MUSLIM CALIPHATE (DICTATORSHIP)
Calls for the establishment
of a Global Islamic "caliphate"
Russia’s Knotty Policies on Islam, Mirrored in Trial
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
Published: June 2, 2009
KAZAN, Russia — Almaz Khasanov stood up to a microphone in the green-painted cage where he and his co-defendants sit and made a statement that sent a wave of anxiety through the cramped courtroom here.
“I am a member of the political party, Hizbut Tahrir,” he said in prepared testimony. “The goal of this organization is the creation of an Islamic way of life, including the creation of an Islamic Caliphate.”
Mr. Khasanov is a self-styled religious revolutionary who has vowed to challenge the longstanding way of life here in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, an ancient Muslim region deep in Russia’s heartland.
He is on trial along with 11 others, accused of membership in a terrorist organization and of fomenting plots to violently overthrow the government. Most of the men deny belonging to the group, and their friends and human rights advocates say that the Russian police and intelligence agents used torture to extract false evidence in the case.
By contrast, Mr. Khasanov freely admits to being a member of Hizbut Tahrir and insists that it should be his right. While Hizbut Tahrir has been banned as a terrorist organization in Russia and most of the other countries of the former Soviet Union, it has sworn off violence as a means of achieving its goals. It is allowed to operate in the United States and most of the European Union, though typically under intense scrutiny.
Nevertheless, many people here, Muslim and Russian Orthodox alike, are unsettled by the unabashed fundamentalism of Hizbut Tahrir, which preaches a pre-modern theology that is generally incompatible with Western notions of civil society. In that sense, the trial has underscored the country’s broader ambivalence toward its Muslim minority.
Though historically Muslim, Kazan, a city on the Volga River about 500 miles east of Moscow, has been shaped more by its confluence of cultures than by any one social current. Crescent-topped minarets compete with gilt Orthodox cupolas and bland Soviet high-rises for prominence in the city’s skyline, though shopping malls, boutique hotels, bars and nightclubs also appear striking.
The Tatar Muslims here, who have lived under Moscow’s control since Ivan the Terrible wrested the region from the Mongol Empire in the 16th century, appear little different from their Russian neighbors in their secular dress and penchant for chilled vodka.
Yet an influx of conservative ideas from abroad, officials and religious leaders say, is beginning to undermine local traditions and could even threaten the stability of the region.
But all the defendants on trial, their relatives and many experts on Islam in Russia deny this.
It is still unclear what level of involvement, if any, each of the other men had in Hizbut Tahrir. Many of their relatives denied that they were members at all. Rather, they said the men, mostly students, were being persecuted for studying and proselytizing Islam outside official religious structures.
“These are educated people — some have two degrees — and they were interested in different currents of Islam,” said Gulnaza Faisulina, whose husband is on trial. “They are seeking philosophical thoughts, and not all the religious leaders are capable of providing this.”
Valiulla Yakupov, a deputy mufti of the government-backed Muslim Religious Board of the Republic of Tatarstan, agreed that the Muslim establishment had not responded to the interests and desires of young Muslims.
“These people have been jailed for their ideas, not for their actions,” he said. “If I and other religious figures worked with them more actively and explained things to them, this most likely would not have happened.”
Inevitably, the trial has reflected Russia’s often contradictory policies toward Muslims, who number between 15 million and 20 million out of an overall population of 140 million. The authorities have promoted the construction of mosques and religious schools, and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, while president, lobbied the government of Saudi Arabia to increase quotas on Russian Muslims permitted to take part in the annual hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca.
But the government has also embarked on a concerted campaign of intimidation and persecution of free-thinking Muslims that has at times failed to adhere to the contours of human rights law, said Yelena Ryabinina, an expert on Muslim affairs in Russia.
Dmitry Afanasov, a Russian convert to Islam and a friend of many of the men on trial in Kazan, said he was beaten badly and lost consciousness several times at the hands of the police, who he said tortured him into giving false testimony incriminating his friends in terrorist plots in exchange for his freedom.
