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The History of the Caliphate

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by Khalid Yahya Blankinship

Crossposted from Lampost Productions

Question:

Didn\’t the Muslim caliphate or khilâfah end in 1342 AH/1924 CE, when Turkey abolished the office? Didn\’t the khilâfah have a continuous existence up to that point?

Answer:

These questions are two-sided, as they deal with fiqh and with history. The fiqh of the khilâfah is important, and perhaps that can be dealt with in a future article. In this article, however, I will be exclusively concerned with the history. In revealing historical facts, it is not my purpose to challenge any point of fiqh regarding the necessity of having a leader. Therefore, I am not disputing here that from the time of the death of the Prophet (SAAS) there was an amîr, and that the amîr had to be obeyed, and that the amîr also had the title of khalîfah. Most of what I would amend concentrates on the idea that the khilâfah was abolished in 1342/1924, which is an event whose significance has often been misconstrued by Muslims.

The early khilâfah had a more or less continuous history from Abu Bakr (RA), despite the civil wars of 35-40/656-661 and 64-73/683-692, until the coup that overthrew al-Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik in 126/744. That led to the Third Fitnah or Civil War (126-134/744-752), during which the ‘Abbâsids came to power in 132/749-750. This history is detailed in my book, The End of the Jihâd State: The Reign of Hishâm ibn ‘Abd al-Malik and the Collapse of the Umayyads, available from SUNY Press.

Contrary to most popular belief, the ‘Abbâsids\’s position was weak, not strong, because the disordersof the Third Fitnah had undermined the khilâfah. The ‘Abbâsids never ruled in Algeria (except briefly in the extreme east of that country), Morocco, and Spain, so that the unity of the state had decisively ended. This actually first happened when the rebelling Berbers of Morocco set up their own khalîfah in 122/740, and it never happened after that year that all the Muslims ever were under one single khalîfah again. Although it has been mentioned that the Umayyads in Spain did not claim the title of khalîfah until the 4th/10th century, they were in a constant state of hostile relations with the ‘Abbâsids, who never ruled or even exerted any influence in Spain.

The North African Berbers, whose revolt had actually broken the back of the earlier Umayyad khilâfah in 122/740, had plenty of justification for their revolt, and it is really unfair merely to treat them as followers of a deviant sect of “Khawârij,” as has often been done. Even though their presence gave rise to the separate sect or madhhab of the Ibâdîs who still exist in the Algerian city of Ghardâyah and also in villages in Jabal Nafûsah in Libya, their initial impetus was purely political. All they did was to rebel against an Umayyad khilâfah which had lost all legitimacy except among the Syrians and which soon collapsed and disappeared. Remember that Sunnis have historically never validated the rule of the khalîfahs apart from the four Râshidûn and, often, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azîz (99-101/717-720). While Mu‘âwiyah occurs in hadîth and might be defended as a Companion, that does not apply to the later Umayyad rulers. ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwân\’s viceroy of the East, al-Hajjâj ibn Yûsuf (d. 95/714), even executed Sa‘îd ibn Jubayr (d. 95/714), the great muhaddith and authority of al-Bukhârî and other hadîth collections, sarcastically berating him for having thrown off his oath of allegiance by joining the ill-fated rebellion of Ibn al-Ash‘ath much earlier and then hiding out. This episode is documented in detail by al-Dhahabî in his huge biographical dictionary, Siyar a‘lâm al-nubalâ\’, Vol. IV.

From the time of its first proclamation in 132/749, the ‘Abbâsid khilâfah continued to disintegrate through most of its history. It is quite notable that Abû Hanîfah (80-150/699-767), the putative founder of the Hanafî legal school and an outstanding jurist of the Muslim metropolis of al-Kûfah, after he had supported the ‘Alid rebel Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah, spent the last four and a half years of his life (145-150/763-767) in the prison of Abu Ja‘far al-Mansûr (ruled 136-158/754-775), the ‘Abbâsid khalîfah. Indeed, Abu Hanifah was imprisoned in Baghdâd in the very year of the founding of that city and thus broke in the new prison. Further undermining the claim of the ‘Abbâsids to universal rule, a separate Fâtimid Shî‘î khilâfah was set up that lasted 297-567/909-1171 in North Africa and Egypt, and the surviving Umayyads in Spain also claimed the title of khalîfah 317-422/929-1031, when they fell. After that, many small princelings in Spain and North Africa claimed to be khalîfahs, so that a poet stated that they would take up big names like al-Mu‘tasim, just like housecats pretending to be lions. The Hafsid dynasty of Tunis claimed the title of khalîfah 651-977/1253-1569 and adopted ‘Abbâsid-sounding reign titles. When Islam spread to West Africa, so did claims to the office of khalîfah or amîr al-mu\’minîn. This became part of the titles of ‘Uthmân ibn Fûdî (or dan Fodio) of Sokoto and his successors in Nigeria to this day. Since the khilâfah of the Ottomans was remote and made little pretense of being a real office, ‘Uthmân ibn Fûdî ignored it. The continuity of the use of such titles in the Muslim West also extends down to the present in Morocco, where Muhammad VI is still to this day amîr al-mu\’minîn, just like ‘Umar ibn al-Khattâb, and that is taken with deadly seriousness in Morocco. Thus, the Moroccans, having their own continuous succession of the title, do not at all now and never before did recognize the Ottoman Turkish sultâns\’s claim to the title of khalîfah. Indeed, since the sultâns of Morocco claimed descent from the Prophet (SAAS) and were thus Qurashîs, while the Ottomans were not, it might be held against the Ottomans rather that they did not recognize the Moroccan ruler as khalîfah and submit to him.

