By Khalid Zaheer
July 18, 2014
THE Taliban claim they are striving to re-establish the ‘proper’ Islamic political system based on Khilafat (caliphate). While they kill innocent people in their efforts to achieve this goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has emerged as an even greater threat to world peace, claiming to achieve the very same goal in Iraq and Syria.
What exactly is Khilafat? Does Islam call for it to be established?
These claims are rooted in the misperception of many Muslims about Muslim history (euphemistically called Islamic history) which is often taken as the basic source of Islamic guidance. They believe that whatever happened in Islam’s heyday must be replicated or else everything will be lost to Muslims. The rhetoric is so pervasive that people are driven to sacrifice everything for its cause.
When the Ottomans lost what was a mere shell of Khilafat in 1924, Indian Muslims launched a futile but massive movement for its restoration. The caliph was seen as a symbol of Muslim unity throughout the world and one to which all Muslims must give oath of allegiance.
The Concept Of Caliphate Being Presented Is Alien To Islam.
In Islam there is no concept of Khilafat the way it is being presented today. The Quran has given certain principles to be followed when setting up a governance system, and that is what should bind Muslims. These principles can take any form, depending on the needs of the times. When the Quran gives principles to achieve a certain purpose, following those principles is what matters. When God asked believers to be militarily prepared against their enemies, He said: “Be ready against them to the utmost of your power and with well-prepared horses. ...” (8:60). It is quite clear that the mention of horses here was not meant in the literal sense.
Likewise, there were certain aspects of the political system that were followed at the time of the Prophet (PBUH). These were only the form that the implementation of Quranic principles took at that point in time. The features of the system that were not the real purpose of God’s requirement, included taking an oath of allegiance by holding the hands of the leader (Bay‘at) and the use of words Khalifa and Amirul Momineen. Muslims may continue to use them in their modern political system, but they do not have a role in the Islamic polity as envisaged in God’s scheme.
The important concerns that need to be ensured in an Islamic state are that all collective matters shall be decided through mutual consultation, Muslim rulers shall establish a system of regular prayers and almsgiving, ensure virtue is promoted and vice discouraged (22:41), and a system of implementing Islamic law is followed in society, based on social justice.
The objective of establishing the system of prayer will require all mosques, and institutions producing scholars for the mosques, to be the sole responsibility of the Islamic state. This will eliminate sectarianism. It goes without saying that the state must be built on Islamic values in letter and spirit.
Two Quranic principles are essential while implementing the above. The change must be gradual and peaceful. While the first principle is borne out by the fact that God arranged for the Sharia to be implemented gradually even through His Messenger, the second principle is the outcome of the combined effect of the expectation from believers to engage in consultations and to not kill anyone unjustifiably.
The Quran gave mutual consultation a central role in collective matters to avoid bloodshed. Unfortunately, Muslim history is replete with violent struggles for power. The right to rule in Muslim history has been either shared within a family or the question decided through bloody battles, aside from the appointment of the first three caliphs.
No war can be undertaken to achieve the goal of establishing a political system in Islam. War is a game of killing and God does not allow us to take lives except if someone is a killer or guilty of causing mischief on earth (5:32). Even in these cases, only a Muslim ruler has the right to implement the punishments. Jihad can only be undertaken under the authority of the Muslim ruler to eliminate mischief on earth. God cannot at the same time condemn killing of human beings and urge Muslims to establish Khilafat by fighting battles.
It is therefore imperative that whoever wants an Islamic system must attempt to achieve it through legitimate means and not through war. Waging wars on states such as what has been happening in Syria, Iraq and other countries in the name of establishing an Islamic system is totally against Islamic principles as stated in the Quran.
The battles undertaken by the Prophet of God and his companions were God’s punishment that was inflicted on the people who had opposed him despite knowing him to be His Messenger.
Khalid Zaheer is a religious scholar.