Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The End of the Caliphate - and the dreams of ever reviving it

excerpt from Jean-Pierre Filiu's "Ghost of the caliphate"

When Atatürk abolished the caliphate in 1924, two years after toppling the Ottoman sultanate, he deprived the Sunni world of an undisputed guiding voice. Sharif Hussein of Mecca immediately tried to fill this void, but he was smashed by the rising power of Wahhabi Islam. Saudi Arabia was built on the ruins of this aborted caliphate, although its monarchs do not now claim a nobler title than "custodian of the holy places." Nowadays, to be called "commander of the believers" one has to be the king of Morocco, or Mullah Omar of Afghanistan, who assumed the title when, in Kandahar in 1996, he took up a cloak said to have belonged to the Prophet himself as a founding gesture for the Taliban emirate. The only Muslim leader who plays publicly with the notion of caliphate is Colonel Gaddafi, who recently saw in it the solution for trans-Saharan integration. The concept of caliph is rather flexible: its Arabic etymology just means "successor" and its institution was a pragmatic response by the nascent Muslim community to the trauma of Muhammad's sudden death.

When it comes to politics, there was never a golden age of Islam. Out of the four so-called "well-inspired" caliphs who followed the Prophet, three were murdered and, during their time, the bloody struggle for leadership ignited a civil war whose echoes are still felt today in the streets of Baghdad and Beirut. The road back to the caliphate is a dead end but, as often with global war and global jihad, the layers of propaganda surrounding it lend an appearance of substance to an illusion. Let us hope not too many people will fall under the spell of this ghost.


Prospect MagazineIssue 140 , November 2007http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=9884

ZARATHUSHTRA: Prophet and founder

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