Short essay on the Origin of Arab Nationalism

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Arab nationalism is comparatively a recent phenomenon. It developed during the later part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century as a reaction against the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire and the centralization policies of the Committee of Union and Progress.

It gathered strength and coherence during and after the First World War. The Arab Nationalism first manifested itself in the form of Arab Revolt of 1916 which was organised by Sherif Hussain Mecca due to fears of Turkish victimization and for the promotion of his personal ambitions.

This revolt constituted defiance of a long established authority of the Turkish Empire whose authority had been greatly shaken and whose institutions had com­pletely degenerated. Sherif Hussain Mecca conceived the Arab world as a single homogenous nation bound by the common ties of language, religion and history.

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It is true that the people of different Arab countries are united by the fact that they possess a common heritage and believe in Islam, but actu­ally these similarities exist only in appearance.

In reality classical Arabic is not comprehensible to majority of the Arabs and there is so much of variance in the dialects and spoken Arabic in different countries that Arabs from different countries are not able to communicate with each other.

In fact the Arab world four or five distinct Arab dialects are in vogue-Moroccan, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi and Saudi and they possess dif­ferent grammar and vocabulary. Hence the similarity of language is only a myth.

Again the Arabs claim lhat they are bound by common religious heritage viz. Islam. But this affinity is also superfluous because the Muslims are sharply divided into various sects viz. Sunni. Shia, Wahhabi, Zaidi, Shafi etc.

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On account of these divisions often the states professing faith in various forms of Islam have been involved in conflicts. Hence we can say that the Arabs have not one Islam but many Islams. Further Islam carries different meaning to people. As Sharabi has observed:

“Islam is one thing to the ulema, another to the Western educated and still another to the illiterate masses.”

In view of the differences in language and religion the countries of Arab world did not constitute a political entity except for a brief period during the seventh and the eighth centuries when Islam expanded and consolidated into a Muslim empire.

Thereafter the ties between Arab countries were shaken and by the eleventh century Arab countries came to be divided in Arab East and Arab West. In the nineteenth and the twentieth century’s with the French conquest of North-Africa-Algeria (1830), Tunisia (1881) and Morocco (1912), the Arab West got completed isolated from the rest of the Arab world. France severely restricted travel to the Arab East and treated Arab West as an extension of the mother country.

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