“They said they were given the green light to beat Muslims,” he said.
It is a campaign shaped in large part by Russia’s decade-and-a-half struggle against violent Muslim-backed separatist movements in the North Caucasus. Two bloody wars in Chechnya alone caused thousands of deaths.
Religious violence, however, is practically unheard of in Tatarstan, where the powerful president, Mintimer Shaimiev, has managed to preserve broad autonomy from Moscow in exchange for keeping separatist sentiments at bay.
The religious revival here, while broad, has been largely benign. About 50 mosques have been built since the fall of the Soviet Union. Madrasas and halal meat shops have opened, and more and more women, many of them young, walk the ornate pedestrian avenues wearing colorful head scarves.
Ruslan Kurbanov, a senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for Oriental Studies, accused the authorities of stifling a new generation of Muslim thinkers seeking to rejuvenate the religion. Clamping a lid on religious innovation, he said, will only drive more Muslims to extremism.
“Only through acceptance of these new ideas,” he said, “and through permitting pluralism of opinion within official religious structures can the growing tensions and inclination of Muslims to extremism be eliminated.”
Before the recent hearing, Farida Rafikov, the mother of Dias Rafikov, one of the defendants, was adamant about her son’s innocence, saying he was passionately involved in his religion and nothing else.
Following Mr. Khasanov’s testimony, however, she appeared shaken.
“I just don’t know if he will admit to it or not,” she said. “I’m afraid to think about it.”
Hizb ut-Tahrir calls for the establishment of a "caliphate"
Germany: Court Appeal By
Hizb Ut-Tahrir Highlights Balancing Act Between Actions, Intentions
By Sophie Lambroschini
A date has been set for a German court to hear an appeal by the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir against the ban imposed on its activities almost two years ago. The case illustrates the thin line Germany is balancing in its efforts to combat Islamic radicals who have not been implicated in any terrorist activities but who are nevertheless perceived as a threat.
Berlin, 26 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- For members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, the battle to openly convince Muslims in Germany of the benefits of a worldwide Islamic state will be brought to court before the end of the year.
Karin Siebert, a press spokeswoman for the federal administrative court in Leipzig, told RFE/RL that the court, which reviews decisions made by federal ministries, will begin hearing the appeal on 2 December.
Hizb ut-Tahrir's appeal against the ban may affect German officials' handling of those they commonly dub as "hate-preachers" -- Islamic radicals who make virulent public pronouncements against Israel, the United States, and many Western values. These preachers are considered a threat but have never been implicated in any terrorist acts.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, best known for its growing influence as an illegal opposition movement in Central Asia, calls for the establishment of a "caliphate" over the whole Muslim world. While the group is largely tolerated as a nonviolent radical ideological group in the West and in Europe -- except for Germany and, more recently, Russia -- is banned and often persecuted in many Muslim countries.
For Hizb ut-Tahrir, the court date represents a chance to reverse a decision made unilaterally by German Interior Minister Otto Schily in January 2003. Schily said the group was "spreading hate and violence" and was calling for the killing of Jews.
One member of Hizb ut-Tahrir has been expelled from Germany for alleged ties to one of the 11 September attackers. However, German officials admit that the raids and searches in offices and homes have so far revealed little.
The group's representative in Germany is Shaker Assem, an engineer and an Austrian national of Egyptian descent. He rejects the accusations:
"We, the members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, are not anti-Semitic," Assem said. "We consequently reject that [accusation]. We do not call to kill Jews. Our call is addressed to the Muslim people to defend themselves against the Zionist aggression in Palestine. And they have the right to do so."
For the same reason, Assem said, he does not condemn the "resistance against the American aggressor in Iraq."
Nevertheless, Assem insists the group is "nonviolent," arguing that its efforts are not directed against Western governments and that the coming of the caliphate "will not necessarily mean bloodshed."
