Islamic Caliphate: Myth or Reality

The Idea of Caliphate in Islam:

Earlier in time around the seventh century, the Islamic world had taken the lead in sciences, philosophy, politics, government and propagation of institutions of education and learning in the world.

Europe lived in the dark ages and Christianity was monopolized by the clergy and confined to inside the great basilicas in Vatican and elsewhere. The classical collusion of nobility and spirituals to exploit the poor worked greatly in favor of the rich and the mighty.

The expanding Islamic world was awakening not only to the need of survival, but also to development. The exemplary rule of the great leader of Islam, Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, followed by the just rule of the four Caliphs of Islam, the immediate followers of the traditions of the Prophet, had set the highest possible standards for governance. This era can be called the true era of the Islamic Caliphate, where there were no kings, no emperors and where no leader was appointed based on bloodline. The Caliph was no different than the ordinary citizens; he was only more pious, more just and more dedicated.

Geographic Expansion:

But the Islamic world was expanding in geography. From Spain to the borders of China, all along the northern stretch of the African continent, minor Asia, the Middle East, Persia, Baktria and a major part of northern India as well as Central Asia had come under domination of the Islamic Caliphates of Amavids and Abasids. These Caliphs who found themselves farther and father everyday from the flanks of their Caliphate slowly became alienated from their subjects. Greed, conspiracy, envy, and other ills that historically had befallen great empires crept into the administration of the Caliphates that were mostly run by men from the conquered lands rather than the person of the Caliphs. The Islamic Caliphate turned into an empire the ruling of which, as a unit became more difficult everyday.

Self Rule as a Solution to the Unitary Rule of the Caliphs:

The conquered people while embracing the holy religion of Islam slowly discarded the Unitarian rule of the Caliphs who decided on the fate of their subjects mostly from afar and without due representation. From the land of the Afghans, then called Khurasan, rose the first voices of freedom lovers who wanted to free their lands and people from the centralized rule of the Caliphs.

Thus over time, people living in this vast geographical area claimed their independence one by one and regained their national identity as well as determined their own fates, keeping the holy religion and working on its further development in their institutions of learning in Balkh, and Bostam and Marv and Naishapur and Tabriz and Bukhara and other parts of Central Asia and Egypt and even in India and elsewhere. Muslims all over the world took pride in their spiritual beliefs and upheld dearly the Islamic faith as the holiest of gifts from God. They like the famous Afghan Kings such as Mahmoud of Ghazni and Ahmad Shah Abdali of Kandahar, in Afghanistan helped geographical dissemination of Islam with great sacrifices in the sub-continent of India.

Sayed Jamaluddin, the Philosopher:

When the Turkish Ottoman Sultans gained more power, they became the heirs of the Islamic Caliphate and ruled ruthlessly over most of the Islamic lands including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It was under the rule of Sultan Abdul Hameed Pasha that the great Afghan philosopher, teacher, politician and journalist, Sayed Jamauluddin Afghani became Advisor to the Turkish Sultan. He observed the intricacies of the court of the Pasha and the inadequacies of his Caliphate complete with court rivalries and other ills. Afghani, through his extensive travels in Asia, Africa, Europe and the sub-continent of India had found out that the Islamic world was vastly divided and that their rulers had become dictators and the courts had become corrupt letting the courtiers engage in deceit and conspiracy to the detriment of the masses of their subjects. He had also observed the shift of the centers of power from the Islamic world to that of Western Europe and the emerging colonial designs mostly by Britain and other West European nations in Africa and Asia. He was of the opinion that a revival of the Caliphate, in its true nature, just, peaceful, and compassionate would be a solution and that such a Caliphate could best operate from somewhere on or near the land of the Afghans. He had great plans for the liberation of the oppressed and colonized Islamic people from the yoke of their colonial rulers and wanted to implement those policies with the help and power of the Ottoman Empire under Abdul Hameed. He was also well aware of the rivalries of the Western European colonial powers and wanted to use this fact for the liberation of their colonies. Some scholars rank him as the father of a school of thought called Salafism, which aimed at reforming the religious practices and old traditions with a view of making them compatible with new developments in science and technology as they believed was the intention of the great Prophet of God, Mohammad, peace be upon him.

