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Radical Islamism and Jihad ( 9 Nov 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Refuting ISIS Concept of Caliph and Caliphate [Khalifa and Khilafah] – Part 1

By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqi, New Age Islam

10 November 2021

Is The Declaration Of A Caliphate By ISIS Legitimate?

Main Points

1.    ISIS claimed to have built a Caliphate "on the Prophetic methodology."

2.    Whether the caliphate is a religious necessity or merely a political decision has long been a point of contention among Muslim scholars and jurists.

3.    The texts on the Sunni Caliphate and Shi’a Imamate were written in the context of political conflict among religious sects.

4.    The caliphate, like all other political systems, is the result of human endeavour and is subject to territorial and circumstantial changes as well as historicism.

5.    Even if the terms "caliphate" and "caliph" are deleted from Muslims’ daily lives, their faith is unaffected.

6.    Living in accordance with Islam does not require us to return to the Middle Ages or to give up our current identities.

7.    The changes of the last two centuries have necessitated a re-examination of how everything works. As a result, the manner Islamic law is applied must alter to reflect this shift.



(Representational Photo/ISIS)


The waves of extremism that appear from time to time are one of the greatest dangers that Islamic societies face today. Islam has never faced such fierce internal hostility as it does now. As a result of this never-ending tide of extremism and bloodshed, most Muslim countries are now facing political, economic, and social crises. Thousands of homes were demolished, as were mosques, Islamic schools, and Sufi shrines, leaving millions of Muslim children orphaned and millions of women widowed. As the entire world is aware, extremism and so-called jihad and caliphate movements have affected Muslims the most in the modern period.


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ISIS, the most recognisable of these extremist groups, has wrought so much havoc in the Muslim world that looting and bloodshed have become regular. The destructive ideology of ISIS is founded on a complex system of fallacies that remove sacred scriptures from their context, as well as a number of crafty stratagems that cherry-pick from the corpus of Islamic law what suits their twisted minds. Islamic scholars therefore must routinely and intellectually refute this deviant mindset.

We'll present a slew of facts to demolish the narratives of ISIS and expose their violation of Sharia (Islamic law) in this series, bringing to light proofs that are generally inaccessible to the average Muslim readers. This series will progress through a series of well-crafted arguments demonstrating that the so-called “Islamic State” is neither Islamic nor a state, but rather a deviant bunch of criminals driven by rage, hatred, and a craving for power who use Islam as a ruse to achieve their objectives. This part will particularly conclude that ISIS’ claims to a caliphate are illegitimate and that denouncing and combating them is a legal obligation for Muslim scholars in order to demolish their criminal institution.

Is The Declaration Of A Caliphate By ISIS Legitimate?

Giving their atrocious crimes Islamic legitimacy, ISIS frequently references the Quran and hadith (prophetic sayings), without concern for their own conduct. Without a legitimate Islamic foundation for their so-called Caliphate and self-proclaimed Caliph, what credibility does ISIS have? Their acts simply depict a sectarian, brutal, and spiteful terrorist organisation that has nothing to do with the lovely character and lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They employ Islamic discourse as a means of acquiring worldly power and establishing control of territory.


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Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi is correct when he says:

“The declaration of the self-proclaimed Caliphate on June 29, 2015, demonstrates the power struggle behind ISIS. The declaration came weeks after the capture of Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, on June 10, months after they had taken al-Raqqa in Syria and al-Anbar in Iraq, and surprisingly some eight years after they established their Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) on October 15, 2006. This is very strange behaviour—why this eight-year delay in declaring the ISIS Caliphate? The explanation for this discrepancy lies in the conflict between ISIS and Al-Qaida (AQ). AQ's representative in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), was supported by ISI since 2012, and when the latter declared the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) on April 8, 2013, and included AQ-JN in their State, a bloody conflict arose between AQ-JN and ISIS. AQ’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri supported AQ-JN against ISIS. Naturally, AQ was more known than ISIS at that time. Accordingly, declaring a Caliphate on June 29, 2014, was the only way ISIS could supersede AQ as the premier Jihadi organisation and the continuation of the legacy of Usama Bin Laden—and they could not have claimed this religious legitimacy and reputation without hiding under the Islamic cover and rhetoric of being the Caliphate.” (Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi, Refuting ISIS, A Rebuttal of Its Religious and Ideological Foundations, p. 23, Published by Sacred Knowledge)

After proclaiming the so-called Caliphate, their self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claimed to have built a Caliphate "on the Prophetic methodology." Following that, they regularly published pieces in their English journals Dabiq and Rumiya encouraging individuals to pledge allegiance to their so-called Caliphate.

