August 14, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5821

The Growing Sunni Opposition To ISIS' Declaration Of The Islamic Caliphate

August 14, 2014
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 5821

On June 29, 2014, several weeks after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded Iraq and conquered large areas with the help of local Sunni elements, an Islamic caliphate, to be known as the Islamic State, was declared by ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and he himself was appointed caliph. The declaration stated that Al-Baghdadi, whose appointment followed consultation with the ISIS Shura Council, meets all the shari'a qualifications required for a caliph, and that all Muslims must swear fealty to him. Two days later, on July 1, 2014, Al-Baghdadi himself announced that all Muslims capable of immigrating to the Islamic State were required to do so.

The declaration of the caliphate – which coincided with the first day of Ramadan, considered by Muslims to be the month of victory and jihad – is the first such declaration in the Arab world since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of nation states, and it may have sociopolitical and religious ramifications throughout the Arab and Muslim world, including for its states and regimes.

However, its more immediate impact was to expand the circles of ISIS opponents within the Arab world. Elements that were initially either implicitly or overtly supportive of the organization's invasion of Iraq because of its war against Iraq's Shi'ites and also because these elements themselves support Iraqi Sunnis' opposition to the regime of recently deposed Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki – such as Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi's International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) – have now joined the camp of ISIS's opponents.

This paper reviews the religious, sociocultural, and political arguments and criticisms of the declaration of the caliphate:

Religious Arguments Against The New Caliphate: It Does Not Meet Shari'a Conditions

As a Muslim institution, the caliphate draws on the shari'a for its authority; for this reason, the declaration of the new caliphate, which was delivered by Al-Baghdadi's spokesman Abu Muhammad 'Adnani Al-Shami, specifically noted that its establishment met the conditions set out by the shari'a. Muslim clerics who rejected the declaration, however, disputed this; for example, a July 3, 2014 IUMS communique stated: "The IUMS believes that this [declaration] does not meet shari'a guidelines... In terms of shari'a and jurisprudence, the caliphate means 'empowerment' and therefore, semantically and in shari'a terms, the caliph both represents the Islamic ummah and becomes its proxy, by virtue of the oath of fealty that he receives from it. This empowerment is only valid according to shari'a, logic, and custom when it is given to a caliph either collectively by the entire ummah or by means of [the entire ummah's] representatives... from among the qualified, responsible clerics, decision-makers, and Islamic groups. The mere declaration of a ciphate by some group is not sufficient to establish a caliphate, and contradicts this shari'a truth...

"All matters of state and of administering the state in accordance with shari'a are based, in Islam, on the [principle of] the Shura [i.e. consultation with representatives of the people]... The declaration of a caliphate by any faction of any kind is null and void as far as the shari'a is concerned, and has no basis in shari'a..."[1]

Two days previously, on July 1, Ahmed Al-Raissouni, deputy to IUMS leader Al-Qaradhawi, noted: "This false oath of fealty to some unknown individual was taken by unknown individuals in a desert or some cave; therefore, it is not binding and concerns only those who gave it. Our [Caliph] 'Omar [bin Khattab] said, as presented in Sahih Al-Bukhari's reliable book of hadiths: 'Anyone who swears fealty to someone without consulting with the Muslims must not be followed, and [anyone who swears fealty to him must likewise] not be followed...' ?

"We would be closer to the truth if we said that on Iraqi soil, an episode of some fantasy series was being filmed – except that, unfortunately, this is a blood-soaked series.

"There is no way out of mentioning that the developments now afflicting Iraq are the consequence of a lengthy series of oppression, violence, tyranny, and conquest, beginning with the era of Saddam Hussein through the American occupation and up to [former Iraqi prime minister Al-Maliki's] Iran-sponsored sectarian government. All these bear direct responsibility for what has happened, and for what is going to happen."[2]

This opinion was shared by several Al-Azhar clerics as well. Ahmed Karima, a lecturer at Al-Azhar's Faculty of Sharia, said: "When the Muslims and Arabs share a common market like the EU, a single currency like the euro, and a [single] political and military entity, and when entry visas among them are abolished – then we can talk about a caliphate." He added: "These calls [to establish a caliphate] are worthless; we condemn them and reject them according to religious law."[3]

Sa'd Al-Din Al-Hilali, head of Al-Azhar's department of comparative jurisprudence, said: "A caliphate based on blood, usurpation, and harming the honor of women is not Islamic. ISIS's actions to date have been bloody and incompatible with Islamic morality."[4]

