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the Message Continues ...
Newsletter for May
NEWSLETTERS - BOOKS
Article 1 -
The return of the caliphate!
(The Dawn, Wednesday, Nov 16, 2005)
IN a recent article in the Guardian titled “The return of the
caliphate”, Osama Saeed argues that the restoration of the
caliphate to unite the Muslim world is a desirable goal. In
support of his argument, he cites the success of the European
Union and the United States in forging political and economic
He conveniently forgets that both his examples are secular
entities, whereas the caliph derived his authority from his
designation as God’s vice-regent on earth.
He also glosses over the inconvenient history of the caliphate
which saw much intrigue and bloodshed. Indeed, after the sack of
Baghdad by Halaku in 1258, the reigning caliph Khalifa Mustasim
was killed, and his surviving Abbasid relatives sought refuge in
His uncle was appointed caliph in the Mamluk capital.
Subsequently, for the next 250 years or so, the caliph was a
virtual prisoner in Cairo until the Ottomans anointed themselves
the spiritual and temporal leaders of the Muslim world, and
moved the caliphate to Istanbul.
This institution was finally abolished in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal
Pasha, the secular leader of the newly established Turkish
republic, much to the consternation of Muslims around the world.
Now, many Muslims think the answer to their current woes is the
revival of the caliphate.
Leading this school of thought is Osama bin Laden and his
bloodthirsty cohorts. But none of these extremists seem to have
considered the practical difficulties in transforming their
dream into reality.
For starters, who would decide on a suitable candidate? Given
the deep schisms that divide the Muslim world today, I cannot
see how a consensus can be developed.
Another thing Osama Saeed overlooks in his article is the vast
differences between different countries and peoples who are
What does an Indonesian have in common with a Turk, apart from
faith? The truth is that religion is only one aspect of an
Other equally important factors include language, ethnicity,
socio-economic status, education, and a whole slew of layers
that compose identity.
To assume that just because somebody is born a Muslim, he will
automatically obey a distant figure who calls himself the caliph
is to ignore just how tenuous the authority of most of the past
caliphs actually was.
What are the other goals of Al Qaeda and similar groups? Apart
from wishing to restore the caliphate, they also want to reverse
the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain, as well as overthrow
the rule of non-Muslims from countries where the faithful once
These include India, Bosnia and Chechnya. And of course, Jews
must be thrown out of Israel.
They also want to see the removal of all kings, generals and
sundry rulers currently running Muslim countries. It goes
without saying that all other Muslim sects with the exception of
a Salafi interpretation of the faith have to be destroyed.
In the long term, the whole world must be converted to Islam,
and Sharia must be the law governing everybody. Understandably,
the rest of the world is not very enthusiastic about these
Fortunately, we live in a very diverse world, and we are all
enriched as a result. The thought of a homogeneous world in
which there is imposed uniformity of thought is a repulsive one,
no matter which ideology motivates it.
Since 9/11, there have been sane voices asking for a dialogue
with these extremists. But the problem is that with such
ludicrous demands and this is just a small sampling how is
Indeed, by their willingness to commit suicide for their extreme
causes, they ensure that no reasonable person can sit down with
them for a rational discussion.
In their worldview, anybody disagreeing with them deserves to
die. This is hardly the basis for civilized debate and
People who subscribe to such views are clearly living in the
And, this past is distorted and viewed through the prism of
This brings us to a major problem with these extremists: they
are literalists who, apart from a rote learning of religious
texts, have read no history, economics or philosophy.
They have no understanding of culture and civilization, and are
ill-equipped to deal with contemporary issues. Seeing things in
black and white, they cannot discern the many shades of grey
that are the dominant hues of the world.
Given these extreme and extremely irrational views, how can we
reconcile this jihadi culture with the rest of the world?
The short answer is that we can’t. Many moderates say that if
issues like Palestine and Kashmir are resolved, Islamic
extremism will die down. The problem with this position is that
the demands of Al Qaeda and its ilk go far beyond these two
In Britain today, there are Muslim groups who demand the rule of
the Sharia there. Do they seriously think this will happen?
But while most people dismiss this as crazy talk, they do not
see how they can take these extremists seriously.
During George Galloway’s election campaign in the Brick Lane
constituency earlier this year, his speech was disrupted by a
group of Muslim extremists who loudly insisted that elections
were un-Islamic, and that anybody voting would go to hell.
The truth is that Islamic extremism is on a collision course
with the rest of the world. George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ has no
As long as misguided young men are willing to die for the
restoration of the caliphate and all it implies, innocent people
will die and the backlash will continue painting all Muslims
with the brush of extremism.
And as long as cynical religious leaders continue brainwashing
young zealots, they will go on blowing themselves up, taking
many innocent people with them.
In the West, there is a widespread misperception that somehow
moderate Muslims can influence these extremists into giving up
terror as a weapon. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Reasonable people, whether Muslim or not, have no credibility
with groups like Al Qaeda.
In the eyes of Osama bin Laden and his band of terrorists, we
are irrelevant to their purpose. Either we are with them, or we
are against them. There is no middle ground. But until a middle
ground is found, the killing will continue.
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