When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Arab warlord, declared himself Caliph of all Muslims on 1 July 2014, the world laughed. Osama bin Laden had already been bold and presumptuous but his disciple al-Baghdadi outclassed him.
The world laughed: not only the billions of infidels but also many apostates, heretics, Shiites and plain Sunni Muslims who dislike the political Islam.
However, the Salafists, Wahhabites, the Muslim Brothers and their ilk did not laugh. They took the matter seriously. Many felt that establishing a caliphate was a timely and necessary step, and that Sheikh al-Baghdadi was an appropriate candidate for the position because of his descendency from the Qureishi, the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad.
According to tradition, the Caliph is seen as the spiritual leader of all Sunni Muslims, and also the chief of a state called caliphate. A state can exist without a caliph but no caliph can exist without a state. That is why the area in Syria and Iraq occupied by Daesh was called “Islamic State” and was given many attributes of a state, except for a diplomatic service, an airline and a seat at the United Nations.
Why were so many puritan Muslims jubilant, when the Caliphate was announced? Because it offered the possibility of pledging allegiance (baya’a) to the Caliph. According to religious tradition, any Muslim will die ignorant (jahil) and in disbelief if he has failed to pledge allegiance to the Caliph. Which means billions of Sunni Muslims will have died ignorant since the last caliphate was abolished by Atatürk in 1924, as Graeme Wood pointed out.
It's the religious aspect which prompted all sorts of terror chiefs and Islamist warlords in distant countries to declare allegiance to the new Caliph. A pledge not to be taken too literally but understood as strengthening their religious credentials.
Apart from the statehood it requires and the salvation it ensures, a caliphate also offers many practical advantages. Working to establish or strengthen a caliphate equals jihad and allows to circumvent and disobey many rules of Sunni Islam. Muruna means 'flexibility' and allows Muslims striving to advance Islam to deviate from their Islamic laws without suffering a bad conscience.
Muruna and Tawriya, meaning 'pretending', are exceptions permitting the Caliph and his followers in their act of creating the Daesh-Caliphate to break the religious rules as they deem appropriate without risking their spiritual salvation and without incurring criticism by other Muslims.
The enormous advantages inherent in declaring a caliphate have been recognized not only in Raqqa but also elsewhere, for instance in Ankara.
Since his early days as mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was surrounded by a closely knit group of admirers and supporters. Among them were what could be called “religious facilitators” who paved Erdoğan's ascent with suitable fatwas. Turkey is by the priests seen as a non-Islamic country (Atatürk's legacy!) and the Islamists understand themselves as conducting Jihad, thereby permitting themselves to practice Muruna.
By interpreting Erdoğan's career as leading up to a new caliphate – the allegedly ideal form of governance for Turkey – they exonerated him from religious rules binding common mortals.
“President Erdoğan belongs intellectually to the Muslim Brotherhood. Consequently, he believes that, if the situation changed in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, it means the creation of a new sultanate; not an Ottoman sultanate this time, but a sultanate for the Brotherhood extending from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and ruled by Erdoğan.”
Replace the word “sultanate” with “caliphate” and you get a pretty good picture of what Erdoğan's inner circle is up to, as many observers suspect:
“ Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, (is) among the world’s most significant and influential Muslim leaders and a longtime member of the hard-line Muslim Brotherhood.”
“What this [presidential system] looks like is the Islamic caliphate system in terms of its mechanism. In this system the people choose the leader, the Prince, and then all will pledge the Bay’ah [allegiance].”
The leading scholar supporting Erdoğan, Hayrettin Karaman, is for Turkey as important as Yusuf al-Qaradawi in the Arab world. Karaman replaced Fethullah Gülen as Erdoğan's main religious supporter. He provides the fatwas needed to justify practices such as the custom that winners of public tenders donate large sums to the charities of politicians.
With his pious electorate safely supporting him despite scandals, there is small wonder that Erdoğan has already been “elected” Caliph of all Sunni Muslims:
“As he wrote for Yeni Safak, the pro-Erdoğan main newspaper ….regarding the new presidential system which Erdoğan wants to establish, Karaman desperately defended Erdoğan and declared what we were saying all along they will do; that Erdoğan will soon become the Caliph for all Muslims” ( Dec 29, 2015)
A Belgian voice comments: “Les ambitions d’Erdoğan, en forme de rêves ou de cauchemar concernent la restauration de l’empire ottoman, le rôle d’inspirateur et de quasi-Calife du monde musulman. Pour certains, il est un Prophète, sinon un Dieu ; pour d’autres, il n’est rien de moins que l’Antéchrist. Un personnage d’époque, dans aucun doute.”
Remains the interesting question: how do the two caliphates co-habitate in the Sunni world? From Raqqa's perspective Erdoğan should pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi, from Ankara's vantage point, al-Baghdadi and his state should be grateful for years of support they received from Turkey, should refrain from sending suicide teams, and enter the planned Erdoğan galaxy of Muslim Brotherhood-governed states, the latest of which is Libya where the Turks with great effort prop up the Tripolis Brotherhood government.
Interestingly, here in Libya the two caliphates are clashing: Ankara is supporting Tripolis, Raqqa is busy strengthening its new Daesh statelet in Sirte; aleady now Tripolis troops are fighting the IS militia. It's an open ended battle.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has criticized a bill recently approved by the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee that calls on the Department of State to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Speaking at the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission on Feb. 26, Çavuşoğlu said, "Parliaments cannot decide on whether the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization or not." "We don't see the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. And we have previously shared our views with others, including Americans," he added.
The House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 3892, or the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015, with a vote of 17-10 on Feb. 24. The bill cites national security as the reason the designation is needed. (Today's Zaman)