Pan-Islamism (Arabic: الوحدة الإسلامية) is a political ideology advocating the unity of Muslims under one Islamic country or state – often a caliphate[1] – or an international organization with Islamic principles. As a form of internationalism and anti-nationalism, 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. It portrays Islam as being anti-racist and against anything that divides the human race based on ethnicity.


The term pan-Islamism never existed in the history of Islam. According to some scholars, the ideology's aims takes early years of Islam – the reign of Muhammad and the early caliphate – as its model, as it is commonly held that during these years the Muslim world was strong, unified, and free from corruption.

Critics argue that pan-Islamism was later seen to be observed by Islamic Iberia, Emirate of Sicily, the gunpowder empires and several Muslim sultanates and kingdoms, despite the presence and employment of non-Muslim subjects by Muslim powers.[2]

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.[3] Although sometimes described as "liberal",[4] 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.”[5] In a review of the theoretical articles of his Paris-based newspaper there was nothing "favoring political democracy or parliamentarianism,” according to his biographer.[5]

Pan-Islamism in the post-colonial world was strongly associated with Islamism. Leading Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb, 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.[6][7][8]

In the period of decolonialism 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.[9] Egyptian president Nasser saw the idea of Muslim unity as a threat to Arab nationalism.[10]

In the 1950s, Pakistan's government aggressively campaigned to encourage unity amongst Muslims and cooperation between Muslim states. But the response of most Muslim countries to these Pakistani endeavors were not encouraging. Pakistani leaders, experienced in the intensity of Hindu-Muslim conflict in South Asia during the Pakistan Movement, had believed in the righteousness of their cause and while enthusiastically projecting Islam into foreign policy they failed to understand that Islam did not play the same role in the nationalist programs of most Middle Eastern states. Many Muslim countries suspected that Pakistan was aspiring to leadership of the Muslim world.[11]

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.[12]

In 1979 the Iranian Revolution ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from power, and ten years later the Afghan Muslim mujahideen, with major support from the United States, successfully forced 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.[13] Shia leader Ruhollah Khomeini[Note 1] also embraced a united Islamic supra-state[Note 2] but saw it led by a (Shia) religious scholar of fiqh (a faqih).[18]

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.[19]

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),[20] 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.[21]

See also

International organisations:




  1. Khomeini stated that Muslims should be "united and stand firmly against Western and arrogant powers."[14] "Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belong to the great goals of the revolution."[15] 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.[16]
  2. " ... 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 .... "[17]


  1. Bissenove (February 2004). "Ottomanism, Pan-Islamism, and the Caliphate; Discourse at the Turn of the 20th Century" (PDF). BARQIYYA. 9 (1). American University in Cairo: The Middle East Studies Program. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 23, 2015. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  2. Chapra, Muhammad Umer (2014). Morality and Justice in Islamic Economics and Finance. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 62–63. ISBN 9781783475728.
  3. World Book Encyclopedia, 2018 ed., s.v. "Muslims"
  4. 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.)
  5. Nikki R. Keddie, Sayyid Jamal ad-Din “al-Afghani”: A Political Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), pp. 225–226.
  6. "Another battle with Islam's 'true believers'". The Globe and Mail.
  7. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-02. Retrieved 2013-08-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. Jebara, Mohamad Jebara More Mohamad. "Imam Mohamad Jebara: Fruits of the tree of extremism". Ottawa Citizen.
  9. "Nationalism vs Islam". Al Jazeera. 18 February 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2016.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Farmer, Brian R. (2007). Understanding Radical Islam: Medieval Ideology in the Twenty-first Century. Peter Lang. p. 83. Retrieved 29 December 2016.
  14. "Imam Emphasized Unity Between Shia and Sunni: Ayatollah Mousawi Jazayeri". Imam Khomeini. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  15. (Resalat, 25 March 1988) (quoted on p.69, The Constitution of Iran by Asghar Schirazi, Tauris, 1997
  16. "Iran's unfinished crisis Nazenin Ansari, 16–09–2009". 18 September 2009. Retrieved 19 March 2010.
  17. Khomeini, Ruhollah (c. 1980). Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist. Alhoda UK. p. 29. Retrieved 29 December 2016.
  18. Khomeini, Ruhollah, Islam and Revolution, Mizan Press, p.59
  19. Hizb-ut-Tahrir's Growing Appeal in the Arab World Archived 2007-07-03 at the Wayback Machine Jamestown Foundation
  20. Erbakan currency
  21. D8 History

Further reading

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