انا على أخوي وأنا وأخوي على ابن عمي وأنا وابن عمي على الغريب
An old Arab proverb goes, “Me against my brother; me and my brother against our cousin; and me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger.”
The concept of brotherhood is very important to Islamic communities.
Belonging to the ‘umma (the brotherhood of Islam) is the privilege of every Muslim. It is significant that the Islamic calendar starts from the beginning of the formation of the ‘umma in Medina in AD 622, and not, say, from the birth of the Prophet or from the time he began to receive revelations.
At a ritual level, the details of piety and socio-religious duty were delineated in the Qur’an. The Qur’an came down in favour of strengthening the patriarchal agnatic clan and from that perspective, rules were made against incest, against divorce (apart from some situations), against polyandrous marriages, against the relegation of women and children to the categories of mere chattels or potential warriors.
In the last part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, many leaders of Arab nationalist causes sought to identify Arabism with Islam. The vocabulary of such Muslim nationalism was infused with words such as ‘umma (brotherhood) and milla (identity by religious community).
More recently, the concept of ‘umma has been emphasised by the ideologists of contemporary Islamic reform movements.