In Arabic, ummah means community. In modern usage, ummah sometimes serves as the equivalent of the English word nation. But in Islamic religiopolitical thought (in which case it tends not to be translated) ummah refers to the worldwide body of Muslims, and according to Islamic doctrine, this body is supposed to be united under one Islamic government headed by a caliph. Although the ideal of political unity flies in the face of division in practice into rival Muslim states beginning early in Islamic history, the notion of one ummah that transcends sectarian, racial, tribal, ethnic, and political divisions persists and inspires pan-Islamic movements and, more generally, a broad identification with other Muslims when they are seen as victims of aggression from non-Muslims (e.g., Palestine, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq). Although during much of the twentieth century, the notion of one ummah seemed to be superseded by separate ethnic nationalisms (e.g., Arab,Turkish, etc.) or by loyalty to countries such as Egypt or Syria, there has been a recent resurgence of identification with the Islamic ummah. This has inspired some observers, notably Samuel P. Huntington, to foresee the emergence of a world in which the ummah increasingly acts as a unit in relations with other civilizations or supertribes, such as the West and Orthodox Christianity.
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