Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Myth of the Islamic Caliphate

Going through my daily news hounding I came across this bit of news (BBC News). Here's a quick excerpt (my emphasis):

Some 60,000 delegates have gathered in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, for a conference hosted by the radical Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT).

HT has described the conference as the largest ever gathering of Islamic activists from around the world.

However, the group, which is dedicated to the revival of the Caliphate, a single Muslim state across the Middle East, is outlawed in many countries.

Ah yes. The Caliphate. That holy grail of Jihadists everywhere. If only these fanatics would spend half the time they use to chant hate poetry to actually read history. And I mean real history not the watered-down, propaganda-filled version we get in school and children's books.

These Jihadists (and let's be frank here, almost all Muslims) have this oddly skewed view of the Caliphate. They think it was this pristine, fairy tale, almost utopic era. Where fair yet iron stern Caliphs ruled over a land overflowing with pink fluffy bunny rabbits, enforcing Islam to the letter.

Few things could be farther than the truth.

Yes, the Caliphate started great. But it didn't take much time until the Ummayads turned it from a post chosen by committee to a regular hereditary monarchy in all but name. The Islamic conquests were no longer religion driven (at least not in the minds of the Caliphs calling the shots) and anyone thinking otherwise are deluding themselves. The Caliphs themselves were no saints either. They were greatly known to indulge in all their appetites. Great cities like Baghdad had plenty of sinful establishments. Alcohol, prostitution (both female and male) were common. Leaving dry history aside, You only have to read poetry and other forms of literature of the time to realize how common it was. Heck, Abu Nawas who is considered one of the greatest Arab poets wrote openly about his paederastic tastes, and he was far from the only one.

Yet people like to blind themselves to the truth. They even protest when that truth is told and it doesn't conform to the rosy version they believe.

Take last Ramadan. MBC showed a wonderful historical drama called "Al Amin and Al Mamun: The Sons of Al Rashid". Aside from the wonderful direction, brilliant acting, and beautifully recreated sets, "Sons of Al Rashid" was refreshingly honest about its subject matter. It showed Harun al Rashid and his sons as they really were. Flawed human beings. The Abbasids were no strangers to Alcohol and women, and there was no attempt to hide that facet of history in the drama. They showed the Abbasids fighting amongst themselves for power. Regicide, fratrecide, you name it they did it. They even took time to depict Al Mamun's (the drama's main protaganist) prosecution of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and his followers who opposed his Mu'tazilla views. Something most people tend to try to forget. Most surprisngly the director was bold enough to hint at Al Amin's rumored homosexuality.

But of course the truth hurts. People were so used to reading about Harun as this peerless paragon of virtue that they screamed and howled when presented with real history for a change. Don't get me wrong. Harun was a great man. Islamic science and arts peaked during his reign, and the nation was never as strong politically and militarily. But he was a human being, not an angel.

Go read a book people.



Shareef said...

Actually as Muslims, we are well aware that individuals in charge of ruling are often corrupt or corrupted by power. This is not the issue. The issue is: "were they implementing the system of Islam or not?" and the answer to that is an emphatic "YES". You will note that demoracies also have corrupt (morally - Bill Clinton) leaders but the system of democracy and Capitalism was still implemented. So why is it that we hold Islamic governance to one standard and secular systems to another? As Muslims we absolutely prefer the ruler to be of good morals but this is not an absolute necessity to run a powerful State. Islamic history is testament to that.

Saudi Jawa said...

I wasn't protesting the idea of a pure Islamic state. Though to be quite honest the Caliphate (except for the earlier era) was not much better Islam-wise than we are now (in fact, in some ways they were more liberal). What I was writing against is the popular idea among the masses that the Caliphate was this holy entity.

Many Muslims consider it near-blasphemy to bad talk the icons of Islamic history. And there was nothing Islamic about the governance system of the Caliphate post-Rashidin Calpihs. It was just another monarchy with a thin religious veneer.

