Convergence in the Muslim World: the Legacy of Jamaluddin Afghani

The word Convergence comes from the prefix con-, meaning together, and the verb verge, which means to turn toward. It is used to describe things that are in the process of coming together, or for things that have already come together. Unity is another word mostly used in the same meaning.

Written by

Dr. Mohd. Arshad

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The word Convergence comes from the prefix con-, meaning together, and the verb verge, which means to turn toward. It is used to describe things that are in the process of coming together, or for things that have already come together. Unity is another word mostly used in the same meaning.


Convergence or Unity is one of the basic tenets of Islam.  Islamic texts have given much emphasis on unity. But it is also a fact that the Muslim’s unity is a major and undeniable problem of the time. It is unfortunate that we have been compelled to talk about the need for unity in the Muslim world, since unity is totally absent here. Whereas the Holy Quran warns us to be united, its command is:

“And hold fast, all together, by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth God make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided. Obey Allah and His Messenger and do not quarrel among yourselves lest you lose heart and your momentum disappear. And be steadfast. Allah is with the steadfast.” (3:103)

“As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least: their affair is with God: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.” (6:159)

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ has also commanded us to live in convergence and unity:

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah’s Messenger said, “Whoever prays like us and faces our Qibla and eats our slaughtered animals is a Muslim and is under Allah’s and His Messenger’s protection. So do not betray Allah by betraying those who are in His protection.”

Nu’man b. Bashir reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying: “The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.”

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Messenger said, “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales, and do not look for others’ faults, and do not do spying on one another, and do not practise Najsh, and do not be jealous of one another and do not hate one another, and do not desert (stop talking to) one another. And O, Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers!”

Narrated Ubaida: Ali said (to the people of ‘Iraq), “Judge as you used to judge, for I hate differences (and I do my best) till the people unite as one group, or I die as my companions have died.”


Today we are living in a world where people talk about living together with differences of all kind. Religious pluralism is also a subject that is being discussed in intellectual forums everywhere.  Values of pluralism are accepted now universally. No country in the world can claim to be homogenous. Not only inter-faith dialogue but also a common minimum programme is needed to lead this world towards peace and progress.

Globalisation, in the modern time, has led the world so close to each other that is unprecedented in the past. No people or country can claim that they are in a self-sufficient condition. Dependence on each other is growing day by day. People are coming closer not only on the basis of social and economic needs but also there is a big movement to bring people of different faiths close to each other. Inter-faith dialogue got great momentum during last decades of the 20th century and now leaders of different religions are engaged in it. Efforts are being made to use the teachings and influence of religion to make this world peaceful and harmonious.

It is a fact that religion and religious people have great influence on each and every society. Keeping this in mind, no one can deny the role of religion in social, economic and even in political affairs. Efforts are also being made to identify common grievances and find solutions to them. The commonalties among religions are being utilised for this propose. Ways are being sorted out where different religions can cooperate and coordinate with each other.


At a time when religions and the religious leadership is coming together to discuss a peaceful living while observing and practising different faiths, it is also a moment for the Muslim World and its political leadership to come together and prepare a common minimum programme. In the modern era, Syed Jamaluddin Afghani is perhaps the first Muslim scholar and activist who tried his best to create some kind of unity or convergence among the Muslims. He not only advocated for the unity of the Muslim World but also left behind a legacy which continuously made efforts to this direction.

Muslims are the second largest population of the world. The number of Muslim countries goes beyond one-fourth of total countries. It is also a fact that the Muslims are the most divided people in the world. Internal anarchy is a common phenomenon of Muslim countries. Muslims are fighting with each other. Many of the Muslim countries are engaged in war in brother countries.

Islam is a religion of peace and harmony. It stands for peace and advocates for peaceful living. Islam calls upon different faiths towards a common word.  Religious plurality is not only permitted in Islam but also accepted as a fact when it says, “There is no compulsion in faith” and “For you is your faith and for me is mine”. Also, there is a long and continuous tradition of living together and coexistence in the Muslim world. If the believers are allowed to live with non-believers with peace and harmony, so why not believers can live with believers peacefully and harmoniously. Today’s Muslims are suffering from numerous problems, and the basic reasons for their plight are sectarian hatred, creed prejudices, lust for power, intolerance and many other materialistic interests. All these things have combined to confirm falling for Muslims, which deprived them of their honour, dignity and power.

It is also a fact that the major fault lines are within the Muslim world. Muslim nations are warring with each other. Many of them are going through internal as well as external confrontations and conflicts. In the recent past, after the World War I and II, most of the major wars have been fought in the Muslim world. Muslims are so divided that disfigures the clear cluster picture of Islam. An image of Islam is being projected by some world powers as a religion of terror and continuous threat.

It is a time for the Muslim world to come together. Its political as well as influential religious leadership is required to sit together and discuss its problems on its own. The leadership of the Muslim world should come over the meagre regional, political, economic and sectarian differences. It needs to learn the art of living with differences. There should be a common minimum programme where the Muslim world must show its unity. Platforms like OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) may be utilised for this purpose.


To achieve this target, we are not required to go far long in history, we have a bright example in Syed Jamaluddin Afghani (1839-1897). Jamaluddin Afghani was a great Muslim revolutionary and reformer who aimed at the unity of Muslim people all over the world. He was loved and respected by Muslim intelligentsia all over the world, but feared by the imperialist powers, who were afraid of his mission and growing influence.

He was not such a great academician to be quoted here and there but he was a man of action who besides writing huge books of references created and prepared the men of action and knowledge. Afghani lived in a time when the Muslim world’s decline was on its height. He tried his hard to bring the Muslim world out of internal tyranny and external dominance. He wanted to see the Muslim world free from the influence of alien powers. One principal theme we may find running through his life and work is his extreme wish to unite the Muslim world and to achieve this goal he may go the extent that he collaborated with the Ottoman Sultan.

Afghani was of the view that the Muslim world should once again achieve its glorious past. He tried hard to convince the then Muslim rulers and elites to stand and unite against the West. Afghani was aware of the importance of India, Persia (now Iran), Egypt and Turkey; that is why he chose these places to awaken and train their people. When it became impossible for him to stay in the Muslim world, he went to Europe and from there sent his massage of unity and reform to the Muslim people.

Jamaluddin Afghani was well aware of the Muslim society of his time; he knew the causes which led the Muslims to this sheer decline. He was of the view that if Muslims as a community want to come out of this situation, they had to start a movement of reform among themselves. Also, they ought to unite themselves internally to face the outside threat. He moved about in the capitals of many Muslim countries – lecturing, discussing and writing about his mission to bring about the unity of Muslims, leaving behind him a band of zealous workers, who continued his work even after his death. Several movements of religious revival and social reform all over the Muslim world owe their origin to Afghani and were started by his disciples who were deeply influenced by him. In fact, no other person has influenced the 19th century Islam more profoundly than him.

Despite his failure in bringing the Muslim world at one platform, Afghani left behind him a legacy of dedicated men of knowledge and action. He proved himself as a luminary and inspiration for various generations to come after him and his legacy was then continued by various others in the Muslim World. Though modified or further added to, but the dream which Afghani saw is still a goal for various Islamists who wish to revive the Muslim Ummah.

[The writer is Sr. Assistant Professor, Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi; Email: [email protected]]