Today, whenever we Muslims discuss our problems, we touch on many topics: the situation in Palestine , Kosovo, Iraq, Algeria, Kashmir; the weakness of Muslims; the arrogance of the West; and the scheming of the Zionists. Whatever the topic of the day, the one issue we never miss, implicitly or explicitly, is the lack of Muslim unity. In the past year, I have had the good fortune of visiting India, Morocco, Canada, and South Africa. I found that Muslims everywhere still share this same common concern: If only we had!

The Ummah today comprises more than one billion Muslims. Islam is considered to be the world’s fastest growing religion. Muslims are the majority in a swath of countries from Morocco to Indonesia and from Turkey to Sudan. Muslim lands cover a strategic area of the world’s oil and mineral resources, as well as its major trade routes. There are significant Muslim minorities in most countries in the world, and there is hardly a place on this planet where Islam does not have a presence. We have no shortage of numbers. Often, our number far exceeds that of other religious minorities. But when you consider our influence on world affairs today, it is very small. At every level, Muslims are aware of this, and we are calling for unity.

Allah says in the Qur’an: “And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Qur’an) and be not divided among yourselves, and remember Allah’s favor on you for you were enemies one to another but He joined your hearts together, so that, by His Grace you became brethren (in Islamic Faith), and you were on the brink of a pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes his Ayat clear to you, that you may be guided. (3:103)

We Muslims are reasonably well aware of our history. But how much have we learned from it? The above verses remind us how our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) united the tribes of Arabia, whom the Byzantines and Persians considered to be so savage, warlike, and backward that they were unworthy of conquest. The Prophet (peace be upon him) molded the Arab tribes into a nation of supermen. When we Muslims served Allah and subdued our vanity, we became masters of the world. We swept over North Africa, across Spain and southern France, and eastwards to China. Then we argued among ourselves over who got what. As soon as we started indulging in our vanities and forgot Allah, we lost everything. This happened over many centuries. Although our numbers increased, our influence on world affairs declined.

Today we are divided into dozens of nation-states, and within those divisions, we have further divisions of mutually hostile and exclusive groups. Some of these groups don’t even talk to each other, let alone seek common ground. It seems that Muslim communities must have more organizations per capita than any other religion.

Someone once said that if you find two Muslims with a typewriter, then you have probably found another international Islamic organization! We have a fragmented and disunited Ummah, an Ummah that seems to be at odds with itself. How can we start to put things right?

In the Qur’an, Allah reminds us: “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (49:13)

The principle of tawheed, Islam’s essential doctrine of unity, underpins the great diversity of all created things. Within every species, there is tremendous variety. In nature, differences are not a sign of weakness, but a celebration of Allah’s creativity, something for us to admire and enjoy with a sense of wonder and excitement. The variety and diversity that we find in the ocean, on land, and in the air are also apparent in our human behavior. We must not see our human differences as a curse.

Rather, we must see them as a blessing. Each and every one of us has gathered a wealth of experience from different geographical, social, and cultural influences. When we all share our experience freely, there is a collective enrichment for everyone. We must, therefore, not be impatient with one another. We often hear the complaint that Muslims are not united. But what do we mean by unity? Do we mean that there should be no differences of opinion? Of course not.

Unity does not mean uniformity. We do not have to look the same, speak the same language, dress in the same manner, or share each and every opinion unanimously. This is not only unnatural, it’s humanly impossible. Can you imagine this situation? Life would be so boring!

There are two kinds of unity, which we must try to understand and clearly distinguish: a unity of purpose and unity of opinion. As Muslims, we should always be united in our purpose, that is, seeking to please Allah and serving the cause of Islam. But we must not be distressed by minor differences of opinion. It is humanly impossible to always have unity of opinion. As long as we keep our purpose clearly in view, there can be many opinions as to the best ways of achieving our goal.

By mutual consultation, sharing our knowledge and experience, we can move forward. If we must disagree on some matter, let us remember the right way to disagree. In a debate, a Muslim’s attitude should always be like this: I think I am right, but I might be wrong; and I think you are wrong but you may be right!

If we keep this attitude in all our dealings with one another, no one risks humiliation or hurt feelings in any disagreement. We can debate and disagree in an agreeable manner, one is which we always maintain mutual respect and dignity. These are the building blocks of real, lasting unity.