Bringing back the caliphate

A review of the first edition by Inayat Bunglawala

Source: The Guardian

Osama Bin Laden wants it back, as does Hizb ut-Tahrir and also, according to a recent poll organised by an American university, a majority of Muslims across the world do so too. But what is the caliphate (Arabic: Khilafah) and what would it look like today?

Before he died in 632 CE, the Prophet Muhammad succeeded in establishing a single state in Arabia, in which he was both the spiritual head and also the temporal ruler. Within a period of just over 20 years, Muhammad had unified the Arabs, smashed the centuries-old practice of idolatry and inculcated in them a deep love for Islam: voluntary submission to God’s Will.

It was an astonishing achievement and the Islamic state would, after Muhammad’s death, continue to expand and draw in new converts to Islam from other peoples. Islam, with its pristine monotheism, stood in stark contrast to the many competing versions of Christianity with their endless bickering over the true nature of Christ and also the rather narrow tribalism of Judaism.

The Prophet’s successors (Caliphs) tried to maintain this system but it was inevitably beset with divisions and rivalries, and in time, multiple regional caliphates came into existence. The last caliphate to be widely recognised – Ottoman Turkey, which in its latter days came to be known as the “sick man of Europe” – was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

On Wednesday, writing on Cif, Brian Whitaker, questioned the relevancy of the caliphate in the modern world, saying:

Whatever the historical merits (or not) of this now-defunct system of government, it is difficult to see how anyone could seriously regard its return as a step forward in the 21st century.

Brian looked at some of the articles of the draft Hizb ut-Tahrir constitution for their particular conception of the caliphate and, I must admit, it did not really look like a place where I would want to live in or bring up my kids in. But need it be that way?

The same US poll that cited majority support for the caliphate amongst the public in Muslim countries also found even larger majorities who thought that a democratic political system was a good way of governance. So clearly, many Muslims believe that democracy need not conflict with their Islamic ideals.

Hizb ut-Tahrir have posted an article on their website titled “Poll confirms massive support for the caliphate in the Muslim world” but have strangely omitted any mention of the finding that an even greater number of people favoured the establishment of democracy as their preferred method of achieving a well-governed state. Hmmm …

In my view, the findings of the US poll serve to confirm the argument made by a Sudanese Islamic philosopher, Abdelwahab el-Affendi, in his 1991 book, Who Needs an Islamic State? Affendi urged Muslims to look at their history and be willing to learn from their experiences and also from that of others:

Wisdom dictates that we should be pessimistic about the qualities of our rulers, something which should not be too difficult, given our experiences. The institutions of a Muslim polity, and the rules devised to govern it, should therefore be based on expecting the worst.

Human experience shows that democracy, broadly defined, offers the best possible method of avoiding such disappointment in rulers and affords a way of remedying the causes for such disappointments once they occur.

The caliphate clearly has an enormous emotional pull on Muslims and for understandable reasons as it aspires to break down national/tribal borders and unify Muslim countries under a just government as opposed to their current crop of mainly unelected and dishonest rulers. Is the caliphate really unattainable? It depends on how you conceive it. El-Affendi has a model in mind which may surprise you:

The model we are proposing here could suggest a way in which a polity is not strictly territorial. Political associations should make it possible for members to move in space without losing their rights of membership. This entails a concept of an international order based more on coexisting communities than on territorially-based mutually-exclusive nation-states. The European Community and the United States of America reflect some of the characteristics of the model we have in mind.

A confederation of democratic states based on the model of the European Union. Now that would be a caliphate that I can imagine myself living in!


2 Responses

  1. Prior to one trying to reconcile the ideals of Islam and that of democracy, it is important we all agree on the definition of democracy. The word derives from the Greek demokratia, where ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘Kratos’ meaning rule, thus, in summation meaning rule of the people. This is where a firm contradiction lies in respect to Islam. As far as the Muslim Aqeedah goes, we wholeheartedly accept that Allah (swt) is the legislator therefore, Allah’s rulings need to govern our everyday life.
    Equating democracy with free elections is simply half the story as many political systems allow free elections (including Islam) but that does not mean that man is free to discuss and debate rulings and change them as we see fit. This is where the line has to be drawn.

  2. Of course we need a Khalifah without it we are being westernised by the Kafirs, which brings be to question do you fear Allah or the Kafir? In my home country of Turkey which my grandparents fleed because of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolishing Islamic law forcing women to take of hijaabs and shutting down all Islamic schools today all 75,000 Masjids in Turkey are being patrolled by the Secular government Ataturk forced the Caliph into exile he is a demon and the greatest traitor to Islam, my brothers and sisters how much longer can you wait? Our sisters getting raped and our brothers being blown up its time to bring back the Khalifa before its too LATE!

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