Islamic caliphate revival unnecessary, unrealistic Friday, August 10, 2007
Muhamad Ali, Hawai, Manoa
Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) will host an international caliphate conference on Sunday in Jakarta, inviting speakers from various Islamic organizations. It remains to be seen the extent to which the idea of an international caliphate gains support in Indonesia and the Muslim world, but the revival of the world Islamic caliphate is neither a religious obligation nor a realistic endeavor.
According to the HTI, the caliphate is a form of leadership aimed at unifying all Muslim people around the world, with the objective of implementing Islamic sharia and conducting Islamic proselytizing (da'wa) throughout the world. The Islamic caliphate is a political system with a caliph or imam as the head of government with his deputies and functionaries.
In their reading, the last Islamic caliphate had to end in 1924 when the Ottoman Empire fell during the World War I. For them, the Muslim community today is no longer under the true Islamic leadership that is the caliphate, and they have lived under a secular political order which appears to have failed to meet Islamic needs.
According to them, it is not the existing presidents, monarchs or prime ministers of the nation-states that should lead, serve, and protect the Muslim people. Only one world Islamic leader, a sort of Muslim papacy, should lead Muslims; the caliph has to be trustworthy and should base his policies upon Islamic sharia only.
The goal of this modern caliphate movement remains the unity of both sentiment and politics, which has been a compelling but unrealized dream. Hizbut Tahrir was intellectually founded by Taqiyuddin al-Nabhany (1905-1978) in Lebanon.
He produced a number of works, including Nizham al-Islam (Islamic government) in which he promotes the ideas of Islamic unity, male leadership, of Arabic as the only Islamic language, the punishment for Muslim conversion to other religions.
He also proposed the prohibition of political parties not based on Islam, the unlimited period of the caliph, the definition of jihad as the military force, the shu'ra as the right of Muslims and not the right of non-Muslims, and other ideas.
There is some appeal to unite all Muslims when they feel under siege and they see they are subjugated by "foreign" forces. There is a strong spirit among its leaders and followers to pursue an Islamic order they believe is not being achieved within the existing political order.
The above observation seems to make sense among desperate and utopian Muslim scholars and leaders. However, there is no instruction to create a political caliphate system in the Koran and in the Hadith. The term khalifah in one verse of the Koran denotes vice regent in its general term.
The history of Muslim rulers, imams, sultans, or caliphs, is not a perfect history; Islamic history is not a history without dark sides of its actors; it contains glories and weaknesses, rises and falls, justice and exploitation, successes and crises, integration and conflicts. There is no guarantee that having caliphs solve all problems.
It is misleading to believe that to revive an Islamic political caliphate is a religious obligation for every Muslim. This argument is not based on a sound interpretation of the Koran, the Hadith, and complex Muslim history.
It is also misleading to view Western civilization as the opposite of an Islamic civilization. It is historically untrue to believe that there is one unified Western civilization and that there is only a destructive Western civilization.
There is no such thing as an Islamic civilization without interaction with other civilizations and cultures. There is no such thing as a unique Western civilization without interactions with various cultures. A shared civilization is the rule rather than the exception when Muslims and non-Muslims lived together and protected their common countries.
The caliphate system is more historical than normative; it cannot be seen as a universal practice to be applied today and in the future. A political system has changed and will change according to time and place. To strengthen the ties of the Muslims wherever they may be does not demand such world political unity as caliphate.
It is historically wrong to blame that all rulers in the West were corrupt, despot, and anti-Islamic. Muslim societies had different experiences under non-Muslim rulers. Many Muslims lived peacefully and could be good Muslims under different religious and non-religious rulers. A more objective reading of both Muslim and non-Muslim histories is crucial.
Today the rulers of Muslims as well as others are the presidents, the prime ministers, the governors, the regents, and other titles within different strata. There is no necessary conflict between the Islamic ummah and the nation-state. The meaning of nation varies and changes, but it has a soul or spiritual principle.
It is a community of people who feel that they belong together in the double sense that they share significant elements of a common heritage and that they have a common destiny for the future. The scope of an Islamic ummah can be international, but can also be national, regional, local, and organizational.
The real challenge facing Muslims today is not the unified political leadership such as caliph, let alone with characteristics promoted by scholars unaware of diverse local histories, cultures, and political systems of Muslims, such as in Indonesia.
Strong, clean and good governance, improved education, cleanness and health, law and order, and other more fundamental issues can be achieved within the existing nation-state system. The real challenges for Muslims today include law enforcement without the formalization of sharia, cultural empowerment without changing the basic political system of the Indonesian nation-state. Other challenges are how to strengthen civil society, and the consolidation of civilized democracy with strong and good governance. Muslims today do not need a caliphate to solve their real problems.
Criticisms against the revival of the caliphate are usually attacked as cynical, secular, anti-Islamic, Islamophobic, and given other labels. If this still comes from some people, they need to reread and reexamine their interpretations of the Koran, the Hadith, Muslim history, and world history, by developing more objective and contextual interpretations.