Meanwhile, in the East, the ‘Abbâsid khalîfahs exercised no personal power in 247-279/861-892 and again 295-334/908-945, when they were under the control of military dictators, and then lost all power completely with the capture of Baghdâd in 334/945 by the Shî‘î Bûyids or Buwayhiyyûn, who kept the ‘Abbâsid khalîfahs under house arrest until the Bûyids\’s own downfall in 447/1055, when the Sunnî Saljûq Turks came as “liberators.” However, the ‘Abbâsid khalîfahs soon found that the Saljûqs were just as intolerable and would allow the khalîfahs no power, although they “respected” them, for example, by seeking to marry their daughters. The Saljûks arrogated to themselves the title of sultân or “authority,” which henceforth became the main title of the rulers in Islam until the last century, when malik or “king” began to make a comeback. The ‘Abbâsid khalîfahs only became independent again from the Saljûk sultâns in 547-656/1152-1258, after which Baghdad was captured and destroyed by the kâfir Mongols and the last ‘Abbâsid khalîfah was slain. The Egyptian Mamlûks set up one of his relatives, but he too was killed by the Mongols trying to go back to Baghdâd. After that, they set up a distant relative in Cairo in 659/1261 as khalîfah, and that line continued until the death of the last one in 950/1543. This was the so-called “‘Abbâsid khilâfah in Cairo.” Although the very far away Muslim Sultanate of Delhi in India used to seek investiture from them, everyone else regarded them as a joke. Usually the Mamlûk sultân would go out and drag the khalîfah along in his baggage just like one of his wives. It was form without content.

At the same time, the Turks of Turkey used the titles of amîr al-mu\’minîn and khalîfah occasionally before 905/1500, but their real title was sultân, just like the Saljûks, Ayyûbids, and Mamlûks before them. After that the title khalîfah was not used by them for several centuries, until it was rediscovered at the Treaty of Kuchuk Kanarjli in 1188/1774. At that time, in that treaty with the Russians, the Turkish sultân reserved the title of khalîfah for himself so that he could still be considered the spiritual leader of the Crimean Tatar Muslims who were surrendered at that time to the Russians. Thereafter, it was used very little except from 1293/1876, when the Ottoman ruler ‘Abd al-Hamîd II started calling himself the Sultân-khalîfah in order to threaten the British Empire and thus preserve his rule. In this he was strongly opposed by ‘Abd al-Rahmân al-Kawâkibî (d. 1321/1903), who pointed out that according to Sunnî law, the khalîfah had to be from Quraysh, and the Ottomans were not Qurashîs and had never claimed to be. Long after ‘Abd al-Hamîd was overthrown in 1326-1327/1908-1909, many Muslims started looking back on him as the ideal ruler and his time as the golden age, because his overthrow practically meant the end of the multinational Ottoman Turkish state, but they did not think so at the time. His successors Muhammad V Rashâd (1327-1336/1909-1918) and Muhammad VI Wahîd al-Dîn (1336-1341/1918-1922) continued to use the title, but they were under the control of military dictators. When Muhammad VI surrendered to the British in 1337/1918, he fell under the control of those colonialists, and none mourned his expulsion by the military dictator Mustafâ Kamâl in 1341/1922. Thereafter for two years, Muhammad VI\’s cousin ‘Abd al-Majîd II had the title of khalîfah without being sultân, until that was terminated by Kamâl in 1342/1924. That was the end of one khilâfah, but hardly the end of THE khilâfah, because there was nothing legitimate about the Ottoman claim to be khalîfahs to begin with.

After that, various rulers tried to claim to be khalîfah, including the British puppet kings of Egypt and the Hâshimite ex-king of the Hijâz, but no agreeable candidate appeared. The Sa‘ûdî rulers never tried to claim it, maybe because they had fought the Ottoman Turks on and off for nearly two centuries and did not respect their claim to the title, so they did not see that any legitimate title had become vacant.

It would seem to me that any attempt to restore the khilâfah today would have to begin by asking why all Muslims should not swear allegiance to King Muhammad VI of Morocco, who certainly holds this claim and does so through an ancient and venerable lineage that goes back much earlier than the Ottoman claim and is much more authentic. Not that I hold the view that that is what is to be done, but it would seem that classical theory would require allegiance to the existing khalîfah rather than setting up another as rival. The Ottoman state did represent the largest surviving Muslim state in the center of the Muslim world in the thirteenth-fourteenth/nineteenth century, it is true, but it almost went under in 1247-1256/1831-1840 and was only saved by British intervention. Thus, for most of its last century it did not constitute a truly independent Muslim polity but depended on Britain for protection from Russia and from other enemies. Indeed, its destruction after the First World War occurred because it had transferred its poltical allegiance to Germany, so that Britain no longer wished to preserve it.

Besides these difficulties with idealizing the Ottoman state, there are other problems. The centralizing organization of that state made the religious scholars very subservient, thereby undermining their traditional role as defenders of the people. Ottoman statism cynically used Islam in the thirteenth/nineteenth and early fourteenth/twentieth centuries, not cultivating real spiritual and moral values and already capitulating to the West. Thus, Mustafâ Kamâl, the secularist military dictator, represented more a continuation of Ottoman statism than a revolution against the Ottoman state model. Even if we go back to Muhammad II al-Fâtih (855-886/1451-1481) and Sulaymân I al-Qânûnî (926-974/1520-1566), we find the statist model in full operation. Nor is its derivation even wholly Muslim; in many of its forms and especially its content, it goes straight back to the defunct, authoritarian Roman Empire which it replaced in 857/1453. Of course, there is also some virtue in the Ottoman state as an example of possible Muslim political arrangements, but it can hardly be considered to accord with the classical shar‘î model of a Muslim state, nor can it be wholly defended on moral grounds. It is better to be circumspect about such matters.

