The Caliphate that Could – A Radical Idea Worth Exploring

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Sahar Pirzada*

 *The author is an editor of the journal and an educationalist.


(With the world focus on the threat of an Islamic Caliphate we are quick to stunt its possibilities and nip to nothing its realm of dormant potential – not the possibility that it could spawn, but the possibilities and potential that the idea of a Caliphate holds locked within its matrix provided the design were of rational, progressive and collaborative thinking. This is a radical, innovative and forward-facing concept that is in part characterized by departure from the stereotype, though its foundation must find itself rooted in the tradition of Islamic leadership.– Author)

If we rework the caliphate-calculus with vision, collaboration, union-esque thinking and steer it into a confederation-style entity, then perhaps we might stumble upon an ingenious solution to the ominous threat of a caliphate-cry bent on destruction, modeled on insular religious supremacy and morph it into a welcome, progressive, superintending entity. One could thus envision developing a very different kind of caliphate-consciousness and a distinctly different purpose for its existence. It could be the springboard for Islamic unity minus the perceived menace of extremism, replacing the caliphate-conundrum with a structure and philosophy of solutionism for the ever-growing challenges within the Islamic world with itself and its relationship with the outside world.

When toying with such a volatile idea we must explore why, in its existing form, there is a great desire of the radicals to have a caliphate?

Why do we demonize the idea? Is it even possible? Has it ever worked in history?

The Caliphate

A Caliph is a representative of the Muslims, he is taken to be a successor of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In the immediate years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) Caliphs were chosen through a kind of democratic process of ‘Shura” or consultation, perhaps as an earliest model of Islamic democracy. They were the “khalidun” Caliphs or the first four Caliphs of Islam. The division between Shiite and Sunni schools of thought is that Sunnis believe that a Caliph should be appointed as their representative and leader through community consultation while the Shiite believe it is the right of the Ahl al Bayat meaning from the House of Muhammad(PBUH) and accept Hazrat Ali(R) as the only true Caliph. After the Khalidun Caliphs of whom Hazrat Ali(R) was the last, the Ummayad Caliphate (661-750) came into being led by Muawiyah. Great Muslim territorial expansion took place during this time. “In 750, the Umayyad dynasty was overthrown by another family of Meccan origin, the Abbasids. Their time was marked by scientific, cultural and religious prosperity. Islamic art and music also flourished significantly during their reign. Their major city and capital, Baghdad, began to grow as a center of knowledge, culture and trade. This period of cultural fruition ended in 1258 with the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols.”1 Later the Abbasids tried to form their Caliphate but it became fractured into a parallel Caliphate of the Mamluk who held power in Cairo. This was followed by the Ummayad Caliphate’s re-emergence and the Fatmid Caliphate. There came a time in history where three Caliphates existed in the world contemporaneously. Over time the Caliphate became more monarchical in nature. And so it went on bouncing its way across different world capitals till it came to Constantinople and the office was held by the Ottomans who claimed it as early as 1517. It all came to a close when the Ottoman military took over and joined Germany in WWI.

Today, of all the negative portraits being built of the Caliphate due to the activities of a terrorist group under the banner of Islam, the word Caliphate has been sullied. It is taken to be synonymous with ISIL and as “theocratic imperialism; an aggressive, ideological and murderous project.”2 Nov. 11 marks the end of a kind of order: the Sunni caliphate, an office that had been more or less occupied from the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 632, to the exile of the last Ottoman Caliph in 1924.

The Muslim world can be seen in flux, at war with itself and the environ outside itself both ideologically and tangibly in geographical battlefields. It can be conceived that there is an absence of peace and cohesion in the Muslim world on account of a vacuum left by the destruction of the Caliphate that needs to be filled by true and good Muslims who can move forward with the times in the ever illuminating light of Quranic thinking, and are able to recalibrate this thinking to meet the needs and challenges of today. It can draw analogies to the past to understand how dynamic and modern and tolerant the Islamic way was and how 1400 years ago it broke from tradition to embrace progressive ideas – ideas shockingly new at the time such as rights for women in marriage, inheritance and vote, successful diplomacy and the idea of a welfare state and so forth. The uprooted Caliphate of the past has left an empty space that needs to be filled with true Muslim leadership that leads to glory, not through war and the gory twisted models built by errant, tyrannical groups like ISIL, but accomplishment and growth in the way good state-building is understood today.

