Such a union is the manifest destiny of Muslims, even though they are hopelessly fragmented into fifty-seven states at the moment. It is a destiny that is waiting to be realized. It has powerful historical support, its future prospects are bright and its rationale is built upon solid logic and clearly delineated arguments.
By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
Imagine a Union of Muslim States, initially, consisting of 372 million people living in four congruent states of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey, comprising a total area of 3,881,195 square km. Such a confederation will be able to withstand any economic, political, and military aggression coming from anywhere in the world because of a certain common domain in their religious and cultural composition as well as due to the human and material resources of the lands comprising the confederation. When contrasted with European Union’s 502 million people living in 27 different states with diverse cultures, in a total area of 4,423,147 square km, the Union of Muslim States (UMS) will be a formidable confederation even in its initial conception, consisting of only four states. Once other states join this initial confederation, the entire Muslim world could suddenly become a global power of immense strength.
This is neither a utopian idea nor a hypothetical conception; such a union is the manifest destiny of Muslims, even though they are hopelessly fragmented into fifty-seven states at the moment. It is a destiny that is waiting to be realized. It has powerful historical support, its future prospects are bright and its rationale is built upon solid logic and clearly delineated arguments.
Before its brutal breakup by the departing colonizers around the middle of the twentieth century, at least 80% of the land historically held by Muslims was geographically congruent, politically cohesive and economically linked. Until 1914, a very large percentage of Muslims lived in a handful of states: the Ottoman Empire (1299–1923) consisted of approximately 1,800,000 sq. km in 1914 and covered the largest belt of Muslim population; in addition, there were very large Muslim populations in the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) in the Indian subcontinent, Iran, and the Malay Archipelago, the last consisting of some 30,000 islands.
Almost all of the Middle East was part of a single administrative unit under the Ottoman rule. The breakup of the Muslim world into fifty-seven independent states, mostly held hostage by mutually antagonistic, self-serving dictators, is perhaps the greatest tragedy that has fallen upon the Muslim community in its post-Mongol history. This breakup all but destroyed the possibility of a future coming together of Muslims in some kind of reconfiguration in which politically and administrative independent units come together under an umbrella organization which decides strategic options of military and economic nature.
The proposed UMS is practically feasible, politically desirable, and economically viable. This Union will hold almost 75% of the world’s oil resources, it will be rich in gas, coal, heavy metals, and, most of all, in human resources. It will have an economic zone which will be able to negotiate conditions of trade with the rest of the world with a positive and advantageous leverage. It would more or less eliminate the West’s dominance in military and political realm and it will wipe out the multi-billion dollar arms industry from the Western world. Most of all, it will create an unprecedented social revolution in the Muslim world.
Imagine a high-speed train, leaving Lahore with goods and passengers and arriving in Istanbul within 24 hours. The existing high speed trains, running at 300 km/hr can easily cover this distance of 4150 km in this time. Imagine the economic and political benefits of such a train. Imagine the social revolution that will emerge through mingling of people of these countries on a daily basis. Imagine the economic potential of such a train!
One may wonder: If this is really such a revolutionary idea, then what is stopping this train to run between Lahore and Istanbul on a daily basis? The immediate answer will be: The lack of political will of the countries involved. But, one must look for a deeper answer.
Such a high-speed train is not running between these ancient and historic cities because the possibility of such a train was wiped out by the architects of our contemporary world in 1924. History, however, is not the arbitrator of the future; future is determined by forces which are certainly rooted in history, but which transcend it at the same time. After all, the European Union has emerged from the massive rubble of the two world wars in which European nations slaughtered each other’s citizens and the emergence of Eastern Europe from behind the Iron curtain is a more recent event.
There is, therefore, every reason for Muslims to emerge from the shadow of their history and from the darkness looming out of their colonial past; after all, they are not under direct colonial rule anymore. Pakistan is currently devoid of any independent government and Afghanistan is under direct American occupation, but there is no reason why Turkey and Iran cannot initiate this project.
It is, however, not the high-speed train that needs to be initiated; it is the process of establishment of Union of Muslim States which needs a beginning. Such a beginning is currently possible both in Tehran and Istanbul. Both places are conducive to the establishment of a Secretariat and both have potential for taking lead in the making of a new future for the Muslim world.
Of course, a great deal needs to be discussed before any practical steps are taken toward this new beginning, but the traditional wisdom tells us that there is always a first step in every journey and once that step has been taken, the distance is already shorter than it was before such a step. An initial gathering of Muslim intellectuals, religious leaders, and those who are active in the political, economic, and social realms in a serene location in any of these two countries may be the first optimum step toward this new future.
This gathering can then form working committees for drafting principles of the proposed Union. This can then lead to first practical steps, which should concentrate on economically beneficial processes so that people can themselves experience the fruits of such a Union. The process needs to be governed by those who are dedicated to the ideals of Islam and whose visions are not curtained within narrow limits of contemporary political realities, although they need to be realistically conscious of these realities, without in anyway collapsing under their weight.