The great Islamic thinker did not live to implement his plans to the full and died of cancer in Istanbul. His remains were brought to his homeland almost a century later. He had also died of frustration over the apathy of the Islamic countries toward their own freedom and development. He had reached a conclusion as is evident in an article he wrote in Dari language in Herat in the middle of the 19th century in which he says after a thorough study of the world he had concluded to take refuge in the grace of God and remain a follower of his great prophet, Mohammad, peace be upon him. He had seen that his plans for the greater and wiser Caliphate than that of the Ottoman Empire was hard to achieve mainly because of the policies and intrigues of the colonial powers of the day and the ignorance of the masses in the Islamic world. He had however, left behind students like Saad Zaghlol and Mohammad Abdu of Egyp who worked for the liberation of minds and peoples of the colonial countries from the yoke of colonialism. However, while the great Afghani was ready for the creation of a United Islamic Front against colonial designs, the Islamic world was not. Is it today?


Later in the second half of the twentieth century, when many of the colonized countries had gained their independence in following the example of Afghanistan that gained her independence from Britain in 1919, a new kind of colonialism emerged. This time the fighting was not wholly by weapons, but economic domination was used to subjugate nations. The thirst of the Western industrial nations and Japan for raw material and energy was behind the new shift in policy. By then the Islamic world had become economically weak, and had lagged behind in education and technology. It is true that the colonial powers of the yore and their neocolonialist heirs helped in keeping the Islamic world under their rule in relative ignorance and divided as this met their own objectives of continued domination over them.

Poverty, Illiteracy and Loss of Emphasis on the High Values of Islam:

Islamic scholars engaged only in teaching of Arabic and strict religious rules in the day-to-day practice of Islam. The spiritual leaders and teachers in many Mosques and Maddrassas ignored Islamic philosophy, compassion, and ideas of peaceful coexistence, humanity and encouragement for acquiring of natural sciences. The Maddrassas continued to produce Islamic religion technicians and did not meet the need for training of religious scholars. Many Islamic nations suffered from the highest illiteracy rates and remained uninformed about developments elsewhere that had been brought about due to new discoveries in science and technology. Followers of some other religions found it easier to utilize all this backwardness helped by forces of reaction within Islamic communities to rekindle religious rivalries and exploit the situation.

Poverty and illiteracy fueled by superstition as well as lethargy of the so called Islamic leaders led to a sad situation where many Muslims out of desperation joined extreme religious movements who fed them with the idea that the backwardness of the Islamic world was only due to the policies of the colonial powers. This they found easier to accept than the true blame of their own lethargic stands. Blame placing is a psychological tool in the hands of the guilty.

How is it Now?

The Islamic world is divided. It is divided by Arab-non-Arab composition; it is divided by Sunni and Shiite sects; it is divided by affluence and poverty; it is divided by the allegiance of its members to one or other foreign power with vested interests and designs. Efforts for unity, as the failed experience of the great Egyptian leader, the late Jamal Abdul Nassir who together with Hafiz Asad of Syria and Moamar Qadafi of Libya, worked on the creation of the United Arab Republic consisting of Egypt, Syria and Libya, frustrated efforts for further thoughts of unity among the Arab nations. The futile and pointless war between Iraq and Iran immediately after the Islamic Revolution in Iran showed the depth of the differences in opinion between the rulers of rich Islamic nations who would spend billions on war rather than millions to feed their own hungry. The physically difficult unity between East and West Pakistan ended with the separation of the two countries. The so called Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union had been driven, by communist designs, farther and farther from Islamic traditions and values. The Islamic Revolution of Iran led by Immam Khumaini did little to bring the Islamic world closer to each other. Extremism and fundamentalism resulted in the alienation of the Islamic Ummah from the basic principles of Islamic compassion, moderation, toleration and peaceful coexistence. The richer Islamic countries directed their attention to making friends with the Western consuming nations who are the main customers of their mineral and oil wealth. The Organization of the Islamic Conference remained just an organization for the sake of its empty name. The Arab League too, could do little to overcome the vast problems of the Arab nations and or anything to help bring peace to the Middle East or help the Palestinians work out amicable solution to their protracted problem with Israel. Many of the most important Arab countries are friends with the United States and Britain and could exert efforts in mediating peace in the Middle East. What is preventing them from taking a decisive stand in this regard? And is this a foundation upon which a united Islamic World can be built?