This is already a commonly held belief in parts of the Muslim community. Others lean towards a ‘reformation of the Muslims’ but that Islamic reformation has already emerged as a Wahabist Project that led to the formation of radical, militant Islam. What, perhaps, Islam needs is something to counter this attempt at ‘reformation’ and overcome its Wahabist dynamics found in groups like the ISIL and Saudi sponsored madrassa- style global initiatives towards pan-Islamic identity. “The two(referring to the ISIL and Wahabist doctrines) can be viewed as links on the same chain…. In a way, the IS has roared back to life the “Wahabist Impulse” tempered by the original “Ikhwan Approach (which was militant).3

Islam perhaps needs to go back to its roots of “shura”, of democracy, of some of the pillars that made “Sunni Islam great in the first place”4. Sunni Islam, under the umbrella of the Caliphate, encompassed mechanisms designed for dialogue, debate, disagreement, pluralism and forward –movement through trust in a leader endorsed by the collective. The Caliphate was built with the innards of an engine designed for cooperation and collaboration. Today, more than ever, the global Muslim community can greatly benefit from such a model. Through it one can dare to envision an exponential amelioration of circumstances and relationships within and outside of the Muslim world. The Muslim world could benefit from some truly overarching multinational institutions, well-funded independent Islamic organizations dedicated to discussing the challenges faced by the global Muslim community and addressing them with modern solutions within the dictates of Islamic parameters. This entity could even be as bold as to make use of the Islamic provision of “ijtehad”, a kind of dynamic Islamic jurisprudence, one with room for an educated rational, and well informed interpretation of Islamic law for modern-day challenges. It is a kind of rethink of Islamic principles in the changing times, primarily given sanction in Islam to keep pace with the modern idiom, yet contained within the boundaries of Islamic law. According to Pascal, “ijtehad,” the word derives from the Arabic verbal root jahada “struggle”, the same root as that of jihad. The common etymology is worth noting, as both words touch on the concepts of struggle or effort. In the case of jihad, this means to “struggle with oneself”, as through deep thought. Ijtihad is a method of legal reasoning that does not rely on the traditional schools of jurisprudence, or madhabs.”5

This radical reconstruction of image, entity and purpose could be built through something as simple and familiar as say, a Caliphate.

Constructing a Caliphate Model – A Union-esque multicultural democracy

Now having suggested something as startling as endorsement for a Caliphate, before the idea is intellectually bulwarked, it must be qualified that this is in no way the model suggested by the Islamic State,or a pan- Islamic vision of Islam where there is a subjugation of the ‘others’ or any of the other negative misrepresentation of Islam that the current caliphate- concept markets itself on. Neither the kind of model that is defined by the extremist vision and referred to as the “Caliphate Curve”6 which measures the atrocities of radical Islamist groups and their timelines for an armageddon. “What is described as an extreme or moderate Caliphate Curve is the speed with which an Islamic group seeks to recreate the Caliphate”.7

The new design for a Caliphate could not succeed on a monarchical model, or an imperialistic model in a world where there are so many divisions in Islamic thinking. However, it can be used to unite and resurrect Islamic social pluralism without allegiance to one autocratic ruler who claims to wear the title, and in the rejection of which Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is a case in point. What might be envisioned is a model that is based on the needs of the time. Although ironically, according to an article published in Foreign Policy magazine, most modern institutions are built on authoritarian lines. Even in highly democratic societies seeking to recruit great leaders, it can be seen how the key to success is just getting the right person to the top of the organizational chart.8 Though written with a hint of disdain, it is a comment on human nature. We look for leaders to guide us so that we may absolve ourselves of blame for bad decision-making and choices.

According to the great philosopher Allama Iqbal in ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’, the task before the modern Muslim is immense. He has to re-think the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past. “The only course open to Muslims of today is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge.” Making Ijtihad, the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the sources of the law, as “the principle of movement in the structure of Islam”. In order to find reconciliation between stability and change, Islamic society must, on the one hand, find eternal principles, “it must possess eternal principles to regulate its collective life; for the eternal gives us a foothold in the world of perpetual change.” Though here he speaks of ‘ijtehad’ but the

Caliphate too, on that principle needs again to grow and morph, if at all, on the lines of modern thought and in keeping with the requirements of the modern, pluralistic world and its challenges to Muslims everywhere. More and more today we see a need not just for cohesion in the Muslim world due to increasing trend of Islamophobia, but the importance of a seat of power promoting the Muslim communities interests and a vindication of Muslim culture through guidance towards peaceful, contributive practices by the Muslim community. Clearly, there is no threat in a seat of religious power as proved by the existence of the Vatican and a religious leader, demonstrated by the powerful global role of the Pope.