The idealization of Sultân ‘Abd al-Hamîd II is also a dubious exercise. While I agree that he has been overly abused by European colonialist writers, his rule, although sometimes clever, was not ideal in an Islamic sense at all. It was rather filled with compromises and a huge intrusion of European influence, including a bankruptcy similar to Egypt\’s meltdown of 1293/1876. Most modern defenders of Muslim statism would not have liked ‘Abd al-Hamid\’s conservative dependence on the Sufi shaykh Abû al-Hudâ al-Sayyâdî, nor perhaps his personal character, nor would they have been content to live under his rule without protest.

Finally, one should note that it is not usually wise to take a partisan position about every episode in past history, as we were not there, did not experience it, and do not know the details to weigh who was more in the right in the majority of cases. It is true that we have set views received from our tradition regarding respect for the Prophets (AS), in particular our Prophet Muhammad (SAAS), as well as his Companions (RAA), especially the Rightly-guided Khalîfahs or Râshidûn. And even after them one may make some historical criticisms and judgements after careful study. But in most cases it is better to invoke and obey the command of the Prophet (SAAS) in the sahîh hadîth from al-Bukhârî, “lâ tasubbû al-amwât, fa-innahum afdaw ilâ mâ qaddamû” = “Do not curse the dead, for they have gone to the reward of what they did” (See al-Bukhârî, Sahîh, translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khân, Vol. 2, p. 270, hadîth 476 (kitâb al-janâ\’iz, bâb mâ yunhâ min sabb al-amwât), and Vol. 8, p. 344, hadîth 523 (kitâb al-riqâq, bâb sakarât al-mawt); also reported by al-Nasâ\’î, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and al-Dârimî).

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ahsan Sayed

    July 21, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    Mashallah very very insightful!

  2. Avatar

    Mohammad

    July 21, 2011 at 6:06 PM

    All states and rulers have their problems, but I think the question today is not about the failures of Islamic/Muslim rule before, but what is the way forward in the Muslim world and is Khilafah a viable system for the Muslim world?

  3. Pingback: The History of the Caliphate | allah.eu

  4. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    July 21, 2011 at 7:33 PM

    Asalaam Alaikum,

    Thank you for a fairly detailed article on the history of the Khilafah. However, I have to disagree with some of the points you bring out.

    1. Whilst it is true that the unity of the Muslim ummah was broken in the literal sense because rival claimants to the Caliphate were present at the time of the Abassids, this in itself does not negate the authority or position of their caliphate as validated by most classical scholars of the time. For example, at the time of Ali (R) a group of Muslims disagreed with him on political matters (e.g. the Syrian-Egyptian alliance) and others on religio-political matters (the khawaarij.) Does that make his rule any less legitimate?

    2. Almost any empire can be identified as continually disintegrating in hindsight, but the Abassids were far more powerful and legitimate in the eyes of their contemporaries than your article gives them credit for. Everyone from the sultans of India to Salahuddin in Al-Shaam and Yusuf ibn Tashfin in the Maghrib sought and received permission to rule in the name of the Caliph. This underlines the fact that though other claimants existed (Fatimids, Umayyads of Spain etc…) that the majority of Muslims were in no doubt where the Caliphate rested and with whom.

    3. The Ottomans were similarly recognised as Caliphs by the vast majority of the Muslim world. Whether it is Banda Aceh, the Nizam of Hyderabad and even the Moghul Emperors… there was widespread and generalised acceptance of them as the true inheritors of the Caliphate. This was also the classical view of the majority of scholars with very few notable examples calling their Caliphate as a chimera.

    4. The story of the Ottomans holding the Caliphate but not actually invoking it until the 1700’s is oriental mumbo-jumbo and can be easily refuted by a walk through Topkapi palace, a perusal of the archives of Suleiman the magnificent (he historically referred to himself as such and was referred as holder of the sacred office of the Caliphate by the Moghul Emperor) etc…

    5. Simply having an alliance with another country does not make you a vassal state. Yes, the British Empire may have been the dominant partner in this alliance but that does not mean that the Ottomans totally lost their independence. They were weakened – even fatally so – but that does not mean they were no longer independent in any sense of the word.

    6. This Ottoman statism angle should be highlighted as a theory that you have rather than fact. One could easily argue that the state infrastructure of the Ottomans allowed the dissemination of Islamic education to the masses with many mosques, madrassas and tekkes opening up across the Empire. And in any case, how different is Ottoman statism to Abassid or Umayyad statism? To say that bringing Islam under state control compromised the independence of the ulemaa is one thing – but to say that it bred Mustafa Kemal is an extrapolation too far.

    My main issue is that your article seems to suggest that the Caliphate hasn’t really existed for centuries when in fact what you have shown evidence for is that it has not existed in an ideal and pristine manner for centuries. No one would argue with the latter, but I’m afraid that – in the nicest possible way – I believe that the former is a rather unique view which you haven’t really provided justification for.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as overly combative… merely intellectual debate!

  5. Avatar

    Hamza 21

    July 21, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    @ WAJiD

    I believe you missed the point of the article. It’s not a dissertation on the history of the caliphate it’s short article in response to two questions:

    Didn’t the Muslim caliphate or khilâfah end in 1342 AH/1924 CE, when Turkey abolished the office? Didn’t the khilâfah have a continuous existence up to that point?

