History of International Relations Textbook

The Muslim caliphates

Restoration of the Caliphate


References to the four first caliphates are common in the political rhetoric of many contemporary radical Islamic groups. The four first caliphates, goes the argument, were ruled directly by Islamic principles and as such they provide the only truly Islamic alternative to modern societies and to a modern way of life. One prominent group which makes this claim is Hizb ut-Tahrir, the “Party of Liberation,” founded in 1953 by the Palestinian scholar Taqiuddin al-Nabhani. Al-Nabhani was disillusioned with capitalism, with colonialism and democracy, but also with nationalism which was the predominant Muslim response to these challenges. The nation-state divided the ummah, the Islamic community, and set Islamic brothers against each other. The situation was made worse by the way each state in the Muslim world allied itself with various imperialist powers. As Al-Nabhani explained in books such as The Islamic State and Economic System of Islam, a restored caliphate would unite all Muslims into one political community ruled by a religious leader, a caliph, or “successor” to Muhammad. The ummah-wide caliphate would be organized according to sharia law and it would be founded on Islamic economic principles, which, for example, would ban the charging of interest rates. The caliphate would be a welfare state of sorts, where charity would extend to the elderly, the poor, widows and the disabled. The leaders would be accountable and government based on the rule of law. Political parties would no longer be needed since the community would be united under the precepts of the Quran.

Although often banned, Hizb ut-Tahrir has spread to more than 40 countries and has an estimated one million members worldwide. The organization is active in Europe, in Britain in particular, but also in several countries in Central Asia. The movement is strongly anti-Zionist and regards Israel as an abomination. In Europe Hizb ut-Tahrir has often been accused of trying to take over local schools and to change the curriculum to reflect its agenda. In 2007, the movement caused headlines in Denmark by changing the curriculum of a nursery school, and in the spring of 2014, it was implicated in what British newspapers called “Operation Trojan Horse,” an alleged plot to replace head-teachers and change learning objectives in schools in Birmingham and elsewhere. The British authorities have begun monitoring the group, suspecting it of links to terrorist organizations. And the political agenda of a terrorist group such as Al Qaeda is indeed very close to that of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Al Qaeda too rejects the principles of modern societies and hopes that the caliphate can be restored. Indeed, in the spring of 2014, ISIL, the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” captured large territories in Iraq and Syria and proceeded to announce the reestablishment of the caliphate. The great difference between groups such as these and Hizb ut-Tahrir is that the latter always has rejected terrorist methods and regards the taking of innocent lives as a crime against the Quran.