As early as the 1930s, Allama Iqbal argued that the point of a Caliphate was to unite Muslims. However, to attempt such an experiment on previous models of a one man authoritarian rule would only lead to conflict and war as one man could not represent the views of thousands and millions that make up the Islamic collective today. “Iqbal was in favor of republicanism—democratically governed Muslim societies that gave room to ethnic groups to express their unique identities. He believed that these new governments could voluntarily affiliate with one another, and that a future Caliphate would look like today’s European Union, a consensual form of affiliation whose purpose would be “neither nationalism nor imperialism,” but a multicultural democracy.”9 It could be crafted as a supranational union looking after the interests of all Muslims.

So perhaps if modern Islam, and not an Islam hijacked by convoluted extremist persuasion, considers a Caliphate, it could work; perhaps as a consensual affiliation of multicultural Muslims set on a democratic paradigm – one that was built on accountability and on representation via elections. It needs to address more than just religion, which today is used to wield power, and as a tool for suppression, especially of women and minorities. It needs to address State issues and form a welfare State on a model based on the true spirit of Islam which is an instrument of emancipation, social justice, inclusion rather than exclusion and persecution; a religion that gave women the right to vote and inherit 1400 years ago – a concept which western societies struggled with, even centuries later. It needs to include universities, global corporations and a dialogue with different cultures, within and outside Islam. The Caliphate needs to be brought into the 21st century.

This model of a Caliphate, a Caliphate that unites an Islam fractured on sectarian fault lines, this very idea of a Caliphate reinvented, could be an idea worth reflection and upon consideration its actualization at this point in time can be more than just utopian naiveté.

In this Union-esque model of a Caliphate perhaps some of the advantages could be similar to those the European Union benefits, for example, free movement across countries. Obviously most Muslim countries do not have adjoining borders but the suspension of visa requirements could be of advantage. There could be freedom to work, live and retire anywhere in the Union. This would by design lead to a more tolerant pluralistic society over time by virtue of proximity in the same work and social spaces and increased social interaction. Social structures would be aimed at peaceful coexistence within the religion of Islam itself which is victim to many politically motivated fissures created for them by larger interest groups.

Caliphates of the Past

The Caliph is a successor, a deputy, a representative of the Prophet (PBUH). He is a spiritual and political authority. The Caliphate of Islam lasted 1300 years before it breathed its last with the end of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924.

Caliphs of the past can be looked upon to study the paradigms they set for successful execution of the office. Caliphs had to face many challenges from within and outside to defend the Muslim polity. The temperament of the Caliphs and the responsibilities of the office as set by Islam can be clearly seen by the successive Caliphs approach to circumstances and situations. This can give us a glimpse into the nature of what a true Caliphate entails.

Abu Bakr (R), the first Caliph of Islam, during his tenure quashed an uprising and then took on the Byzantines(Romans) and the Sassynids (Persians). Though triumphant, his orders were to preserve not destroy. It’s as if Abu Bakar (R) was writing the Geneva Convention ordering his commanders not to hurt women or the elderly or to disturb worshippers in their temples.10

In later years, Hazrat Omar (R) alongside the commandership of Khalid Bin Walid conquered Damascus but soon after victory stripped Khalid Bin Walid of his powers to humble him as he had become too authoritarian. From this existing precedent set in Islamic history it can be seen that Islam supports one leader, but not an authoritarian command that feeds only the self. “Not for Omar, not for Khalid, but Islam” is the message here for future Caliphates to follow.

When Hazrat Omar(R), another in the line of the Khalidun Caliphs, entered Jerusalem after its siege, on foot at the patriarch’s request to take it over from him, the patriarch asked Hazrat Omar (R) to pray inside its holiest church. Hazrat Omar (R) refused and prayed outside because he said “if I pray here, then after me Muslims will want to come and pray here and they will take this church away from you. And I want you to have this church.”11 This is clear indication of how in a pluralistic society the Caliphate ensures rights of other religions and an endeavour towards tolerance and peaceful co-existence – A great example to be followed by a contemporary Caliphate in stark, screeching contrast to the picture projected by groups like those of Al Baghdadi.

Hazrat Omar (R) was a landmark figure in Islamic history. It was during his reign that most of the conquests occurred. He was the founder of Institutions of State. “The Islamic State under him developed administrative systems, an army, garrison cities, political and judiciary systems – all the institutions needed to form a proper state.”12

At a point in time, in the Golden Age of the Abbasid Caliphate, Baghdad became a universal city. Scientists, authors, artists, engineers and physicians started translating, accumulating, adding to world cultural and scientific knowledge and laying the groundwork for Europe’s

Rennaisance in years to come. If only the Muslims of today would take their focus off destruction and hone in on construction and creation and discovery instead, the Muslim world would be a different place.