Let us now use ISIS quotes to demonstrate that ISIS is opposed to the very prophetic methodology they claim to represent. ISIS says the following about the declaration of the caliphate and its methodology:

“On the first of Ramadan 1435H, the revival of the Khilafah was announced by the spokesman for the Islamic State, Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani ash-Shami.”...  Adnani said, “Rest assured, O soldiers of the Islamic State, for we – by Allah’s permission – will carry on upon the manhaj (methodology) of the imam Shaykh Usamah, the amir of the istishhadiyin, Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi, the founder of the State, Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi, and its war minister Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir. We will never alter nor change until we taste what they tasted.”... “And when Amirul-Mu'minin Abu 'Umar al- Baghdadi ... gained shahadah [martyrdom] alongside Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir....the Islamic State did not waver, rather its leadership unanimously pledged allegiance to Amirul-Mu'minin Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi...” (Dabiq, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th issues, also cited in Refuting ISIS by Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi, p.24)


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It is apparent that the methodology of ISIS is inspired by Usama Bin Laden, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the five leaders named above. A comparison of Prophet Muhammad’s life to the conduct of the above-mentioned sectarian leaders is an affront to our Messenger's majesty, and no rational person can claim that these five persons were following Prophetic Methodology, as Shaykh Yaquobi has brilliantly stated, “It is enough to mention that the Prophetic Methodology prohibits the killing of civilians, which none of the above mentioned can claim to have followed. I would also like to emphasize that ISIS, in making Usama Bin Laden its leader, has weakened itself as Bin Laden's AQ organization has been fighting against ISIS since 2013. How can ISIS follow Bin Laden when his followers are killing ISIS' followers? This is a perfect example of the confused minds in ISIS.” (Refuting ISIS by Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi, p.25)

ISIS has leveraged the narrative of resurrecting the caliphate to recruit militants and migrants from all across the Muslim world. It is portrayed as the ideal home for Muslims, one in which Sharia rules and principles are ‘preserved’, and their rights and dignity are ‘restored.’ It claims that its “caliphate” is the sole authentic “Islamic state” and governance system. “All parties based on communism, secularism, nationalism, and liberalism; proponents of democracy and those who participate in the democratic process are kafir (apostates)” it declared. (Quoted from an ISIS brochure titled Haazihi Aqeedatuna wa Haaza Manhajuna, which translates to “This is our creed and our path”). As a result, all Muslims are urged to relocate to IS-controlled territory, “because Hijrah [emigration] to the land of Islam is obligatory.” (Dabiq, Issue 1, The Return of Khilafah, July 2014) 

ISIS’ claims are debatable because Islam does not mandate a definite style of government. The construction of “caliphate” governance is not explicitly stated in the Quran. The Quranic verses that mention the Khalifah (caliph) are as follows:


Also Read:  Investigating and Refuting the Black Flag and Khorasan Narrative Propagated by IS and Al-Qaeda Jihadists


“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed, I will make upon the earth a vicegerent (Khalifah)." They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?" Allah said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know.” (2:30)

“[We said], "O David, indeed We have made you a vicegerent upon the earth, so judge between the people in truth and do not follow [your own] desire, as it will lead you astray from the way of Allah." Indeed, those who go astray from the way of Allah will have a severe punishment for having forgotten the Day of Account.” (38:26)

Vicegerent translates Khalifah, which can also mean “successor” or “deputy”, resulting in khalifatu Rasul Allah, or “successor/steward of God's Messenger”. Khalifah appears to suggest a universal human inheritance and obligation in some verses, such as 6:165 and 38:26 because all human beings are the Khalifah of God in their inner actuality. In others, the concept of "successor" emerges (e.g., 7:69, which refers to vicegerents after the people of Noah). The verses 7:74, 10:14, 10:73, 27:62, and 35:39 are also relevant.  Some commentators (Mufassirin) say that the term Khalifah comes from the Arabic word Khalafa, which means “to come after,” implying that humans come after all other species and that all stages of existence are summed up in the human condition.

Prophet Adam was sent to earth as a vicegerent (Khalifah) of God. According to Tafsir al-Jalalayn, a classical Sunni Shafei Tafseer of the Quran, verse 2:30 means that mankind should represent his creator by celebrating His praise and worshipping His Holiness by his deserved presence as human beings. Allah advises Prophet David in verse 38:26 to rule with truth and fairness and not to be misled by his desires while making a decision.

