UMMATICS COLLOQUIUM SUMMARY, December 2022
Report by Ibrahim Moiz
Thomas Parker: “Istanbul as a Site of Ummatic Migration”.
Dr. Sadek Hamid: “Islam beyond Borders: Building Ummatic Solidarity in the 21st Century”
Dr. Abdullah Al-Arian, “2022 FIFA World Cup: A Moment of Ummatic Solidarity?”
The Ummatics Institute ended the year with a three-part feature exploring current potential manifestations of Ummatic solidarity. The first piece, “Islam Beyond Borders: Building Ummatic Solidarity in the 21st Century” by Dr. Sadek Hamid, examined the widespread sense of Ummatic issues among Muslims and the imperative for Ummatic unity in the contemporary globalized world. The second and third pieces, by Thomas Parker and Dr. Abdullah Al-Arian, respectively, examined the trend of widespread Muslim migration to Istanbul and the potential impact of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Ummatic solidarity.
Thomas Parker’s presentation focused on the trend of Muslim migration to Istanbul. In recent years, millions of Muslims, including refugees, naturalized citizens, tourists, and students, have migrated to Turkey for various reasons, with a significant number making their way to the historical metropolis. As a country, Turkey hosts more refugees than any other, including nearly four million Syrians and 50,000 Uyghurs. Many of these refugees, particularly Iranians and Iraqis, have settled, invested, or purchased property in the country.
Many Muslims who were raised in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have migrated to Turkey, while tens of thousands of Turks return from Europe each year. There are also around 250,000 foreign students in Turkey, many of whom have received government sponsorships, and many “tullabul-ilm,” or seekers of knowledge, who mostly come from Central Asia and seek a more open environment for study.
In recent years, Istanbul has played host to numerous major academic, cultural, and political conferences, seminars, and events that bring together Muslim scholars, creatives, and activists.
A variety of factors, including government initiatives and economic considerations as well as shared aspirations among diverse groups of Muslims, have contributed to Istanbul becoming an important case study for widespread Muslim migration.
Dr. Sadek Hamid noted that despite the current political fragmentation of the Umma, there is a widespread desire among Muslims for some form of unity. This desire is itself part of a significant ummatic consciousness, and he urges Muslims to find new ways to overcome their differences and work towards a common ummatic goal.
The concept of the Umma, or global Muslim community, has held enduring appeal for Muslims because it refers to the basic community of believers and can be traced back to Islam’s foundational texts. The caliphate historically symbolized this community, and the idea of an ummatic community has persisted into the contemporary world. A growing majority of Muslims prefer to see Islam play a political as well as spiritual role.
Many Muslims have a transnational outlook, often maintaining international connections, making regular visits, sending remittances, and expressing solidarity with areas where Muslims are oppressed, such as Palestine or Kashmir. This solidarity is often expressed in everyday interactions. Historically, the believers’ community was represented by the caliphate, which aimed to order the community according to God’s decrees. Many of the public problems that contemporary Muslims face could potentially be solved by a unified and independent Muslim civilization. Examples of grassroots Ummatic interactions, often facilitated by technological advances, include the “virtual Umma,” trade and economic boycotts, and strategic trading blocs like the G-8.
The “Global Urban Muslims Educated and English-Speaking” (GUMEEs) are a global elite of educated, often activist, and religiously committed Muslims who have been driving social change in recent years. Muslims should utilize these tools and adopt synergistic approaches to achieve ummatic unity, which involves pooling resources and talents, developing ethical grassroots networks, and adopting a collective approach to the various problems that we face in order to work towards a better ummatic future.
Dr. Abdullah Al-Arian examined the extent to which the recently concluded World Cup in Qatar reflected ummatic dynamics, as it was widely embraced by Muslims worldwide. While the World Cup is structured as a stage-managed event that primarily serves corporate and state interests, football also provides a rare outlet for public sentiment to be expressed in a relatively risk-free environment.
As the first World Cup to be hosted by a Muslim and Arab country, the 2022 event saw a variety of expressions of solidarity, most commonly with Palestine, along regional, ethnic, continental, and religious lines, including Islamic solidarity. While the Qatari government made efforts to promote education about Islam, it seems that the majority of this came from spontaneous interactions between Muslims from around the globe.
The politicization of the Qatari venue and premature criticism of policies such as enforced prohibition helped to rally international Muslim support for the emirate and obscure less favorable aspects. There was also less criticism from Muslim scholars about football as a distraction.
The World Cup raises questions about whether events other than mandatory religious rituals like Hajj can also contribute to furthering international Muslim solidarity and an ummatic spirit. In the past, there were spaces for this in nineteenth-century Muslim gatherings at European conventions, twentieth-century anticolonial conferences, and cultural-political bodies like the World Muslim League, but this is a somewhat novel episode that raises questions for the future.