The scandal around Hizb ut-Tahrir in Germany erupted over a conference organized two years ago against the looming Iraq war by a student group affiliated with Hizb ut-Tahrir at Berlin's Technical University. The conference was also attended by several members of the extreme right-wing National German Party (NPD). The meeting provoked outrage in the press against "Islamists and neo-Nazis" uniting to deliver anti-Semitic harangues in a learning institution.
Schily banned the group three months later under new German antiterrorist legislation adopted in the aftermath of 11 September that lifted a privilege protecting religious groups.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is not being prosecuted as a terrorist organization but as going "against the concept of international understanding" contained in the German Constitution, a tactic that has been used in the past against Nazi groups. Two other Islamic groups also were banned under the new law.
Events unfolded in Germany in the context of a country that is still coming to terms with its Nazi past and, more recently, with the embarrassment of having harbored many of the 9/11 hijackers, who had been leading double lives as students in Hamburg.
Uwe Halbach, a researcher at Berlin's respected Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), a think tank that advises the German government on foreign affairs, explained that despite the absence of calls to immediate violence many in Germany see Hizb ut-Tahrir's rhetoric as "evocative of jihad."
Halbach suggested that the ban against Hizb ut-Tahrir in Germany was triggered more by the university conference than by prior evidence. Halbach -- who is a specialist on Central Asia and has studied Hizb ut-Tahrir -- said the group's presence came as a surprise to German authorities.
"In Great Britain, Hizb ut-Tahrir is still not banned and has a surprisingly strong field of action -- a lot stronger agenda than in Germany," Halbach said. "In fact, in Germany, it all came as a surprise. No one really knew what this Hizb ut-Tahrir really was. At first, people were asking around, 'Who are these people, anyway?' "
Assem said he was told by police that the ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir was considered a "preventive" measure.
"When the police came into my apartment on the 15 of January 2003 for a second search, and I was informed that the party is forbidden, I asked the police chief why we were banned in Germany, although in other European countries, like Great Britain, where we are much more active and stronger, no one gives us a second thought," Assem said. "This is what he answered: 'We banned you in Germany so that what is happening in England doesn't happen here.'"
Analysts agree that Hizb ut-Tahrir appears to have a strong following in the United Kingdom. Its presence has also been noted with concern by Danish authorities.
In the United States, conservative politicians and analysts have been calling for increased pressure on members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. A recent report by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank called Hizb ut-Tahrir "an emerging threat to American interests in Central and South Asia and the Middle East."
More liberal lobbies warn against efforts to radicalize the group.
Indeed, observers note that Germany's policies will be followed closely well beyond its borders as an "in situ" case of where to draw the line between freedom of expression, radical propaganda, and illegality.
Paul Wilkinson, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, pointed out that some of these organizations are "very smart in walking the very fine line between propaganda and incitement to terrorism."
Wilkinson said this makes national authorities more careful when determining the moment to intervene.
Central Asia: Is Hizb ut-Tahrir a Threat to Stability?
Established in the 1950s in the Middle East, Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (The Party of Islamic Liberation) began operating in Central Asia around 10 years ago. The group advocates replacing the governments of the Muslim world with an Islamic state in the form of a caliphate (Which is what the Ottoman Empire Was). Although the group professes only peaceful means to achieve its aims, Central Asian governments have mostly taken a harsh stance against it.
Prague, 23 August
2004 (RFE/RL) -- During the past decade, the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir has
become increasingly active -- and controversial -- in Central Asia.
Although the group officially espouses peaceful means to achieve its goal of establishing a caliphate, it's been blamed by Central Asian governments for a recent upsurge in Islamist violence. Uzbek authorities suspect it may be behind a series of recent attacks that killed several people there.
David Lewis, who runs the Central Asia project for the International Crisis Group (ICG) in the Kyrgyz city of Osh, says the group is feeding on discontent. He says many -- especially the young -- are attracted to it as an alternative form of political opposition or expression.