    Dr Khalid outlines a brief history of the myths that many Muslims have about the Khilafah of the past. Although you may inferred that:

    “that your article seems to suggest that the Caliphate hasn’t really existed for centuries when in fact what you have shown evidence for is that it has not existed in an ideal and pristine manner for centuries.”

    That wasn’t what Dr Khalid asserted in this brief article. I think you need reread paragraph five “From the time of its first proclamation ….”. Dr Khalid shows how various groups have used the title of Khalifah and how others viewed the legitimacy of the use of that title. The article has less to do with showing the Caliphate “hasn’t really existed for centuries” then detailing how it maybe a myth in many Muslims minds that the title had a continuous succession of one group to another. The truth is it was more varied and nuanced than what most articles on Islamic history presents.

    • WAJiD

      WAJiD

      July 22, 2011 at 4:02 AM

      Walaikum asalaam,

      Perhaps I have misread what he was getting that but even the statement that it “maybe a myth in many Muslims minds that the title had continuous succession of one group or another” is really a minority view. To say that it is a myth that the title had continuous succession simply because a rival rule existed in a corner of the empire claiming the title (one that was not recognised by the majority of the muslims in the world or the ulemaa) is not fair.

      In fact, the Caliphate has a pretty continuous succession in the khulafa rashidun to the umayyads to the abbassids and then to the Ottomans – with 101 Caliphs in total.

  6. Avatar

    abu Abdullah

    July 22, 2011 at 1:09 AM

    jazakumullah khayr for writing and publishing the article.

    Allegiance to present Morocco King?
    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/145701

  7. Avatar

    Musa

    July 22, 2011 at 1:24 AM

    I was wondering whether the traditional way of passing the title of caliph from father to son is Islamic or not? Aren’t we supposed to choose caliph and leaders based on quality and not lineage? How can we simply say someone has some claim to caliphate simply because his great great grandfather or uncle was a caliph?

    • WAJiD

      WAJiD

      July 22, 2011 at 4:07 AM

      Walaikum asalaam,

      Islamically, it must be the best man for the job. Today, this issue no longer exists because no one is seriously considering the descendants of the Ottomans/ Umayyads/ Abassids to be the inheritors of the Caliphate.

      • Avatar

        A.M

        July 22, 2011 at 8:47 AM

        Actually, it’s not really the best man for the job. As YKB pointed in his article… the office of the khalifah can only be held by members of the Quraish tribe according to Sunni fiqh.

    • Avatar

      z4ydi

      July 25, 2011 at 6:28 AM

      It was only amongs the first 4 khalifas (Abu Bakar, Umar, Othman and Ali) which the khilafa transfered based on quality/suitability after that I beleive it was M’awya who passed the title to his son and abviously after that there were many issues.
      What I understood from the article is that it is required from the fiq point of view that the Calif should be Qurashî, can someone please give some more details on this.

  8. Avatar

    Omar

    July 22, 2011 at 4:49 AM

    Nice article. Some corrections:

    “until the coup that overthrew al-Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik in 126/744”
    It was al-Walid Ibn Yazid, not Ibn ‘Abd al-Malik, who was an earlier Caliph.

    Said Ibn Al Musaib died before Imam Bukhari’s time and could not have been an authority on his collection

    What this shows is that Islamic History is a lot more complicated than some Muslim groups make it out to be. The title of Khalifah has always been contested, often in very underhanded unIslamic ways.

    To claim that a Khalifah today will somehow solve all our problems, ruling 1.7B Muslim of hundreds of different ethnicities, languages, cultures, and even understandings of Islam, to claim this is almost mythical and shows a lack of understanding of history and politics.

    However, despite the bloody inner squabbles in Islamic history, there was a great deal of civilization, knowledge, development, and ‘izza (honour) amid it all. That is what we should seek to rebuild today, and we will definitely succeed inshaAllah.

    • WAJiD

      WAJiD

      July 22, 2011 at 11:21 AM

      Salaam,

      I’m not sure what you are getting at with your penultimate paragraph?

      Khilafah is not a panacea that will solve all our problems (like some groups such as HT seem to indicate that it is), however it is also not a myth.

      Anyone who denies the importance of the institution (even in this day and age) goes against not only the ijmaa of the scholars and the historical texts that we have. The prophet (SAW) himself forbade 3 muslims from setting out on a journey without appointing a leader from amongst themselves. The fact that we can countenance a nation of over a billion setting about its business without a leader is a mockery of this hadith.

      In addition, the civilization, knowledge, development and honour can’t be rebuilt in a vacuum. It needs the Muslims to be united, and we will not be united until we stop seeing ourselves according to our cultures/ nationalities/ ethnicities/ sects – and start working as one ummah … and we will never be one ummah unless we unite behind one leader. We are not a communist paradise with no leaders.

  9. Avatar

    Nasser

    July 22, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    Does the Khalifah/Caliph have to be inherited from father to son? Wasn’t the first four Khulafâ/Caliphs elected.

  10. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    July 22, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    Salaam,

    I’m dismayed that so many Muslims (and educated ones) seem to be buying into historical Western propaganda and current liberal Muslim propaganda that has taught us that the Caliphate:

    a) Was never really powerful or universally accepted
    b) Was riven with fatal divisions from nearly the start thereby delegitimising it
    c) Was, apart from the earliest khulafa, run by the despicable characters not worthy of the role
    d) Was merely a figurehead
    e) Was a puppet
    f) Was and is unwelcome and unecessary

    I knew that we had been physically defeated, but to see evidence of this wholesale intellectual defeat is sad beyond words. They are like the Orphan who claims that “he doesn’t need a father anyway” because he doesn’t remember what his father ever did for him and he thinks he’s done Ok for himself without one.