The Caliphate over time has embraced many versions of its power, influence and tone. Of the recent times the last in the chain of Caliphates, the Ottoman Caliphate has been seen to embrace both worlds of religion and contemporary culture with all its nuances. It had spread far and wide and thus required polyglot courts which attested to the multiple cultures, races and regions represented there. French, Armenian and Arabic were spoken at the Ottoman court while French was the lingua franca.

In the Court of Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) music was played by princesses on a gold piano gifted by Napolean III and the princes were taught the cello. On Thursday evening Abdulhamid II would do the rhythmic repetition of ‘Dhikr’ with the Sufi masters and on the way back from Friday prayers he would listen to Offenbach which the royal orchestra played for him. He enjoyed reading and far from reading just the Quran and Sunnah he had a penchant for spy novels. The last Caliph Abdulmecid II, another connoisseur of music, played the violin for mixed audiences at his court.13 Though some of these practices are commonly considered unIslamic they were employed at the Ottoman court. For instance Abdulhamid II called on the French painter Pierre Desire and his wife to establish the first arts school and Fausto Zonaro, an Italian, as his in-house palace painter. Abdulhamid II himself became his student and painted his wife reclining, unveiled, reading Geoth’s Faust. Abdulhamid I brought in Swiss architects to design an Opera House, the city’s first university and law courts. Many playhouses and shadow theatres also came to be in the fast-growing metropolis.14

“Under the 19th Century Caliphs Istanbul became a metropolis of modernity.”15

Though this unconventional example of a Caliphate is not the paradigm that will find acceptance in the world today it is an example of how culture, modernization, religious freedom, worldly and pluralistic ideas can not only be part of a Caliphate in the future but have been so already in the past.

Another time-capsule of modern Caliphal values can be found in Istanbul in a hospice for the homeless built by Abdulhamid II where there is a mosque at one end, a church and synagogue at the other end with stars of David in the North. The Caliphs saw themselves as defenders of multiple faiths that sought their protection. That is just the perfect model that will work today.

Caliphate’s Role in Correcting the Trivialization and Global Mockery of Religion

It is unfortunate that, in the language of terrorism, Islam’s pioneering achievements are lost.

It is unfortunate that the very people who claim to be the torch bearers of Islam wind up making a mockery of it. They use it as a tool for self-propagation, it falls victim to the greed and ambition of politicians and religious leaders alike, it becomes a hijacked ideology for extremists to manipulate to their advantage, a kind of machinery, a vehicle for propaganda.

It is sad when Islam becomes defined by the barbaric practices of the Islamic State, when Islam, an otherwise liberal religion becomes trapped in dialogues that focus on merely reducing people’s rights with a special focus on women as its easiest target. A doctrine liberal because it talks of rights of inheritance, education, social justice, peace and free-will. It is appalling that of the great reforming religions in the world, Islam suffers the hardest blow through the myopic vision of indoctrinated pawns. In the process, Islam is mocked and jeered at and forces its followers to constantly defend its wisdom and charity and ideology of peace. Either that or distance themselves from ‘those kind of people’ – its stereotyped, profiled representatives.

These selfish hijackers of faith cleave and divide and disgrace, the very idea they claim to defend. They make Islam appear a violent, fossilized religion.

“An excursion into this blogosphere reveals the polarization which attends Islamic issues….. Comment areas are populated with readers who seem to think that Islam is a monolithic belief system. This myth, maintained by both “Islamophiles” and “Islamophobes,” has overshadowed any nuanced discussion of Islam.”16 Most people now believe that Islam is only about beards, amputated limbs, misogyny and xenophobia. The first university in the world, The University of al-Qarawiyyin was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima al Fihri, in Fez, Morocco. “It is the oldest existing, continually operating and the first degree awarding educational institution in the world according to UNESCO and Guinness World Records and is sometimes referred to as the oldest university.”17

Nobody celebrates that. Or that Muslims invented algebra (AlKhwarizmi), automated machines as a result of inventing clocks, the camera (Ibn al Haitham), the all-important soap, surgical instruments and the 10th Century medical encyclopedia with over 200 instruments(Abulcasis), Maps (with the introduction of paper in Baghdad in 8th Century the first travel guides and maps were produced) or Ibn-e- Sina’s medical textbook that was used by students for centuries and so on.

