Middle East Resources

The Impact and Consequences of a Never-Dying Dream:

“The Islamic Caliphate”

Bassam Michael Madany

October 2021

 

Ever since Mustapha Kemal Ataturk abolished the Islamic Caliphate in 1924, there have been various attempts to revive a system that had been in existence since 632 A.D.

During the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (The ISIS-K) carried out an attack at Kabul international airport, killing 13 US service members and dozens of Afghans. The IS-K is the most extreme and violent of all the jihadist militant groups in Afghanistan. It was set up in January 2015 at the height of IS's power in Iraq and Syria before its self-declared Caliphate was defeated and dismantled by a US-led coalition.

What drives Muslims in their persistence to bring about such a utopian dream? It’s the belief that the Islamic State, founded by Muhammad at Medina in 622, must expand until the entire world had become part and parcel of the global Islamic Umma. This notion doesn’t come from the Qur’an which is silent about the Caliphate. We are indebted to the work of the Tunisian scholar Héla Ouardi, who wrote in 2017, Les Derniers Jours de Muhammad. (The Last Days of Muhammad.) i

In an interview with the Algerian French-language daily El Watan, dated October 31, 2018, professor Ouardi dealt with several issues discovered during her research, that I have translated and summarized in the following paragraphs:  

“A mystery surrounds the death of Muhammad at the age of 63. Tradition provides contradictory answers, Hadith compilers like Tabari or Bukhārī, say that he died poisoned by a Jew from Khaybar; but sometimes they claim he died of pleurisy. The fact is that all sources indicate that in his last days, the Prophet was in a state of psychological depression. His gloomy predictions about the future of Islam, whose history is marked by civil wars, have indeed come true!

While investigating the circumstances of Muhammad’s passing, Héla Ouardi found an important matter, “namely that the climate among the Prophet’s family during his last days was a climate of great political tension, an atmosphere of a dénouement of an established order. There are two reasons to explain the three-days wait before Muhammad was buried. At the time, many Muslims believed that the Prophet would be resurrected after three days. Another reason was some Muslims were in a state of denial; while others believed that the death of the Prophet was a sign that the end of the world was imminent.

“As to whether Muhammad left a will regarding his successor is not very clear. Both Sunni and Shi’ite sources relate that on the Thursday before his death, the Prophet expressed the wish to dictate a will. He asked for a tablet and an inkwell and said, I will write a document that will protect you from bewilderment for eternity” But Omarii, who was present, opposed it and said: The Prophet is confused; we already have the Qur’an, and that’s enough for us.  

“Since the Qur’an is silent about a successor to the Prophet, how did the idea of ​​Khalifa come about? Actually, the institution of the Caliphate has no religious foundation, neither in the Qur'an, nor in the Hadiths. The Prophet himself did not clearly designate a successor. The Shi’ites claim that the Prophet transmitted the torch to Ali; however, they refer to him as an Imam, who is more a spiritual guide than a political leader. The Caliphate was an ad hoc institution invented by the Companions of the Prophet when suddenly confronted by the absence of a power center. 

“The Sunni-Shi’ite divide began with the assassination of Ali in 661; and it solidified around twenty years later, when his son Hussein was assassinated with his entourage, in Karbala, Iraq. The event had deep roots going all the way back to the days of Abu Bakr, in 632. While the family of the Prophet, Ali and Fatima were busy with the funeral arrangements, the followers of Abu Bakr and Omar announced the choice of Abu Bakr as Caliph. It was a fait accompli!

“By preventing the Prophet’s family from assuming the role of the Caliphate, the history of Islam has been punctuated by violent conflicts all committed in the name of religion. Thus, in Islam violence has become sacred, allowing some Muslims to perform horrific acts to bring them closer to God.

“Muslims generally think they are superior to others, since they follow of the last revealed religion, and their Prophet is the last or ‘seal’ of the prophets. God addresses them in the Qur’an, "You are the best of the nations of humanity. 3:110. This creates in them a sense of superiority that makes them hostile to any form of criticism and incapable of self-criticism. This feeling of ‘sufficiency’ has produced an immobility in many Muslim societies, especially in Arab-Muslim societies, clinging to the utopia that carries dreams of glory, constantly shattered by several stinging failures.”

Professor Ouardi summed up her analysis with these trenchant words: “In any case, I remain convinced that without a work of self-criticism, most Muslim societies will be unable to fully integrate within the modern world.”

I have quoted from a Muslim scholar who had risked her life for publishing this shocking verdict, so that as I continue this discussion, I may not be labeled as an Islamophobe or an overly-alarmist writer.

Thus far, I have relied on research published in 2018. Now, we are more than a decade later, and we continue to face the Consequences of this Never-Dying Dream. In mid-October 2021, I read two reports about this subject. One was an Interview conducted by the French BFM TViii, with Fawzi Benhabib, a resident of Saint-Denis, who said “that since his arrival from Algeria 25 years ago, he found in France the ideology from which he was fleeing in his former country, adding that For the Islamists, it is a question of Islamizing modernity, not of modernizing Islam.”

Another Algerian, Boualem Sansal, commented on the Consequences of this Never-Dying Dream, in the weekly French journal, Express.

"Where Islam takes hold, it is forever. Islamism is based on Islam, which no one has the right to criticize. But in your countries, it also plays a role in democracy and in the rule of law. Islamism exploits these values. Since democracy recognizes all opinions, from the far right to the far left, it is obliged to recognize Islam as well. All those who do not commit attacks or violent acts are, in principle, protected in a state of law. Islamism thus immediately finds itself in a conquered terrain.

“It is necessary to fight Islamism from the beginning. Because it is like humidity in a house. Initially the threat is invisible, it penetrates the walls which, little by little, crumble. When you realize it is too late, you have to destroy everything to clean up. It becomes a mission impossible. France is at the stage where it has just discovered that Islam is eroding her home."

Boualem Sansal : "La France vient de découvrir que l'islamisme ronge la maison" - L'Express (lexpress.fr)

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i Héla Ouardi is a Tunisian scholar who in 2017 published in Paris, France, Les Derniers Jours de Muhammad. (The Last Days of Muhammad.) She is Professor of French Literature and Civilization at the University of Tunis, and Associate Researcher at the CNRS Laboratory for Monographic Studies. She was General Manager of the Book at the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Tunisia from September 2016 to January 2018.

ii Omar played a vital role in the founding of the Caliphate. He may be regarded as the effective founder of the Institution, even though Abu Bakr (Father of Aisha) held that position from 632-634. Omar was the second Caliph, from 634-644, followed by Uthman from 644-656, followed by Ali from 656-661. His death marked the end of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. These dynastic caliphates followed: The Umayyad Dynasty from 661-750, the Abbasid Dynasty from 750-1258, when destroyed by the Mongolian invasion. The major Caliphate that followed was the Ottoman Caliphate that governed parts of the Balkans, the former Byzantine Empire, the Middle East and most of North Africa, until it ended in 1924.

iii i BFM TV is a 24-hour rolling news and weather channel based in France and available globally via digital, cable and satellite television. As the country's most-watched news channel with 10 million daily viewers.