Muslims’ self-criticism on caliphate and ISIL

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known also as ISIS) has declared the Islamic State (Dawla Islamiyyah), the caliphate, with substantial territory in several districts in Iraq and Syria.

ISIL or al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fil-’Iraq wal-Sham (Daish) became widely known here after its local affiliates, through YouTube, openly called on Muslims in Indonesia to take an oath of allegiance to the so-called caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIL attracted jihadist volunteers from many countries, not just from Indonesia but also from Europe, to join their claim of jihad in Iraq and Syria.

Looking at its history, ISIL is mainly a political movement utilizing religious legitimacy to reach its goal. As an earlier fraction of al-Qaeda, ISIL is now even fighting another al-Qaeda branch in Syria, Jabha al-Nusra (JN). 

Further rupture within the groups was triggered by the propaganda of ISIL that jihad means rebellion against the Shiite regime (meaning the governments of Syria and Iraq), allegedly deviant from Islam or even kafir (infidel) according to them.

ISIL also received supplies from several tribal separatist movements in Iraq that felt marginalized by its regime.

Sunni-Shiite friction in Iraq has become acute, worsened by the multiple-tribal separatist movements. Syria itself has been a magnet for aspiring jihadists in the past three years, amid the feud involving, among others, Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the opposition (Free Syrian Army).

The emergence of ISIL reflects in part the result of frictions when governments are suffering a legitimacy deficit; in this case following the Arab Spring in the region. In addition, Muslims cannot ignore the idea of an Islamic state or caliphate, which should lead to reflection and self-criticism among Indonesian Muslims.

Alarm over the appeal of ISIL led the government to finally ban the organization here.

But prohibiting the spread of ISIL in the country does not automatically kill the idea of a caliphate. The caliphate and the implementation of sharia will continue to be a hot debate before the relationship between Islam and the state is completely agreed upon by all Indonesian Muslims.

Some Muslims in this country are seeking to revive the institution of the caliphate. What distinguishes them from ISIL is the method. ISIL uses extraordinary violence. But its goal or even epistemological interpretation is the same. It means there is great potential for mujahid (fighters) of either ISIL or any other name. Therefore, criticism of ideas and counter-interpretations are

Establishing an Islamic state and implementing sharia (sharia actually means “the path” and is more related to method, not a formal law), are no problem. If Indonesia today can be considered an Islamic and shar’i state (because Pancasila is said to be Islamic) then, no, there is no problem.

The problem is in the content of the sharia implemented. If the emphasis of sharia is on the substance, i.e. justice (referred to in the Koran as “closer to piety”), it is fine.

The idea of a caliphate as understood by ISIL is also part of the ideology of some Islamic movements in this country. But if a caliphate is established again it would be a setback to the Middle Ages, as some of its institutions are a reflection of its time and no longer compatible with the modern era and the spirit of democracy.

One of the best examples is the imposition of jizya of obligatory tax for non-Muslims who are considered second-class citizens. ISIL is now applying the old practice to the Christians in Mosul, Iraq, who were given only three choices if they remained in ISIL territory: convert to Islam, pay jizya, or be killed. Christians then opted to flee from Mosul. One is reminded of similar coercion by fellow Muslims who forced Shiite residents in Sampang in East Madura to flee their homes.

Another consequence of the idea of the caliphate, which is a product of its time, is the forced interpretation of the ruling sect or madhhab; similarly evoking the persecution of those considered heretics under the Romans.

But while the earlier caliphate was known to guarantee freedom of religion for Christians and Jews, for instance, the conditions are the opposite under ISIL.

ISIL’s caliphate is an example of a religion-based state imposing interpretations. With the ultra-puritanical interpretation of Islam, ISIL is destroying graves (because it is considered a source of shirk or polytheism), statues of historical figures (as ISIL equates statues with idolatry) and even houses of worship of other religions.

As the Koran (22:40) forbids evicting people and destroying their house of worship for God, ISIL’s acts against Iraqi Christians therefore violate the Koran’s teachings.

Above all, ISIL’s acts are contrary to the basic principles outlined clearly in the Koran: “There is no compulsion in religion” (la ikraha fi al-din). The phenomenon of ISIL needs to be a lesson about the potential dangers of religious radicalization and literal interpretation. And the foundations of the state in Indonesia, where Pancasila state ideology is considered Islamic in its values, could be a reference for Middle Eastern countries; and Indonesian Muslims should not uncritically imitate interpretations of Islam from the region.

Moderate Muslims around the world would agree that ISIL obviously defaces Islam as a religion of mercy for all creatures (rahmatan lil-‘alamin). ISIL uses a flag adorned with the sacred phrase of the shahada (acknowledging no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is his prophet) to kill Muslims including fellow Sunnis. ISIL’ caliphate is not the Islamic caliphate that reached its peak in the past.

Baghdad during the golden age of the Abbasid Dawla caliphate was a civilized metropolis. It was inclusive and enthusiastic in absorbing surrounding cultural elements and advanced sciences. Baghdad, which in Persian means “God’s gift”, was nicknamed “Madina al-Salam” (City of Peace). But now, Baghdad has become mud of civilization because of continuous wars.

~ published in the Jakarta Post, 15/08/2014


One thought on “Muslims’ self-criticism on caliphate and ISIL

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