Based on the Qur’anic injunction, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings on him) promoted the shoura (or consultation which was later termed democracy) system for managing the political affairs of the society. Islamic political system established and left behind by Prophet Muhammad is based on the institution called Caliphate i.e. democratically choosing the leader to rule Muslims.
If Prophet wanted to appoint his successor, no one would dissent. But he did not. All civilized societies must have a unity of command i.e. one leader. After the death of Prophet, his closest companion Abu Bakr (Siddiq) became the leader of Muslims when majority Muslims chose Abu Bakr, despite some dissension by a minority of Muslims.
So the first Caliph was a democratically elected Abu Bakr. After his death, the second Caliph Omar (Khattab) was also chosen on the same lines. Thus the system of Caliphate got cemented by succession of one democratically elected leader by another democratically elected leader.
Fast forward fourteen hundred and odd years later >>>>>> Muslims have woken up to not one, but two self-declared “Caliphs” at the same time! Coincidentally, one is Abu Bakr (Baghdadi) of Islamic State and the other one is Omar (Mullah) of Taliban. While their local constituencies have every right to elect or pledge allegiance to whoever they wish. It is their democratic right. But so do have rest of the Muslims, in line with Islamic traditions.
It confuses less enlightened Muslims like me as to who of these two should be the Caliph of Muslims – Abu Bakr (of IS) or Omar (of Taliban)? Because both have appealed to Muslims to pledge their allegiance to them – Abu Bakr directly in his one-off “address to the nation” from a mosque in Mosul and Mullah Omar (apparently) through an underground “Al Qaeda Chief” known as Ayman Al Zawahiri. Only Allah knows where Zawahiri is issuing his calls from – a CIA bunker or a Mossad shelter or elsewhere!
In the absence of a clear answer (I am sure even these two “Caliphs” cannot give a satisfactory answer), what should Muslims do? Many Muslims have already expressed their preference in rejecting the call of both “Caliphs”. It is one thing to drive out invaders from their land by force – even Americans and Europeans would do that if their lands were invaded and occupied. But it is completely different to expect global Muslim community to sign up to something that they have (or will ever have) a clue of.
A vast majority of Muslims have never seen or heard of either of the two “Caliphs”. How can they be expected to give an oath of allegiance then? Don’t these “Caliphs” realize that this is 21st century? It is true that core principles or primary rules of Islam remain the same but secondary rules including governance structures and electoral process have evolved to meet the current needs and expectations (e.g. transparency, integrity etc and not just ability to fight) of the society.
It is almost certain that social or political change through violence is never attainable and/or sustainable. This is why mature Muslims societies have, by and large, given a cold shoulder to such calls.
In the ongoing chaos across Muslim lands (I deliberately do not call them Islamic lands because there is no room for chaos in Islam), we should not be surprised if there emerges another Caliph (Uthman?) somewhere in Africa and probably another one (may be, Ali?) somewhere in Indonesia! Both Uthman and Ali were the third and fourth Caliphs and were successors of Abu Bakr and Omar! If that happens, Muslims may have all four “Caliphs” at the same time demanding allegiance from the global Muslim community! If two at a time are possible, why not four?!
The ensuing mess reminds me of a childhood experience. I was born and raised in a house that was built by my great grandfather. When I was in primary school, a part of the house was in very bad shape, almost crumbling. That presented risk to our own family and also to our immediate neighbors in case it caved in. My father decided to raze it and rebuild.
Although the thought of living in a brand new house appeared cool and exciting, but those few months during demolition and rebuilding were absolutely chaotic and most inconvenient for the entire family (and some neighbors).
This analogy seems apt for what is happening in most Muslim lands. Old and crumbling system, the reeking legacy of colonialism, is being dismantled bit by bit. For the time being, situation will remain unpleasant and painful.
But in the long run, like the new house built by my father, the countries that are currently on fire will emerge stronger and tidier. And their neighbors will also be safer. Because bulk of Muslims are level-headed. Subscribing to extreme ideologies – which are against the grain of Islam – is not in their DNA.
It is natural to be sad and concerned about deaths and destruction in our midst. But it is important not to let pessimism envelope us. That is disastrous. Because dejected and disillusioned souls cannot add any meaningful value to the society. Staying positive about our future is imperative. God willing, coming times will certainly be better than our present and our recent past.
The US cut and run from Iraq only about 3 years back. It is now on the verge of losing the longest war in its history in Afghanistan! While the army of “Caliph” Omar is driving US forces out of Afghanistan, the army of “Caliph” Abu Bakr is sucking them back into the region that the US loves most, slowly and gradually. Muslim geo-politics is entering a completely new phase. Very crucial next few years are ahead of us…
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi civilian deaths did not touch the hearts and minds of the US/European leaders. But the brutal killings of two American journalists have brought the US F-16s and Stealth bombers roaring back. And US/ European leaders still wonder why Muslims, generally, do not love them?