Editor’s note: The Blaze is featuring some guest posts to help our readers gain a deeper understanding of the situation in Egypt. In this post, Joel Richardson looks at the Caliphate concept in historical context.
Historically, Caliph (Khalifa) is the title given to those individuals who succeeded Muhammad after his death as the leader of the Muslims. The Arabic word khalifa means successor, and the full title khalifatu rasulil-lah means “successor to the messenger of Allah”. The Caliph is to be the political, military and administrative leader of all Muslims. The Caliph is the Pope, President and General of the Islamic world all wrapped into one. The office and government of the Caliph is known as the Caliphate (Khilafat). The Caliphate is the only form of government fully sanctioned within early Islamic theology. The purpose of the Caliphate is to govern the Islamic world under the Islamic Shariah law. Caliphs were also referred to with other titles such as Imam al-Ummah (leader of the Muslim community) or Amir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful).
From Muhammad’s death until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, various Caliphates or dynasties ruled the Islamic world. The most significant Caliphates in historical order were the Rashidun, the Abbasid, the Umayyid, and finally the Ottoman. At times in Muslim history, there have even been rival claimant Caliphs in different parts of the Muslim world. Although the purpose of the Caliphate is to unify all Muslims worldwide, rarely has this genuinely been the case. Islamists however often downplay this fact and instead portray the first thirteen hundred years of Islam through a highly idealized lens:
From the first moment of its creation, the Islamic State implemented the Shariah comprehensively, conducted the affairs of the society solely according to Islam, and propagated Islam throughout the world for over thirteen centuries. Occasionally internal tensions fractured the integrity of the State, but incidents were short-lived. Throughout its thirteen centuries of existence, the Khalifa continued as a single indivisible entity that united all the Muslims under a single authority.
Pamphlet: What is the Islamic State (Hizb Ut-Tahrir, Australia) available here.
1924: The Abolition of the Caliphate
Today the Caliphate does not exist other than as a theoretical government that would govern the Islamic world under Islamic law. It was on March 3, 1924 that the last Caliphate—the Ottoman Caliphate—was officially abolished by the first President of the Turkish Republic, Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It is essential that anyone trying to understand the present global Islamic movement understand the psychological impact that the abolition of the Caliphate has had on Muslims worldwide and how these factors are presently playing out throughout the Muslim World.
All Muslims regard themselves as members of one ummah, or community of Muslim believers. This concept dominates the Muslim world and mind. This sense of community and loyalty to Muhammad and Allah extends even beyond family and other societal ties. Thus, we find that Muslims do not hesitate to kill family members who give up the Islamic faith despite being their own blood and flesh. They consider it their duty to do so.
Add to this the simple fact that the Islamic sacred traditions are filled with prophecies foretelling the triumph of Islam over the whole world:
Muhammad said, “I have been ordered to fight the people until they all say: ‘None has the right to be worshiped other than Allah.’” —Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 84, Number 59, Narrated Abu Huraira
The eventual conquest and complete Islamicization of the earth is as natural of an expectation for most Muslims as the rising of the Sun. Theologically, Muslims have a sense of divine entitlement, believing that complete world domination is their calling and destiny. Therefore, for the past eighty plus years, since the actual abolition of the Caliphate, the Muslim believer has a felt a deep disorder in the power balance of the world. Rather than a united Islamic Empire under a Caliph, the Islamic World has existed as a network of underachieving and defeated nation states. They see the modern Muslims states in the Middle East as a product of the evil of the Western powers (despite being secular states, Muslims often see the West as being exclusively Christian nations) who divided up the Islamic Caliphate. At the same time, too often they have been ruled by corrupt third-rate dictators who live in luxury while their people live in difficult circumstances. Again, they often see these tyrants as being installed or supported by the evil Western powers. A people who viewed themselves as the world’s foremost superpower for over thirteen hundred years have been a divided network of backwater nation states for nearly a century now. And to compound this emotional blow, this humbling has taken place during the 20th century, a time when numerous other nations—particularly those founded on Judeo-Christian principles—have excelled in everything from government to human rights, scientific breakthroughs, prosperity, education, military and who can list everything else? So it has been the combination of the relative prosperity and advancement in so many parts of the non-Muslim world contrasted with the complete deterioration of the once thriving Islamic Empire that has been on display as the shame of the Muslim World. Add again to all this the fact that the Muslim world is an Eastern culture, where honor and shame mean everything. All in all, the psychological impact and the resentment of the Muslim world regarding all that we have discussed is nearly all consuming.
And of course, where does this resentment and pent-up anger fall? For in such a drastically disordered world, conspiracy theories and blame-shifting are the only tools sufficient enough to cope. Muslims then blame all of their ills on Israel (or as it is so often referred to as: “The World-Zionist Conspiracy”) as well as the various imperialist Western colonizing powers of the last and previous centuries. In order to remedy their shame and refusing to entertain the truth of the real root of their problems, many Muslims have seen no alternative other than painting themselves as victims of Western imperialist “crusader” forces.
Looking back upon the pre-colonial days of Islamic Empire, two thoughts are often seen to emerge in the modern Muslim mind: The first is to recapture the former glory, and the second is to punish those who have withheld it for so long. All of these aspirations are most often summarized negatively in the overthrow and destruction of Israel and the West, while they are expressed positively in the messianic expectations concerning the coming of the final Caliph, referred to as the Mahdi.
To be continued…
Joel Richardson is the author of The Islamic Antichrist a comparison of Biblical and Islamic Eschatology and is the co-author of God’s War on Terror. His blog can be found here.