All because religious extremists have wiped out the discussion about what makes one of the dominant religions of the world great. A Caliphate can accrue positives and bring the contributions of Muslims in a contemporary context into focus and where these positives might be missing, nudge them into motion through structures developed especially to promote them. Since the Caliphate seized to exist, some Muslims feel lost without its beacon guiding them to greatness. In the absence of such leadership the right path forward of a true Islamic state, not just in name but spirit, can blur. Nature loathes a vacuum. As we can see the current vacuum is being filled by Islamic imposters such as ISIL declaring a widely rejected false Caliphate.

This gap, this vacuum is pulling in not just militants and extremists but the poorly guided who are equally vulnerable to larger agendas albeit with the best of intentions and interests on their part on a personal level. The Caliphate would provide theological guidance and direction to over 2 billion people who aimlessly follow the neighbourhood cleric or any prominent preacher on the scene for lack of a better option.

A liberal, modern, multicultural Caliphate, inclusive of Centres of learning and debate, could potentially restore all that is lost in the spheres of perception, pioneering achievement, polity, pluralism, progress and religious understanding.

Why Islam Has Been Misrepresented

As we venture forward with the concept of an Islamic seat of power it would be pertinent to shed light on the possible reasons for the misrepresentation or demonizing of Islam as a growing ecclesiastical and social entity. The reasons could lie partly within its polity and partly outside of it.

It would be fair to say that globally, with increasing terror attacks, the emergence of extremist groups and a reactionary strong wave of Islamophobia, Islam’s relationship with the world has hit rock bottom. But that is a good place to start rebuilding relationships. Once the weaknesses are realized the Muslim community can build from there on up.

So why has Islam been misrepresented?

One of the foremost reasons springs from within. Most Muslims around the world take religion very seriously as a part of their everyday life and base decisions and outlook on religious presets. However, most are uneducated in theology. Theology is understood as what is passed down by the community or the neighbourhood cleric. Religion is the basis and driving force for an emotional response to the surrounding stimulus without clear knowledge of what religion actually dictates. Theology needs study and not just an emotional response.

Islam has also been a tool for politics. In Pakistan it has been used for political expediency as it has been used around the world including countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Religion has always been used as a tool of manipulation to seal power with little thought to its long term consequences.

Militants have used Islam as a tool to push their agenda of power grabbing. The premise for such action might be a Caliphate or a jihad or a response to western aggression through methods of unconventional warfare but somewhere along the way it is always a strategic tool to amass power and often territory. It is a powerful stratagem because it fuels conflict through both the body and heart of the pawned warriors.

Islam has also been misrepresented as and when needed by the West for the pursuit of global objectives. The Afghan jihad is a case in point. The Afghan warriors were given the glorified status of ‘Mujahidin’ as they fought and pushed back Russian military ambitions in a proxy war for the United States during the 80s. The Taliban were heroes just as they stand villains in the same space now.

Emotions are always easy to manipulate and the shortest route to them on a mass scale is through the cry of religion. Muslims find themselves perched on oil wells and gold mines and shipping ports. Islam is the second largest religion of the world with approximately 2 billion adherents. If they were to unite the Muslim polity could emerge as the next superpower of the world. It is more pressing a concern now that nuclear weapons weigh in the equation.

How then, can Islam not be misrepresented? Consider it again and you will see why it never stood a chance.

A Theological Bloc

The fear of a Caliphate comes in part not due to the atrocities committed currently in its name but due to a perception that it will accompany territorial expansion and claim a land mass for itself that will flow outwards in the acquisition of more territory on which there will be imposed, by brutal force, the Islamic law or ‘sharia’. This fear is not unfounded given the current footprint of the false and misrepresentative Caliphate of the Islamic State. Surely the Caliphate needs a seat of government and authority but it need not assert its power through territorial expansion. Much in the same way as the Vatican holds the seat of power, the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican unabashedly wields global influence and is recognized as an independent country yet it poses no threat to its neighboring states. It manages to hold international power and sway, directing discipline and order across the entire world of the Catholic faith. Quite in the same way as Christianity looks to the Pope, an Islamic Caliphate then is not such an alien, irrational or irrelevant idea for the modern Islamic world.

The Caliphate need not be concerned with geography. It should primarily be a theological bloc, an Islamic think-tank taking the global Muslim population forward and exercising the dynamic power of ‘ijtihad’ already built into the fabric of Islam to help it keep pace with an evolving world.