    • Avatar

      Muhammad 'abd al-Haqq

      July 22, 2011 at 4:13 PM

      Salam brother,

      I agree wholeheartedly with your points. It is very sad to go on other Muslim boards and hear other Muslims say about the khilafah “we don’t need it” or the defeatist “it is too difficult to re-establish it in this day and age with so many Muslims of different ethnic, national, and even creedal backgrounds”.

      You should hear what Reza Aslan says about the subject and how many Muslims in the West who latch on to any supposed Muslim leader without ‘ilm repeat his nonsense! You mention khilafah these days and people think you are upon what HT or the MB are upon.

      May Allah Guide us all. Ameen

    • Avatar

      Muttaqi

      July 23, 2011 at 2:27 PM

      I appreciate the good historical information the author provided. I too am not thrilled by the marginalization of the Khilafah.

      A year ago if you asked most Muslims would it be possible to overthrow the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt without a bloody revolt, everyone would have said “Absolutely not!”

      Likewise, while it may appear impossible with our limited vision for a legitimate, unifying Caliphate in this day and age, if Allah decrees it, then it will happen.

      As for the Saudi’s reluctance to claim the title, I believe there are two other reasons why they do not do so:

      1. The Saudi government is little more than a client state of the U.S.
      2. Most of the Muslim world will not recognize the current extravagantly immoral Saudi dynasty as the Caliphate. Perhaps if a truly independent Saudi king who feared Allah and put the welfare of the Muslims first, there may be some inclination for Muslims worldwide to accept him.

      And Allah knows best.

  11. Avatar

    ahlam

    July 22, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    I had heard from a ‘scholar’ ( not sure what to categorize him as), that the last true Caliph ended with ‘Uthman radi Allahu ‘anh he said in his words ”before Mu’awiyah radi Allahu ‘anh took it by force”. He mentioned this in the context of ‘Islamic Democracy” and how Muslims need to choose their leaders today, shura etc. Is it true? I always thought that it doesn’t matter how the leader comes about…I suppose it is due to the long periods of inheriting the chair in our history that its hard to imagine the opposite.

  12. Avatar

    Firas Khateeb

    March 1, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    Salam,

    Very insightful article mashAllah.

  13. Avatar

    Ismail

    March 27, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    Can someone please re-edit this article and make it more readable.

  14. Pingback: Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse - MuslimMatters.org

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#Society

“Rather Turkish Than Pope”, European Islam Already Exists For Centuries

European Islam
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Changing the factual past in an attempt to gain political authority is one of the paradoxes of modern populism, where the target audience is presented a twisted and fake past as a nostalgic idealistic image. Populist politicians reminisce publicly about the benefits and pleasures of the days of yore, where facts often have to make room for emotions. 

This false representations of a national past on a micro-level is internationally recognizable, but it nonetheless becomes increasingly apparent on a macro-level. The modern European continent is such an example, where right-wing populism is rapidly gaining ground and threatens to achieve political successes.

The populist branch within the Flemish Nationalist thought lends itself particularly to such interpretations of the past, and makes severe historical mistakes in an attempt to uphold and protect that history.

Historically speaking, there’s no truth in an independent Flanders based on the territory of the current Flemish Region. The historical and geographical Flanders is the areas designated as Zealand, East- and West-Flanders and French-Flanders all the way up to Dunkirk. The provinces of Antwerp and Flemish Brabant belonged historically to the duchy of Brabant, and the modern-day province of Limburg was a patchwork of small governments under influence of the Holy Roman Empire, the largest of which was the County of Loon, part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.

And yet, nostalgic references are made to the Battle of the Golden Spurs, the County of Flanders and the Flemish Lion by right-wingers. These are mere emotional ideals for a people desperately in search of its own identity amidst a rapidly changing world.

That all of this “past” needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The average Limburgian shares less history with his West-Flemish countryman than with someone from Liège, often doesn’t matter any more.

It’s emotional support, and a form of political opportunism.

Das Abendland

In an almost romanticized narrative, Europe is presented as the so-called Abendland, the Evening Land, a common territory inhabited by people and societies that share a homogeneous cultural unity and a common history. It’s from this populist utopia that the resistance grows against the so-called illusion that Europe was partly formed by external influences and ideas from other continents around the world. It’s from this outset that an isolationist and supremacist historical thinking is pursued. It doesn’t come as a surprise that such theories aren’t only wrong on a historical level, but form an acute danger that threatens to separate people, based on ghosts from the past and vague ideals.

This Eurocentric thinking, in which Europe is considered the initiator and not the receiver, persists throughout colonial and post-colonial European thought. Besides, this trend is also observable in our modern Western high school system, where education tends to look at human history through a purely European lens, as if it was the exclusive result of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, Christianity, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Years of history classes are being taught within this framework, offering students just a limited amount of tools to effectively look beyond their own geographical and historical area. This is disastrous for the 21st century’s educational system. Such outdated curriculum only serves the interests of populists and idealists.

The history of the several African civilizations, more focus on the earliest states of the Fertile Crescent and some time on the rise and development of the United States were severely lacking during my high school experience, and I had to wait until university to be taught these subjects. What I found most lacking, however, was any in-depth attention for the complex relationship between Europe and the Islamic World.

