Professor Ridwan Al-Sayyid is a well known Arab thinker and scholar. He is a professor of Islamic studies at the Lebanese University and a current member of the political bureau of Lebanon’s Future Party. Al-Sayed was also the advisor of the former Lebanese PMs, Saad Hariri, Fuad Seniora, and the late Rafik Hariri. He studied at the Religious Academy of Al- Azhar, Cairo. He obtained his PhD in Philosophy from Germany in 1977. He was the Director of the “Arab Development” Institute, Director of Islamic Studies Institute in Beirut, Editor of “Arab Thought” Journal, the Editor in Chief of “Al-Ijtihad” Quarterly. He is the author of many books and studies, mostly focusing on the Islamic cultural history, ancient and modern Islamic fiqh as well as ancient and modern political Islamic thought.
Professor al-Sayyid spoke exclusively with Islamist Gate about the declaration of caliphate and the rise of ISIS.
Islamist Gate: What is your comment on the declaration of the Islamic caliphate by the “Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIS) and its call for allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as a caliph?
Al-Sayyed: This is not the first time that the Islamists announce the caliphate at our time, it has happened twice in the past two decades. Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda founder and leader, pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, as a prince of the believers in 1999. The second time was with Khattab(whose real name is Thamer Bin Saleh Al Suwailem died in 2002), that the Jihadists appointed him as a prince of the believers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the third time that the Caliphate was declared and by an Arab, Al-Baghdadi, while Mulla Omar was Afghani and Khattab was Chechen although some said he was Jordanian or Saudi origin. The idea of caliphate came from “Jihadis” of al-Qaeda who were previously linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and not from the Salafi ones. The Salafis were not interested in the idea of caliphate because the Saudi King Abdul Aziz Al Saud was not able to compete on the caliphate, with both the Ottoman Caliph and the king of Egypt, who are vying for it. When they said to the king Abdul Aziz send you son Faisal to Syria to appoint him a king, he said, that Al-Sharif Hussein, who claims to be the prince of believers, wants to send his son to be a king there, and I do not want that. Abdul Aziz stated that he wants to establish a state of the Quran and Sunnah(the traditions of the Prophet), indicating that the Turkish caliphate record was very bad, so why shall we want to renew it? Thus, the caliphate’s idea came to the Salafi jihadists’ program sts through the former followers of “the Muslim Brotherhood”, because the Salafi Jihadists, the followers of al-Qaeda, are not supporting the state, they want vandalism to remove Al-Jahiliyah (the pre-Islamic time of ignorance) and to fight the kufr (disbelief). Who has the states’ idea are the “Muslim Brotherhood” who they want to establish an Islamic legal system. That what their founder Sheikh Hassan al-Banna said, in his six stages for the transition from “vulnerability” to the power of “empowerment”, that begin with the individual, the family, the community, the state, then the Islamic caliphate and finally “professorship” of the world. Even Osama bin Laden asked succession swore allegiance to Mullah Omar, and then a group of followers of the “al-Qaeda”, “Salafi jihadists” speech, which was fighting in Chechnya and Dagestan.
Islamist Gate: What does lead ISIS now to declare the Caliphate?
Al-Sayyid: This is third time of Caliphate’s declaration is not only linked to the concept of caliphate, but it is also linked to the land. They say they got a land, and thus they are able to think about establishing a state. But al-Qaeda and jihadists program does not agree with the establishment of state with borders and sovereignty. Therefore, I believe that the establishment of the state is more a problem for them trouble than an advantage. When the Jihadis do not have a land they can fight anywhere, but when you have the state apparatus in a specific land you can be chased easily. Regardless of the historical significance of the caliphate, I see that there is a dilemma of some sort, probably due to the split inside al-Qaeda group between Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and between al-Qaeda and “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” and “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”. These leaders have been dissociated and each one is working for his own, with the entry of intelligence elements in these organizations that operate for the (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian regime and the (Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri) al-Maliki as well as for the Americans. I think that the issue of caliphate was is an intelligence service’s idea, I do not know if it was the UK or the U.S. one, to destroy the organization of ISIS, because it asks the allegiance from all Jihadists, and who refuses becomes its enemy. Now they ask allegiance from “Al-Nusra front” and they kill who refuses it, even they don’t allow the other Islamists to migrate, they don’t give them a choice: either to pay allegiance or to be killed. Therefore, the caliphate is a smart idea in order to let “jihadists” kill each other. And yet ISIS did not fight the Syrian regime nor the Iraqi regime. All the areas they had controlled in the past two years is the Sunni ones. Of course, when they are exposed to Maliki’s forces or the Syrian regime they resist. But I bet they will not pursue their advance toward Baghdad nor towards the Kurdish or Iranian areas. The leadership of ISIS is one, why they are against al-Maliki in Iraq and with the Syrian regime in Syria? I believe that al-Qaeda jihadists have differences and disputes that has let each group want[ing] to remove the other. On the other hand, they do not have a way out, despite their strong force and their fortune due to the take over of the oil and weapons, they are getting more suicidal and are destroying more of the Sunni areas they control.
