[Short answer: No…]
Yesterday, the group that has swept to mass media attention in the last month, ISIS, claimed that the Caliphate has been restored in its ‘domains’, and called for Muslims to render their pledge of allegiance (bay’ah) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, changing its name to simply ‘Islamic State’ (I.S).
While most Muslims would be jubilant at the claim of the return of the Khilafah (Caliphate), which is a vital obligation upon Muslims that has been conspicuously missing for so long, a self-proclamation does not a Caliphate make.
We’ve been here before – many times. The short-lived war-born ‘Islamic States’ of Chechnya, Somalia, Mali, Makkah under the short take over of the ‘Mahdi’ Qahtani and Taliban Afghanistan, had each a ruling fighting group that declared their leader ‘Amir’ or ‘Amir ul Momineen’ (including Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s predecessor, and former ISIS leader, Abu Abdullah Rashid al Baghdadi) and all of them have met with the same fate: invasion, uprising and destruction of their fledgling state or area of operations, not to mention their resorting to unIslamic laws, policies and practices while they were in power. Knowing this cycle, we should be especially cautious when the phenomena of an armed militia group declaring an Islamic State arises again. This is not to say that sincere people do not follow those groups, or that all of those groups didn’t have noble intentions, but the matter is one of assessing their validity, viability and truth. So considering such history, and that many of these groups tried to claim their leader was the Amir ul Momineen in order to consolidate their power and attract new supporters, are ISIS not doing the same? Has the Caliphate actually been restored under ISIS?
It is said that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is of Quraysh descent, and this must validate his claim to Caliphate. While many classical scholars have spoken about the desirability of a candidate of Qurayshi descent to be the leader, it is neither agreed to be an obligation, nor does it matter even if the candidate was. Many Muslims are of Qurayshi descent – including the (now deceased) ‘Mahdi’ of Makkah Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani. Being the Caliph also requires the candidate to be just and competent, something we must not forget. Regardless of the qualifications of the individual, however, it is whether or not any prospective Caliph actually has a Caliphate or not to rule over, that will determine whether he is the Caliph in the first place.
A brief note on invalid reasons to reject a claim of ‘Islamic state’
Some Muslims may consider a group’s fiqh (jurisprudence) and interpretations of Islam as being not in line with the interpretations of their own school of thought. This is not a correct basis from which to reject a group’s work for a common obligation i.e. Khilafah (Caliphate). Those who reject a group or movement merely because they follow a different school of thought, should remember that Islam permits difference of opinion. To reject something as outside the fold of Islam, due to it being a different school of thought to one’s own, makes one a purveyor of disunity amongst Muslims (when those opinions are validly derived from Islamic texts). This does not mean that Muslims must not intellectually discuss, debate and challenge each other’s opinions – but to call a valid Islamic opinion, unIslamic, is intolerant and in breach of the Prophet’s (saaw) commands to unity. He (saaw) even informed us that the judge who derives a mistaken Islamic opinion still gets reward (despite it being mistaken – and therefore not the true Islamic opinion). In the end, Allah (swt) alone knows what is the correct opinions with the area of legitimate difference of opinion, and it is best left to Him (swt) to resolve disputes on the day of judgement. An Islamic state is valid and correct, even if it is based upon Hanbali fiqh, Hanafi figh or even Dhahiri fiqh from the (now mostly forgotten) school of Ibn Hazm al Andalusi! The question is, however, are I.S. even following a school of thought in many of their excessive actions? This shall be answered below.
Some may object that they find a group or state’s understanding of Islam uncompromising, austere and even arduous. However, it should be remembered that, sometimes throughout history, the toughest and hardest Muslims have come from harsh conditions that, after giving rise to a basic and austere understanding of Islam, also produced very capable warriors that slowed down, reversed and even saved the Muslims from defeat many times. One such case is Al Murabitun of North Africa, who rose from the Berber tribes and conquered an area of land from West Africa to central Spain, led by Yusuf bin Tashfin.
