Although this is probably the seventh time that Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi has been purportedly killed it will probably be the last, as his utility to the West has finished. The West gave ISIS significant media coverage which allowed them for a short time to monopolise the narrative concerning the institution of the Caliphate. The Muslim world on the other hand overwhelmingly rejected the caliphate of ISIS as she clearly observed the many contradictions between the tyranny established by ISIS and the sublimity of genuine Islamic rule.
This is a good opportunity to look at the institution of the Caliphate and what it really is. There are eight key things that differentiate the Caliphate (according to Islamic evidences) and what ISIS purportedly established
1. What is the Caliphate?
The Caliphate is the institution ordained by Islam to implement the Shari’ah (Islamic laws). It is a political and an executive body entrusted with the duty of implementing and executing the laws of Islam and of conveying the Islamic message to the world. It is the leadership (al-imarah) which the Shar’ah has made an obligation upon Muslims to establish.
The Caliphate is a contract based on mutual consent and choice, it is a bay’ah (pledge) of obedience to whoever is entitled to obedience from the people in authority. It is therefore imperative to have the consent of the one who is given the bay’ah to take the post and of those who give him the bay’ah.
It is forbidden to take the bay’ah from the people by force or by using coercion because the contract would be invalid. Mutual consent and choice have to be observed without any compulsion as in any other Islamic contract .
What ISIS did was therefore not permissible as a group of individuals decided between themselves, and then imposed that choice upon the Ummah and started killing and torturing those who disagreed with them. Hence from this viewpoint alone, the invalidity of Baghdadi’s claim to the institution of the Caliphate is apparent as the invalidity of the pledge established by coercion is apparent.
2. Is the Caliphate a violent and sectarian state?
The rule established by ISIS was characterised by sectarianism and hostility to all things not ISIS. But this was simply a reflection of the sectarian conflict, instigated by the US to consolidate its occupation of Iraq. The resistance movements in Iraq were initially successful in their attempt to stall the complete control of the US over Iraq. Though the Sunni and Shi’ah factions were independent, they nevertheless co-operated and sometimes co-ordinated their operations against the US.
It was the US policy of dividing Iraq along sectarian lines, marginalising the Sunnis, establishing Shi’ah death squads that specifically targeted Sunnis; Sunnis reciprocated the violence and eventually led to the destruction of the Golden Mosque in Samarra and ignited the sectarian conflict that still haunts Iraq today. It was in this context that the leadership of ISIS was forged in the US detention centres of Iraq. Hence the root of sectarian violence is associated with the US occupation and not with Islam.
The Caliphate, on the other hand, is not based on representation along specific ethnic, racial or sectarian lines which fuel division, or hostility and competition between different sectors of society for resources and power. Rather, the Caliphate is obliged to be a guardian over the needs and interests of all citizens, regardless of their creed, ethnicity or background.
This includes ensuring every citizen of the state – Sunni or Shi’ah, Muslim or non-Muslim – has their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and education fulfilled, and a dignified standard of life as well as guaranteeing the protection of their blood, belief, honour and property.
3. The Caliphate is not democratic
It’s assumed the only way to run a government is through a democracy with everything else being a dictatorship. Despite the sum total of the public’s participation in decision-making amounting to a cross in a box every four years: we are told the only form of government that is truly representative of those its rules is via a democracy. All other forms of governance are autocratic and dictatorships of some form or another! The Western media showed the ISIS Caliphate as the sole preserve of a few individuals and their close cabal of associates who operated without accountability or oversight.
In reality, representation in the Caliphate is provided by the Majlis as-Shura, who are directly elected by the public.
The role of the Majlis as-Shura is to advise, account and choose the next Khaleef upon the death or resignation of the previous one. It is a permanent body, which represents the opinions and the interests of the Ummah and decides on issues which are of public interest.
Hence Islam institutionalised representation rather than confining it to a four-yearly cycle.
4. Is the Caliphate an authoritarian state?
In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitution or other social and political factors within a state. This contradicts Islamic rule as the Khaleef is restricted by a whole host of checks and balances which restrict his rule. The Khaleef is also not above the law but is subject to it like every other citizen.
