94 years after the abolition of the Khilafah, Abdul Wahid argues why we need to talk more about this Islamic institution.
On 3rd March 1924 CE – 28th Rajab 1342 Hijri – Mustafa Kemal abolished the Ottoman Caliphate sending Abdülmecid II into exile – the last in a series of actions to undermine the legitimate political authority of Islam, and to enforce a secular order on the Muslim world.
Yet today, increasing numbers of Muslims across the world want the return of the Khilafah and still appreciate its importance. A recent survey of prominent Muslims in the UK found that 69% thought that the “true Caliphate is considered the ideal Islamic way of governance for all people”. The same survey showed 94% thought “ISIS does not represent the mainstream Muslim community and is an illegitimate Islamic state”.
92 years on, Kemalism is dead or dying – and the call for a true Khilafah – not the phoney one – is alive and kicking.
Despite that, there are some Muslims in the West who argue that Muslims should not be talking about or calling for Khilafah for the Muslim world. At best, they see it as irrelevant. Others think it is a distraction from what they see are more pressing local issues. A few even worry that that it fuels the negative ‘extremism’ narrative – in particular after the rise of ISIS and their false declaration of a ‘Caliphate’ or ‘Islamic state’.
I believe all these views are wrong for many reasons – and I offer five strong reasons why we need to talk about and understand Khilafah more, not less.
Firstly, it is an Islamic Obligation – Khilafah – i.e. ruling by what Allah revealed, united under one ruler who looks after peoples’ affairs by Islam, carries Islam to the world and secures the Islamic lands – is an established obligation confirmed by proofs from Qur’an and Sunnah. There has been a consensus in every one of the past fourteen centuries with scholars reaffirming the obligation – notwithstanding the handful of revisionist academics doing contortions with Islamic jurisprudence. As with all Islamic obligations, ours is not to rationalise its relevance as we see it, but to look at how we contribute to the method of its revival the best way we can.
Secondly, silence leaves a dangerous vacuum – The British government’s Prevent policy silences Muslims from discussing many important Islamic issues – including the rules of governance – for fear of being labelled ‘extremist’. The result is that young Muslims have no guidance on these issues. They are (mis)led to believe that Khilafah either means a general responsibility of human beings to look after the planet – or the pretentions of a self-appointed fighting group who claim they ‘rule’ over a warzone that is in a constant state of flux. Most Muslims have never heard from a mimbar that the claims of one group to anoint their leader as an overlord, without a valid bay’ah is illegitimate, as is their claim of ‘statehood’ when there is no control over a secure land that can really be called a state.
Silence on such issues leaves a dangerous vacuum that is simply filled by internet chat and ‘shaikh google’.
Thirdly, Khilafah is the vehicle that realises Islam’s solution to the problems of the Muslim world. Muslims in Britain undoubtedly care for their brothers and sisters suffering in or fleeing from war zones; living under occupation or in poverty; or under corrupt governments. They usually express their concern with acts of charitable aid. However, to seek to remedy the problem by offering a solution is better than palliation – to relieve or lessen without curing.
Islam came with solutions to all these problems and more. Sadly, many who know the Shari’ah rules do not think a lot about they could be enacted to solve problems. Yet Islam offers stability and security – its armed forces are supposed to protect the people, not be mobilised against the people, as is usually the case today. There is enough military strength in the Muslim world to liberate Palestine, remove the Assad regime, stabilise Yemen – but no political will. Not only do the regimes in the Muslim world not intervene to help people in war torn Syria, some do not even take in refugees. The institutions of Khilafah offer an independent, accountable, representative government – and a judiciary that can judge in favour of the ordinary citizen against the ruler, if necessary. The rules of economy in Islam insist on wealth being circulated not hoarded, with natural resources being in public ownership.
Fourthly, it is not just Muslims that need Khilafah, but the world! The scope of the Khilafah – and Islam generally – is not only the problems in the Muslim world – but also problems that confront the world as a whole, because the scope of the Islam is the whole of humanity. Whether, global poverty, economic instability, political insecurity, the violation of peoples’ basic rights, environmental damage, the threat of a global pandemic or eradicating malaria – all of these twenty first century struggles are the struggles Muslims wish to be a part of because they recognize Islam came to guide ‘humanity’ – Muslim or non-Muslim – towards solving these issues – complex or otherwise.
Most Muslims are unaware of Islam’s solutions to any of these, so follow socialist or capitalist solutions, not being aware of the alternative – or even the responsibility on our collective shoulders.
Allah (swt) says that this Ummah is the ‘best Ummah’: “You are the best Ummah ever raised up for mankind” [Translated meaning of Qur’an 3:110]
This is a collective role that can only be realised with a unified leadership. So, when it comes to Muslims caring for matters that cross borders, Khilafah is the prescribed Islamic method – as none of these can be solved by individuals or weak nation states. Their causes are systemic problems in the international order – and they require a state present in the international arena to address them according to Islam, and to challenge the hegemony of global capitalism that has caused so much harm for so many.
Finally, it isn’t right to think Khilafah is a distant improbability. No one could underestimate the problems facing the Muslim world. However, that in no way means Khilafah cannot re-emerge and bring much needed unity, stability, strength, justice and mercy of Islam. The Madinah State of the Messenger of Allah (saw) was founded at the point when his enemies colluded to assassinate him. Yathrib, the name of the city before Islam, had a history of bitter civil wars and enmity between tribes. Yet it was that enmity that drove them to look for a solution.
This is far from the only example in history. The United States of America was forged out of the embers of a bitter war of independence – and its rival superpower of the twentieth century was born out of the bloodshed of World War One.
Moreover, there are many examples where Allah (swt) placed an obligation on people, but people could not see its purpose or value – except with hindsight. The Prophet Nuh (as) and his small group of followers were ordered to build a boat in the middle of a landlocked area. They undertook to fulfil an obligation through obedience, not appreciating how it was to be their salvation.
It is bizarre that people think it is ‘reasonable’ or ‘realistic’ to call for an adapted form of western liberal secularism for the Muslim world – which has nothing to do with the beliefs and history of the region – but ignore the words of the Messenger of Allah (saw) who foretold the return of the Khilafah after an era of biting tyranny, without mentioning any gradual stages in between.
‘Prophethood will last among you for as long as Allah wills, then Allah will take it away. Then it will be (followed by) a Khilafah Rashida (rightly guided) on the pattern of the Prophethood. It will remain for as long as Allah wills, then Allah will take it away. Afterwards there will be a hereditary leadership which will remain for as long as Allah wills, then He will lift it if He wishes. Afterwards, there will be biting oppression, and it will last for as long as Allah wishes, then He will lift it if He wishes. Then there will be a Khilafah Rashida according to the ways of the Prophethood.’ Then he kept silent.” [Musnad Imam Ahmad]
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a commentator on Islam, current affairs and identity. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy, New Civilisation and Prospect magazine. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain.