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What does an "Islamic caliphate" in Iraq mean?

By Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi
web posted July 7, 2014

 On the first day of the month of Ramadan (29 June 2014), the day on which World Pride Day was celebrated as a marker of social and cultural progress, the reestablishment of the Islamic caliphate (state) was declared in Iraq and a caliph was appointed to lead it.

The declaration of the establishment of the caliphate was transmitted via audiotape by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, spokesman of ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Greater Syria) – which changed its name to "the Islamic State."

Initial Implications of the Declaration of the Islamic Caliphate

The Islamic State is trying to reinforce its battlefield achievements in Syria and Iraq by creating a new Sunni Muslim religious entity that threatens to overturn the prevailing regional political order rooted in the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) which set the borders and carved up the Middle East into European spheres of influence. The rule of the caliphate is applied to the territory under its control. This rule, however, does not accept the existing borders or the division of the Muslims into different states on a national basis. In the view of the Islamic State, the primal sin that led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which was a continuation of the rule of the caliphate, lies in nationalism and in the adoption of Western ideologies, such as democracy, that are foreign to Islam. Hence, the jihad is aimed at overturning the existing order and enabling the expansion of the boundaries of the caliphate to encompass all territory where Muslims live.

The main objective of the Islamic State is to entrench its rule (imposing its authority and defeating local militias such as that of the Kurds) and repel the counterattack by the armies of Iraq and Syria, which are fully backed by Iran and Russia.

The Islamic State's military capability to expand the territories under its rule is limited. Therefore, its leaders are trying to attain force multipliers by directly appealing to Muslims all over the world to support the caliphate and calling on the Muslim population to rebel against existing governments and thereby accelerate the worldwide Islamic revolution. The timing of the declaration at the beginning of the month of Ramadan is of supreme importance in this context. The organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (which also has branches in the West) has already hastened to welcome the declaration of the caliphate. Fear of the Islamic State is evident in Saudi Arabia (the crown jewel in the Islamic State's vision of conquest), in Jordan (the weak link), and in other countries (Lebanon has learned of the appointment of the leader of the Islamic State). The danger of regional instability is greater than ever.

The Caliphate Threatens the Muslim Brotherhood

The declaration of the caliphate poses a challenge to the rival Islamic organizations and particularly to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has tried to promote the concept of a "political Islam" that combines Islam and democracy (according to the Islamic interpretation) and is aimed at achieving the ultimate goal of global Islamic rule in stages. Over the past year the Islamic State has made clear that it sees no room for compromises with organizations that do not fully and unquestioningly accept its authority, as was well evident in the bloody war it waged against the Al-Qaeda-backed Jabhat al-Nusra organization in Syria until it extracted a declaration of loyalty from this group.

The declaration of the caliphate escalates the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites and is likely to impact the Muslim communities in the West as well. In the Sunni Muslim context, the sense of identification with the caliphate creates conditions for expanded activity by groups associated with radical Islam in the West, including both the recruitment of mujahideen for combat and the perpetration of terror attacks.

Israel, which was not directly mentioned in the speech declaring the establishment of the Islamic caliphate, is included among the enemies that the Muslims are commanded to destroy so as to implement Islamic rule in the world. As a new regional reality emerges in the Middle East, Israel faces new and more complex security challenges than in the past. These challenges include the rise of radical Islam, increasing Iranian military involvement in Israel's vicinity, direct threats to the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, and the strengthening of elements that support the Islamic State in the Palestinian territories. These threats, once again, sharply focus the issue of defensible borders west of the Jordan River.

Below are the main points in the "declaration of the caliphate," which is titled "This Is Allah's Promise."

Establishment of an Islamic caliphate: The rule of the caliphate extends over the territories under the Islamic State's control in Syria and Iraq ("from Aleppo to Diyala"). The Shura Council (Consultative Council) of the Islamic State has appointed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph.

Implementation of Islamic law (sharia): The Islamic State has fulfilled conditions for the establishment of the caliphate. These include, among others, the practical implementation of sharia law in territories under its rule, with Islamic courts set up that mete out sentences in accordance with Islam (executions, crucifixions, amputations, whipping, etc.); mosques taking responsibility for instilling the ethos of the next generation; and enactment of the principles of "the cross is shattered" and "the graves are destroyed."

Fortification of the rule of the Islamic caliphate: The Islamic State has denied the validity of independent Islamic organizations and frameworks, demanding that all the organizations accept the new government and fully subjugate themselves to it.

The supremacy of the Muslims over the peoples of the world and the goal of an Islamic takeover of the world: The Muslims are the best among the nations, and on them Allah has bestowed his promise of leading the world on condition that they worship him and do not incorporate any other god into the belief in Allah or adopt any ideology in addition to that of Islam. This is the time of jihad and of taking the path of the Prophet Muhammad, after whose death the Muslim nation was able to achieve battlefield victories over the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire with its leaders becoming kings and rulers of the world (implying that the Islamic nation of today is capable of overcoming the infidel empires).

Representation of the Muslims all over the world: The authority of the Islamic caliphate is not limited to the geographic territory under its direct control; instead the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the legal ruler of all the Muslims in the world, and it is their duty to express loyalty to him and obey his instructions.

The rejection of democracy, secularism, and nationalism: The Islamic State commands the Muslims to renounce any worldview that is opposed to Islam, particularly democracy, secularism, and nationalism, and to return to the religion of Islam and thereby fulfill the conditions for Allah's promise regarding the subjugation of the entire world to Islamic rule.

Ongoing jihad everywhere: In a message to the mujahideen, the Islamic State called for continuation of the holy war in light of the fact that Allah has blessed the Muslims with the jihad and victory that led to the establishment of the caliphate, developments that sow enormous fear in the West and the East. ESR

Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd.






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