The highly cultured, but divided, bickering and weak Muslim city states of Al Andalus (Portugal/Spain) were being conquered piecemeal by Crusaders. Their armies were too weak and softened to fight pitched battles against the Spanish Christian Crusader states to the north. Muslims lost battle after battle, until Yusuf bin Tashfin marched his armies into Al Andalus and scored victory after victory upon the terrified Crusader armies. Even a heavy cavalry charge by the Knight orders couldn’t dent the Al Murabitun battle lines! Yusuf bin Tashfin was originally invited by the Amirs of the Muslim city-states, but he was so appalled at their pathetically weak and lax attitude to some unIslamic practices (like wine drinking and corruption) he deposed them all and took control. Interestingly, Yusuf didn’t declare himself Caliph, but only Amir. He sent a letter to the Caliph in Baghdad giving him his pledge of allegiance, and declaring his newly conquered territories to return to being wilayahs (districts) of the greater Caliphate.
Of course the Al Murabitun had strange Islamic opinions, like wearing the Litham (face veil for men) because they believed that the mouth was unclean (presumably based upon a very different understanding of the hadith that the Muslim should guard their tongues and their private parts). The Al Murabitun also had opinions that would be recognised today, like the prohibition of images and statues – which led them to destroy a number of artworks and carvings in Al Andalus. However, these issues aside, and putting aside the unIslamic actions that are recorded some of them committed in their duties, that their wilayah was Islamic (ruled by Islamic law) is beyond question, and was accepted by the Caliph of Baghdad and the scholars of Al Andalus, at the time.
Even if a group or movement holds opinions that are against one’s own opinions, unity allows us to collectively benefit from their works, and while united, nothing says Muslims cannot then engage in intellectual debate to persuade them to change their ideas through intellectual discussion. This way we remain united, but help each other to improve and refine our ideas. As the famous classical scholar Ibn Khaldun points out in his book ‘An Introduction to History’, many great states were started by nomads, and became powerful intellectual and cultural centres of power.
Another reason that can’t be used to reject a claim of Islamic State, is the method used to create it, whether it was done by coup, revolution or elections. Despite some of those methods being illegitimate, once the Islamic State is created and fulfills all the criteria, it is accepted on the basis of its factual description. However, that being the case, we would expect Allah (swt) to only grant victory to the group that best emulates the Prophet’s (saaw) method of achieving the Islamic State. This is why the Prophet’s (saaw) method is important to study, as following his method is the basis for the actions of a Muslim in discharging their obligations.
The Pre-requisite for Islamic State
The question we must ask ourselves is, what is the prerequisite for an Islamic state? Without needing to go into formal fiqh, we can agree that there should be at least two basic and self-evident requirements: 1) Islam being the only basis, purpose and objective for law and policy in governance over the state, and 2) the existence of a state.
Ruling a State by Islam
A state (or ‘Dawlah’ in classic Arabic) is basically a community under government. This requires the existence of a community, in this, the Ummah, and a government over them. In Secular theory, modern communities are defined by ‘nations’ of common race, culture and language. Modern state theory has now been overrun by the secular concept of the ‘nation state’ with states being purposed to be the political expression of the ‘collective will’ of their constituent ‘nation’. Unfortunately, this is also the cause of ethnic and racial conflict, and states with more than one ‘nation’ tend to face internal conflict, persecution and oppression as to which nation’s expression leads and directs the state. For this reason even seemly peaceful nations like Belgium, Canada and Spain have very serious problems with population separatism, merely for differences in language!
An Islamic state can only be Islamic if the community it ‘expresses’ is defined purely by their Islamic belief, not language, race and culture. To fulfil this particular Islamic criterion of the character of an Islamic State, I.S. are claiming they’re not expressing only one race or ethnic group, but portray themselves as ignoring such arbitrary concerns, and attempt to present themselves exclusively as representing an Islamic affiliation. In attempting to fulfil Islam’s (universal humanitarian) disregard for Nationalism, I.S. have used slogans, declarations and redrawn maps to portray themselves as destroying the region’s nationalist mentality that was created by the colonial sykes-picot border, and thereby claim a moral victory over the artificial borders that were designed to separate and divide the Muslim world, and enhance their claim of ‘Islamic State’ to the Muslim world.