'Abd Al-Jalil Salem, former Egyptian deputy minister of religious endowments, claimed that Muslims around the world were practicing their religion undisturbed, and that therefore there is no justification for Al-Baghdadi's call to them to emigrate to his caliphate like Muhammad, who made hijra from Mecca to Medina to flee persecution: "[Al-Baghdadi's] call for [Muslims] to immigrate to the Islamic State that he declared is meaningless. Muslims are living in their lands and practicing their religious rituals and carrying out their commandments [without anyone bothering them]. Why this call to emigrate? ISIS is just like the other terrorist organizations, and will meet a similar end."[5]

Sociocultural Arguments Against The New Caliphate: Al-Baghdadi's Islamic State Is A Terrorist State

Writers, columnists, journalists, academics, artists, intellectuals, and others from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are making some of the same arguments against the Islamic State as they made previously against ISIS the organization. These arguments focus on fears that the Islamic State will destroy sociocultural fabric in the Arab world and that the outcome will be a terrorist, tyrannical, racist, and aggressive regime with no individual or social freedoms – and all in the name of religious sanctity.

A July 1, 2014 communique signed by 260 such critics, from Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, stated: "The awakening of clan and tribal forces that carry ISIS's banner – and that are supported by 'wandering jihadis' from all over the world – is not only threatening to bloodily dismantle the national entities that were established following the collapse of the Ottoman Sultanate. It is threatening more than that – that is, to bring down societal, cultural, and religious frameworks in our countries...

"The gathering momentum of the jihad devotees and of the efforts to establish a regime based on a very narrow view of religious law constitutes a danger that emerged suddenly to threaten the peoples of the Arab Orient and their right to liberty, justice, and peace.

"This religious regime essentially grinds up human beings, and is a tool for enslavement, isolated from the world of work and productivity; its attitude towards the people lays the foundations for a racist, highly elitist, and fascist regime. It will not hesitate to concentrate authority and resources in the hands of a very few leaders who are protected by [claims of] sanctity.

"This entity is in principle hostile to freedom, women, beauty, and modern education. It is an economic parasite, aggressive domestically and outwardly; it forms the basis of a regime of enslavement that will take over residents, land, and resources. But it will not settle for power alone. It will force locals into a foreign way of life – and kill them if they fail to maintain it...

"In this dangerous game of religion and of exploiting religion in order to instill a regime of enslavement, the horizon holds only nothingness and darkness – without economy, education, culture, art, society, joie de vivre, or human dignity or honor – and, obviously, no freedom whatsoever, neither public nor private.

"This is a serious threat to everything that some enlightened Arabs have toiled to build over the past century and a half…"[6]

Columnist Hussein Al-Rawashdeh wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour on July 1: "This perverse innovation in Muslim law – that is, the establishment of an [false] Islamic caliphate – comes as no surprise. It appears from time to time in the literature of some [political] parties and groups that have reduced Islam to a regime and the state to a servant of the caliph, and who have, in the name of religion, clashed with society and the people, because of their belief that the quickest way to actualize their goals is to force Islam on the public. As if Islam... needs these new caliphs, whose grasp of Islam is backwards and distorted, who have taken advantage of the conscience of oppressed Muslims, and who are riding this wave with the aim of misleading the youth, intimidating peaceful people, and flouting the correct Islam...

"Unfortunately for Arab peoples, whose dreams of liberation from oppression, tyranny, and usurpation haunt them, they are being extricated from a corrupt government only to be entrapped by the tyrannical caliphate... Thus, in the name of the illusion that a caliphate is being established, extremism once again rears its head against our ummah – which will pay the inevitable price of the oath of fealty, bringing it back to the era of tyranny and oppression and transforming it into an isolated and hated island [of backwardness] in the modern world which has restored to the people their health, freedom, and dignity.