Whether the caliphate is a religious necessity or merely a political decision has long been a point of contention among Muslim scholars and jurists. They also disagreed over the specific meanings of a number of texts maintained by some jurisprudential schools [Fiqhi Mazahib].

Following the Prophet’s demise (623 AD), some delegates gathered at Saqifat Bani Saada and a debate arose between the two communities, the Meccan immigrants (Muhajirin) and the Medinan supporters (the Ansar), about who had the right to nominate the Prophet's successor. As they discussed succession to the Prophet’s political power, or “Muhammad’s sovereignty,” the two parties present at the meeting were aware of the definition of the term caliphate. In the arguments presented by the two parties, the political aspect of the succession debate is clear. In defence of the Muhajirin's right to succession, Hazrat Umar said, “By God, the Arab tribes would not agree on any leader other than a member of the Quraish tribe.” A member of the Ansar, Sa’d Ibn Bashir, agreed with him.

As a result, neither Muslim jurists nor political writers drew the concept of the caliphate from religious texts, nor did the Prophet (peace be upon him) mandate it. Rather, Islamic jurisprudence was able to compile and codify the experiences of the period following the Prophet's death, particularly the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and as a result, the caliphate theory was regarded as “a practical codification of the political system dictated by the then political, social, and religious landscape” at various stages of its evolution. The theory of the caliphate evolved with each shift of authority.

“Political necessities rather than religious obligations were the most prominent factors which influenced the formation and acceptance of this institution”, writes Darul Ifta Al-Misriyya, an Egyptian Islamic advisory and Al-Azhar-affiliated institution, on its website. Dar al-Ifta adds to these points by stating:

They felt that without a leader to succeed the Prophet after his demise, Islam would disintegrate and Muslims’ affairs would fall into the hands of unskilled individuals. Furthermore, the presence of a leader was necessary for religious enlightenment and the protection of Muslim borders, resulting in the growth of Islam. Several books have been produced that strongly demonstrate that the texts on the Sunni Caliphate and Shia Imamate were written in the context of political conflict among religious sects and in light of the conflict that erupted after Hazrat Muawiyya introduced dynastic succession to Muslim rule.”.

This discussion seeks to demonstrate that the caliphate, like all other political systems, is the result of human endeavour and is subject to territorial and circumstantial changes as well as historicism. As a consequence, any political system’s success or failure is measured by its ability to adapt to, justify, and protect society laws, a subject that cannot be mandated through established religious texts. Rather, this is demonstrated by the Prophet's own principle: “You know best the affairs of your worldly life.”

The only reason for the necessity for a successor after the Messenger's death was that the law could not be executed without an authority to enforce it. At the time, the caliphate was the only legitimate authority and political alternative available. “The caliph in this ruling system was the only legislative authority. If Muslims at that time had recourse to other political options, they would have surely taken them into consideration.”

With this in mind, does the current call for the establishment of a so-called “Islamic State” suggest that we should abandon the modern nation-state political system in favour of a re-enactment of the old political choice of the Caliphate? Is ISIS's demand for action credible?


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Before delving into these issues, it's crucial to emphasise the understanding of the mainstream Muslim scholars that Islam is not a rigid, authoritarian system incapable of adapting. Living in accordance with Islam does not require us to return to the Middle Ages or to give up our current identities. Islam has never required its adherents to abandon their own traditions or adhere to a strict set of laws.

This adaptability is not limited to Muslim cultural life. It is also an important aspect of the Islamic legal tradition; in fact, it is one of the distinguishing features of Islamic law. Islamic law is a methodology as well as a compilation of Muslim jurists' viewpoints over the last 1,400 years. There were no fewer than 90 schools of legal thought during those centuries, and the twenty-first century finds us in the fortunate situation of being able to look back on this tradition in order to find what will serve us now.

This is one of the first phases in the fatwa process (legal edict). Fatwas serve as a link between the legal tradition and the contemporary world we live in. They serve as a bridge between the past and present, absolute and relative, theoretical and practical. As a result, issuing a fatwa necessitates more than just knowledge of Islamic law. Muftis must also have a thorough awareness of the world in which they live and the issues that confront their communities. The extremism we witness today is the outcome of those who lack these skills issuing fatwas. We must be clear about the issues at hand. When everyone's unqualified opinion is regarded as a fatwa, we lose a weapon that is critical in restraining extremism and maintaining the flexibility and balance of Islamic law.