"Of course, Hizb
ut-Tahrir is a threat to our society. It's a religious threat [because] it does
not serve Islam. It only brings tension."
But he says Hizb ut-Tahrir's influence should not be exaggerated as it has little public support in Central Asia.
"It has been spreading but not as much as [Central Asian] governments suggest. There have been arrests in southern Tajikistan and there are occasional reports of arrests in northern Kyrgyzstan. [But] its core constituency is the Uzbek territory. In Kazakhstan they have gained increasing support. [However] for most young people of the region, it's not an attractive option," Lewis said.
Although Hizb ut-Tahrir is not known for committing terrorist acts, it's opposed by Central Asian governments at odds with the group's political objectives. Kenzhebulat Beknazarov, a spokesman for the Kazakh National Security Committee, told RFE/RL in the capital Astana.
"In general, Hizb ut-Tahrir and other similar organizations are serving against our constitution. Of course it is the goal of our state authorities and the National Security Committee to fight them, it is our obligation," Beknazarov said.
Uzbekistan is leading the way by arresting and sentencing thousands of members to prison terms. According to independent Uzbek estimates, there may be as many as 5,000 alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Uzbek prisons.
Twice this year, Uzbekistan was targeted by waves of violence, including bombings, for which authorities were quick to blame Hizb ut-Tahrir.
But the group claims to reject violence. Hizb ut-Tahrir member Sultan Badalov told RFE/RL in the Kyrgyz city of Jalalabad.
"In Islam, to kill someone and to shed his blood is a sin. It is forbidden to kill an innocent person, even if he is from another confession. Hizb ut-Tahrir is conducting political and ideological work only. And it is against armed fighting. Hizb ut-Tahrir does not have relations with terrorist actions," Badalov
In some instances, the governments have joined forces with mainstream religious figures to oppose Hizb ut-Tahrir. Imam Saidbek Boyzoda told RFE/RL recently in Dushanbe.
"Of course, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a threat to our society. It's a religious threat [because] it does not serve Islam. It only brings tension. Hizb ut-Tahrir is opposed by the police because they don't know the group's financial sources. The danger is [an] explosion because they [have fragmented] society. They use Islam as a mask but their words and actions don't have any link to Islam," Boyzoda said.
The utopia of a caliphate may not be achievable. But analysts warn that repression of Hizb ut-Tahrir members has radicalized the movement and threatened to sow the seeds of greater Islamist extremism.
Regional security expert Ahmed Rashid, the author of "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia," recently told RFE/RL, "The enormous repression of the regimes and the lack of any kind of political expression naturally forces politically oriented people to go underground and to become radicalized, and then join these Islamist groups."
(RFE/RL's Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh services contributed to this report)
HAMAS Targets Spain
Assyrian International News Agency
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos' efforts earlier this year to remove HAMAS from the European Union's terrorist list, have done little to change HAMAS' agenda. It is not only Palestine that children in the West Bank and Gaza are asked to liberate; now they are asked to liberate Seville. The HAMAS children's magazine, Al-Fateh, in a recent issue, (No. 66), tells the children about the city called Asbilia (Seville) and calls on them to free it, together with the whole country, from the infidels and to reinstate Muslim rule.
This is how the magazine has the city Asbilia (Seville) telling its story to Hamas' children: "Salaam Aleykum my dear beloved. I would like to introduce myself: I am the city Asbilia, the bride of the country Andalus (Spain). In the past I was the Capital of the Kingdom of Asbilia… the Arab Muslims, led by the hero-commander Musa bin Nusair, conquered me in 713, after a siege, which lasted one month.
"In the year 97 of the Muslim calendar, the ruler of Andalus, Ayoub bin Habib al-Lahimi moved the Capital to my sister city, Cordoba… in the year 646 of the Muslim calendar, Ferdinand III besieged me and conquered me after a siege which lasted one year and five months, and that was due to the strength of my fortifications and my walls. This is when the Golden Age of the Muslims ended, and Asbilia (Seville) was lost by the Muslims."