"No one in the world today can imagine life without pluralism, a regime without democracy, and a religion that is transformed by these people into a tool of oppression, tyranny, and misery, instead of guiding the people and bringing them wellbeing..."[7]

Several writers and columnists warned that a wave of extremism and terrorism would follow the declaration of the caliphate. Writer 'Imad 'Arian warned in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram that this was "a very dangerous development, particularly the call to Muslims from around the world to immigrate to the caliphate in order to defend the new state. These notions often seem appealing to some excited young people, and this is how new generations of extremists will emerge."[8] Also, in the editorial of the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, the paper's editor, Youself Al-Kwailit, argued that one of IS's goals is to create terrorists.[9]

The extensive discussion of Al-Baghdadi's declaration of a caliphate also focused on the nature of the historic caliphate and whether it was appropriate for our time. Ahmed 'Adnan, writing in the London-based daily Al-Arab on July 7, 2014, argued that the concept of the caliphate was obsolete: "It was not an ideal regime at the time, and certainly won't be one in the era of democracy and separation of powers... The idea of the caliphate – which is the main goal of most political Islam elements – is outdated, including the caliphate of the first four caliphs whose rule survived for less than three decades... [The first four caliphs] were the best of the Arabs and Muslims with regard to integrity and character – but nevertheless, three of the four were assassinated...

"It so happened that the first four caliphs had integrity, but this is unlikely to recur... The behavior of most of the [Umayyad] caliphs who succeeded them was shameful... The Abbasid caliphs were no better... [and] the Ottoman caliphs murdered their family members, fearing rivalry for the regime...

"The perception of 'regime' has changed and developed, and a ruler no longer needs to be a just judge, since the dispensation of justice has been transferred to an independent judiciary, in accordance with principle of separation of powers. Today a ruler must be the successful administrator of a modern state – that is, a state of law, institutions, and citizenship, not the primitive state of yesteryear whose ruler [was in charge of passing] judgment and making war, and oppressed the people and only relinquished [power] when he died... A proper democratic, secular civil state is much better than the caliphate state, and is more just and modern. Even though according to all human law there is no return to the past, we live in a time where we are seeing the past return to us."[10]

Conversely, Yousef Al-Kwailit claimed that the caliphate era was idyllic, but that those who are claiming to have established the caliphate today are liars and are damaging Islam: "The circumstances in which the [original] caliphate was established were formed under historical conditions, under which the caliphs established a state, a culture, and an historic heritage; the caliph, who [possessed] a vast wealth of religious and cultural [knowledge], could consult with leaders, jurisprudents, philosophers, ambassadors, and heads of state... However, those in the modern era are merely individuals who presume to be the prophets and messengers [of Allah]..."[11]

Political Arguments Against The New Caliphate: It Serves Iran And The Resistance Axis

Some writers and commentators warned of the political ramifications the establishment of the caliphate might have for the region, saying that it could inflame sectarian struggles and wars, and harm the Iraqi and Syrian peoples' chance at freedom. A communique issued by 260 intellectuals argued that this Islamic state "provides the Iranian regime, whose ideology is one of expansion, with a pretext to spread out in the region and erect its defensive walls outside of its own borders..."[12] 'Imad 'Arian wrote in Al-Ahram: "The current picture confirms that the region is sunk in a quagmire of sectarian struggle that could scorch everyone's fingers and lead it to a series of regional and civil wars that will hurt everyone..."[13] The IUMS stated that the declaration was risky "for Iraq's Sunnis and the Syrian rebellion, and will unite the hostile ranks so that they can strike the rebellions in both Syria and Iraq, which aspire to obtain their legitimate rights."[14]

According to the umbrella organization of the Syrian opposition, the declaration of the caliphate was aimed at thwarting the Syrian revolution. The organization took this opportunity to ask the international community to arm the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to combat ISIS forces in Syria. National Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh said: "The coalition strongly condemns the Islamic State's announcement and believes that the only aim of such an announcement is to thwart the revolution. We must remind everyone that the only element that has been fighting the Islamic State thus far is the FSA... The FSA, with its limited resources, must fight IS, which has taken over... some of the weapons in Iraq and continues to control massive funds... Unfortunately, this means that we must continue to fight. The ball is now in the court of the international community, which must act... and arm the FSA."[15]


[1], July 3, 2014.

[2], July 1, 2014.

[3] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 3, 2014.

[4] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 3, 2014.

[5] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 3, 2014.

[6] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 1, 2014.

[7] Al-Dustour (Jordan), July 1, 2014.

[8] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 7, 2014.

[9] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), July 1, 2014.

[10] Al-Arab (London), July 7, 2014.

[11] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), July 1, 2014.

[12] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 1, 2014.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 7, 2014.

[14], July 3, 2014.

[15], June 30, 2014.

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