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Dreams of an Islamic caliphate

A member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham stands on an armoured personnel carrier as he holds aloft a flag. — Reuters
A member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham stands on an armoured personnel carrier as he holds aloft a flag. — Reuters
“O God do not allow us to go stray after showing the right path. Remove our differences. End our miseries. Teach us to love each other,” prayed the Imam at a Friday congregation in Virginia.
“Ameen,” said the worshippers, with tears rolling down their cheeks.
“Encourage unity among Muslims. Help the Muslims of Palestine and Myanmar,” prayed the Imam.
“Ameen,” said the congregation, which included Pakistanis, Indians, Afghans and Arabs.
As the prayer ended, they split in small groups, each speaking a different language, and walked out of the mosque.
Some of them would gather again at iftar, at a local mosque or a restaurant, each ethnic group sitting separately.

Islam promotes collective demonstration of faith. The five prayers, the annual fasting and the Haj all encourage Muslims to get together, causing some to believe this collective display of faith would also foster greater political unity within the ummah.
But this demonstration of unity has often been confined to religious rituals. Even the Organisation of Islamic States, which is supposed to represent all the Muslims of the world, has never gone beyond a symbolic demonstration of unity.
So far, all efforts to turn this fraternity into a political reality have failed, mainly because there are not many among Muslims who desire a common political identity.
Some groups blame the absence of an Islamic state for the lack of political unity among the Muslims. They believe that an Islamic state would be a centre of attraction for all Muslims and by successfully implementing the Sharia; this state can also lay the foundation for an Islamic caliphate.
This state would ultimately lead to the creation of a caliphate, i.e. one government for all Muslims.
Unfortunately, all efforts to create such a state have failed. Instead of fostering unity, such efforts have often ended in creating new discords, which further weakened the Muslims.
With the proclamation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Muslims now assumedly have two states and two caliphs to choose from - one in the Middle East and the other in Afghanistan. Both have grand designs and want to bring the entire Muslim world under the yoke of the new caliphs.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is still a political movement. It can only become a reality if two existing Muslim states – Syria and Iraq – collapse. Both also have to split on sectarian and ethnic lines to make space for the new state.
This will require Syria to divide into Shia and Sunni enclaves, and the Sunni side to join the proposed state. Other religious and ethnic groups living in the present day Syria will have to fend for themselves.
Iraq has to face a similar fate, splitting into three states: one each for the Shias and Sunnis and one for the Kurds. The Iraqi Christians will apparently be forced to become Dhimmis or leave the country.
The split will lead to the creation of two immediate blocs, with Iran leading the Shia blocs, which may include the Shia areas of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
On the Sunni side, the transition will be less smooth as Saudi Arabia and other major Arab states will compete with each other to lead the bloc. Besides, it is still doubtful if Saudi Arabia would like to have an Islamic state on its borders.
By financing the military takeover in Egypt, the Saudis have made it very obvious that they are in no mood to allow a religious party, the Muslim Brotherhood, to run an Arab state. And ISIS, which will be run by hardcore al Qaeda militants, could be more dangerous for the Saudis than a Brotherhood-led Egypt. After all, al Qaeda started in the kingdom as a political group, which wanted to end the Saudi monarchy.

The present day crisis in Iraq, however, has allowed the gradual emergence of a semi-independent state within its border, that of Kurdistan. It is more homogenous than the two states that the ISIS activists are trying to form because it is dominated by one ethnic group, the Kurds.
But a fully independent state of Kurdistan will face strong resistance from all its neighbours. Turkey, which has a large Kurdish minority, has already declared that it will not accept any new development that encourages its own Kurds to secede.
Iran and Syria too have Kurdish enclaves and will not look at this new state with favour. The Sunni Iraq will have its own dispute with Kurdistan over the oil city of Kirkuk.
Since all oil wells will end up in the Shia and Kurdish parts of the country, the Sunni Iraq will have to fight both for a share.
These will be the immediate consequences of the creation of an Islamic state in the Middle East, if it ever happens. And it is apparent that none of these developments will help the Muslim ummah or strengthen its unity.
Unlike ISIS, the other Islamic state, that of Afghanistan, is not an unknown commodity. The Islamic emirate of Afghanistan had existed before, from 1996 to 2001. And there are not many Afghans who remember it fondly.

The Taliban emirate reduced Islam to flogging, beating, beheading, and forcing women to stay indoors. It denied them education and health facilities and, in some cases, forced them to marry Taliban commanders.
It strained Afghanistan’s ties with the rest of the world and turned it into an international pariah. Its unholy alliance with al Qaeda led to the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks in the United States, and, consequently, to the US invasion, which ended the Taliban rule.
There are no reasons to believe that a new Taliban emirate in Afghanistan will be any different from the previous emirate.
Pakistan is another nation that dreams of creating an Islamic state, although within its borders.
By Anwar Iqbal
Related:  Caliphate: Redundant or Relevant? 

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