Support for the Caliphate isn’t support for ISIS

Dr Abdul Wahid is the Chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain's executive committee

Abdul Wahid from Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain says Mehdi Hasan’s recent article about the Caliphate is a regurgitation of Neo Con myths.

Mehdi Hasan’s previous articles didn’t impress Paul Dacre into giving him a Daily Mail column. But his recent blog [The Hand-Choppers of ISIS Are Deluded: There Is Nothing Islamic About Their Caliphate] might just punch the ticket.

It is true that like many Muslims (bar those anointed and funded by Michael Gove), he has been attacked as being an apologist for “extremism” and a closet “fundamentalist” for some of his views.

Yet sadly, in this piece – full of inaccuracies, omissions and red herrings – he has adopted the simplistic narrative of the extremist Neo Cons who often attack him – a narrative most politicians and media have swallowed – which regularly conflates political Islam with violence and “terror.”

The ISIS announcement of a Caliphate lacked the detailed conditions required for legitimacy – which is why many scholars, groups and others who view the matter of the Caliphate with gravity have not taken the announcement seriously.

However, Medhi goes beyond criticising ISIS and its announcement of a Caliphate instead launching an attack on the institution of the Caliphate. He even appears to argue against the role of Islam in anything outside the personal sphere.

He made several substantive points in his blog that are worth addressing, positioning them alongside old and fallacious arguments about assassinations and violence to attack the Caliphate’s legitimacy (Imagine historians dismissing American civilization because four American presidents, including icons like Lincoln and Kennedy, had been assassinated; or because hundreds of thousands were killed in the American Civil war).

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Islamic state

Firstly, he says there is nothing Islamic about a “state” (even arguing the Islamic faith doesn’t require an Islamic state) saying “there is not a shred of theological, historical or empirical evidence to support the existence of such an entity”.

Had he looked at fourteen centuries of Islamic juristic consensus he would not have been short of evidence showing the centrality of the Caliphate to Islam. One brief publication we issued some years ago listed many scholarly opinions and arguments on the subject.

Mehdi Hasan argues there is nothing Islamic about a state
Mehdi Hasan argues there is nothing “Islamic” about a state

Had he even bothered to look at a standard reference for academics – such as the thirteen-volume Brill Encyclopedia of Islam (compiled over several years by a number of leading Western authorities on Islamic theology and history) he would have found it says regarding the Caliphate that “major points in the fully developed Sunni doctrine were the following: The establishment of an imam is permanently obligatory on the community…There can be only a single imam at any time.”

Indeed, even when quoting Imam Shatibi, Mehdi failed to explain that it is the Caliphate that is the vehicle that fully enacts the protection of religion, life, reason, honour and property that Shatibi espoused. Individuals by definition cannot police themselves, educate societies or provide economic opportunities.

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and supporter of Senator John McCain, once spoke of “a civilization that was the greatest in the world. It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention … While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600.”

Well, at least the evidence didn’t elude her!


Secondly, Mehdi argues most Muslims do not want an ISIS-style state.

The choice isn’t an ISIS state or no Caliphate.

Several polls over several years illustrate Muslim views on this subject are far more nuanced than people give credit for. One poll by the University of Maryland in 2007 across several Muslim countries cited support for a unified Caliphate at nearly 70%.

The "Islamic State" has declared the restoration of the Khilafah
The “Islamic State” has declared the restoration of the Khilafah

Others have shown that Muslims want to see Shari’ah Law (in every aspect not just the penal code) implemented in the Muslim world – and that they see their primary identity is as a Muslim, not as a Pakistani, Jordanian, or any other national identity first and foremost.

At the same time, the poll evidence suggests most Muslims see no inherent tension between the above matters and living in a modern world, with science and technology, and shun authoritarian rule. Even when polls simultaneously cite support for “democracy,” when taken with the above matters it can be read as support for an elected accountable government – rather than democracy as understood in the West.

The conclusion that Muslims are fed up with Western-imposed borders, Western-supported autocrats and Western intervention to maintain the status quo is understandable.

So why wouldn’t they want a Caliphate that institutionalizes this core identity and enacts laws consistent with their core beliefs?

Political Islam

Finally, Mehdi argues politicised Islam has proved to be a failure.

He extrapolates this from groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and al Shabab saying they have no political programme. Armed groups are armed groups. Their failure to have a political programme is not a failure of political Islam. You cannot dismiss everyone through guilt by association – the same narrative that labels mainstream Muslims as “extremists” because they do not believe in aspects of Islam that are not secular liberal norms.

Groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir do have a serious blueprint and don’t believe that running a modern state should be viewed lightly. Our concept of the politics of Islam is about “looking after the affairs” mentioned by many Islamic scholars over the centuries. We are aware of the serious issues such as law and order, economic inequality and scientific underachievement in the Muslim world. And we don’t believe secular democracy has a monopoly on elections!

Like Mehdi, I’ll end with a prediction. The status quo in the Middle East – full of autocrats, monarchies and failed hybrid models – in the words of the former US state department spokesman Philip Crowley – “has as much chance of survival as an ice cream cone in the desert”.

The debate is not about ISIS. It is about the future of the Muslim world. Shallow articles rubbishing Islam’s institutions and political thought aren’t the order of the day. What is needed is a serious look at what the real Caliphate would offer the region, which is so much in need of a change.


Abdul Wahid is the current chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s UK-Executive committee.

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