According to Professor Maqsood Jafri “Ijtehad means intellectual endeavor to seek the solutions for day to day matters…. It is a rational and analytical approach, based on the Quran and on the teachings of the Sunnah, for interpreting religious matters. Time and again the Quran says that its verses are for thinkers. It stresses the exercise of the rational mind. In Sura The Heifer the Quran says: “Do not treat Allah’s signs as a jest, but solemnly rehearse Allah’s favors to you, and the fact that He sent down to you the Book and wisdom, for your instruction.” (2:231). This verse shows that Book and wisdom are prerequisites to keep society on track and progressive …The Book has laid down the foundations, but we have to be wise in taking steps to build our lives upon it through the course of time…The Quran has given us fundamentals but we must interpret these fundamentals wisely in accordance with the spirit of the times in which we live.”18 It is a need of the day to reinterpret Islam in the modern idiom and rethink Islamic application on more than just day to day matters. Ijtehad needs to embrace a wider scope in Islamic rethink.

According to a paper by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for the Centre of Peace and Sprituality, “The ulema wrongly construed that only the Imams in Abbasid period were allowed to do ijtihad and the common man must restrict his thinking within the realms laid out by previous jurists.”19

It is a tragic loss that over the years ijtihad has taken a back seat in Islamic debate and law. “Among the Shiites we have Mujtahids (The Jurists) and in the Sunnites we have Muftid (The Jurists) but mostly they are traditionalists who avoid considering modern or new interpretations. On the other hand, some Westernized Muslim scholars having little knowledge of Islam, are totally misinterpreting or misrepresenting Islam in the name of liberalism or modernism. Such unfounded innovation (Bidah) is a serious danger to the purity and integrity of Islam. Islam as a whole is never stale, static or stagnant. It needs neither retrogressive nor so called progressive interpretation. It needs original, real and wise interpretation.”20 The important element to extract from this reference is that ijtihad does not need to be engineered to change or apologise for Islam but simply to address contemporary matters that did not exist in history. Islam is perfectly capable of moving forward in the 21st Century and further on its own foundation.

The very concept of Ijtehad, woven into Islam is the first attempt at a think-tank employing Islamic jurisprudence to move Islamic society forward to the rhythm of changing times. It provides the building blocs of a contemporary Caliphate that acts as a theological bloc for Islamic interests giving Muslims religious sanction, a nod of approval for a way forward in an integrated, pluralistic, modern world built on new moral, social and scientific challenges.

Moving beyond ijtihad, a theological bloc is also needed to counterpoise the sectarian conflicts in Islam over both small and large issues. As a theological bloc the Caliphate would address a pluralistic Muslim society on the larger issues and aid unity rather than dwell and differentiate on petty non- issues in the way that Muslim societies find themselves trapped into doing today. The conflict of sects, religious rituals and traditionally established practices that cleave the greater union of Islam itself as a way of life will be given little importance in the context of the Muslims as a solid uni -polar community. Muslims do not belong to one culture, ethnicity or sect and bring to the polity colourful disagreement and differing cultural and religious practices which need to be reconciled in the greater interest of a supranational union led by a Caliph.

It has been witnessed in history that the Caliphate was rejected as a single entity and at one point in time there were 3 Caliphs in the seat simultaneously in different parts of the world. Today, with Iran in the picture for example we might see history repeat itself so far as a pledging allegiance to a Caliph is concerned. Iran does not subscribe to the concept of a Caliph whom they feel is directed by divine intervention whereby for them the chain of Caliphs stopped at Hazrat Ali(R). They believe in the concept of “imamat” or an ‘Imam’. To reconcile these divergent views the idea of a theological bloc makes more and more sense.

A Turkish author Ali Bulacis is quoted in Time magazine as saying that “The concept of a Caliphate is very much alive in the collective memory of society…. And there is nothing to keep the Muslim society together at the moment.”21

This Caliphate would function as a theological bloc promoting Islamic cohesion and progress, not one highlighting the fractures and differences within Islamic groups themselves or one promoting religious orthodoxy.