5. Will the Caliphate permit slavery?
Islam came in an era when slavery was common, and the means to enslaving were numerous. Debt, war, birth into slavery and crime were all means which could result in a person becoming enslaved. Islam prevented all means by which a person could become enslaved and left the Kheelaf to decide of the fate of the sabiyah (those who accompanied the armies of belligerent states when they fought against the Caliphate). Hence Islam finished enslaving, especially when it discouraged women and children accompanying the army for encouragement or entertainment.
Islam did not permit ISIS from enslaving the Yazidi’s nor did it permit the sexual exploitation of them. Under no circumstances is it permissible for Muslims to do as ISIS did where they took women and girls from their homes to enslave them. There is no precedent for this from the Prophet (saw) or any of his companions. If anything, the Islamic texts are all geared towards freeing slavery and abolishing the practice.
6. Is the Caliphate just for Muslims?
In the Caliphate, all citizens will enjoy the benefits of the Islamic system and full protection of their lives, property and honour without discrimination because citizenship is based on residency rather than birth or marriage. All those who hold citizenship are subjects of the state, their guardianship and the management of their affairs is the duty of the state, without any discrimination.
The non-Muslim citizens living under the Caliphate are referred to in the Shar’ah, as dhimmis. The term “dhimma” means “obligation to fulfil a covenant”. Islam has come with several rules pertaining to the people of dhimmah, in which it guaranteed the rights of citizenship for them and imposed upon them its duties. Islam also outlined that the dhimmi enjoy the same justice Muslims enjoy and that they should abide by the same rules which Muslims abide by.
Although Islam prevents non-Muslims citizens from taking positions of ruling, as belief in Islam is a prerequisite to this, it is permitted for non-Muslim citizens to be members of the Shura Council in order to file complaints against any injustice perpetrated against them by the rulers or against any mis-implementation of Islam upon them.
7. Is the Caliphate a theocratic state?
Theocracies at their heart believe that there is a group of leaders who are infallible and who have an exclusive right to interpret the word of God; no-one is allowed to challenge their interpretation and anyone doing so is condemned. Prophethood is a theological position, which Allah (swt) gives to whomever He (swt) wishes. The Caliphate, on the other hand, is a human post whereby the people appoint whomever they wish. The Khilafah after the Messenger of Allah (saw) was held by humans, who were not Messengers.
The Islamic political system is not theocratic in nature with anyone allowed to challenge any ruling by either scholars or the head of state. In a hadith, the Prophet (saw) instructed the Ummah with regards to ruling:
“The Prophet ruled over the children of Israel, whenever a Prophet died another Prophet succeeded him, but there will be no Prophet after me. There will soon be Khulafa’ and they will number many.” They asked: ‘what then do you order us?’ He said: “Fulfil the bay’ah to them, one after the other and give them their dues for Allah will verily account them about what he entrusted them with” (Sahih Bukhari, #3455 and Sahih Muslim, #4750).
8. Is the Caliphate outdated for the modern age?
The human condition has not changed during the millennia that humans have existed on Earth. Humans still need food, clothing, security and a social existence among other humans. The donkey and car essentially fulfil the same basic requirement of transporting people and goods.
The institution of the Caliphate is a dynamic entity which has successfully administered different eras from a desert city-state to the ruling system of one of the largest domains on earth. The legislative framework that Islam has, can answer all legal questions and provides the basis for the administration of societies in all times and places.
Islam has the capacity to answer the questions about the ownership of a goat that is born to an owner after it has been sold, to the question concerning the validity of a joint-stock company and the permissibility or impermissibility of organ transplantation.
Modernity isn’t confined to any particular ruling system, as technology and its use are not confined to any particular viewpoint on life. Rather it is the quality of governance that is a prerequisite to development and progress. Islam provides humans with an unparalleled system of governance where the interests of all stakeholders in society are balanced to provide a harmonious society in which humans can flourish as humans rather than cogs in an exploitative capitalist machine.
In reality, what is meant by those who consider Islam to be outdated is that the hudood or the Islamic penal code is no longer compatible with the modern concepts of human rights. The example of ISIS has been used by the Western media to portray the Caliphate as a medieval state whose main preoccupation was the chopping off of hands and the crucifixion of enemies. Islam has a robust punishment system which prevents society degenerating into criminality and oppression and we make no excuses about the severity of the punishment for those that deserve them.