Accueil arrow Foreign analyzes arrow The concept of caliphate and the revival of utopian Islamic state


Dr Farhan Zahid






Dr Farhan Zahid
Ph D, Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst (Pakistan).





Restoration of caliphate and rebuilding of society are issues hotly debated between Islamists and secular modernists. Islamists, whether moderate or radicals, claim to reconstruct the Muslim society from scratch as they deem present-day Muslim majority countries as ‘corrupt', ‘immoral' and being ruled by manmade laws, therefore, reverted back to pre-Islamic ignorance. On the other hand, moderate Muslim thinkers and scholars, led by Taerk Fatah, Riffat Hassan, Stephen Sulaiman Schwartz and others, rather question Islamist about authenticity of their claims on the basis of Islamic texts.

According to Egyptian scholar of Al-Azhar University and jurist Ali Abdul Razziq (Islam and the Principles of Governance), there is nothing in Islamic scriptures, both in Quran and Hadith, about any particular form of government for Muslims as ordained by God.[1] Renowned historian Bernard Lewis is even more explicit about this phenomenon while saying, "But in the sense of a state ruled by the church or by priests, Islam was not and indeed could not be a theocracy. In this sense, classical Islam had no priesthood, no prelates who might rule or decisively influence those who did. The caliph, who was head of a governing institution that was state and church in one, was himself neither a jurist nor a theologian, but a practitioner of the arts of politics and sometimes of war. The office of ayatollah is a creation of the nineteenth century; the rule of Khomeimi and of his successor as ‘supreme jurist' an innovation of the twentieth.[2]"

It is worth mentioning that most of the major Salafist ideologues were not trained in Islamic jurisprudence and law. Jamal ud Din Afghani, Maududi, Hasan-ul Bana, Syed Qutb, Abu Faraj and present-day Al-Qaeda Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri are trained teachers, doctors, journalists but not Islamic scholars. They are either self-taught or developed their views by reading texts of previous Islamist ideologues professing the same doctrines. The present day jihadists view Salafs (or the early generations of Islamic state in fact mistakenly) as the role model for implementing their political agendas. It seems that Salafists' understanding of Islamic religion is related to historical events than the actual texts with contexts.  Since Islamist ideologues are more interested in politics therefore, they take ideas from history of Muslim monarchs rather than reading and comprehending Islamic texts.

Again, we find Bernard Lewis explaining this issue that it was because of the last 500 years of perpetual decline in terms of almost every spare of life, resulting in becoming ‘poor, weak and ignorant.[3]' Islamists, according to Lewis, believe in these failures and decline of Muslims' past glory in adopting western culture and ideas. He further says, "For those nowadays known as Islamists or fundamentalists, the failures and shortcomings of the modern Islamic lands afflicted them because they adopted alien notions and practices. The fell away from authentic Islam, and thus lost their former greatness.[4]"

Establishment of caliphate/Islamic state is one concept on which all Al-Qaeda associated movements (including Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, a splinter of Al-Qaeda) and groups subscribe to Wahabi/Salafi ideology in same pattern. Whether it is South East Asian Gammah Islamiya or Central Asian Hizb-ut-Tahrir (whose ideology is all about establishing Caliphate), Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami, all are for establishment of caliphate in their respective regions. Pakistani Islamist violent non-state actors and their pattern Islamist political parties have same inclinations about Taliban-ruled Afghanistan as model. In fact restoration of Islamic caliphate agenda is a converging point. It provides Islamist groups political impetus and in terms of academic jargon could be termed agent responsible for activities and a primary system driver.

Modern Salafist thinkers in their writings have even considered Prophetic traditions as templates that must be revisited for the establishment of true Islamic society. This would be like repeating the history in the same manner as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and it includes Dawa (preaching the message), Hajira (then migration to other lands) and Jihad.[5]

Salafist ideologues are fundamentalists by their approach in understanding Islam and taking Quranic injunctions as literal and eternal. Taqi ud Din Nabhani of HuT, Abdul Salam Faraj of Egyptian Islamic Group, Abdullah Azzam, and finally Bin Laden were great proponents of following the template for creating true model Islamic state. The concepts adobe of Islam (Darul Islam) and adobe of infidels (Darul Kufr) are part and parcel of caliphate and revival of Umma (Islamic community) notions.[6]

Stephen Ulph describes Ayman al-Zawahiri for explaining the above mentioned issue, "Similarly, in his work "Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet", Ayman al-Zawahiri interprets his own sīra according to the pattern: the call for Sharī‘a in Egypt, the hijra away from the jāhili apostate regime at Cairo to form vanguard groups and training bases, pending the exportation of jihād onto a global arena to strive for the establishment of the Islamic umma.[7]"

Abdullah Azzam, the father of militant jihadism and principal ideologue of Pakistani Islamist terrorism, also shed light on the subject in a similar tone, "The first, obligatory, hijra is from the Abode of Kufr to the Abode of Islam. It is incumbent upon all Muslims if they find themselves unable to establish their religious rites in the Abode of Kufr, or if the oppression of the tawāghīt becomes intense and they are unable to grow their beards or make da‘wā to God, or struggle in His path, or maintain Islamic control over their families or children, or if life has become corrupt or society or society decrepit, or the face of the earth become rotten - hijra is your duty even if you are in Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem}[8]"

Among the system drivers (core ideological beliefs) in this context, the caliphate/Islamic state provides a powerful driving force for Islamists. It is not only Islamist parties in Pakistan but all over the world, thrive over this issue. Since 1923 when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Empire and caliphate system, a ceremonial status being enjoyed by Ottoman Sultan as leader of Muslims around the world (more or less like ceremonial status of Holy Roman Emperor till 1806).

