Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Brief Response to Dr. Ovamir Anjum’s “Who Wants the Caliphate?”

Dr. Ovamir Anjum’s recent piece for the Yaqeen Institute entitled “Who wants the Caliphate?” is certainly worth a read. It is a fairly substantial long-read for an internet article, so to summarise just a few of the points I found interesting; please note there is much more in the article than what I mention below, these are just some initial points to spark your interest in reading the article for yourself.

1. The desire amongst Muslims for a Caliphate is only growing, due to the failure of the current nation-states and the neo-liberal order which is enforced by the current unrepresentative regimes across the Middle East region and beyond. The emergence and fall of ISIS has increased this desire, juxtaposing what a bad version of a claim to a caliphate looks like with the ideal.

2. This failure is not limited to the Middle East – the whole world is currently experiencing the fallout from the failure of the current world order, as highlighted by growing inequality etc.

3. He addresses 3 objections to the idea of a re-emerging Caliphate – namely that it is undesirable, unfeasible, and/ or religiously unnecessary. This forms a major part of the article, and he makes some excellent points worth consideration – among them this quote addressing its feasibility being pertinent:

“If the fact that past caliphates were not fully unified and not always just is taken to mean that no caliphate existed, we could argue by analogy that there have been no Muslims in history because they have all been imperfect, just as there exists no democracy because all democracies are imperfect. All such arguments are equally absurd.”

4. The article goes on to address whether Islam mandates a state, the difference between caliphate and kingship, the meaning of the loss of the caliphate and the current longing for it in the context of the contemporary Middle East and wider Muslim world, and what this future caliphate could possibly look like.

I welcome this contribution to the ongoing debate around the future of the Muslim ummah and its political existence, and hope that it sparks more of this much needed discussion.

Off hand a few suggestions for future discussion and improvement:

1. Terminology. To imagine our own future, independent of colonial frameworks, we should in my opinion rid ourselves of the vocabulary which has framed a lot of political discussion in the West.

Two terms in the article come to mind – Islamism, and democracy. Islamism since it has always been to separate the political from Islam, whereas it is part of Islam. The “Islamism” that is talked of is in fact Islam, and the Islam that is talked about separate from “Islamism” is a secularised, colonised version of Islam that is not part of our normative tradition.

Democracy – because it is either a meaningless term which is used to signify “good governance” or “consent” or even “elections” or anything else that may be considered “good”, or because it means the sovereignty of people over legislation which is not Islamic. When we talk of imagining an Islamic future, we have no need for borrowed terms simply because of their positive associations in the mainstream or even among Muslims. We have no need for such a vocabulary to articulate how monarchy, despotism and autocracy have no place in Islam, while consent and the choice of ruler is central.

2. Dr. Anjum wants a revolutionary solution (the caliphate), and yet seems to shy away from what that means. The current status quo will not change gradually – the establishment of a caliphate would be a fundamental shift in the world order, and the end of the hegemony of the nation state. This point is more substantial than the first and requires a deeper discussion that I hope ensues.

3. With respect to perhaps explaining the above, taking a pragmatic rather than revolutionary approach – the solution as presented – which to be fair is scant on details – seems to be veering towards an OIC style imagined caliphate. I would encourage the author to be more bold in their thinking, as the caliphate needs to be re-imagined in its own terms, and not simply as a Muslim federalist solution along the lines of the USA.

To close with one of the final paragraphs of the article, as a final encouragement to read and engage with his piece:

“Maintaining the status quo in the Muslim world is a pipe-dream; the dream to change it is not. The current order is un-Islamic, unethical, and inimical to a decent future for Muslims and our human brethren at large. Those who wish to maintain it are a small and shrinking elite. To maintain these despotic states, these elites are having not only to suppress their majorities and kill or silence every last possibility of independent, moral thinking but also denature and distort Islam and massively brainwash Muslim societies. These grotesquely repressive and nearly-failed states are different from ISIS only in superficial ways. They are actively engaged in eliminating and replacing the Muslim sense of solidarity, as well as narrowing theological, jurisprudential, and ethical discourse to serve exclusively their interests.”

Dr. Reza Pankhurst is the author of The Inevitable Caliphate (Oxford University Press, 2012) and The Untold History of the Liberation Party (C Hurst & Co, 2016)