It is now routine to talk of a Muslim world in crisis. But an end to the misery appears no closer. Despite experimenting with numerous models and indeed being the subject of recent experiments with liberalism, the autocracy, dictatorships, growing dissent and instability appear no closer resolved. Problems are deep rooted; some even talk of a Middle Eastern ‘exceptionalism’ to describe the region’s apparent inability to move forward. Fresh ideas and approaches are needed if we are to overcome the status quo.
The Caliphate – the Islamic order that governed the Muslim world for centuries – is increasingly presented by Muslims and Islamic movements as key to shaping the future and overcoming the lack of progress and stability that plagues the Muslim world. Some in the West suggest the Caliphate is a pre-modern system unable to deal with current political challenges. But it is our contention that the Caliphate will be a stabilising force for the Muslim world.
These are some of our reasons:
Firstly, the Caliphate system is consistent with – not alien to – the values of the people in the Muslim world. This provides it deep roots and a better chance at working in partnership with its populations because it engages them on a common point of reference and for common goals. But it also means the Caliphate acts as a guarantor for those values considered by Muslims most under threat since its demise. Secular, autocratic regimes that emerged in the Caliphate’s wake significantly curtailed Islamic practice and engineered new readings of Islamic values and history, often imposing views that broke with orthodoxy to demand loyalty to divisive and failed ideologies from Arabism to communism. The import of foreign value systems too is often associated with the threat of eroding deeply Islamic values – ‘western’ values for example are associated with moral and sexual decadence. A political system that credibly protects Islamic values is key to securing public confidence and partnership – and providing the much-needed glue that cements a contract between citizens and their rulers.
Secondly, the Caliphate is an accountable political system whose head is legitimised only through popular consent. That immediately separates it from the current regimes that currently litter the Muslim world, which are unrepresentative, unaccountable and inherently fragile and unstable as a result. With no means of recourse and no channels to express dissent or criticism, peoples’ concerns have become threatening political undercurrents, even threats of rebellion and overthrow. The Caliphate, in striking contrast, engages voices of dissent through the political system by providing extensive channels for accounting all parts of the states’ apparatus as well as a consultative assembly made-up of elected representatives with significant powers.
Thirdly, the loss of the Caliphate brought with it an unprecedented loss of authority and leadership on Islamic issues. The resulting vacuum allowed individuals to unanimously declare themselves spokespersons for Islam, and to become figureheads for merely speaking the rhetoric of anti-colonialism and standing-up to aggressors. This crisis in leadership after the Caliphate dangerously allowed its functions to be dismembered and claimed by virtually anyone who was willing to take them on, from tax collection, to defending Muslim territory (and deciding when and how) to defining the relationship between Islam and other peoples. The Caliphate was the only institution able to provide credible leadership on Islamic issues and the only legitimate Islamic system charged with the responsibility of administering Islamic temporal law and international diplomacy.
Fourth, many of the problems facing the Muslim world are caused or compounded by division. Artificial borders created after ‘independence’ from colonial rule have led to disputes over land, waterways and resources, and been the cause of bloodshed and strife. Furthermore, the deficiencies in resources in these small nation states has prompted Muslim countries to become dependent upon external powers, and not develop the self-reliance that is required for any state to stand on its own feet.
The emergence of the nation state and nationalism has created strangers out of regional neighbours and has also led to the slow disintegration of states that hold multiple ethnicities, or communities, who have continued the demand for independence and thus undermined the overall integrity of the nations they live in. The examples of this across the Muslim world are numerous and is a constant source of unrest and instability. The Caliphate does not consider its population through the prism of ethnicity but rather enshrines the concept of citizenship. It also has an unrivalled history in dealing with different ethnic and religious minorities, much of which has been shattered through the emergence of artificial nation states that have subsequently competed and fought each other over boundaries that lack any historical or Islamic precedent.
The goal of replacing unrepresentative unaccountable rulers with a political system that is neither and which draws on strong ideological commonalities with its people can only be a stabilising force. The Caliphate represents an alternative political vision for the Muslim world and a political system that draws on a strong historical record.