Islamist Gate: Most of the “jihadists”, Salafists and Islamists, except “Al-Nusra front” of Deir al-Zour(Syria) and “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”, have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the caliphate and to pay allegiance to Baghdadi, and they considered this step as hasty and illegitimate. Even Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi did not attack the caliphate idea and described it as the wish of Muslims, but he considered that the conditions its legitimacy are not available in the “Islamic state” of al-Baghdadi. Does that mean the Caliphate is still the goal of all Islamists?
Al-Sayyid: Yes, the idea of caliphate is very attractive among young people as it relates – for them – to the first Caliphs, successors of the prophet, and not the Ottoman caliphate of Sultan Abdul Hamid. But I believe it is a silly idea, whether it is suggested by traditional or fundamentalists, because it is not a part of Islam’s religion. I understand that the Shiite imam is one of the basic principles of their doctrine, despite that the Imam is absent. Imam Khomeini was able to replace the hidden Imam although not all Shiites had agreed with him on that. But for the Sunnis, there is no Imamate’s concept and the ruler is chosen by the people through “ahlul-halli-wal-‘aqd” (people of authority), and the task of the state is secular and not religious, not as al-Qaida nor Sheikh al-Qaradawi claims. The State in the Sunni thought is to safeguard the religion and to rule the public affairs. And safeguarding the religion means to protect the religious freedoms, so no one can prevent Muslims of exercising their religious practices and contracts and to protect Muslims in their countries. The task of the state is the management of public affairs. The Islamic rule was a great and respectable rule as system of government, which was called the caliphate. It was a great empire and a dynasty, but the rulers they avoided to call them self Kings avoided so as not to imitate the Persian Khosrow or the Roman Caesar. These states or caliphates, whether they were Umayyid or Abbassite or Ottoman, were great empires that Islam is their reference. But their practices and policies were not religious, but pragmatic and secular, in what the state needs. Those rulers, caliphs or Sultans, they had no religious nor any legislative authority, that was the task of the religious, since we don’t have the Imamate and religious infallibility of Imam as the Shia does. Regardless of this, some Islamists say that the caliphate became a part of the general Sunni tradition, and that lives in the memory of Muslims and their thoughts, as well as it is a religious institution that Islam prides. What Sheikh Qaradawi said that the caliphate conditions don’t meet Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ones, and that he did not get the allegiance from the scholars, “ahlul-halli-wal-‘aqd”, is not right. Even if the caliphate was a part of religion or religious tradition, this is not the right way to object it. This claimed state has no land, nor the capabilities to establish a state, nor the ability to protect its border. What they do is terrorism on the ground. The Caliphate’s idea in the Muslim world has become something ridiculous and is insulting Islam and its “Ummah”(nation). Thus, It is not permissible to Sheikh Qaradawi, who is a great Scholar, to cling to these things. He has to say that the caliphate is not possible and unreasonable at this era. That what King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud has concluded and said that the Islamic caliphate is no longer possible and suggested to establish the state of the Quran and “Sunnah” in the Arabian Peninsula only, and say that there is no need to call himself a caliph. This was a hundred years ago, and now we backward and say if the conditions are met, we establish the caliphate. It is not possible to fulfill its conditions and therefore this institution – the caliphate – is not necessary for religion, it is nor a religious institution. It has been abolished in 1924 and that did not affect Islam. And Shiites have lived 1400 years and did not need the “Velayat-e faqih” theory. Therefore. both ideas, the Caliphate and The “Velayat-e faqih”, which are the product of narcissistic and schizophrenic Islamic fundamentalism, are both a split within the Sunni and Shiite Islam.
Now, the nature of religion is changing and the religion become a religious state, which is not a religious necessity in Islam. What did the Islamist state of Iran and the Islamist state of Sudan achieve for the religion? Do we want such states ruled by military organization as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard? What did these Islamist states rather than dividing the nations and countries? How will be the state of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who killed more than 20 thousand people from the era of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? These people are riffraff. Raising the caliphate idea is an insult to the Islamic tradition, that the Jihadis say they hate it, and the caliphate is from the Islamic tradition and is the traditional system of government in Islam. They only refer to Abu Bakr and Omar and to the Quran and Sunnah. This respectable tradition of caliphate, the system of government that was one of the two major global empires in the world, became a caricature with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Mullah Omar and Khatab, who all claimed to become caliphs. This is the biggest insult to this Islamic nation’s history, as well as they attributed the caliphate to the religion which is not a part of religion at all.