Al-Azhar graduates reject ISIS 'caliphate'

In an interview with As-Safir, a professor from Al-Azhar University, Ahmad Karima, said the caliphate announced by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) does not follow the historic model of the caliphate.

al-monitor Muslims pray at Al-Azhar Mosque hours before iftar in Cairo, July 1, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih.

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syria, islamic state, iraq, history, apostasy, al-azhar mosque, al-azhar

Jul 3, 2014

The caliphate has always been a tantalizing dream for the political Islam current with its diverse factions — a dream that recalls from history the model of the expansive Islamic empire, which produced literature, science, art and civilization for the whole world.

With the deterioration of the situation in Arab and Islamic states and with the failure of their projects to rise up one after the other, the Islamic caliphate was the safe haven and deterrent from the collapse of the situation. The return to the Quran and the Sunnah constituted the best way to revive the caliphate dream.

Today, the caliphate returns from the Syrian and Iraqi gates through the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), but the dream of Islamists has turned into a nightmare. The awaited caliphate did not emerge in an established nation, but on the ruins of a state ravaged by colonial powers and sectarian strife and pushed away from Islamic culture and civilization by anachronistic conflicts instigated by oppressive forces.

The declared ISIS caliphate did not reflect the forgiveness, preaching message and protection of minorities that appeared in the history of the official Islamic caliphate. Instead, it started off by spreading fear and terror in the places under its control. 

Moreover, the declared caliphate did not resemble the model caliphate in any way. Instead of appearing as a savior from foreign control for its societies, it appeared as a tool in the hands of intelligence services and royal families. It is noteworthy that the biggest defeat for the dream of the Islamic caliphate did not come from its enemies or opponents this time, but from its advocates and preachers. The stance of the Islamic scholars regarding the ISIS caliphate has become necessary so that not all Muslims have to suffer from the repercussions of the declared caliphate’s actions.

In an interview with As-Safir, Ahmad Karima, an Islamic Sharia professor at Al-Azhar University, clarified the opinion of Islamic jurisprudence regarding the declaration of “the caliphate.”

“In the history of Islam, there is no political caliphate affiliated with Islam, it has always been a religious caliphate. The Prophet said, ‘The caliphate will start out with an approach similar to that of the Prophecy, then it will turn into an oppressive rule,’” Karima said.

He added that in the days of the Rashidun caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, Ali and Hassan, the religious caliphate was there to guard religion. Case in point, the Prophet Muhammad said, “An approach similar to that of the Prophecy.” Then, the caliphate turned into a political rule in the Umayyad, Abbasid and Turkish eras, and that’s what he meant by “an oppressive rule.”

Karima indicated that the caliphate should be in the hands of the imams of Quraish, based on the holy Hadith, which stated, “The caliphate in Quraish.”

“By applying these texts to reality, the jurist Abdel Razeq al-Sanhouri deemed the caliphate in our modern era impossible. He suggested replacing it with an Islamic university. In light of this, the Muslim Brotherhood and violent militias’ talk about political caliphate is null and void, from a correct and sane academic perspective,” Karima said.

Karima said, “When the Arabs and Muslims have an economic market like the European Union’s and a unified currency like the Euro, as well as a [unified] military and political entity, and when the visa obstacles are lifted, we can then talk about a caliphate.” He said, “These calls are null and void, and they are refused on the jurisprudent level.”

The inability to present real solutions to the problems pushes some to invoke historical models and impose them on modern reality. This can undoubtedly lead to catastrophes. But, when armed gangs acting consciously or unconsciously declare a caliphate according to the interests of higher powers, the result will be tragic like the one we are currently witnessing.

The hesitation of the parties that are considered jurisprudent authorities for Muslims allows mixing cards and deepening misconceptions and Islamophobia.

In this framework, the former representative of the Egyptian Religious Endowments, Abdul Jalil Salem, told As-Safir, “Al-Azhar is the party that speaks in the issue of declaring a jurisprudent opinion and stance.”

“ISIS surely does not represent Muslims, not even a faction of them. It is just a terrorist organization. It is illogical that this group is the one calling for the caliphate. ISIS’s call on Muslims to immigrate to the proclaimed Islamic state is nonsense, as Muslims live in their own countries, practice their religious rituals and perform their duties and obligations. Why would they be requested to immigrate?” Salem said.

He said ISIS was like other terrorist organizations and was bound to have the same fate.

Saad El-Din Hilaly, head of the Department of Comparative Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, went beyond denominations and explained the essence of the idea of ruling in Islam. He told As-Safir, “Islam is solely based on the rule of justice by virtue of the following Quranic verse: ‘If you judge among the people, you shall judge equitably.’ This is the essence of rule in Islam that goes beyond all denominations.”

He said, “Denominations mentioned under a religious slogan are used to acquire a material gain and the term caliphate is used by ISIS to touch the souls of Muslims. However, Islam calls only for an equitable rule, even if the ruler was a non-Muslim one.”

He added, “The prophet, peace be upon him, said that King Negus of Abyssinia — a non-Muslim — was a fair ruler who would not wrong any of his subordinates. Therefore, a caliphate based on killings, looting and dishonoring others has nothing to do with Islam. The acts that ISIS has committed so far are bloody and fall outside the scope of Islamic ethics.”

Hilali believes that ISIS is a political group, and it is using the term “caliphate” for political purposes, just as the Brotherhood used the same term and just as the Kharijites used the expression “Dominion of Allah.” He said, “These are mere slogans used for purposes of political propaganda and gains.” 

Asked if it was necessary for Al-Azhar to take a position expressing the opinion of true Islam on the proclamation of the caliphate to spare Muslims and Islam the evils of these practices, Hilali said that only Al-Azhar and the senior scholars could answer this question.

So far, Al-Azhar has not issued any official stance regarding ISIS, with the exception of some statements made by the Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb and some Azhar graduates, including Sheikh Alawi Amin. The latter believed that “ISIS is a terrorist group which was born out of colonialism and US and Western intelligence for the purpose of slitting the throats of Muslims and dividing the Islamic nation.”

Amin called for the whole Muslim community to unite and stand side by side to face this group. “Islam renounces any connection to them,” he said.

A few days earlier, Al-Azhar issued a statement indicating that “it is watching with great concern the fast-paced developments in Iraq and the growing confessional and sectarian dimension of these developments.”

Al-Azhar called on all officials to do everything in their power to prevent the bloodshed of innocent citizens, whatever their religious, ethnic, sectarian or geographical affiliation might be. Al-Azhar also emphasized the need to combat by all means any incitement that may affect or prejudice the religious symbols or institutions in order to preserve the unity of the nation.”

Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb, who met with Iraqi Sunni authority Abdul Malik al-Saadi two weeks ago, said, “The emergence of ISIS is a natural result of the policy of marginalization in Iraq.” He called on all Iraqis, especially politicians, to set aside partisan, sectarian and ethnic interests and look immediately for a new consensus formula to save Iraq and its people from extremism in all its forms and from external forces that lie in wait. This is the way to preserve Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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