’s sovereignty over the creation, and this aspect of their way is included in the meaning of the verse:

They have taken as lords beside God their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were commanded to serve but One God. There is no god but He, be He glorified from their associating partners with Him. (9:31)

Because the Christians who rise to the highest of worldly posts can remain Christians, they even become, like Wilson, the late American president, bigoted Christians and still preserve their egotism. But Muslims who hold high office should renounce egotism and pride in order to be good Muslims, since Islam is based on pure monotheism. For this reason, those who are not able to preserve their piety either become indifferent to religion or even lose their faith.


To those who go to extremes in negative nationalism and separatism, I say:

First, the surface of the earth, primarily including our country, has been the stage for many changes and emigrations, and once the center of the Islamic administration was formed in this country, many of the other peoples, like moths to a light, flocked to it to settle. Since those people have intermingled, it is impossible to determine their national origins except by reading the Supreme Guarded Tablet. That being so, it is meaningless and harmful to build a society and our attitudes on nationalism. That is also why one of the leaders of those who support racial separation, indeed one who avowed great indifference to religion, had to acknowledge: ‘If a people are of the same religion and speak the same language, they constitute a nation.’ In order to determine national identity, the factors to take into consideration are language, religion and a (geographical) land. The existence of all these three elements together at the same time means the strength of the national structure; however, the lack of any one factor does not exclude the possibility of a strong national identity and sentiment.


Benefits of sacred Islamic nationality

Second, of hundreds of benefits which the sacred Islamic nationality has given to the social life of the children of this country, I will cite only two examples:

  • The factor which has enabled this Muslim state to survive, despite its population of only twenty or thirty millions, to maintain its vitality and existence, in the face of all the great powers of Europe is the conviction:

‘If I die, I will die a martyr; if I survive, I will survive as a holy warrior of Islam’. This conviction comes from the light of the Qur’an and is enjoyed by the army of this state. Equipped with this conviction, that army has welcomed death with a perfect enthusiasm and terrified Europe for centuries. What else on earth could inculcate such a sublime quality of self-sacrifice in the minds of the soldiers, make them single-minded and pure-hearted? What kind of nationalistic zeal can be substituted for it and cause a soldier to sacrifice his life and all he has for its sake?

  • Whenever the dragons – the great powers – of Europe have afflicted this Muslim state with a misfortune, it has deeply affected and shaken the whole Muslim world. And the imperialist powers who governed Muslim lands usually felt, for fear of the Muslim revolts in those lands, compelled to restrain their urge to attack this state. What other force can be pointed to as a substitute for that continual spiritual support (Muslim brotherhood) which it is impossible to regard as trivial? So, those who offer that mighty spiritual support should not be offended by projecting a negative nationalism and patriotism which cause us to be indifferent to other Muslims.


Patriotism should embrace, at least, the great majority of people

To those who offer patriotism as an argument for negative nationalism, I would like to say: If you feel a sincere love and affection for this nation, your national and patriotic zeal should be of a kind to embrace the great majority of the people. Otherwise, if it only serves to enhance, briefly, the social life of a small minority who live carelessly of Divine commandments, bringing unpitying disadvantage to the majority, it is neither nationalism nor patriotism – and those who follow this way do not deserve our compassion. Any patriotic zeal coming from negative nationalism may benefit at most two out of eight citizens. While these two may benefit from that kind of patriotic zeal, which, in fact, they do not deserve, the other six are neglected: the old, the ill, the afflicted, the weak, the children, and pious individuals seeking light, consolation and well-being, not in this world, but in the intermediate and other worlds for which they labor, and these individuals need the help of people blessed with public-spiritedness and compassion. What sort of patriotism is it that allows the light of such individuals to be put out, their consolation to be removed? Where is the fellow-feeling for the whole nation? Where is self-sacrifice for the sake of the nation?

It is not permitted, nor is it proper, to despair of God’s Mercy. I hope that God Almighty will not ruin, because of some temporary setbacks, the mighty community of the citizens of this country and their magnificent army which He appointed as the bearer of the ‘flag’ of the Qur’an and employed in its service for a thousand years. He will again enable them to disseminate the light of the Qur’an everywhere, and thereby continue to perform their essential duty.


This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.