Caliphate or Islamic State? The Dilemma

Caliphate or Islamic State? The Dilemma

Prof. Javid Ahmad Dar
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, India

Image Attribute: ISIS Fighter in Iraq in a propaganda video / Source: Screen grab from Wikipedia

Image Attribute: ISIS Fighter in Iraq in a propaganda video / Source: Screen grab from Wikipedia

Diversity is a beauty and should be endured. The Islamic State faces this question profusely, as a fact of the world. There is an increasing realization of the pervasive 'differences' in the world, and as such the slogans of 'end of history' have proved too immature even in the wake of the collapse of former USSR. Being blind to history, all accounts of 'end of history' coming from anywhere featuring burdened exclusion-ism tend to behave in similar ostrich ways. Islamic State religiously closes eyes to lessons of history including Islamic history. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in some ways, proves 'clash of civilizations' right, but it is not the only way Muslims organize themselves in religion, and in society. South and South-East Asia shows a reasonable trend; though not popular as Arabization is. The ISIS grossly neglects the vast intellectual engagement which Islamic scholars had with the issues of the modern world. The issues of caliphate and democracy are central to the understanding of global collective life. 

The ISIS propagates ‘caliphate’ yet calls herself ‘state’. The state, conventionally understood, is a well-defined territorial unit capable of running her affairs autonomously. Contrarily, religions are not bordered ‘entities’ rather claim extra-territoriality. In comparison to religions, the state is purely a human innovation that emerged as a popular category (nation-state) of a particular type of human association in the post-1650’s Europe. Common to all states of the world is coercive apparatus to implement the state laws that do not warrant peoples’ consent, generally. While as following laws of the land is involuntary (violation is a crime), religion and observance of the religious laws are voluntary. The Shari'a is agreeably consent-based religious law and cannot be forcibly implemented. The coercive application of Shari'a through the state will dilute the very foundational character of it, that is, consent. Islam and politics cannot be separated from each other as it provides the ethical foundation for the political processes, legislation, and public policy, but State and Islam must not be one. Without such a necessary distinction, the ISIS mixes the two. That is why it carries a double standard: ‘caliphate’ and ‘state’. Apart from this conceptual issue, there are some other pertinent practical problems asking for a serious consideration.

Who ought to be caliph? Should he belong to a particular family or be of a particular lineage? Or the qualification, as tradition says, is simple: appoint the ‘best’? If there are many a ‘best’, how to choose the best; there are ambiguities. A saying of Prophet Muhammad that is reported in Bukhari restricts Caliphate only to the Arab Quresh dynasty (the family he himself belonged to). It is for this hadith, the Shia’s have argued from the very beginning that only the progenies of Prophet Muhammad should rule. Thus emerges a point of controversy: who should rule versus what should rule? For some, it is caliph (a true guide and ‘infallible Imam’, as Shias, look upon Ali Ibn Abi-Talib) or Shari'a (as traditionalist Sunni argue for) [1]. How far is the first possible is evident from even recent past when Khomeini established Vilayat-i-faqih believing that the ‘hidden’ Imam would show the true path through ulema immediately after Islamic Revolution in Iran [2]. In case of the latter, the two set of problems arise: some argue that the Shari'a precisely guides the personal and social ethical system and has limited role in public political life and secondly, the Shari'a backed by the ‘modern’ state (as we have today) implemented as a State Law will lose the (voluntary) character of being a religious law (as discussed above).

There is also no a definite procedure of election/selection or appointment of a caliph. The first four caliphs, who are said to be the ideal caliphs of Islam (all others with an exception of Umar bin Abdul Aziz are actual caliphs), did not follow a uniform procedure. Abu Bakar, the first caliph, was appointed through a community consensus (Ijmah); (though there was some dissent against his selection) [3]. It is not clear whether all the members did participate and some sort of franchise adopted. Abu-Bakar designated Umar bin al-Khitab as caliph of Islam during his caliphate and Usman ibn ‘Affan was appointed by a committee. And Ali ibn Abi Talib was appointed by an assembly of people. The embryonic stage and the relatively small population made this somewhat ‘direct’ system in some cases and some sort of collegium in other possible. And add the popularity of these privileged four (Rashidun) as life-long companions of Prophet Muhammad among the newly converted Muslims of the age. One must not be blind to the context in which it was ‘successfully’ practiced (even these years were not short of mutual tussle and conflicts that consumed lives of hundreds of Muslims including three among first four caliphs and grandsons of Prophet) [4]. The subsequent history is a bitter lesson.

About the Author:

Prof. Javid Ahmad Dar, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India.

Cite this Article:

Ahmad Dar J. (2017) Islamic State: The Problems. J Pol Sci Pub Aff 5: 246. doi:10.4172/2332-0761.1000246


This is an excerpt republished from an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.


[2] Hizb ut-Tahrir  (25th March 1996 ) The American Campaign to Suppress Islam.

[4] Tocqueville AD, Mayer JP (1969) Democracy in America.
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