Saturday, May 27, 2006

Can the Caliphate make a comeback?

The following is an interesting article, it highlights the growing realisation that many Muslims want the return of the Khilafah (Caliphate). The author makes some fundamental mistakes in his analysis:

- The Khilafah will not be an authoritarian state as he claims. Rather it will be an ideological state where the system emanates from the belief of the people i.e. the Aqeeda (belief) of Islam. The Khilafah wil not be a police state like the repressive governments in the Muslim world.

- The author assumes that Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds will not accept a Khalifah from other than their ethnic background. Although nationalism does exist to some extent in the Muslim world, however its influenced has weakened over the last decades - the reality today is that of there was a Khalifah in the Muslim world who sincere applied the Islamic system, removed the foreign occupation from our lands, launched war on the state of Israel, etc - the majority of Muslims in the world would support him regardless of his ethnicity except the corrupt elite whose allegiance lies to the West.

- The author assumes that democratic norms are needed for stability within the Khilafah. It seems that he has not accurately understood the Islamic ruling system which contains the process for electing a Khalifah and Majlis al-Ummah (Consultative assembly. There is a detailed ruling system including: Delegated Assistants (Mu'awin Tafweed), Executive Assistants (Mu'awin Tanfeedh), Governors (Wulat), Administrative departments, army, etc. There is also an accountability process and Mahkamatul Mazalim (Court of Unjust Acts).

The site elaborates upon some of these aspects.

Policy Watch: Can the Caliphate make a comeback?
By Mark N. Katz

United Press International
Published May 13, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Islamic political theory envisions a Muslim world united under the rule of a caliph, who exercises spiritual and temporal authority over all Muslims. Many Muslims now hope for the restoration of the Caliphate. Could this actually occur?

In the early days of Islam, caliphs ruled over most of the Muslim world as it then existed. But divisions eventually prevailed. The Ottoman sultans were the last to be generally acknowledged as caliphs by Sunni Muslims, even though they were losing temporal control over their Middle Eastern empire to the European colonial powers. The leader of Turkey's secular nationalist revolution, Kemal Ataturk, abolished the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. Although some have claimed the title, nobody since then has been widely acknowledged as caliph.

Many Muslims believe that the European colonial powers artificially divided the Islamic world into a multitude of small, relatively weak countries so they would not be able to deal with the West on an equal basis, despite the great oil wealth that the Muslim world as a whole possesses. If, however, the entire Muslim world (or just the entire Sunni Muslim world) became united in a Caliphate stretching -- albeit discontinuously -- from Morocco to Indonesia, the situation would change dramatically. This Caliphate would be at least the equal of the West, and perhaps more powerful than it. The Muslim world would be in a much stronger position to shape the world order to its advantage than at present. This could have an enormous impact on the outcome of the many ongoing conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, including those in Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, the Balkans, and elsewhere.

It is not surprising, then, that the re-emergence of the Caliphate is an idea that appeals to many Muslims. But could the Caliphate actually re-emerge? Would Muslims welcome it if it did?

In the Muslim world's current circumstances, I believe that both questions would have to be answered negatively. In most of the Muslim world, authoritarian rule is the norm. In addition, most of the opponents of these authoritarian governments are authoritarian themselves -- including those who call for the revival of the Caliphate. The attempt to create a Caliphate under the auspices of almost any existing Muslim government or opposition movement is thus likely to result in an authoritarian super state.

Some Muslims may be bothered by this while others might not. What is certain to cause friction, though, is the ethnic politics of the Muslim world. Given that an authoritarian caliph will come from somewhere in the Muslim world, other Muslims might not wish to be ruled by somebody not of their own country.

Egyptians, for example, might not wish to be ruled by a Saudi caliph. And Arabs might not wish to be ruled (again) by a Turkish caliph. Indeed, just the anticipation of being ruled by a caliph from one part of the Muslim world might spark resistance to the Caliphate project elsewhere, or rival claims to be caliph just like in the early days of Islam. Under these circumstances, any attempt to establish a Caliphate may fail before it can even come close to fruition.

The prospects for the re-emergence of the Caliphate might be much greater, however, if democratic norms became more common in the Muslim world and the Caliphate were envisioned not as a unitary government but as an international organization uniting the nations within it, similar to the European Union. It would not matter then what part of the Muslim world the caliph came from if, instead of ruling autocratically, he was the legitimately selected leader of Muslim governments that were legitimately elected themselves -- and whose leaders all strictly abided by democratically accepted legal norms.

If this is how the Caliphate re-emerged, the Muslim world would not just be a great power, but a truly great nation. The prospects for this occurring, however, are extremely poor. But if this democratic vision of the Caliphate ever became predominant among Muslims, it has a much greater chance of coming into being than any of the authoritarian visions of the Caliphate that are now prevalent.

(Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.)

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