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Meet Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, The New Caliph of Islam. So what does a 21st Century Caliphate have in store for us?

This is a cross-post from Left Foot Forward by Saif Rahman

On Sunday the Shura (council) declared the new ‘caliph’ of Islam, an Islamic system of rule that ended almost 100 years ago with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Caliph (Arabic: خليفة‎ khalīfah means ‘succession’) is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Ummah, a community ruled by Shari’ah.

The new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is now seen as more powerful than Al-Qaeda’s chief.

So who is he?

He was born in Iraq in 1971 and joined the insurgency that erupted shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, having earlier spent time in an American military prison.

In October 2005, American forces thought they had killed him in a strike on the Iraq-Syria border. However they were wrong, as he took the reins of what was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in May 2010 after two of its chiefs were killed in a US-Iraqi raid. In October 2011, the US designated him a ‘terrorist’, and this year Iraq released a picture of Baghdadi depicting a balding, bearded man in a suit and tie.

ISI became ISIS/ISIL (Islamic States of Iraq & Syria/Levant), but last week the name Iraq & Syria were erased from its title. It is now known as ‘Islamic states’, or IS for short. One thing is for sure, Baghdadi intends to follow in the footsteps of previous caliphs.  Eager to carve his name into geographical history, he’s just released an electronic rallying call to Muslims around the globe which is nothing short of a battle cry. It is titled ‘A Message to Mujahidin and the Muslim Ummah in the month of Ramadan’, and worth taking a look at to understand his mindset.

Map of the Expansion of the Islamic Caliphate

Harun Yahya describes the Golden Age of Islam as “an Islamic state [that] stretched from Tripoli in the west to Horosan in the east and the Caucasus in the north”.

{Prophet Muhammad (622 to 632)} [MAROON]
Rashidun Caliphs (632-661) [ORANGE]
Umayyad (661-750/1031) [YELLOW]
Caliphs of Damascus (661-750)
Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr (684-692)
Caliphs of Baghdad (750-1258)
Abbasid Caliphs (750-1258/1517)
Emirs of Cordoba (756-929)
Fatimid Caliphs (909-1171)
Caliphs of Cordoba (929-1031)
Almohad Caliphs (1145-1269)
Caliphs of Cairo (1261-1517)
Caliphs under the Ottoman Empire (1451-1924)
Sharifia Caliphate (1924)
Islamic State Sunni Caliphate (2014-?)

And later – as the BBC2 ‘The Ottomans’ series showed – Europe’s Muslim Caliphate ruled an empire that at its peak encompassed half of Europe and most of north Africa, as well as the Jewel in the Crown, Mecca & Medina.

What happened to the Caliphate?

Within the first 50 years of the Prophet’s death, the caliphate was established – but quickly resulted in bloodshed and warfare:

1) Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima was married to Muhammad’s first cousin, Ali. He was the second convert to Islam and was raised like a son by Muhammad. After becoming Caliph he ended up fighting a civil war against an army raised by Aisha, Muhammad’s favourite wife. In the famous Battle of the Camel, 10,000 Muslims were killed, just 25 years after Prophet Muhammad’s death.

2) Two out of the first four Caliphs were killed during infighting for the Caliphate. All of them were among Muhammad’s closest companions. The third Caliph was killed by allies of the son of the first Caliph. He was murdered by the fifth Caliph a few years later after being wrapped in the skin of a dead donkey and burned. The fourth Caliph Ali was stabbed to death after a bitter dispute with the fifth Caliph, who went on to poison one of Muhammad’s two favourite grandsons. The other grandson was later beheaded by the sixth Caliph.

3) Infighting and power struggles between Muhammad’s family members, closest companions and their children only intensified with time. Even the Kaaba, which had stood for centuries under pagan religions, lay in ruins from internal war. And this spelled the eventual downfall for the last Ottoman empire in 1924 too, as it had become outdated and grown too bulky to control the internal wars ravashing it from within.

What happens now?

The aim of the caliphate is to usher in the peace of ‘Dar-es-Salaam’ or ‘Islamic House of Peace’. But history only shows its constituents eventually turning in on each other. We must ask what security is offered by such a system (for non-Muslims and Muslims) when it could not even protect Muhammad’s own family from itself? Today the death toll of just Shias caused by Shia-Sunni infighting stands at over a million, and the fighting is yet to stop.

Who knows what will eventually become of Baghdadi’s caliphate. No doubt the Pied Piper will be fluting to Jihadis’ across the globe before frogmarching them off to war. Yet provided the international community holds together, treads cautiously but acts decisively, the threat can still be contained.

As ISIS goes beyond its current borders, it will feast its eyes on Saudi Arabia. Presently Saudi Arabia has the equipment and the resources to fight this war on its own, but more likely a combative five-way alliance will be formed between Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, UAE and the KSA. I’d rather that, then the new 21st Century Caliph of Islam have his last rites met by a US drone.

“Before I was nine I had learned the basic canon of.. life. It was me against my brother; me and my brother against our father; my family against my cousins and the clan; the clan against the tribe; and the tribe against the world and all of us against the infidel.” – Leon Uris, “The Hajj”