What do the Extremists Say?

Some quarters of late have started to talk about an Islamic Caliphate as the SOLUTION to the problems the Islamic world faces today. While Islam is one of the fast growing religions in the Western Hemisphere, later events tend to push brakes on the progress. Contrary to the feelings of the vast majority of Muslims around the world, these quarters press for fundamentalism, which unfortunately is equated in the Western world with terrorism. Thus these people feed fuel to the fire of alienating Islamic religion from the world public opinion. Muslims would be wrong if they believe that recent incidents of terror have not stained the good name of their religion, It is strange that Islamic scholars, the intelligentsia and those leaders who have acquired power because of Islam have done nothing or do little to elevate the status of Islam in the world and convince world public opinion that Islam is a religion that founded peaceful coexistence, toleration and humanity during the years of its advent and in later times.

Islamic Caliphate and the Question of a Foundation:

A distinguished writer Abid Ullah Jan on April 30, 2005 wrote an article that began with this abstract: “Two kinds of forces are fast emerging: the forces for bringing about the pan-Islam federation or the establishment of the now inevitable single Islamic entity, and the forces determined to break up even the existing units that are considered strong enough to provide some kind of impetus to the creation of such a State.”

He proposes a unity of the Islamic world at par with the federations in America and or European Union, ignoring the fact that the above are based on a secular philosophy and that in these federations and Unions religion plays no role. In his proposition, religion will be the main theme. In his article, he has however, sided with the former forces that favor establishment of a pan-Islamic federation. The writer makes assumptions and comparisons that are hard to comprehend. His article titled “Pashtuns and Palestinians: On Two Fronts of the Same War,” is an attempt mainly to please hardliners and Islamic parties in Pakistan. From his article one gets the idea that a big war is on from the easternmost shores of the Mediterranean all the way to the land of the Pashtuns and that both ends comprise the borders of the Islamic world, which is at war with the West. In reality the Pashtuns do not make the easternmost flank of the Islamic world. A great majority of Islamic population lives in Bangla Desh and Indonesia. That is not to mention the hundreds of millions of Muslims living in India and China. He then describes some of the shortcomings of the Pashtuns and says: “ they have accepted the defunct Durand Line — the scratch across Pashtun heart — as an international boundary across which two distinct people are living, which is not the case.” In reality the Pashtuns have not ratified the Durand Line and at least at two legislative meetings in Afghanistan during King Amanullah and also in 1948, Afghanistan where majority of its population consists of Pashtuns rejected the Durand Line. The line has been treated nothing more than an arbitrary border line dividing Pashtuns on both sides. The one hundred and twelve years after the drawing of the line by a British Officer Mr. Durand, have not been able to legitimize the arbitrary line drawn by British who had their own designs for drawing it. He further makes another assumption about Pashtuns and writes:” they have become part of the Muslim majority that doesn’t care about their claim to believing in Allah, his Messenger PBUH and the Qur’an.”
To say this would mean ignoring the heroic Afghan nation including a majority of Pashtun Afghans who stood up valiantly against the Soviet atheistic invasion of their land and imposition of an atheistic communist regime in their country. To say this would mean that Pakistani nation’s support of the Afghan true Jihad against communism was only a myth. It would also mean that the Afghans including a majority of Pashtuns did not fight for their religion because they did not believe in Allah?

The article then talks about the indifference of the Pashtuns on either side of the defunct Durand Line in fate of their brethren on the other side and then he draws parallels between Pakistani authority coercion against Pashtuns and Israeli excesses against Palestinians. The nature of the problems of the two peoples mentioned by him is so different that any comparison stands up as an anomaly of thought. Pashtuns on the Afghan side have taken a keen interest in the life of their brethren in Pakistan for over half a century when Afghan people and governments, day in and day out, voiced their support for the right to self determination of the Pashtuns in Pakistan and the Pashtuns in Pakistan proved their sympathy by opening their homes and hearts to the millions of refugees who poured in their areas as a result of the Soviet occupation. Is this not a clear proof of solidarity?