History is history. Time to move on. The Caliphate (traditionally speaking) is dead. And will stay dead. History has shown that massive political entities tend to crumble under its own weight. Look at the Roman Empire. Look at the Ottomans, the last of the Caliphs.

What we need isn't a unified leadership. What we need is a modern mindset that would unify us spiritually and mentally and also propel us into the 21st century.

poetic muslim said...

it is very true , a friend of mine was reading a book about the history of the caliphate , every time a new caliph came their was bloodshed , infact brothers would kill eachother so that 'they' would get to power , the best caliphates was the first 4 , after that things slowly came down , their were positive things that did come out in that era , but still their was corruption .
I know of people that thing saudi arabia rules by islamic laws , I was like what planet are you living on ? vanila scented sticks and chocolate dripping ?
the world is corrupt and the muslims is corrupt , that is why I really do not pity the situation we are in now , we are in it , because we brought ourselves down like this , if we cannot understand the basis of ramathan , if we cannot even improve our charactors ...then we have the cheek to turn around and blame mr.tyrant bush ?
absured ! people need to wake up , sadly the ones that are awake people arnt even intrested in listning to them .
enough said sorry for the essay :)

poetic muslim said...

another thing is , I dont know about modern 'mindset' what modern mindset are you talking about ?
in the 'ideal' world we are supposed to be living in a shariah society , we are supposed to die on islamic laws , not some man made laws, but the major problems lays , is whom should be the caliph \? muslims are either extreme like er the salafis , or they are so loose that according to them everything is halal
to be honest their isnt really an answer , to the problem , sadly as again said before and again I will say it untiln we wake up , and change ourselves , and change what is in our heart , then allah will change our sitaution .
I dont feel ht's are extremits , their not for jihad at all btw , I have several ht's friends so I know . infact Ihave always felt their moderate . they just have a dream which I think is unrealistic .

Saudi Jawa said...

I meant by 'modern mindset' is leaving behind our 'glorious history' as just that: history. Yes, we had one of the greatest empires the world has seen. Yes, we were a beacon of technological light during the dark ages. Ad nauseum. But none of that matters right now. If someone wants me to build, say, a computer I highly doubt they'll accept 'Hmmm, I actually can't but did you know that the Muslim scientist Al Khawarizmi invented the algorithm?'.

The world has moved on. It's time we leave history to the books and museums and move with the rest of the world.

Marie-Aude said...

I'm really happy to read that post, and I bookmarked for further reading and investigation :)

Last time I discussed that with some friends, I was explained that "all this was fake propaganda from jewish historians".

Perfection belongs to God only. The Caliphate, in reality, with normal humans, is subjected to be flawed and depending on the individuals having the power.

I really appreciate regularly reading your blog :)

Ali said...

I understand what you mean about the latter Caliphs, but wasn't the society during the real Caliphs era (straight after the prophet, peace be upon him) the society where the true meaning of Islam was achieved?

Agh it seems my post is pointless but I am just trying to say there is nothing wrong with trying to copy the Caliphs. It is a good thing indeed but unfortunately throughout history and ever since the Ummayad dynasty, the term Caliphs was just used to get power and sovereignty.

I don't know who you talk to, but almost every muslim I know actually does realize the Caliphs can't be perfect... or I might be having too much good faith in people :\

Oh and I think the real difference between us and the muslims during the previous era was that they were more pious than us even though the Caliphs/Leaders were/are corrupt as hell.

Anyway, nice blog :)

Zeynab said...

Salaam waleykum, and OH SNAP! Great post!
People idolize historical figures just short of outright worshipping them. They're just PEOPLE.

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common sense said...

i love your essay. it sums it all up. there can't be an islam empire because those days are over. we muslims are so different and think so diffrenetly that electing a caliphate would cause bloodshed and war among muslims. what we need is strong governments in muslim countries that protect people rights of practing their religion and promote economic welfare for the people. islam caliphate would create so much more troubles among muslims. these peoples obsessed with islam caliphates should get an education and study past empires. the times of kings and absolute rulers is over and its time that the people ruled themselves. no kaliafah will be able to represent the diversity of the muslim of this day and age.