By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
16 September, 2014
On June 29, 2014, a Sunni self-styled Mujahid from Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the establishment of a government and declared himself its caliph. He named it the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS). According to recent media reports, ten Arab countries have agreed to help the United States in its fight against this extremist group. After talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jeddah, these Arab states pledged to provide military support and humanitarian aid and to halt the flow of funds and foreign fighters to the ISIS.
This news suggests that the majority of the Muslim world has disowned the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’. In fact, this so-called State is neither a state nor is it Islamic: it is not a state because the United Nations has not recognized it as such, and it is un-Islamic because the majority of Muslims have disowned its claims. In Islam there is no concept of an “Islamic State”. This term is itself an innovation, as this phenomenon was not found in the early period of Islam, which is considered to be the authentic period of Islam.
It is said that the Prophet of Islam established a state in Madinah after the Hijrah, or emigration to Madinah. However, the Prophet never proclaimed that he was the Khalifa of Madinah, or the ruler of Madinah. According to books of Sirah (the Prophet’s biography), people of Madinah themselves gave this position to the Prophet at the time of the Hijrah. History tells us that when the Prophet, accompanied by one his companions, Abu Bakr, reached Madinah after migrating from Makkah, the people of Madinah welcomed him with these words: “Intalaqa Amirayn Mutaayn.” (Musnad Ahmad) That is, “You are our leader. We are ready to obey you.” This is the way in which a state came into existence in Madinah at the time of the Prophet. It was in accordance with the level of acceptance of the society, rather than being an imposition from outside.
When the Prophet migrated to Madinah, the majority of the Madinan people had embraced the faith of Islam. These people themselves declared the Prophet as their leader. What was in Madinah was basically a political administration, which had emerged from the society itself. Neither the Prophet nor the people of Madinah used the term “Khilafat” (‘Caliphate’).
The political leader in Islam is decided not through appointment, but by election. There is a well-known verse in the Quran in this regard: “Their affairs are decided by mutual consultation.” (42:38). This means that political leaders in Islam are elected through the democratic process.
It is said that Madinah was the first Islamic state under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad himself. But, the Prophet or his Companions never called it “Islamic State of Madinah.” There was no such term used at the time. Practically speaking, it was the Madinah Administration, rather than the Islamic State of Madinah.
Establishing an Islamic state is not the mission given to Muslims. The Prophet of Islam never said: ‘I have been sent to establish an Islamic state.’ The Prophet’s mission was a peaceful dawah mission—inviting people to God’s path—and not a political mission.
If we read the Quran, we will not find any commandment that says: “Aqim Dawlat Al-Islam” or ‘Establish an Islamic State.’ Why is a commandment of this kind absent in the Quran? The reason for this is given in the Hadith in these words: “Kama Takunu Kazalika Yuammaru Alaykum.” (Mishkat al-Masabih) That is, “As you are, so shall be your rulers.” It means that according to Islam, government emerges from the society. It is not imposed on the society from the outside.
Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (d. AD 634) was the first political head in Islam. But, he was referred to as Amir ul-Momineen, or leader of Muslims, rather than Khalifah al-Muslimeen. What was the method through which Abu Bakr reached this position? After the death of the Prophet, the Sahaba or Companions of the Prophet assembled in a place called Saqifa Bani Saidah in Madinah. At this place, all the people came together and open consultations took place between the Companions. Through the consensus of the Companions, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq became the head of the state of Madinah.
According to available information, the ISIS is a Sunni extremist group. In its self-proclaimed status as a ‘Caliphate’, it claims religious authority over all Muslims across the world and aspires to bring most of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control, beginning with Iraq, Syria and other territories in the Levant, including Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and part of southern Turkey. In June 2014, it had at least 4,000 fighters in its ranks in Iraq. The number of fighters in the group has increased to 50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq. It has claimed responsibility for attacks on government and military targets and for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians.
This kind of a self-proclaimed state or caliphate has no place in Islam, because it has no sanction in the Quran and Sunnah. Such a state is totally against the Islamic spirit. According to the Quran and Sunnah, no person has the right to proclaim sovereignty on his own. To declare someone as a sovereign ruler is solely the people’s domain, and not that of any particular individual. The case of ISIS is certainly a case of illegal coup, rather than an Islamically-lawful act.