The Khilifa

We live in a true Information Age, in which one can discover almost anything if one looks. This has resulted in “information overload” for many people, and so the opposite occurs; one reduces the number of sources to a handful that fulfill the need. This, in turn, has resulted in the rise of Misinformation Agents; those who use simplistic answers (“this group are all this way”) and Confirmation Bias (“this guy agrees with me so he is right”) to make vast fortunes. They can fill entire days with “experts” and op ed pieces that have very little real or true information in them.

As a person of a scientific background, you know I do not operate that way. When I worked in Intelligence, I endeavored to be as accurate as possible, eliminating every form of bias from my analysis, even if that was not what the “higher ups” wanted to hear. Since I was able to predict a number of world events, I guess it worked. (The fact that these events were such a shock to our government leaders shows just how short a distance my reports were fed “up the chain”)

This is a long introduction, but it has a point. I write these posts both as a mental exercise and to give you the most accurate information available. Some people have reposted or downloaded them, while on the other extreme I have been “unfriended”, as in the name of the new movie. (My mom has me print out each one). I do hope that they are fun and informative, and I greatly encourage comments and discussion. (The most successful of which has been “Biblical Marriage”. Wow)

So, today’s subject is something that is in the news. The concept of the Caliphate; what it is, what it is not, etc.

The Caliphate, in Arabic khilāfa, is an Islamic political/religious state led by a caliph, in Arabic khalīfah, which is a shortened version of khalifat rasul Allah, or “successor of the Messenger of God”.

For most of human history, the ideas of government and religion were interwoven. The government gained all or some of its right to rule from religion, while religion was supported in turn by the government. The idea of the total separation of church and state was not solidified until the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century.

Muhammad was the religious/political leader of the Muslim world until his death in the year 632 CE. A meeting was held in Medina at the Saqifah house to determine who his replacement would be. The standard Arabic practice at that time was to chose a new leader through a shura, or a consultation of the ruled, in which those who came voiced their opinions and sometimes voted. The debate was very heated, but eventually Abu Bakr, father-in-law of Muhammad, was elected. He had been a war leader, and was more feared than loved.

Abu Bakr died in 634 CE, but before he did he chose Umar bin al-Khat’tab, his chief adviser and also a Companion of Muhammad, as his replacement. He was promptly voted in with a very easy election. Umar was more of a good leader, living simply in a mud hut without doors and laid the foundation for what Islamic culture would become. He was assassinated by a Persian in 644 due to the Islamic conquest of Persia.

Uthman ibn Affan was elected next. He had been a companion of Muhammad, and was a lifelong business man. His efforts made the Islamic nation an economic powerhouse in the world. He too was assassinated in 656 by an armed group of dissidents.

Now we come to one of the major events in Islamic history, and the source of much of the current troubles today. The next Caliph was Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was cousin and son-in-law to Muhammad. Many people had felt that Ali was the natural successor to Muhammad. They had been very close, and Ali had done for and learned so much from Muhammad. There was even an incident where Muhammad was said to have declared Ali to be his successor.

Ali’s reign was troubled by internal strife and it was dominated by the First Fitna, or civil war, mostly started over the assassination of Uthman. In the Year 40 in the Islamic calender (661 CE), Ali was attacked while praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa Iraq, and died 2 days later from his wounds and poison.

This period of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs (632-661) is called the Rashidun Caliphate, and it was the largest empire in history up until that point. This is the “Good Old Days” that is looked back upon by those hoping to found a new one.

Ali’s son Hasan was elected caliph, but turned power over to Muawiyah a few months later. Mauwiyah founded the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) and the position of caliph became more or less hereditary. It was overthrown by the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1517) and then the Ottoman Caliphate (1362–1924).

The followers of Ali did not like the way things were turning out, and became their own faction within Islam called Shia, or “the followers of Ali”. They are strongest today in Iran and Iraq, with populations in other areas. Islam has far more subdivisions than the two you hear on the news, Sunni and Shia, but most are subgroups of one of the big ones.

As the Islamic world grew too large to control, these later caliphates had rival states, claiming that they were the true successors to Muhammad. Also, a number of Emirates, or Islamic monarchies arose, who did not always claim religious authority. Other Islamic states, such as in Africa or Asia, simply ignored the authority of the caliph.

The last caliphate considered to have legitimate authority was the Ottoman Caliphate. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Turkish Republic, he wanted a secular state that was not restricted by religious dogma and fundamentalism. He abolished the caliphate, and transferred its powers to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, or Turkish Parliament, and there it resides today. The last caliph was Abdülmecid II (1868-1944) who ruled from November 18 1922 til March 3 1924, and was a mere figurehead. He had preferred his life as an artist.

The true power of the Caliphate was that it was something that could unite all Muslims under one authority. In times of division or strife, in theory everyone had an authority to turn to to make judgements or to rally behind. The closest equivalent Christian institution is the Roman Catholic Church, especially during its domination of Western Europe.

Various groups have tried to reestablish the caliphate, all with only their own authority. Some have tried for a purely spiritual caliphate, ruling no land but uniting all Muslims, whether Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ahmadi, Ibadi, Nation of Islam, or non-denominational. (Yes, there are non-denominational Muslims. See, you did learn something today). There are a number of websites devoted to this idea.

On June 29, 2014 ad-Dawl aah al-Islāmiyah fīl-ʿIrāq wash-Shām, called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, declared a worldwide caliphate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph. Please note the similarity of his name to the first caliph. This fact is not lost on the Islamic world. His original name is Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri.

Islamic State or ad-Dawl al-Islamiyah(now its official name) claims political, spiritual, and military authority over all Muslims worldwide and “We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration of khilāfah, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the khalīfah Ibrāhīm and support him (may Allah preserve him). The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas.”

Something like Islamic State is a natural outgrowth of the decade and a half long struggle within Islam. It surprises me that the “experts” were all caught off guard. Islamic State uses an appeal to the “good old days”, with a healthy dose of opposition to foreign interventions and a return to religious fundamentalism. At the same time, they are very good at using modern technology, and are masters of manipulating the Western media, since anything they do or say is repeated thousands of times around the world. By declaring themselves in direct opposition to all Muslim governments, they show themselves to be aligned with none of them, and make a very good appeal to the common people disillusioned with strife and their governments. Their marketing and publications are of the highest quality, making them seem “cool” and something idealist people would want to be. Their appeal to “drive out the Crusaders” and military victories bring more converts. They have gained thousands of fighters (many who have to endure long journeys to join them) and even more silent supporters.

The current Islamic State will not survive. It will be defeated in war, and its members killed in battle or slaughtered afterwards. However, this defeat will be a victory for them, as they will survive as an ideal, possibly to rise again in some unknown future, stronger and more determined.

The idea of everyone acting united within one’s own religion is not a bad one, and certainly better than the alternative. The 40,000+ denominations of Christendom come immediately to mind. Last time I came home from my mom’s house, I listened to a radio preacher spend his entire hour denouncing all other Christian groups as “from Satan.” Sigh.

In Islam, the Ummah is a synonym for ummat al-Islamiyah, or the “Community of all Muslims”. Muhammad told them “O ye men! Harken unto my words and take ye them to heart! Know ye that every Muslim is a brother unto every other Muslim, and that ye are now one brotherhood.” Jesus, called Isa Ibn Maryam in Islam, often said that all men should be brothers. Perhaps they will find khilāfa in their hearts.

It is a lesson we should all learn.


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