An Economic and Social Bloc

If Europe can have a European union why can the idea of an Islamic union or a confederation not find grounds to flourish? One defined not by geographical proximity like the European Union but under the binding concept of a progressive Islamic polity looking after the economic and social interests of 2 billion people with the common denominator being faith. Free trade, banking affiliations, infrastructure development, a wider net for the use of oil money in the form of low interest loans on governmental level, universities, proliferation of Islamic scholars with debate on contemporary issues, job-creation and incentives for easy migration within Islamic countries reducing the alienation experienced by Muslims in non – Islamic cultures. The bloc could further look into free movement within the member countries with relaxed visa requirements and the choice to live, work or retire anywhere. Tax- free trading within the bloc could jack up revenues and be highly advantageous to otherwise competitive member states. Together, as a single, solid socio- economic bloc it would hold more power and a stronger voice internationally. Free trade would be another incentive for no conflict between nations. It could have a head office in one place but influence and sway along with advantages shared across all the satellite Muslim countries and communities and even minority communities in non – Muslim countries who would otherwise be overlooked. Just like the EU, it would take power away from governments and have power over governments. Decisions would be negotiated through intergovernmental and supranational independent organizations. It would serve the interests of the whole and not an individual country minimizing the possible creation of political despots. What could be a better proposition than that?

This bloc could be a form of neo pan-Islamism, moving away from the older concept of pan Islamism championed by Jamal Al -Din al-Afghani who sought the unity of Muslims to simply resist the colonial occupation of Muslim lands and the overthrow of rulers perceived to be subservient to foreigners. Its aim was not a constitutional government. His vision did not favour parliamentarianism or political democracy.22 Neo pan-Islamism as a new concept crafted in the shape of a Caliphate or a neo-Caliphate would be a supranational body built with social and economic interests along with an Islamic ideology at its centre. It would be a symbiosis of Islamic nations looking for progress and strength in economic and social spheres. It would look for religious freedom not religious domination. Its umbrella of Islamic culture and thought would be its tool for enlightenment and a unifying element, not catapulting it back to the past, but building on the glory and triumphs of Islam in its early days and moulding itself on Islam’s pioneering spirit.

On this pagradigm a similar attempt at neo pan- Islamism or an Islamic union (Islam Birligi) was made by a former Turkish Prime Minister, Nekmettin Erbakan, founder of the Milli Gorus movement. In 1996 he advocated this union with the possible establishment of a D8 as opposed to a G8 with Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh. He envisioned the gradual unity of Muslim nations “through economic and technologic collaboration similar to the EU with a single monetary unit (Islam Dinari), joint aerospace and defense projects, petrochemical technology development, regional civil aviation network and a gradual agreement to democratic values. Although the organization met at presidential and cabinet levels and moderate collaboration projects continue to date, the momentum was instantly lost when the Coup of February 28, 1997 took down his government.” 23 The idea shows great possibilities and warrants a quick resuscitation to meet the fast growing challenges of the Muslim world today.

Failure of the last Caliphate

Why did the last Caliphate of the Ottomans fail and how did it manage to erase itself from the face of the earth? The truth is that European powers had worked hard to undermine it.

Jonathan Laurence writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung “that the present day pathologies of European Islam are kind of an aftershock from a century old mistake. Or rather of a short- sighted policy….. In the summer of 1916, the British government and its allies started fomenting an Arab revolt against the political, and above all the spiritual authority of the Ottomans.” 24 The Ottoman dominion over Islam’s holiest places collapsed after the British-led capture of Jerusalem. The British backed an alternative to Ottoman rule over the Arabs by supporting the Hashemite Dynasty and the eventual beneficiaries emerged in 1924 as the House of Saud who took over Mecca & Medina. 25

The Ottoman Caliphate had held sway over Muslims worldwide and had a “benign effect on global Islam. Not only within the Ottoman realm but far beyond it. The Caliphate formed an apex of an international network of teachers, preachers and judges.” Whether or not or how much influence it held over religious scholars varied over time but it did play an important spiritual role in the late 19th and 20th Century embracing Muslims under British and Dutch rule and in the Asia Pacific. Abdulhamid II even convinced the Filipino Muslims to accept American power over them.26 Instead of this working in the Ottoman’s favour this kind of centralized power made the Europeans nervous and they worked towards dismantling it and shifting power towards the Arabs which in retrospect might not have been the best idea for it has re-emerged in a convoluted avatar with its guns pointed outwards to both the West and other Muslims.

In their effort to undermine the Caliph, the Dutch had stopped the Muslims from referring to the Caliph in their prayers and the French promoted alternative centres of authority over the Muslims they ruled. When Turkey turned secular, the office of Caliph was abolished in 1924. It is lamentable in more ways than one for the last Ottoman Caliph, Abdulmecid Efendi, who was an urbane scholar, was apparently reading the Essays of Montaigne when the police came for him. Such Caliphates were not just centered on theology but had wider visions and understandings of contemporary society.

Challenges of a new Caliphate

If a Caliphate in its new skin were to emerge it could undoubtedly be successful within its new anatomy but in spite of that it is bound to encounter many hurdles that it will need to overcome. As a phoenix rising from the ashes it will find new battles it will need to win within its intellectual blocs.