The world has altered drastically in the last two centuries. New technologies and political ideologies ushered in this transition. New technologies were also invented, allowing us to be aware of what is happening in virtually every part of the world almost instantly, when in the past, even the most essential news would take months, if not years, to reach us.

This tidal surge of change has radically altered practically every element of our existence. This modern phenomenon is the most difficult for Muslim jurists and muftis to deal with. There was little change in the way things operated and advanced in the past. Even when things did change, it was gradual and limited to a few fields. However, the changes of the last two centuries have necessitated a re-examination of how everything works. As a result, the manner Islamic law is applied must alter to reflect this shift.


Also Read: Refutation of ISIS That Justifies Terrorism in 21st Century: Did the ‘Sword Verse’ 9:5 Really Abrogate Verses of Peace and Forbearance? Part -5


Darul Ifta further says, “The flexibility and adaptability of Islamic law is perhaps its greatest asset. To provide people with practical and relevant guidance while at the same time staying true to its foundational principles, Islam allows the wisdom and moral strength of religion to be applied in modern times. It is through adopting this attitude towards the Sharia that an authentic, contemporary, moderate, and tolerant Islam can provide solutions to the problems confronting the Muslim world today.” (

Even if a caliphate is to be established, as some Muslim academics believe, it “must come from a consensus among Muslim countries, Islamic scholars' organisations, and Muslims around the world.”

(See Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi, point 22

Consultation is an important part of Islamic administration, yet there is no indication that ISIS consults with the larger Muslim community other than among themselves. Muslim scholars have long agreed that seeking advice from others on topics concerning the Ummah is both obligatory and praiseworthy because it follows the Prophet's example. In The Open Letter, Muslim clerics ask Al-Baghdadi, “Who granted you authority over the Ummah?” warning him that “announcing a caliphate without consensus is sedition (fitnah).” (See Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi, point 22, cited

The so-called caliphate of ISIS cannot be justified even in the name of the rightly-guided caliphate [Khilafat-e-Rashidah] on the following grounds:

The rightly-guided caliphs were elected and selected in an atmosphere of freedom and security. Threats and swords had nothing to do with the matter. The so-called caliphate of ISIS was formed in the midst of strife and bloodshed, in an atmosphere of dread and terror, with the objective of violent rule and compulsion.

The rightly guided caliphate, regardless of majority or minority, united all Muslims under its loyalty and suzerainty, and all Muslims were happily satisfied with its principles founded on justice. In the case of ISIS, the vast majority of mainstream Muslims are opposed to its goals.

The rightly guided caliphs were chosen with the acceptance of all Muslims of the time, and freedom from the venom of force and bloodshed. However, the self-proclaimed 'caliph' of ISIS had to force Muslims to accept him as their “caliph”. Muslims all around the world understand that there is no such thing as coercion or compulsion in Islam. “The divorce of the coerced [husband] does not take effect, therefore, the allegiance of the coerced and the scared is invalid,” Imam Malik bin Anas used to say.

For all people, the system of the rightly-guided caliphate was one of unity, kindness, benignancy, sympathy, grace, and justice. There had never been any Muslim civil wars. However, the “caliphate” declared by ISIS is causing civil conflicts, interfaith conflict, brutality, terrorism, and a lack of sympathy, mercy, and justice for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. As a result, it is diametrically opposed to the spirit of the rightly-guided caliphate.


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The rightly guided caliphate was primarily formed to achieve righteous goals, piety, and the implementation of real teachings of the Quran and Sunnah, as well as peace and security for all citizens of the state. The self-proclaimed caliphate of ISIS, on the other hand, is built solely on slogans, pronouncements, appearances, and titles. Its goal has been to kill everyone who opposes its so-called “caliphate.” They don't mind if they disagree with the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah, but they do mind if someone goes on to criticise their actions antithetical to Islam. Command of Allah Almighty that killing a person is equal to killing the entire humanity and Hadith of the prophet peace be upon him “There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm in Islam” are the most ignored and violated teachings of Islam in the so-called caliphate of ISIS.

As a consequence, even if the terms “caliphate” and “caliph” are deleted from Muslims’ daily lives, their faith is unaffected. But it would be a great tragedy if the teachings of Allah Almighty and His beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on human rights, including justice, peace, tolerance, security, equality, and other pious Islamic requirements, were to vanish for only one day. Islam has entrusted Muslims with the task of preserving justice, peace, security, and prosperity for all citizens in all of their forms. It has never compelled them to recognise the self-proclaimed "caliphate" or "caliph," of ISIS.


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