Why did the caliphate end in 1924
From Muhammad's death to the Islamic State
It was not only with the proclamation of the caliphate by the terrorist organization Islamic State in 2014 that the caliphate represented the political dream of Islamist programs. When the last Ottoman caliph abdicated in 1924, modern, western ideas were more prominent in the Islamic world and among the majority of Muslims. With the perceived failure of the republican, socialist and sometimes democratic ideal, however, the caliphate, which with its luminous figures, the four rightly guided caliphs from the epoch of Islamic expansion, was reminiscent of a golden age of Islam, regained prominence.
Against this background, Hugh Kennedy's book is of course of political and social relevance, even if the London-based Islamic scholar does not want to write a political book - that makes it all the more valuable nowadays. At its core, Kennedy deals with the three central questions of the idea of the caliphate and its development through Islamic history: Who can become a caliph? How is a caliph elected? What power does a caliph have?
So much in advance: Islamic history offers the most varied of answers to every question and thus impressively proves that there is neither one “true” Islam nor one generally recognized idea of the caliphate. Although this notion connects Islamists, critics of Islam and politicians striving for political correctness today, it cannot be historically maintained.
In reality, more than 100 caliphs lived and propagated almost as many ideas and manifestations of the caliphate - not counting frequent counter-caliphs. The only thing they all had in common was the idea that just Islamic rule must pursue the goal of implementing God's will - but already when it came to the question of how to fathom this will and which measures would serve to enforce it, ideas were again very diverse.
As one of the most powerful organizations, the Islamic caliphate formed the top of the most progressive communities in the world for many years. The Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad in particular ruled a huge empire from a metropolis of millions, with officials who could write and read, while Europe was still trapped in the dark ages.
In his descriptions, Kennedy also explicitly addresses one of the basic problems of Islam: Since Muhammad had left no political will when he died, different views naturally arose as to how the early Islamic community, which united religious and political leadership in the person of the caliph, continued should be. While the Prophet's family insisted that only a blood relative of Muhammad could follow him and accordingly deserve absolute authority, most of the Prophet's companions shied away from the establishment of a dynasty and, according to the Arab tribal tradition, wanted their leader himself from among the ranks of the great clan of the Quraish, to which Muhammad belonged. These initially purely political contradictions quickly resulted in an almost 200-year phase of constant civil war and the rededication of the prophetic house's claim to political leadership in the Islamic denomination of Shiism. A third position, born out of the turmoil of the civil war, however, emphasized that any man could become a caliph if he was only truly a believer, and did not shy away from terrorism to enforce this conviction. The fact that a woman could become a caliph was not an option for either group.
We owe the early civil wars to the emergence of the concept of hereticization, takfir, which was necessary to legitimize intra-Islamic civil wars. The recurring assertion that Islamic unity was broken by the Crusades or the colonial era must be resolutely contradicted here. This unity ended at the latest when two armies under the banner of Islam met at Basra for the first time in 656.
The author paints a large picture of victories, splendid development of power and a creeping decline of the various caliphates. He complements his treatise with geographical maps and chronological tables that help laypeople to organize the abundance of information.
Kennedy has succeeded in writing an important and politically topical book without succumbing to the temptation to let it get sensational against the background of the current geopolitical situation. He presents a neat historical work based on the sources, but which also shows the necessary references to the present and thus impressively proves that the study of Islamic history is an essential prerequisite for understanding today's phenomena.
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