In Islamism, the concept of caliphate evolved in reaction to centuries of decline of Muslim states, primarily Ottomans, Persians, and Indian Mughal Empire. The early ideologues of Islamism such as Jamal ud Din Afghani, Mohammad Abduh and Rashid Rida could be considered the flag bearers of Islamic nationalism based upon religious identity or Muslim nationalism. The same kind of religious-nationalism was witnessed in Greek War of Independence (1821-32), where Orthodox Greek church rallied behind nationalists in driving out the Turks after 300 years.[9]

With the departure of last of figurehead caliph Sultan Abdul Mecid II from Ottoman Turkey in 1923, the second wave of Islamist thinkers such as Hasan-ul Bana, Maududi, and Taqi ud Din Nabhani found reasons to grind their own axes, and blended the issue of restoration of caliphate in their ideologies. Maududi said, "Khilafa means representative. Man, according to Islam is the representative of "people", His (God's) viceregent; that is to say, by virtue of the powers delegated to him, and within the limits prescribed by the Qu'ran and the teaching of the prophet, the caliph is required to exercise Divine authority.[10]"

The issue of caliphate is an apparent one in many different Islamist movements across the globe, and the focus is to have it revived either by force or by political means. But indeed, as we discussed earlier, the creed is, with some slight difference, one and the same. An ex-Islamist and former member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Ed Hussain has pointed out in his memoir that "they were all one with the Wahabi creed.[11]" Bin Laden reiterated same views while calling the period after the end of caliphate in 1923 as ‘humiliation and disgrace of more than eighty years.[12]'






The caliphate issue is cornerstone of every Islamist party and Islamist terrorist organization, one way or another. Since these organizations are Wahabi/Salafists in theory and practice, thus, they relate and build upon their ideologies around this concept. It holds key in their manifestos as it indulges them to strive for a utopian Islamic state. Jamaat-e-Islami manifesto clearly states reasons for recreating a society modeled on Islamic caliphate, the manifesto says, "It is part of the program of Jamaat-e-Islami to awaken the slumbering people and to make them an organized force through training. In order to popularize to Islamic thought in the society and thus enabling the Muslims equip themselves with Islamic characteristics of a practicing Muslim and with the help of masses to challenge the atheists generally in all spheres of life and to remove them from the helm of affairs, in particular, and instead to enthrone those who are obedient to Allah. Let it be clear, that Jamaat-e-Islami is committed to turn Pakistan into such a social-welfare state.   Which should be replica of the Khalafat-e-Rashida."[13]

As most of Wahabi/Salafists are from tribal societies, therefore, Saudi state and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are principal models for them. In case of Pakistan mainstream Pakistani Islamist parties JI and JUI have always been key beneficiaries of Saudi state and supported Taliban regime.


  • [1] Faisal Gazi, "The first Muslim secularist", the Guardian, April 9, 2009, available at:
  • [2] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response", (London: Phoenix Books, 2002) p.127
  • [3] Ibid, p.168
  • [4] Ibid, Lewis, p.176
  • [5] As the Prophet (PBUH) had first preached people in his hometown city of Mecca and then after facing persecution he along with his fellows migrated to city of Medina and then led forces in defense by the way of Jihad
  • [6] Darul Islam (adobe of Islam) and Darul Harb or Kufr (adobe of war or infidels) concepts were coined by 13th century Syrian scholar Ibn Taymiyya; Quran and Hadith are silent on any such conditions
  • [7] Stephen Ulph, "Towards a Curriculum: For the Teaching of Jihadist Ideology Part III: The World through a Jihadi Lens", The Jamestown Foundation, October 2010, p.18
  • [8] Ibid, Ulph, p.18
  • [9] Frank Smitha, "Greek War of Independence: Nationalism and Independence for Greek", Macro History and World Report, available at:
  • [10] Abul Ala Maududi, "Human Rights in Islam", The Islamic Foundation, 1976, p.9
  • [11] Ed Hussain, The Islamist: Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left, (London: Penguin Books, 2007), p.234
  • [12] Compilation of Usama Bin Laden Statements 1994-January 2004, FBIS Report, 2004,, retrieved on 20/3/12, p.183
  • [13] Manifesto of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Official Website,, retrieved on 4/8/12

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