And the story goes on: "However, Muslim cultural expression and symbols still remain witness to the superior Muslim culture on my soil…I yearn that you, my beloved, will call me to return, together with the rest of the lost cities of the lost orchard [Andalus] to the hands of the Muslims so that joy and happiness will fill my land, and you will visit me because I am the bride of the country of Andalus." (emphasis added)
This telling story comes at a time when Hamas, in English, states that its interest is "to liberate occupied Palestine." However, this story to liberate Spain, in Arabic, in a form that children can easily relate to, describes the Fatwa issued by Yusuf Qaradawi on December 2, 2002.
The Egyptian-born Yusuf Qaradawi, an al Azhar University-educated member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who resides in Qatar, is one of the most influential Sunni clerics. The Fatwa, which the children's story reiterates, follows the Muslim Brotherhood's teachings -which also serve as the basis of HAMAS' Charter.
Qaradawi, calls on Muslims to conquer Europe, saying: "Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and a victor after being expelled from it twice -- once from the south, from Andalusia, and a second time, from the east, when it knocked several times on the doors of Athens." Qaradawi ruled that Muslims should re-conquer "'former Islamic colonies' in Andalus (Spain), southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans and the Mediterranean islands."
Indeed, the activities of Radical Islamist movements in Spain are nothing new. Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas was sentenced last September in Madrid, to 27 years in prison for aiding the 9/11 attacks from Spain, and 16 of his co-conspirators were convicted for belonging to al Qaeda. On December 20, 2005, 16 additional al-Qaeda operatives on Spain were arrested for allegedly sending volunteers to wage Jihad in Iraq. These arrests are only the most recent since the March 11, 2004 train bombing in Madrid.
In a series of speeches about the importance of confronting al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq, President George W. Bush acknowledged that their aim is to "establish a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Spain to Indonesia."
However, this ideology is clearly not limited to al Qaeda's terrorists. HAMAS' children magazine, Al Fateh's call to return Seville "to the hands of the Muslims" is no different than that of al-Qaeda's call to establish the Caliphate. Evidently, HAMAS' interests also extend to the liberation and Islamization of all occupied former Muslim territories, according to the dogma of the Muslim Brotherhood from which HAMAS originated.
Apparently encouraged by successful Jihad against Israel, HAMAS is now raising the ante, going international. Just as they have indoctrinated a generation of Palestinian children to commit suicide attacks against Israelis, they are now expanding their targets to include the rest of the Caliphate -- beginning with Spain. It is only a matter of time, before today's Palestinian children, and others exposed to HAMAS' publications start offering themselves up for the next stage of Jihad in Spain.
By Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed--and How to Stop It, Director of American Center for Democracy and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger. She is the world's leading expert on Narco-Terrorism and a noteworthy authority on international terrorism, political corruption, money laundering, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Most recently, she was a consult for the Department of Defense's Threat Reduction Strategy.
Islam’s Imperial Dreams
SSP vows to establish caliphate worldwide
Saturday, April 08, 2006
ISLAMABAD: Activists of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) vowed to establish a global caliphate, beginning with Pakistan.
In a rally attended by thousands of activists of the banned group to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on Friday, leaders of the SSP called for an Islamic theocracy in Pakistan. “The concept of nation state is an obstacle in the way of the establishment of Khilafat. We will start the establishment of Khilafat in Pakistan and then will do so across the world,” said Zaheerul Islam Abbasi, a former general who was sacked and arrested in 1995 for trying to topple the government of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Activists distributed pamphlets in Islamabad preaching jihad and hatred against Shias, as their leaders delivered fiery speeches to a crowd of around 5,000 late on Thursday.