An imminent challenge of the fledgling Caliphate would be a lack of freedom of speech where everything will be considered blasphemous by rival ideological parties. It is not so much that it will be an ideological rivalry but will stem from years of being trapped in orthodoxy and tradition.

Though the very aim of a Caliphate is in part to unite such differences, battling the ingrained orthodoxy will require trust, knowledge, diplomacy and foremost faith in the representative of the seat, meaning the Caliph. In part this can be addressed though the appointment of a Caliph through a democratic process or ‘shura’ to meet the approval of potentially dissenting parties. The freedom of speech can come through debate and the concept of ‘ijtihad’.

Another possible hurdle is that dissent, even through ijtihad has the potential to be labelled as heresy. And so, how will freedom of speech be received and interpreted, or even tolerated for that matter?

The fact that the Caliphate will need to exercise ijtihad will in itself be a sensitive flash point at least initially. According to Pascal, “In early Islam ijtihad was a commonly used legal practice, and was well integrated with the philosophy of kalam, its secular counterpart. It slowly fell out of practice for several reasons, most notably the efforts of the Asharite theologians, who saw it as leading to errors of over-confidence in judgement”.27

The present-day, widely rejected idea of a Caliphate as projected by the ISIL is not even a shadow of its ancient cousin. It is simply a modern military idea and according to Khalid Aziz, a regular contributor to Criterion Quarterly, “The place of religion has been occupied by criminality.” The main challenge the new Caliphate will face perhaps will be from errant radical groups who might be appeased at the idea of a Caliphate but a true, Islamic caliphate, a welfare state dedicated to peaceful state- building will not serve the false purposes of pseudo Islam as it will be a harbinger of death to their hypocrisy. Perhaps in this particular hurdle lies the Caliphate’s most potent strength.


Yes, the word Caliphate has an ominous ring to it. Free yourself of it – call it state-building, a union, a confederation if you must, but if one can manage to extricate oneself from the clutches of its stereotypical, fearsome understanding, of what it currently represents, we might have the solution of the century. Let’s look at its purpose and vision and merits and refuse to be intimidated by the name. Call it what you will, after all what was it that Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Establishing a Caliphate is not about territory or temporal power. A Caliph is a representative of Islam, a lighthouse in stormy, turbulent or even calm seas. He is a representative of faith; guiding, illuminating the right way forward and leading the Islamic world to safety and shores of prosperity and enabling tranquility. Not only would it unite Muslims but it would propel culture forward, establish modern Islamic norms and a society reconciled with Islamic law, a sharia, in a forward-looking inclusive and enabling way. It would also satisfy a turbulent and militant religious orthodoxy bent on its implementation with little understanding of the responsibilities it entails. Peace would prevail and everyone’s interests would be looked after. An Islamic Rennaisance would be ushered in, triggering a global reconciliation. From the looks of it, the sky would open up and angels would sing.

So how should we feel about this idea of a neo-Caliphate? Should we fear it, or should we dare to dream it? Is it the solution to all our problems?

The discussion is now open. Let’s talk about this new Caliphate, the Caliphate that could.



  2. – Haroon Moghul Nov 11, 2015
  3. Tracing the Islamic State’s DNA- by Sahar Pirzada
  4. – Haroon Moghul Nov 11, 2015
  6. Front Page Mag. – It’s Not ISIS We Need to Beat — It’s the Caliphate. December 29, 2015-Daniel Greenfield
  7. by Daniel Greenfield 19th Jan 2016
  8. Its time to abandon the Pursuit of Great Leaders by Stephen M Wait 3rd March 2016 Foreign Policy magazine
  9. – Haroon Moghul Nov 11, 2015aroon Moghul Nov 11, 2015
  11. John Tolan, Professor of History, University of Nantes – http://interactive.
  12. ibid
  13. The Ottoman Caliphate- Worldly, Hedonistic, Plural and Muslim too- The Economist-6th Dec 2015-
  14. ibid
  15. ibid
  16. –  Islam  and  Extremism:What Is Underneath by William DiPuccio– November 1, 2012 at 4:00 am
  19. Importance of Ijtehad by Maulana Wahidudin Khan- 1st Aug 2010
  21. What is the Caliphate by Karl Vick 1st July 2014
  23. ibid
  24. – Why European Islam’s current problems might reflect a 100-year-old mistake by Erasmus – Jul 26th 2016
  25. ibid
  26. ibid