However, while it is true that I.S. currently ‘rule’ over active war zones, this does not exempt them from adhering to the Islamic rules of war, and protection of civilians. In this I.S. have adopted patently unIslamic practices and strategies, like blowing up civilians in market places (e.g. Baghdad), kidnapping of innocents for ransom, and execution of those from other Islamic groups who voice criticism and political dissent (this is not only practiced by ISIS. There was the case of two British Muslims who went to Somalia to fight, and were killed because they complained at the tactics of one branch of al Shabab). If I.S. committed these crimes, but had disavowed their use, then whilst that would still be inexcusable, at least they would have admitted their wrongdoing against Islamic commandments/distanced their actions from Islamic commandments. However, the justification of targeting civilians IS KUFR (disbelief), and a borrowed concept from Western warfare.
Furthermore, I.S. should not target, declare war on, or kill Shia civilians, even if they consider them to be non-Muslims. This is because non-Muslims are also protected under Islamic law, and even if Shia are considered non-Muslims, then Shia shrines should be protected like Islam obliges Muslims to protect Churches and Synagogues. So we should ask I.S. to DECIDE, either Shias are Muslims that can’t be killed, OR Shias are non-Muslims that STILL can’t be killed or molested. The choice is theirs – there is no middle ground, except for those looking for excuses to kill those they hate.
‘and let not hatred of others make you depart from justice’ [Quran]
It is I.S’s JUSTIFICATION of their practices that are against the Islamic rules in warfare and treatment of civilians, that alone, immediately renders false any claim to being Islamic. If I.S. is sincere, they should renounce terrorism and renounce their declaring war on all Shias indiscriminately, in order to at least render themselves compliant with basic Islamic requirements.
Of course there are further problems with I.S’s lack of mercy, vigilante application of Islamic law, lack of Islamic due process and ‘innocent till proven guilty’ considerations for adjudicating cases. However, these allegations against them, while numerous, are difficult to ascertain given the unclear reports and political agenda of external media propaganda. In the presence of unclear and conflicting reports, all that can be said for certain is that if these reports are wrong, I.S. should take care to portray themselves as fair, objective and merciful (which are Islamic requirements). Their gleeful broadcasting of harsh rhetoric and gruesome images of mass executions would lead most people to believe the more negative reports against them are true. If this is not the case, then I.S. should immediate dismiss their spokesman Adnani as their PR manager.
It should be remembered that the Prophet (saaw) found any way he could to not punish people according to corporal and capital punishment. He (saaw) advised Muslims to find excuses and ‘loopholes’ to let people off punishment. He (saaw) was even reported to have said that the reason he hasn’t executed the sedition and treasonous agitators (i.e. ‘the hypocrites’) amongst the Muslim community despite Allah (swt) having revealed to him who they were, is because he feared people outside would say he ‘kills his companions’ (i.e. kills people for no reason) – since people wouldn’t know the reasons or have proof for their executions. The Prophet (saaw) set an example to us for this – even people who commit war, treason and sedition can’t be punished unless their is clear proof to the entire community, lest people think Muslims merely punish people wantonly or for personal reasons.
I.S. should let the wisdom and mercy of the Prophet (saaw) guide their actions. The Prophet (saaw) after conquering Makkah, delayed demolishing and moving the Kaabaa on to its original abrahamic foundations, because the people weren’t ready developed enough in their newly embraced religion, to accept it, despite it being an obligation. If only I.S. learned from this, and refrained from destroying (Sunni and Shia) Saint shrines, they would win more people to their side. If I.S. possesses the stronger intellectual position ,they should attempt instead to persuade Muslims of their position using reasoned argument, not the bulldozer or dynamite. Sometimes the carrot is better than the stick.
Security – the basis for Statehood
Apart from a community, a state requires a government. The ability to govern depends on the provision of security and the enforceability of law and order over a community.What makes a government viable is its ability to provide security – without that, it becomes a failed government, and hence a ‘failed state’.
