Understanding the Correct Political Vision of the Khilafah
Recent events in Iraq have brought the subject of the Khilafah to the world’s attention. Media outlets, academics and commentators are falling over each other to claim expertise. This has only added to the confusion as distorted depictions denigrating this venerable Islamic obligation have been actively promoted, using events in Iraq as evidence.
But ever since the Khilafah’s destruction at the hands of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk in 1924, various people have stepped forward to claim its title realising the spiritual and political resonance it has across the Muslim world, from King Farouk of Egypt, Sharif Hussein of Makkah to the fake Islamic states of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran amongst others.
Many such declarations play on the weaknesses Muslims may hold about what a ‘Khilafah’ represents, and so dupe them through a combination of hollow language and symbolism into believing a new era for the entire Muslim world has finally arrived.
This has all played into the hands of those ready to demonise the Khilafah by allowing it to be associated it with the weaknesses and political agendas of those who claimed to have implemented something that goes by the same name, but which does not compare with the Khilafah.
In light of these recent events, Muslims are reminded of the following:
1. The Khilafah is a distinct state. The Khilafah is the Islamic political system, which enshrines: the rule of law, representative government, accountability through its judicial system, and the principle of representative consultation. It is a non-sectarian state built upon a concept of citizenship, opposing the oppression of any religious or ethnic groupings that reside under its authority.
According to Osman Bakhach, director of the central media office of HT in Lebanon, commenting on recent events in Iraq, it is a “state that opens its arms to all people, Muslims and others, including Christians and Jews” and “not to be a state where Muslims cannot stand each other and fight amongst each other. That is something we [Hizb ut Tahrir] categorically reject.”
2. The Khilafah will heal ethnic and sectarian tensions. Despite their differences, the history of the Islamic lands that are now at the heart of so much tension shows that what we are seeing today – serious sectarian violence for example between sunni on shia – is almost without precedent. The scale and nature of the conflict we see before us is recent – a fact not only evident to Muslims. The late academic Professor Fred Haliday observed that “actual and direct conflict between Sunni and Shi’a (as distinct from suspicion and communal difference) has until recently been remarkable by its absence”.
The Islamic state is non-sectarian and does not belong to any particular madhab or legal position but to all Muslims. There is a deliberate attempt by media commentators and politicians to frame a sectarian conflict in the Muslim world but the picture is more mixed than the often dichotomous portrayal. The as-Sham region is rife with examples of a long-standing mixed population; Lebanon has 362,000 families who have one sunni and one shia parent, in a country whose population is only 4 million. Shortly after the US invasion, Iraq saw joint action by sunni and shia, from joint Friday prayers, conferences and regular calls for co-operation; rallies saw demonstrators chanting “No Shia, No Sunni!”
Furthermore, Islam alone has proven the only force capable of unifying Arabs, Kurds, Turkomens and others. It has a long track record of ruling disparate communities, ethnicities, regions and religions with success, bringing stability to previously war-ravaged territories, engaging populations and earning strong loyalties from the communities and religions it governed. Even non-Muslims, Christians and Jews, fought under the banner of the Islamic Khilafah whose justice they believed in regardless of religious affiliation. T. W. Arnold, in his book “The Preaching of Islam,” wrote about inter-ethnic relations and the treatment of non-Muslims who lived under the Ottoman Khilafah: “though the Greeks were numerically superior to the Turks in all the European provinces of the empire, the religious toleration thus granted them, and the protection of life and property they enjoyed, soon reconciled them to prefer the domination of the Sultan to that of any Christian power.[i]” Not only is the Khilafah a state for all ethnicities, but also its leadership is not restricted to Arab, Kurd, Turk or other. The Khilafah would readily heal the wounds of ethnic hurt because it is blind to the racial distinctions of ethnicity.
3. The Khilafah will bring stability not chaos to the Muslim world. Contrary to the prophecies of doom presented by media commentators and the images emerging from Iraq of escalating chaos, the Khilafah will be a stabilising force for the Muslim world:
Firstly, the Khilafah is an accountable political system whose head is legitimated through popular consent. Thus it will be unlike regimes that currently litter the Muslim world, whose authority is forced over populations, creating resentment and threatening political under-currents. The Khilafah, in striking contrast, engages voices of dissent through the political system by providing extensive channels for accounting all aspects of the state.
Secondly, the Khilafah is consistent with – not alien to – the values of the people in the Muslim world. This provides it deep roots and a better chance at working in partnership with its populations because it engages them on a common point of reference and for common goals. But it also means the Khilafah acts as a guarantor for values considered most at threat since its demise by the Muslims. The secular, autocratic regimes that emerged after its fall significantly curtailed Islamic practice and engineered new readings of Islamic values and history. A political system that credibly protects Islamic values is a key to securing public confidence and partnership.
Thirdly, the loss of the Khilafah brought with it an unprecedented loss of authority and leadership on Islamic issues. The resulting vacuum allowed individuals to become global figureheads for merely speaking the rhetoric of anti-colonialism and standing-up to aggression. This crisis in leadership after the Khilafah dangerously allowed its functions to be dismembered and claimed by virtually anyone who was willing to take them on. The Khilafah was the only institution able to provide credible leadership on Islamic issues and for Muslims.
4. Establishment of the Khilafah is an Islamic obligation that all Muslims must work towards. Allah (swt) has commanded all the Muslims to abide by Islam and to comprehensively implement all of its rules as they have been revealed:
“And whoever does not rule by what Allah has revealed, they are the disbelievers” [Translated Meaning of the Qur’an 5:44].
“And rule between them by what Allah has revealed” [Translated Meaning of the Qur’an 5:49].
Allah (swt) says
“So judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their vain desire, diverging away from the truth that has come to you” [Translated Meaning of the Qur’an 5:48].
The centrality of the Khilafah to Islam – and the Islamic obligation to establish it – is without dispute amongst the classical scholars through the ages. This centrality of the Khilafah has been well understood by Muslims historically, demonstrated by their reaction to its demise. The Khilafah is the orthodox Islamic position on ruling and governance, established in definitive Islamic sources, and implemented historically.
The Khilafah is the executive body that Islam has defined as the method through which the Shari’ah is implemented in society. Without it, Islam would be no more than a host of spiritual rites and morals, and its rules related to economic, political and social life would be rendered redundant. The Islamic authority is established in order to look after the people’s affairs, relationships and interests – both Muslims and non-Muslims who reside under its authority.
Muslims must challenge the false depictions of the Khilafah with an understanding of exactly what it would represent. The goal of replacing the brutal regimes in the Muslim world with a political system based on Islam that is accountable, representative and draws on strong ideological commonalities with its people can only be a stabilising force for the region. The Caliphate represents an alternative political vision for the Muslim world that is gathering support amongst Muslims across the Muslim world, despite attempts at demonisation spearheaded by media commentators and politicians.
[i] Arnold, Sir Thomas W. The Preaching Of Islam. A History Of The Propagation Of The Muslim Faith. Westminister, London: A. Constable & Co, 1896.