The perverse mechanisms used by Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to establish a mysterious institution on earth might have some of you wondering what a “Caliphate” is. Syrian Perspective will attempt to explain the history and meaning of the word “Caliph” and the amorphous entity called a “Caliphate”.
The word “Caliph” is a Western corruption of the Arabic word “Khaleefa”. Khaleefa derives from the tri-literal root: kha–la-fa, (خلف) which means, generally, to come after, succeed, follow. Thus, a khaleefa in its first ordinary sense means something that comes after something else – to be its successor.
Abu Bakr Al-Siddeeq, one of the first Meccans to convert to the religion of Islam, and who was the father of ‘Aa`isha, Muhammad’s wife after the death of Khadeeja (Muhammad’s entrepreneurial Christian wife), announced the death of the Messenger late in the year 632 A.D. Abu Bakr’s words are immortalized in a thousands texts:
“Oh men, if you worship Muhammad, Muhammad is dead, but, if you worship Allah, He is alive”.
When the Messenger passed away, as he must because, as he said so many times, that he was an ordinary mortal, the nascent Islamic community was left without its charismatic leader who had led it from certain annihilation at the hands of both the Meccan pagan aristocracy and the Jewish tribes of Medina to acceptance and certain proliferation. He was the fountainhead of the new Abrahamic religion that, unfortunately, possessed no known internal mechanism for succession. During the period immediately after his death, many Muslims backtracked and tried to revivify their old polytheistic ways, a condition that led to the Wars of Apostasy (Huroob Al-Ridda) which Islam eventually won.
You can read a column of books from every denomination of Islam and you’ll see that the process of selecting a successor is clouded in a myriad nuances and fables. What is clear from all the versions is that the Messenger, Muhammad Abu-Al-Qaassem, was aware of the problem on his death bed and did something to indicate whom he believed should be his “Khaleefa” or successor. The historians all agree that Abu Bakr was the first Caliph of Islam, the First Rightly-Guided Caliph.
As a successor to the Messenger (Rasool), the Caliph could never claim to have the same relationship to Allah. While Allah may have sent down revelations to Muhammad through an Archangel, he would not do the same with a successor. The Qur’aan was closed and finished. What any Caliph would now be entrusted with was the growth of the Muslim Community (the “Umma”), the dissemination of the new message of Islam, the imposition of Islamic ways, protection of the Islamic holy places, defeat of polytheists and pagans and administration of the burgeoning empire.
When Abu Bakr died, another nebulous series of events took place which resulted in the selection of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab (634-644) as the Second Rightly Guided Caliph of Islam. He was followed by ‘Uthmaan Ibn ‘Affaan (644-656 A.D)as the Third Caliph. It is here, at the threshold of the Fourth Caliphate that the schism between Shi’is and Sunnis began. While this subject is of signal importance to events occurring today in the Near East, it would not be germane to the discussion we are having about how ISIS and Nusra view this institution and why they keep calling for its re-establishment. It is sufficient to tell the reader that it is here, at this juncture in time, when ‘Ali Ibn Abi Taaleb, asserted his claim to the Caliphate in the face of the usurping Mu’aawiya Ibn Abi Sufyaan of the Ummayyad tribe in Mecca, but who ruled as governor in Damascus.
Mu’aawiya (661-680) ruled the Islamic Empire under some severe handicaps, one of which was his legitimacy. But, despite the on-going conflict to establish his dynasty and the tenacious protestations of those who would come to be known as “Shi’atu ‘Ali” (‘Ali’s Partisans, hence, Shi’ites), the Ummayyads ruled as Caliphs in Damascus until their cousins the ‘Abbaasids overthrew them and erased any remnant of their graves from the face of the earth. The Abbaasids ruled (most of the time) in a little town on the Tigris River called “Baghdaad”, Persian for “Given by God”. It was later changed by the Caliph Al-Ja’far Al-Mansoor to “Daar Al-Salaam”, the Abode of Peace, because according to the illustrious historian, Al-Tabari, he spent a night of complete bliss there at the village on the Tigris right next to an old church. The name, Baghdaad, stuck, however, as you probably all know.
The Caliphs in Baghdad centralized the power of the Islamic empire and, thus, were more akin to emperors with powers derived from their succession to Muhammad the Messenger. As such they were blood relatives of the Messenger and competent to issue rules and statutes based on the “Sunna” of the Messenger, id est “the habitual behavior of the Messenger” as it came down in a baffling array of versions for which an entire science of determining their reliability was created as part of the jurisprudential life of the Islamic World. The Caliphs also established religious authorities (qaadhis), judges, to further give the growing body of law (Sharee’ah) meaning and substance.
The Caliphate was destroyed by Hulegu, Genghiz Khaan’s grandson – a notorious mass murderer and nihilist. The Caliph Al-Musta’sim Bi-llaah was wrapped in a carpet (1260), his body ground into mincemeat under the hoofs of Mongol cavalry inside the walls of Baghdad which was destined to be put to flames and over a quarter million inhabitants slaughtered in a scene that was transported to the Mameluke giant, The Vanquisher King, Rukneddeen Baybars Al-Bunduqdaari, who would later pay the Mongol army back by devastating it at the battle of ‘Ayn Jaaloot in Syria and would follow that up by sweeping the fence-sitting Crusader rats out of coastal Syria once and for all leaving only their blue eyes and blondish hair, their DNA so to speak, in the faces and eyes of millions of Syrians.
When the Caliphate in Baghdad ended, it would not be revitalized until one of the most absurd events in human history, the creation of the Ottoman Empire. Historically, Caliphs had to be related to the bloodlines of the Messenger, Muhammad. So, how could Turcomans claim a lineage to the Arabs of Mecca? Well, Saleem I (1512-1520), the Ottoman Sultan who would wrest Syria away from its Mameluke rulers and later conquered Egypt (1517-1518), first used the title Caliph with the argument that because he brought from Egypt the body of Al-Musata’sim, the last Abbaasid Caliph, the dead Caliph spoke to him and renewed in him the Caliphate. If any of you want to know why Erdoghan is insane, you might want to consider this story as told by Ahmet Cevdet Pasha. You haven’t lived, by the way, until you have studied how successive Ottoman Sultans tried to establish their geneology in Arabia through fatwas issued by their own “qaadhi”, the obnoxious “Shaykhulislam”.
So, what do ISIS and Nusra want with this Caliphate? Why is it necessary to recreate (hmm) an order built around a defunct institution whose last Arab occupant was brutally converted into canned hash under the hooves of Mongol steeds?
The word “recreate” might give away the reason. It is clear to this author that the murdering hordes who have invaded Syria and Iraq are daydreaming malignant narcissists who hide inside a cloak of false piety while exhorting their followers to help in re-establishing the glorious Golden Age of Islam. There is also the facet of divinity; after all, to the murdering hordes of terrorists, the Caliph could be viewed as “Alllah’s vicar on earth” – a position that would grant to the Caliph power not less than that enjoyed by the greatest of the Caliphs, Haroon Al-Rasheed, for one, or Al-Ma’moon, or even the unlikely “Sulaymaan the Magnificent”.
So there you have it. An army of fantasts, beheading innocent people, crucifying some, burning others alive in bakery ovens, marrying Tunisian prostitutes in a Sex Jihad that would have the Messenger of Allah rolling in his grave or SyrPer readers, laughing their heads off. The need to establish a Caliphate on earth has terrified most Muslims who view the institution as something of the past that only reminds us of how backward the Arab World really is. ZAF