They also sold video compact discs of the beheadings of American soldiers in Iraq, and militant activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the rally, which they said was convened to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) this month. One of the organisers thanked the Islamabad administration for allowing the rally, which was held under floodlights in a bus depot, with hundreds of riot police watching on. SSP is known to have close links with Jaish-e-Mohammad, a militant group fighting in Indian-occupied Kashmir and with links to Al Qaeda.
Some of the crowd briefly chanted anti-Shia slogans, until they were told to refrain by their leaders. They also swore allegiance to their late leader, Maulana Azam Tariq, a fiery pro-Taliban cleric who was assassinated in Islamabad in 2003, and founder of the organisation Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who was killed in 1980s.
Last July, President Pervez Musharraf ordered a major crackdown against clerics and organisations inciting sectarian violence. The SSP was banned by the government in 2002.
The SSP has often been blamed for violence against Shias, planting bombs in mosques or attacking religious processions. Thousands of people have been killed in tit-for-tat attacks by militants from the two sects over the past 20 years. Most of the victims are Shias, who account for about 15 percent of Pakistan’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 150 million.
On Thursday, a prominent Shia Muslim cleric narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Karachi after his car was hit by a remote-controlled bomb Authorities have launched several crackdowns on militant outfits since Pakistan joined a US-led war on terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, but critics say that the steps taken have been half-hearted and many groups have resurfaced under new names.
Like other groups, SSP remerged under the new name of Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan.
Founded in the 1980s, SSP wants Pakistan to be officially declared a Sunni Muslim state.
It had recently been reported in the press that the government might relax some restrictions on the group and allow it to commence political activities in a “very low profile”. Reuters
January 28, 2007
A RADCAL Muslim cleric has urged hundreds of supporters meeting in Sydney's south-west to join a global push to create an Islamic utopia.
Indonesian firebrand cleric Ismail Yusanto outlined his plan for instituting
Sharia law, the absolute form of Islam, to a crowd of about 500 people gathered
at the Khilafah Conference in Lakemba.
The meeting was organised by the Australian arm of the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group widely known for its anti-democratic, anti-Semitic views.
The group believes that it can reduce suffering around the globe by introducing Sharia law and creating an Islamic utopia.
The NSW Government has called on the Commonwealth to follow several European and Middle Eastern countries and ban the group.
Dr Yusanto called on followers to denounce capitalism, warning that if Islam was not followed in his Islamic super-state, jihad would follow.
From the nationalisation of utilities for the on-going funding of a jihadist army to fighting off an ensuing American-led invasion, he told the audience never to let pessimism enter their minds when seeking a utopian state of Islam not seen since 1924.
"Once the program is ready it must be implemented as soon as possible,'' Dr Yusanto said.
"Once successful, the new order would be just the beginning of the new era in the application of Islamic ideology."
The cleric went on to remind his listeners of the ultimate sacrifice in achieving a utopian Islamic state.
"There is no victory and glory without sacrifice and hard work,'' he said.
"No pain no gain.''
Hizb ut-Tahrir is already banned in several European and Middle Eastern countries.
It has also been linked to the 2005 London bombings.
NSW Premier Morris Iemma called on Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock to join countries including Britain and Germany and ban the group.
"This is not a case of someone being different, someone advocating a different point of view,'' he said.
"This is an organisation that is basically saying that it wants to declare war on Australia, our values and our people. That's the big difference.
"And that's why I believe that they are just beyond the pale, enough is enough and it's time for the Commonwealth to review this organisation's status and take the lead from other countries and ban them.''
But Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said government agencies were monitoring Hizb ut-Tahrir, although its activities in Australia did not warrant it being banned.
"Proscription of terrorist organisations is an issue that is dealt with by the Commonwealth after a referral of powers from the states,'' Mr Ruddock said.
Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke called on newly appointed Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews to consider cancelling Dr Yusanto's visa.
"There are clear character provisions in the immigration act that mean that if the Government didn't want Ismail Yusanto here it could have stopped him from coming,'' he said.
