Saturday, June 3, 2017
The Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy (Penguin Pelican), ISBN 9780141981406)
On 10 June 2014, in the Iraqi city of Mosul, leader of so-called Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi officially declared the ‘first’ caliphate in the Muslim world since the dissolving of the last one, with the demise of the Ottoman Empire, in 1924.
But what exactly does the concept of a caliphate mean? And who gets to decide its rules?
In The Caliphate Hugh Kennedy says the term itself means ‘successor to the prophet of God’.
While Islamic State’s narrow fundamentalist use of the term is one that goes back to what is known as the orthodox period of caliphs, the idea itself has a rich and varied tradition. It was once, for example, the most advanced polity in the whole of Western Eurasia.
Since the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 to the present day, the idea of the caliphate has been expounded, developed, adopted, discussed and rejected, in countries stretching as far as Southeast Asia to Portugal.
What this comprehensive historical analysis shows is that, while the idea of a caliphate is today used to promote hatred, violence, brutality and sectarianism across the most unstable region in the Middle East, it can, and has, at certain periods over the past 14 centuries, been used progressively too: in the world of statecraft, government, empire, art, literature, music and culture.
The group that calls itself Islamic State does not have ownership of the idea, partly because it’s one that has never had one single, fixed, permanent meaning but is constantly open to reinterpretation.