ISIL Has Caliphate Dreams: The Eternal Muslim Ideal

The forcible retreat of Islamic jihadism, beginning with the Ottoman repulsion at Vienna in 1683, was acutely evident in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish War of 1876-1878.

Already by 1882, however, Ignaz Goldziher, widely acclaimed as one of the most profound and original European Islamic scholars from an era that produced seminal investigators, observed astutely, that the “Muhammadan world,” was responding to these historical setbacks, “excited by a powerful idea.” What was this mighty, revitalizing inspiration? The re-establishment of Islam’s Caliphate system, “The spiritual fusion of politically dis­arrayed Islam into a great unity.”  Goldziher continued,

The external form of this unity is the insti­tution of the indivisible Caliphate, which is the oldest political structure of Islam. . . . With regard to Islam, the unification of Muhammadan powers, and the awakening of the awareness of their unity and solidarity under a common authority is seen as the sole remedy against the dangers lurking in the womb of the future. And this unification is only conceived under the flag of the united Caliphate of Islam. . .


And Goldziher concluded—over 130 years ago:

[T]he idea of Panislamism is a militant idea in their [Muslim] eyes, as it was a militant idea at the time of the birth of young Islam. This idea now reigns over Muhammadan public opinion, in some places with such power that the representatives of European governments now complain of it.

Writing in 1916, C. Snouck Hurgronje, the great Dutch Orientalist, confirmed how the jihad doctrine of world conquest, and the re-creation of a supranational Islamic Caliphate remained a potent force among the Muslim masses: would be a gross mistake to imagine that the idea of universal conquest may be considered as obliterated...the canonists and the vulgar still live in the illusion of the days of Islam's greatness. The legists continue to ground their appreciation of every actual political condition on the law of the holy war, which war ought never be allowed to cease entirely until all mankind is reduced to the authority of Islam-the heathen by conversion, the adherents of acknowledged Scripture [i.e., Jews and Christians] by submission.

Hurgronje further noted that although the Muslim rank and file might acknowledge the improbability of that goal “at present” (circa 1916), they were,

...comforted and encouraged by the recollection of the lengthy period of humiliation that the Prophet himself had to suffer before Allah bestowed victory upon his arms...

Thus even at the nadir of Islam’s political power, during the World War I era final disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, Hurgronje observed how

...the common people are willingly taught by the canonists and feed their hope of better days upon the innumerable legends of the olden time and the equally innumerable apocalyptic prophecies about the future. The political blows that fall upon Islam make less impression...than the senseless stories about the power of the Sultan of Stambul [Istanbul], that would instantly be revealed if he were not surrounded by treacherous servants, and the fantastic tidings of the miracles that Allah works in the Holy Cities of Arabia which are inaccessible to the unfaithful. The conception of the Khalifate [Caliphate] still exercises a fascinating influence, regarded in the light of a central point of union against the unfaithful (i.e., non-Muslims). [emphasis added]


Eight years later, in 1924, an article that appeared in the Calcutta Guardian linked the Pan-Islamic Indian Khilafat (Caliphate) Movement to trends that developed, and intensified immediately following the Russo-Turkish War, five decades prior to the eventual advent of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and geographically far removed from the latter movement.


The Islamic World was aroused to the fact that the area of Islamic independence was steadily narrowing”, and the Qur’anic theory that Islam should dominate over every other religion was giving way to the contrary system. It was felt that the only Muslim power which could deal with those of Europe as an equal was Turkey; and pan-Islamism everywhere inculcated the doctrine that Turkey should be strengthened and supported. The Sultan was urged to advance through Persia into India and make common cause with the Sudanese Mehdi, and restore Egypt to an Islamic Sovereign.


Thus the prototype modern Sunni jihadist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, emerged out of this popular, well-defined historical, and mainstream doctrinal milieu, a half-century later.


Charles Wendell introduced his elegant 1978 translation of five treatises by Hasan al-Banna, with perspicacious analyses of the Muslim Brotherhood founder’s Weltanschauung. Wendell stressed not only al-Banna’s seamless connection to the so-called “modernists,” Jamal al-Din Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and Muhammad Rashid Rida, but to traditional Islam itself. Moreover, Wendell’s concluding observations remain critical to understanding the deep Islamic religious animus toward Israel—so much in evidence today—that al-Banna and his movement both inspired, and reflected.


One impressive factor that immediately strikes any student of the move­ment [the Muslim Brotherhood] is that it represents a continuation of the activist Pan-Islamic doctrine of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and the early Muhammad Abduh. . . . [I]t seems beyond dispute that, like Al-Afghani, he [al-Banna] has as his final goal a return to the world-state of the Four Orthodox Caliphs (Al-Khalafa al-Rashidun) and, this once accomplished, an aggressive march forward to conquer the rest of the earth for God and his Sacred Law. . . Like most of the Muslim reformers from the early nine­teenth century on, Al-Banna believed that it was possible to pick and choose those aspects of Western civilization he could accept as compatible with Islamic doctrine and morality, and neatly excise the rest. . . . Hasan, like his heroes like Al-Afghani and [Muhammad] Abduh, castigated the clerics for their withdrawal from the real world around them. Their fixation on gloss-writing, and their abdication of their true responsibilities as spiritual guides and models. . . . Hasan’s answer to this was essentially that of both the fun­damentalist Hanbalites and the “Manar” [“Al Manar,” “The Lighthouse,” the title of a publication jointly produced by Abduh and Rida] modernists, especially Abduh’s dis­ciple Muhammad Rashid Rida, whom he admired more than Abduh himself: “Back to the Qur’an and the Sunna!” . . .