I.S. is currently unable to provide a viable, stable law and order and security in the territories it operates under. In Iraq, I.S. must share power with other Muslim groups just to hold down the cities of Mosul and Tikrit. In Syria, I.S. share the north of Syria with other Muslim groups of whom they fight and bicker with, and have exchanged pieces of land incessantly, with their Syrian capital of Raqqa itself being taken and retaken between them. I.S. clearly does not have a monopoly on power to control the territories let alone the ability to describe themselves as a viable government over them.
The leader of I.S. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, like ‘Ameer ul Mumineen’ Mullah Omar does not even have the security to make public appearances. If the leader cannot even have the security to make public appearances in their own ‘state’, then how can they be said to be able to be in control of it?
Security against external threats
Some Muslims have argued superficially, that because victory and success are from God, it ‘therefore’ does not matter how apparently weak a group is, if it is ‘righteous it shall be victorious’. Putting the assessment of I.S’s ‘righteousness’ aside, let us consider this carefully. If a man established shariah in his own home, estate or ‘ranch’, performing legal punishments, and having armed himself, would it be reasonable for people to conclude that he had established a state? No of course not. Why? Because his state would last only for as long as the time it took for the police to arrive.
A State, in order to fulfill the requirement of being a state, and not a mere outlaw zone, must be able to effectively protect itself to a sufficient degree from other states. If these other states choose to attack with conventional forces, the state could put up effective resistance. Of course even a superpower can be invaded and lose wars, but if the only thing that keeps an area of land from successful invasion is merely the enemy’s discretion and mood, than the ‘State’s’ control of that land is illusory at best. What’s the difference between a client state (like Hawaii, Puerto Rico or Crimea) and a state that can’t stand up to conventional warfare? The answer is, there is no difference, since if they both irk more powerful States that can project power over that area, they would be swept away in as little time it took for the enemy States to mobilise and arrive for battle.
It could be argued that I.S. have effectively repelled conventional attack from the Iraqi Army. However, this is not an example of a resisting a State power, but rather resisting a client State. Iraq’s Army has not been effectively rebuilt and cannot fight a conventional war, its morale is low, it is poorly trained, and ultimately depends upon the U.S. Army.
The Prophet Muhammed (saaw) when he was seeking the support of military power and protection for the Deen (way of life) of Islam, approached various tribes to believe in Islam and pledge allegiance to him as leader, and to the cause of Islam. One of his encounters was with Shayban bin Thalaba and is tribe, who accepted the Prophet (saaw)’s offer, but indicate they were vulnerable and strategically exposed to the Persian empire, and couldn’t provide protection from them. The Prophet (saaw) didn’t take them up on their offer of support, for the beginning base for the Islamic State must be strategically defensible from all sides.
‘We would be reneging on a pact that Khusrau has placed upon us to the effect that we would not cause an incident and not give sanctuary to a troublemaker. This policy you suggest for us is such a one that kings would dislike. As for those areas bordering Arab lands, the blame of those so acting would be forgiven and excuses for them be accepted, but for those areas next to Persia, those so acting would not be forgiven and no such excuses would be accepted. If you want us to help and protect you from whatever relates to Arab territories alone, we should do so.’ The Messenger of God(SAAS) replied, ‘Your reply is in no way bad, for you have spoken eloquently and truthfully. (But) God’s religion can only be engaged in by those who encompass it from all sides.’“
[Abu Nu’aym, Al-Hakim and Al-Bayhaqi]
The difference between Emirate and Caliphate
If I.S. wanted to claim a state, even if we ignore all the considerations we discussed, the best that I.S. could say is that they are merely an Islamic Emirate (a leadership of a local area). This has been allowed by Islamic Scholars in the past, who had to give reluctant rulings on a divided and fractured Ummah for over 1,000 years. They ordered that Muslims who are ruled over by local leaders, may obey them (as long as the laws were Islamic – which precludes virtually all current Muslim states), until a powerful leader arose and re-united the Muslim territories by conquest. This indeed was how the turkish Osmanli tribe rose to power until it became powerful enough to control the centres of power of the Ummah, and therefore declare themselves the Caliphate (i.e. Uthmani Khilafah or ‘Ottomans’). I.S. are far from ruling over the main centres of power in the Muslim World, and so cannot call themselves a Caliphate.