The Absent Crescent

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Albanian Muslims in traditional clothing – 1873

The narrative that Europe is the sole result of a Judeo-Christian tradition with roots in ancient Greek and Roman antiquity needs to be swept aside, once and for all. By no means was there in Europe at any point up until the Second World War an example of cultural, religious or social unity. On the contrary! The continent has always been a patchwork of warring tribes, feudal kingdoms and modern nation states that had in most cases little more in common than their shared geographical position on the European land mass.

More than one third of Europe was under strong Islamic influence for several centuries; in the west, the Iberian Peninsula known as al-Andalus and in the east, Greece and the Balkan all the way up to Vienna. Important Islamic cities like Cordoba, Granada, Sarajevo and Istanbul are still standing in all their glory as we speak, effectively forming visual and tangible landmarks of the Islamic presence on the European continent. This part of history and its influence on modern Europe, however, is predominantly kept silent in the rich historical corpus this continent possesses so abundantly, just as much as in the average high schools so paramount in the formation of our youngest generations.

It is mere randomness that determined that Judaism and Christianity, both religions arisen from Semitic societies, are considered to be European and Islam, which equally emerged from a Semitic society, to be non-European. The fact that European Muslim scientists and philosophers like Ibn Zuhr, al-Zahrāwī, Ibn Rushd or Ibn-Ẓafar al-Ṣiqillī were often much more relevant to modern European science and philosophy than the ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, is long forgotten.

True European Islam

This Islam, that was equally and simultaneously influenced and touched by the proximity and contact with other European people, constitutes true European Islam, i.e. the Islam that grew on the European continent and which left its mark on the future development of states influenced by its presence.

That abhorrent mixture of Islam and liberal, secular and humanist ideals that people nowadays wish to propagate as ‘European Islam’ by presenting it as an acceptable alternative of the Islamic religion within Europe is in my opinion nothing more than a product of the European superiority thinking and undoubtedly also the inferiority complex lots of immigrants suffer from. European Islam predates all of this politicized circus for several centuries, and doesn’t need any dilution or mixing in order to be accepted as European.Click To Tweet

That abhorrent mixture of Islam and liberal, secular and humanist ideals that people wish to propagate as ‘European Islam’ by presenting it as an acceptable alternative of the Islamic religion within Europe is nothing more than a product of a European superiority complex and undoubtedly also the inferiority complex lots of immigrants suffer from. European Islam predates all of this politicized circus for several centuries, and doesn’t need any dilution or mixing in order to be accepted as European.

People like Ivan de Veenboer and Jan Janszoon probably don’t immediately ring a bell, and yet they were among the first Dutch Muslims who actively served as seafarers under the Ottoman Empire.

Ivan de Veenboer was an infamous Dutch corsair who sailed the Mediterranean Sea and converted to Islam somewhere at the start of the 17th century. He received the honorary title of ‘Sulaymān-Reis’  from the Dey of Algiers and was promoted to captain and commander of the Algiers corsair fleet, a promotion that heralded a highly successful career. His chief mate was another Dutch corsair, Jan Janszoon. He converted to Islam as well, and assumed command as Murād-Reis over the Fleet of Salé, a powerful squadron of seventeen privateers under Ottoman command. The word Reis is a derivative of the Arabic word for commander, raʾīs, and was given as an honorary title.

In 1566, the Ottoman Empire — under Sulaymān the Magnificent — as the sole foreign power offer its aid to the Dutch rebels of William of Orange. The Protestant Dutch were involved in a violent rebellion against Catholic Spain, and found an ally in the Ottomans. In 1574, Selīm II took Tunisia from the Spanish Empire in a successful attempt to lower the Spanish pressure on the Low Lands.

The History of  the Geuzen

The Geuzen, the Dutch guerrilla and privateering forces who opposed the Spanish Catholics during the Eighty Years’ War, wore a badge with the inscription: “Rather Turkish than Pope.” When the village of Sluis fell under control of the Dutch rebels in 1604, they found several Muslims among the Spanish galley slaves. The Dutch immediately chose to grant them their freedom and to transport them to the shores of North Africa as a sign of gratitude towards the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Caliph Aḥmed I asked the Dutch revolutionaries to send him an ambassador, effectively becoming one of the first world leaders to recognize the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic.Click To Tweet
HUIK_-_rouwkleding_-_Bernard_Picart,_1733
Two Dutch women wearing a so-called huik – 1733

The Ottoman Caliph Aḥmed I asked the Dutch revolutionaries to send him an ambassador, effectively becoming one of the first world leaders to recognize the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic. That ambassador’s name was Cornelius Haga, who arrived with a delegation in Istanbul in 1611. In 1612, he agreed on a very advantageous trade agreement with the Turks, exempting the Dutch from several taxes. Haga remained at the caliph’s court until 1639.

It’s regrettable that such examples are barely covered when speaking about the history of Europe, even in high school. This point of view can build a much broader insight among students with regard to the role of Islam and the Muslims in Europe.

Missed Opportunities and Right-Wing Historians

The fact that the average history lesson doesn’t speak a word about the complex relationships between European nations and Muslim empires, like the Umayyads and Abbasids, is a missed opportunity. In particular because the global history of the European nations can’t be detached from these Muslim empires and vice versa.

The fact that the average history lesson doesn’t speak a word about the complex relationships between European nations and Muslim empires, like the Umayyads and Abbasids, is a missed opportunityClick To Tweet

From Islamic Andalusia and Sicily through the Crusades all the way up to the Ottoman support for Ireland during the Great Famine, European states constantly existed in interaction with neighboring Muslim countries. Keeping silent about all of this benefits only the far-right populist establishment. Right-wing historians, like the Belgian Wim Van Rooy, go as far as denying the entire Islamic civilization and all of its achievements throughout the centuries, calling it an invention of 20th century Arab Gulf states.