"The only reason we have someone in western Sydney right now preaching Sharia law is because the Federal Government chose to allow him to be here.
"My question and my comment to anyone from around the world who hates Australia is simple - if you hate the place, don't come here.''
Why An old Islamic institution resonates with many Muslims today
By Jay Tolson
U.S. News & World Report
Posted January 2, 2008
Osama bin Laden and his fellow jihadists repeatedly claim that the ultimate goal of their violent struggle is to restore the Islamic caliphate, the system of political-religious leadership that originated with the first successor to the prophet Muhammad in the early seventh century. But they are not alone in favoring its return. A number of nonviolent Islamic organizations, such as the pan-Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), champion the same cause. And more than two thirds of people recently polled in four Muslim nations say they support the idea of unifying all Muslim countries in "a single Islamic state or caliphate."
The idea of the caliphate is a poorly understood, vaguely threatening concept in the West. But it is deeply rooted in cultural memory throughout the Muslim world, where the caliphate existed in various forms for almost 1,300 years. By the eighth century, about 100 years after Muhammad's death, the authority of the caliphs extended over parts of three continents, from what is now Pakistan across the Mideast and North Africa to what is now Spain and Portugal."Ninety-four percent of Muslim history took place under the caliphate," says Jamal Harwood, a former chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir's London-based executive committee, giving perhaps the simplest reason his party works to restore the institution that Kemal Ataturk—the founder of modern, secular Turkey—abolished in 1924.
But what does the caliphate really mean to those who claim to favor its return—or, for that matter, to those who oppose it, whether Muslim or not? Does such a proposed restoration involve a practical political agenda, with usable historical precedents? Or is it merely convenient political rhetoric, a slogan and rallying cry for those seeking power or at least change?
While most scholars and analysts conclude that it is mainly the latter, they also say that the "caliphate debate" goes to the heart of the current crisis of authority and leadership in the Islamic world. That crisis is complicated by a view held by many Muslims, and particularly by Islamists, that political and religious authorities are ultimately inseparable.
"The notion of reinstating the caliphate is the way that some Muslims struggle with the colonial and postcolonial situation," says Tamara Sonn, a professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary. "It's the reflection of people's dissatisfaction with politics in the postcolonial Muslim world."
That dissatisfaction traces back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when various Muslim intellectuals sought to reform Islam so that it (and particularly Islamic law, or sharia) could be used as a source of practical social and political guidance. This, they believed, would liberate Muslim societies from European-imposed laws and institutions. Hassan al Banna, the Egyptian schoolteacher and founder (in 1928) of the Muslim Brotherhood, coined the word Islamism to assert the political character of his faith, but he believed he was only trying to recapture the political and spiritual unity of the first four (so-called rightly guided) caliphs, who spread Islam in the years following Muhammad's death in 632.
Global politics. The Brotherhood and its offshoots nevertheless devoted little effort to restoring the caliphate. They focused on welfare projects and the institution of Islamic justice within the structure of the existing nation-states, while only more conservative figures like King Fouad I of Egypt made any effort to revive the caliphal office in the early years after its abolition.
By the 1990s, though, Islamists were changing, having lived through the failure of Pan-Arabism and disappointments with national leaders like Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, who refused to implement Islamic law and cracked down on the Brotherhood, which he saw as a threat to his power. "You begin to see groups that do not see the world according to the state-oriented model of politics," says Georgetown University historian John Voll. "You get postmodern Islamists, notably jihadists, who see politics in a global way...and with Ayman al-Zawahari [the Egyptian physician who became bin Laden's chief strategist], you get the idea of global jihad."
To name the transnational order they now sought to create, the jihadists resorted to the word caliphate as what Voll calls "a term of conceptual convenience."