For the reasons mentioned above, I.S. is not a State, if they were they would not be recognisably Islamic when compared to the mercy and wisdom of the Prophet’s (saaw) example. Lastly, they are not a Caliphate as their ‘areas’ are too small, vulnerable and unstrategic within the Muslim world to claim leadership of it.
A note to those concerned regarding Western opinion
Some Muslims are concerned that I.S. actions send the wrong message about Islam to the Western audience. In this, they are correct. However, it is wrong for Muslims to permit the West to have a higher moral ground, or judgment upon I.S. or Muslims. The simple reason is if I.S. do create a state using terrorism and brutal actions – it wouldn’t be any different to how many Western nations were formed and rose to power.
France arose out of a bloody reign of terror (from which the word ‘terrorism’ was first created – i.e. ruling by terror), to match I.S’s publication of gruesome execution images, ‘enlightenment’ france invented the guillotine for public and frequent execution.
The U.S.A arose from the actions of what would certainly be called terrorism and insurgency against the British empire – they even destroyed and wiped out entire pro-British civilian towns (in now modern day Canada), not to mention their bloody genocide against the native Americans. To this day, U.S.A has anti-cuba terror training camps in Florida, where their harbour Luis Posada Carriles, who blew up a cuba civilian plane. The U.S. has refused to extradite him to South American governments who want him on terrorism charges.
Britain had a number of bloody civil wars, but the true horror of the activities they undertook to raise their state into an international empire are too numerous to be written in this piece. Suffice to say, Winston Churchill was voted in a poll as the ‘best briton of all time’, despite inventing the idea of ‘strategic bombing’ (mass bombing of civilian cities – yes, he and not Hitler did it first!), and he advocated that civilians be bombed to ‘spread a lively terror’ – what do you call someone who bombs civilians to spread terror amongst them? (answers on a postcard).
The Israeli government was infamously fought for and formed by confirmed terrorist groups the Haganah and the Stern gang, who pioneered terror bombings against civilians targets like hotels and cruise ships.
Even the innocuous ANC in South Africa who fought against racist apartheid South African government used terror tactics of blowing up shopping malls, restaurants and cafes with civilians, to make their point. They even fought and killed rival groups in ways not too dissimilar to I.S. Yet all these groups, individuals and causes are praised, and (minus the ugly facts of course) commemorated. It is argued that although modern Westerners may condemn these actions, they are explained away as either ‘the result of a terrible time’, or ‘unfortunate, but necessary at the time’.
The only argument any Western media pundit, politician or Western-learning Muslim, who hold any praise for the individuals or groups who did ‘what was necessary’ could ever say against I.S. is that I.S. are fighting for the wrong cause (which is portrayed as ‘Islam’). Of course, it always has been the case in Western history and foreign policy, that as long as a group fights for ‘freedom’, little regard is paid to the tactics. Our response is, I.S. are no different to the history of some Western armies, Western covert-backed groups and even some of the ‘founding fathers’ of Western nations – therefore they certainly have no basis to judge I.S. – I.S’s crimes come from being a good student of the West, right down to their corporate structure and organisation and ability to use social media!
The Muslim response to Western media regarding I.S. is that Islam condemns ISIS as it considers that both the cause and the tactics must be correct, and Islam unreservedly condemns terrorism and the targeting of civilians. However, we should also explain to them that I.S. are the product of a reaction to Western foreign policy in the region that arose out of the actions of the U.S, UK and their puppets in the region.
If the Muslim world is left alone, this will give Muslims the peace, space and time to unify and intellectually evolve into a refined civilisation that future generations can live in. Muslims do not want any ‘intervention’ from the outside powers which caused all these problems in the first place. The continuing use of violence, intimidation and persecution by Western powers (and their puppets) to prevent the cause of Muslim independence and self-directed political destiny, has produced the kind of extreme reactions we currently witness in the Muslim world.
To read more about the background of ISIS and the situation of Iraq after the fall of Mosul, read my piece ‘ISIS: Storm or Pawn?’