Playing the Taliban Card:

The article further states: “Those who are determined not to allow Muslims to get united and re-establish Khilafah or a single Islamic State or just a Union of Islamic countries on the pattern of European Union with one currency, one army and one foreign policy, know the important role that Pakhtoon can play in this regard.” He further says:
“The Taliban’s emergence on the scene and the Pan-Islamic interest they generated in this regard was a warning signal for the Islamophobes. Regardless of all the charges against the Taliban, close observers can remember how scientists, social workers, businessmen and people from all walks of life were flocking towards the burgeoning Pashtun movement for re-establishing the Eastern flank of Islamic state at the very least.” This assumption seems out of place, as there is no concrete move at present for the establishment of a pan-Islamic federation by any viable state or movement. The extremist movements from Algeria to Indonesia including the Islamic brotherhood was not able to find their way into the hearts of the Islamic masses since they preached violence instead of peace and want to build the unity of their own design with the blood of the innocent. These movements comprise only a small fraction of the Muslim population of the world, the majority of whom would prefer peace and reason for the solution of local and global problems. Therefore assuming that there are forces that prevent the creation of such a state is just a play of words. Furthermore, to credit Taliban regime with the foresight of planning a pan-Islamic state is at the least an extremely surprising proposition. Taliban was nothing than a reactionary force that not only harmed their nation, their citizens and their own purposes, but also inflicted damage to the otherwise highly respectable attitude towards Islam in the world. They failed drastically to realize a viable state administration because of their ignorance of the basic fundamentals of governance and international relations. How could the world of Islam entrust them with the leadership of a pan-Islamic state? He then says that a majority of educated people and technocrats rushed to help Taliban government. On the contrary, Taliban alienated the scholars and the intelligentsia of Afghanistan and the group of people that helped Taliban with its bureaucracy consisted of Pakistani officials who even attempted at running the day-to-day affairs of the ministries under Taliban in Afghanistan.

And finally the writer throws the responsibility of leading a pan-Islamic movement and making of a global Islamic federation on the shoulders of the Pashtuns who make only the smallest fraction of the world Muslim population of almost one and half billion. He does this while his article has consistently blamed the Pashtuns for errors, mistakes and shortcomings. An ardent student of politics would therefore have to ponder over why would a distinguished writer put up rather shallow propositions forward? Could it be that Pakistani politics that failed to keep a government of its own creation in Afghanistan wants to revert to the tactic of nourishing extremist tendencies among the neighboring country’s population who have just been accorded a chance to rebuild their lives over the ashes of a quarter of a century’s wars and devastation.

When Would the Islamic World be Ready for a Federation of Sorts?

Revival of an Islamic World Federation, a United Muslim States, or a Union of Islamic States sounds great and perhaps worth a thorough consideration. But building of any structure requires a foundation. That foundation is missing at present. The Islamic Conference Organization, and not the Pashtun nation by itself, needs to be activated in such a way as to assess and reassess a joint stand in an insecure and unjust world for Muslim nations and giving strength to the Islamic voice, which is as strong as almost one quarter of the world population. The foundation should also be built upon improving systems of education in Islamic countries so that Muslims catch up on sciences and technology with the rest of the world and reap the benefit of miraculous achievements in this 21st century in fields of technology. The richer Muslim nations should learn how to use and invest their economic wealth for purposes of further development in the Islamic world, in eliminating poverty, ignorance and disease, the true enemies of societies throughout history. They should show the world that Muslims, through reason and policy, can bring about peace and economic recovery to their own societies and to the world at large. They should gradually and wisely plan for economic and technical independence for their countries and peoples and should as a world force of reason bring peace and justice to all peoples and nations including Islamic oppressed masses. Only then can the Muslims plan for a united federation in the Islamic world. The Afghan nation and its Afghan leaders including those of Pashtun stock would definitely take part in the creation and leadership of such unity as and when situations become favorable. Presently, they are left with the great task of rebuilding a nation and a country that was destroyed mercilessly by a protracted and imposed war. 7/15/05