The fact that the historical role played by Islam in Europe is reduced to an absolute minimum in popular modern historiography only contributes to a wrong understanding of the current question of Islam in the West. Islam existence on the continent has a long history, and didn’t just slip through the net as a result of mass immigration after the Second World War, as claimed by several populists.

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Marmaduke Pikthall

Many prominent Muslims lived on the continent in the early 90’s. Let’s take the example of Evelyn (Zainab) Cobbold was a Scottish noblewoman who converted to Islam after having spent several years in Algiers and Cairo. The 65 year old was, as a matter of fact, by 1933 the first British Muslim woman that ever performed the pilgrimage (Ḥajj) to Mecca.

British writer and journalist Marmaduke (Muḥammad) Pikthall, praised by great writers like H.G. Wells and D.H. Lawrence, converted to Islam publicly in 1917. In 1930, he published an English translation of the Quran, and in 1936 he was buried in the Muslim section of the famous Brookwood cemetery in London.

Sir Archibald (ʿAbdullāh) Hamilton, Etienne Dinet, Claude Alexandre de Bonnevalle, the Hungarian Jozef Bem and even the younger brother of Vlad Dracul, Radu, were all early European converts to Islam, and the list is much longer.

Can’t all of this be considered a common part of European history?

Mahomets Gesang

Goethe known for his love and fascination for the poetry of Saʿdī al-Shīrāzī, dedicated a poem of his to the Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) Mahomets Gesang, Song of Muhammad.

The Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw didn’t make his admiration for the Prophet Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) much of a secret as well. His famous quote still emits a serene respect: “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality.” In the January 1933 issue of the Lahore The Light magazine in which he made this comment, Shaw added that “he forecast that within a century, Islam would be the religion of Europe.”

According to him, Islam was dismissed for centuries by Europeans as pagan heresy and nonsense, depicted as the embodiment of evil, but 18th and 19th century thinkers like Goethe, Gibbon and Carlyle brought a positive change in how Islam is viewed. All four of these thinkers, including Shaw, deviated from the contemporary traditional European historiography and observed instead the Middle-East, the Greek-Orthodox Church and the development of Islam. Not only did they get to know the Prophet Muḥammad as a religious symbol, but as an efficient political leader and a genius strategist.

Connection Instead Of Polarization

This entire message, however, won’t ring a bell to most, including Muslims themselves. It’s a message that gets lost amidst the deafening sound of disinformation, political opportunism and populist interests. If this information would be made into a new standard of European historiography and common knowledge, both in school as in public, more connections and mutual understanding will grow as opposed to the rising polarization of today.

Teach students to make connections. Teach them to look at the bigger picture, to understand the historical reality that nations simply need to interact with each other in order to survive, apart from culture or religion.Click To Tweet

Teach students to make connections.

Teach them to look at the bigger picture, to understand the historical reality that nations simply need to interact with each other in order to survive, apart from culture or religion. No one fell from Mars and left his mark on earth. Everything we can observe today arose as the result of a long historical process. When our newest generations then learn to think and reason inclusively and see the shared collectiveness of our world history, they’ll walk the Earth with an open-mind and they’ll be less inclined to think in terms like “supremacy” or “exclusivity”.

The last thing I want to do with this long read is to preach and to sum up lists of “how good Islam is”. No, but I do wish historical justice in the ugly face of the contemporary mass-populism. I want to demonstrate that the Islamic religion forms an integral part of European history, and that this religion can just be European as well, without the need to substitute its norms and values.

I want to demonstrate that the Islamic religion forms an integral part of European history, and that this religion can just be European as well, without the need to substitute its norms and values.Click To Tweet

We don’t need to search for a European Islam, because it already exists for centuries.

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Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Kaaba- Video

Kaaba
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Every Muslim knows the Kaaba, but did you know the Kaaba has been reconstructed several times? The Kaaba that we see today is not exactly the same structure that was constructed by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon them. From time to time, it has needed rebuilding after natural and man-made disasters.

Watch to learn ten things that most people may not know about the Ka’aba, based on the full article Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Ka’aba.

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Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Change

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Why do we consider emotional intelligence to be half of the Prophetic intellect? The answer lies in the word “messenger.” Messengers of Allah are tasked with the divine responsibility of conveying to humanity the keys to their salvation. They are not only tasked with passing on the message but also with being a living example of that message.

When ʿĀʾishah, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, was asked to explain the character of the blessed Prophet ﷺ, her reply was, “His character was the Qurʾān.[1]” We are giving emotional intelligence a place of primacy in the construct of Prophetic intelligence because it seems implausible that Allah would send a messenger without providing that messenger with the means necessary to exemplify and transmit the message to others. If the Prophets of Allah did not have the necessary knowledge and skills needed to successfully pass on the message to the next generation, the argument would be incomplete. People could easily excuse themselves of all accountability because the message was never conveyed.

We also see clear examples in the Qur’ān that this knowledge was being perpetually perfected in the character of the Prophet ﷺ. Slight slips in his Emotional Intelligence were rare, but when they did occur, Allah gently addressed the mistake by means of revelation. Allah says in the Qurʾān, “If you (O Muḥammad) were harsh and hardhearted, then the people would flee from you.” This verse clearly placed the burden of keeping an audience upon the shoulders of the Prophet ﷺ. What this means is that the Prophet ﷺ had to be aware of what would push people away; he had to know what would create cognitive and emotional barriers to receptivity. When we study the shamāʾil (books about his character), we find that he was beyond exceptional in his ability to make people receptive. He took great care in studying the people around him and deeply understanding them. Only after the Prophet ﷺ had exhausted all the means of removing barriers to receptivity would the responsibility to affirm the message be shifted to those called to it.

