Islamists Are Dreaming of a Caliphate State? Do They Know What They're Talking About?News Abroad
tags: Iraq, Iran, ISIS
With the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham annexing large sections of Iraq and Syria, and the subsequent proclamation of a new caliphate under Ibrahim al-Badri, or “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi”—ruling as “Caliph Ibrahim”—the current clash of civilizations (between Islam and every other one, particularly the Christian West) enters a new and potentially more ominous phase. But while a terrorist-created caliphate is a net negative for the world (Muslims included), the caliphate per se may yet result in some positives for the modern world—as per the title of my not-yet-completed book, The Caliphate: Threat or Opportunity?
Some history of this primary Islamic political institution is in order, considering how many misapprehensions exist on the topic. Khalifah means “successor” to Muhammad as leader of the Muslim community/state, in both a political and religious sense—as pointed out by Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds, in God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam (Cambridge, 1984). In fact, according to Crone and Hinds, the office of the caliph even had eschatological overtones insofar as the occupant thereof was “rightly-guided” by Allah in the same way (though perhaps not as intensely) as the End Times Mahdi would be. Shi`is of various stripes eventually eschewed the caliphate as a usurping Sunni office, opting instead for the Imamate dependent upon Muhammad’s male descendants via Ali, Hasan or Husayn, and their offspring—whether the legitimate line ran through the 5th Imam (Zaydis), the 7th (Isma’ilis) or the 12th (Twelvers). Only one Shi`i group—the Ismai’li Sevener Fatimids, who ruled Egypt in the medieval period—really used the term “caliph” for its leaders, perhaps to curry legitimacy with the bulk of Egypt’s population, which always remained staunchly Sunni.
The other major caliphates in history were all unambiguously Sunni; those of: the Rashidun (“rightly-guided”), the first four men to succeed Muhammad; the Umayyads of Damascus (661-750 AD); the Abbasids of Baghdad—Islam’s “Golden Age”—from 750-1258 AD; and the Ottomans, who ruled for some six centuries until right after World War I. One other caliphate was something of an outlier: that of the North African al-Muwahhidun, or “Almohads,” which was founded as an overtly Mahdist state by Ibn Tumart in the 12th century AD but which, after his death, transformed into a (mere) caliphate.
Other lesser, regional caliphal states have been proclaimed in the past, such as Usman don Fodio’s Sokoto Caliphate of what is now northern Nigeria, and several short-lived ones in the Iberian Peninsula. But over the last several centuries, the most powerful and important caliphate, by far, was that of the Ottomans, adduced by Abülhamid II (Abd al-Hamid II) in the late 19th/early 20th century as a rallying point for Pan-Islamic unity. With the Ottoman defeat in World War I and the onset of the Turkish Republic, the new secular rulers of Turkey first dissolved the political power of the House of Osman—the sultanate—but allowed it to retain the caliphate as a spiritual authority for Muslims. But in 1924 even this was eradicated, and the last caliph—Abdülmecid (Abd al-Majid)—was exiled to Paris.
Others tried to claim the caliphate, or considered doing do: notably King Husayn of the Hijaz in Arabia, who was ultimately defeated by the Sa`udis; and King Fu’ad of Egypt. Islamic conferences on the caliphate met in Mecca in 1926 and Jerusalem in 1931, but could not agree on the structure and function of the office, much less on someone to occupy it. About the same time Rashid Rida, a leading Syrian-Egyptian Islamic “modernist,” advocated a caliph as a preeminent mujtahid, or exerciser of ijtihad (“updater” of Islamic law), while both of the Muslim Brotherhood’s major thinkers--Hasan al-Banna, its founder, and later Sayyid Qutb, its foremost theorist—endorsed the caliphate. Outside the Arab world, the Indo-Pakistani thinker Abu A`la Mawdudi directly pushed for the caliphate’s re-establishment, stretching from Morocco to Indonesia.
How does “Caliph Ibrahim” stack up against historical Islamic standards? According to Ibn Khaldun, the great medieval Muslim sociologist and historian, the caliph’s prerequisites are: 1) knowledge of Islamic law; 2) honesty and virtue; 3) ability to lead and wage jihad (yes, holy war); 4) physical health and lack of bodily defects; 5) Qurayshi origin (descent from Muhammad); and of course 7) maleness (see The Muqaddimah, Princeton University, 1981, pp. 158-60). But as Bernard Lewis points out (The Political Language of Islam, University of Chicago, 1988, p. 99 and passim), as Islamic history wore on “legitimacy…of qualifications…was progressively reduced to the point where, in effect, only two conditions remained—power and Islam. As long as the ruler possessed the necessary armed strength to seize and hold power, and as long as he was a Muslim, however minimal and however nominal, that sufficed.” According to Liebl (pp. 387ff), that medieval/early modern concept of the caliphate was echoed in, and given the stamp of approval by, the 1926 Cairo conference, which mandated only that the caliph be a Muslim and a ”free sovereign capable of defending Islam”—of waging jihad, in other words. (It was even stated that the caliph could accede to power via conquest.)
But while the self-styled caliphal “Islamic State” is quite problematic, it’s perhaps
not the geopolitical disaster that some would have it. First, al-Badri’s
caliphate may yet be
rejected by the non-Arab-jihadist Muslim population, on the grounds of
his lacking Qurayshi bona
fides and/or his deficiency of ties to the last Ottoman caliph. Second, more
organizations like the
Organization of Islamic Cooperation or al-Azhar University/Mosque—Sunni
ironically, by the aforementioned Shi`i Fatimids)—will almost inevitably
condemn and illegitimize
the “Islamic State” [IS]. Third, claimants with far more plausible claims to the caliphate--such
as descendants of the Ottoman royal line, King Abd Allah II of Jordan or, perhaps most credibly, the family of Barkat Ali Khan Mukarram Jah Asaf Jah VIII, with ties to the Ottoman and Mughal rulers (see Liebl, pp. 384ff.)—might dispute
the pretensions of “Caliph Ibrahim.” So too might the Saudis, who have never asserted
such but whose rulership of
Mecca and Medina makes their claim more religiously, if less
Caliph Ibrahim & former Ottoman Caliph Mehmet V. Both proclaimed jihad; one is just a snazzier dresser with more bling.
And who knows? If the US, or at least this administration, is too craven to protect Christians from such a horrific caliphate, then an El Cid may emerge from a more worthy venue--one that is not ashamed to stand up for his, and its, civilizational, and yes, religious, heritage.