Hizb ut-Tahrir officials would partly agree with that assessment. "Al Qaeda has never elaborated its meaning of caliphate," says Harwood, a Canadian-born convert to Islam. By contrast, ever since it was founded in 1953 by a Muslim scholar and jurist in Jerusalem, the Hizb ut-Tahrir party has been elaborating its own program (including a provisional constitution) for a modern caliphal state. That agenda includes a popularly elected caliph whose paramount executive function (subject to monitoring by the highest court) would be to guarantee the application of sharia to all areas of civic, economic, and national life. "We don't distinguish between political and religious," says Harwood.
Practically the only area where caliphal oversight would not intrude, it turns out, is in the realm of worship. Hizb ut-Tahrir believes that such freedom would make it possible for Shiites and other minority Muslim sects to live under an office that was, for most of its history, an almost exclusively Sunni institution.
Promoting "ideological struggle" through its many websites and large pro-caliphate conferences (one in Indonesia last summer drew around 100,000 attendees), Hizb ut-Tahrir boasts more than 1 million followers in 40 countries. In November, the group raised its previously low profile in the West Bank by organizing Palestinian protests against the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, which a spokesman denounced as "a conspiracy against the Islamic nation."
The group has been banned in many countries and came under investigation in Britain after London's July 7, 2005, bombings. Zeyno Baran, a program director at the Hudson Institute, sees the organization as an ideological factory and "de facto conveyor belt for terrorists." But many other analysts see it simply as a refuge for disappointed utopians in search of alternatives to capitalism and liberal democracy.
Historically, in fact, the caliphate model poses huge problems, including the crucial schism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that is now playing out so dramatically in Iraq. That schism began with a dispute among the early Muslims over who qualified as a legitimate successor to the Prophet. Those who insisted that only a relative of Muhammad could do so claimed that Ali, the fourth caliph, and his kin were the only legitimate office holders. But the party of Ali (Shiite) lost out to the majority Sunnis, who held that the consensus of the community should determine the selection of the caliph.
Questions about who the caliph should be and what he should do have sparked other controversies, both theoretical and real. The problem begins, Voll says, with the Koran: It never discusses a caliphal office but refers only to Adam as "God's caliph"—a usage that some have taken in an almost environmentalist way to mean God's appointed steward of the Earth.
Spiritual authority. Another contentious question is the amount of spiritual and political authority caliphs actually had. Some historians claim that the first four caliphs exercised even greater religious authority than most standard pro-Sunni accounts suggest, making the office more closely resemble that of the imam in Shiite Islam. At least up to the ninth century, caliphs weighed in on interpretive matters.
But the office started to become more exclusively political in the 10th century. And even the century before, a social class consisting of learned scholars, the ulema, assumed the dominant role of interpreting the sharia. "The job of the caliph was now not to interpret the law," Voll says, "but to enforce what the ulema thought was correct." Even the political authority of the later caliphs grew shaky, particularly when there were simultaneously competing caliphates in different parts of the larger Islamic empire.
Despite debates over such historical realities, is there any reason to think that a new kind of caliphate, something more closely resembling the Roman Catholic papacy, could restore needed authority and order to the currently chaotic situation in which almost any shopfront imam or mullah can issue rulings on life-or-death issues, including the legitimate uses of jihad? Most scholars think not. "I cannot see a caliphate that would be embraced by all Muslims," says Baran. "Hizb ut-Tahrir says it doesn't care where the caliph comes from, but the Brotherhood would say that it has to be a Sunni."
Ebrahim Moosa, a Muslim legal scholar at Duke University, entertains an intriguing idea: a caliphal synod, or assembly of thinkers, with representatives of the laity as well as members of the ulema, collectively recognized as the successor to the teaching authority of the Prophet. Yet Moosa's hypothetical "caliphate redux" cannot withstand even his own pessimism about the real cause of the crisis of authority in the Muslim world: corrupt, authoritarian regimes. "I'm afraid that a caliphal body would be used by existing governments, he says, "and caliphal authority would just end up reinforcing tyranny in religious disguise."
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