Another example of this Prophetic responsibility can be found in the story of Prophet Mūsa when he was commissioned to call Pharaoh and the children of Israel to Allah. When Allah informed him of the task he was chosen for, he immediately attempted to excuse himself because he had a slight speech impediment. He knew that his speech impediment could potentially affect the receptivity of people to the message. He felt that this disqualified him from being a Prophet. He also felt that the act of manslaughter he committed might come between the people and guidance. All of these examples show that Allah’s Prophets understood that many factors can affect a person’s receptivity to learning something new, especially when the implications of that new information call into question almost every aspect of a person’s identity. History tells us that initially, people did not accept the message of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ; they completely rejected him and accused him of being a liar.

One particular incident shows very clearly that he ﷺ understood how necessary it was for him to remove any cognitive or emotional barriers that existed between him and his community. When the people of his hometown of Makkah had almost completely rejected him, he felt that it was time to turn his attention to a neighboring town. The city of Ṭā’if was a major city and the Prophet ﷺ was hopeful that perhaps they would be receptive to the message. Unfortunately, they completely rejected him and refused to even listen to what he had to say. They chased him out of town, throwing stones at him until his injuries left him completely covered in blood. Barely making it outside the city, the Prophet ﷺ collapsed. Too weak to move, he turned his attention to his Lord and made one of the most powerful supplications made by a Prophet of Allah.

اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي، وقلة حيلتي، وهواني على الناس، يا أرحم الراحمين، أنت أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي، إلى من تكلني؟ إلى عدو يتجهمني؟ أو إلى قريب ملكته أمري؟ إن لم يكن بك علي غضب فلا أبالي، غير أن عافيتك أوسع لي، أعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أشرقت له الظلمات، وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والآخرة، من أن ينزل بي غضبك، أو يحل علي سخطك، لك العتبى حتى ترضى، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بك”

“Oh Allah, only to You do I complain about my lack of strength, my insufficient strategies, and lowliness in the sight of the people. You are my Lord. To whom do you turn me over? Someone distant from me who will forsake me? Or have you placed my affair in the hands of my enemy? [2]

The Prophet ﷺ felt that he was the reason why the people were not accepting the message. His concern that “my low status in the eyes of the people,” informs us that he understood that people naturally judge the seriousness of a message based on the stature of the message bearer. The people of Ṭā’if were extremely ignorant, so much that they adamantly refused to enter into any dialogue. In reality, this was not due to any shortcoming of the Prophet ﷺ; he demonstrated the best of character and displayed extreme patience in the face of such ignorance. But the beginning of the supplication teaches us what he was focused on: making sure that he was not the reason why someone did not accept the message.

Because his message was not geographically restricted like that of other Prophets, those who inherited the message would have the extra burden of transferring the message to a people with whom they were unfamiliar. The intelligence needed to pass the message of the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ around the world included an understanding of the cultural differences that occur between people. Without this understanding effective communication and passing on of his message would be impossible.

A sharp Emotional Intelligence is built upon the development of both intra- and interpersonal intelligence. These intelligences are the backbone of EQ and they provide a person with emotional awareness and understanding of his or her own self, an empathic understanding of others, and the ability needed to communicate effectively and cause change. Emotional Intelligence by itself is not sufficient for individual reform or societal reform; instead, it is only one part of the puzzle. The ʿaql or intellect that is referenced repeatedly in the Qurʾān is a more comprehensive tool that not only recognizes how to understand the psychological and emotional aspects of people but recognizes morally upright and sound behavior. After that this intellect, if healthy and mature, forces a person to conform to that standard. Therefore, we understand the ʿaql to be a comprehensive collection of intelligences analogous to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.

Taking into consideration the extreme diversity found within Western Muslim communities, we see how both Moral Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence are needed. Fostering and nurturing healthy communities requires that we understand how people receive our messages. This is the interpersonal intelligence aspect of EQ. Without grounding the moral component of our community, diversity can lead to what some contemporary moral theorists call moral plasticity, a phenomenon where concrete understandings of good and evil, right and wrong, are lost. Moral Education (Moral Education, which will be discussed throughout the book, is the process of building a Morally Intelligent heart) focuses on correcting the message that we are communicating to the world; in other words, Moral Intelligence helps us maintain our ideals and live by them, while Emotional Intelligence ensures that the message is effectively communicated to others.

My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.”

Interpersonal understanding is the core of emotional intelligence. My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.” From the perspective of Emotional Intelligence, this statement is very accurate. The way we interpret words, body language, verbal inflections, and facial expressions is based on many different factors. The subtle power of this book lies in the simple fact that your emotional intelligence is the primary agent of change and thus the most powerful force you have. You must understand how people perceive what you are communicating to them. What is missing from my father’s statement is the primacy of Moral Intelligence. Throughout this book, I attempt to show how the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ demonstrated a level of perfection of both of these intelligences.

*With the Heart in Mind is available for pre-order at https://www.qalam.foundation/qalambooks/with-the-heart-in-mind

[1]Bayhaqī, Shuʿb al-ʾĪmān, vol. 3, p. 23.

[2] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, vol. 3, p. 136.

 

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