Hasan al-Banna’s fundamental con­viction that Islam does not accept, or even tolerate, a separation of “church” and state, or of either from society, is as thoroughly Islamic as it can be. Any attempt to translate his movement into terms reducible to social, political, or religious factors exclusively simply misses the boat. The “totality” created by the Prophet Muhammad in the Medinese state, the first Islamic state, was Hasan’s unwavering ideal, and the ideal of all Muslim thinkers before him, including the idle dreamers in the mosque. His ideology then, before it was Egyptian or Arab or whatever, was Islamic to the core. Since it embraced all aspects of human life and thought, it was at least as much religious as any­thing else. Practically all of his arguments are shored up by frequent quota­tions from the Qur’an and the Traditions, quite in the style of his medieval forbears. If one considers the public to whom his writings were addressed, it becomes instantly apparent that such arguments must still be the most com­pelling for the vast bulk of the Muslim populations of today.


The nagging feeling that Islam must, and very quickly at that, catch up with the West, had even by his time filtered down from above to the masses after having been the watchword of the modernizing intellectual for almost a century. There was also the notion that all these Western sciences and techniques were originally adopted from Islamic culture, and were therefore merely “coming home”—a piece of self-conscious back-patting that was already a cliché of most Muslim political writing. . . To this [Islamic] revivalist mentality, nothing could be more hateful than further diminution of the lands traditionally dominated by Islam. I believe that much of the fury and unconcealed hatred of the Zionist state which is expressed by the majority of Arabs will become more comprehensible in light of what the Islamic domain as a concept really means to the Muslims, seen through the lens of Hasan’s exposition. Fascists were unable to endow their acts or beliefs with a religious dimension, except for the embarrassing juvenility of the Teutonic shrines reputedly raised in Germany. In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, however, they had, on the basis of indisputable historical facts and clear reli­gious traditions, a ready-made program for a world crusade that required only actors and a leader. Islam had from the beginning been a proselytizing faith. The error of the Islamic peoples, as Al-Afghani had pointed out forty years before, had been to cease their inexorable forward march, to abnegate their God-ordained destiny.


From Jihad to Dhimmitude


Pooled findings from surveys conducted almost a century after Hurgronje’s 1916 observations (i.e., performed between 2006 to 2012), indicate that the vast preponderance of contemporary Muslims still seek the conjoined goals of re-establishing a Caliphate, and implementing the Sharia, Islamic law.


For example, polling data released (April 24, 2007) in a rigorously conducted face-to-face University of Maryland/ interview survey of 4384 Muslims completed between December 9, 2006 and February 15, 2007-1000 Moroccans, 1000 Egyptians, 1243 Pakistanis, and 1141 Indonesians-revealed that 65.2% of those interviewed-almost 2/3, hardly a “fringe minority”—desired this outcome (i.e., “To unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate”), including 49% of “moderate” Indonesian Muslims. The internal validity of these data about the present longing for a Caliphate is strongly suggested by a concordant result: 65.5% of this Muslim sample approved the proposition “To require a strict [emphasis added] application of Shari’a law in every Islamic country.”


A Pew Research Forum report, “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” released April 30, 2013, confirmed  the broad appeal of the Sharia, Islam’s religio-political “law,” across Islamdom. The data were combined from surveys conducted between 2008 and 2012, representing, as touted by Pew, “a total of 39 countries and territories on three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe.” Collectively, the surveys included “more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 80-plus languages and dialects, covering every country that has more than 10 million Muslims.”


Responses to this question on the Sharia comprised the polls’ most salient finding. The question was, “Do you favor or oppose making sharia law, or Islamic law, the official law of the land in our country?” Summary data from the nations with the five largest Muslim populations (as per 2010) surveyed, Indonesia (204 million), Pakistan (178 million), Bengladesh (149 million), Egypt (80 million), and Nigeria (76 million), revealed:


  • 72% of Indonesian Muslims, 84% of Pakistani Muslims, 82% of Bengladeshi Muslims, 74% of Egyptian Muslims, and 71% of Nigerian Muslims supported making Sharia the official state law of their respective societies. The population-weighted average from these 5 countries was 77% supportive. (Composite regional data confirmed these individual country trends—84% of South Asian Muslims, 77% of Southeast Asian Muslims, 74% of Middle Eastern/North African Muslims, and 64% of Sub-Saharan African Muslims favored application of the Sharia as official state law.)


Furthermore, the Pew survey results confirm the abject failure of the U.S. midwived Iraqi and Afghan “democracies” to fulfill the utopian aspirations of the much ballyhooed “(Bernard) Lewis doctrine.” Instead, the negative prognostications, epitomized by Diana West’s evocative description “Making the world safe for Sharia,” have been realized. Specifically, the Pew data indicated:


  • 91% of Iraqi Muslims and 99% of Afghan Muslims supported making Sharia the official state law of their respective societies


Religious piety, as evidenced by frequency of prayer and “Following the Prophet’s Example,” increased support for Sharia, which was unaffected by age, gender, or educational level. The Pew report fails to elaborate on these strong associations, offering no explanation about why increased compliance with prayer and pious conformity with the behavior of Islam’s prophet Muhammad might result in broad Muslim approval for the application of Sharia “norms,” including mutilating thieves, stoning adulterers to death, or executing those who simply exercise freedom of conscience and forsake Islam.