Lebanon’s Islamists view declaration of caliphate as heresy

An image uploaded on June 14, 2014 on the jihadist website Welayat Salahuddin allegedly shows militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waving the trademark Jihadists flag over the heads of dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members at an unknown location in the Salaheddin province ahead of executing them. (Photo: AFP-Welayat Salahuddin)

By: Abdel Kafi al-Samad

Published Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Across the board, Lebanon’s Islamists did not view the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) declaration of an Islamic caliphate and their proclamation of the group’s leader, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), a caliph positively. There was a near consensus among them to reject the announcement, even though in their religious writings, they consider restoring the caliphate an important issue. In the eyes of Lebanon’s Islamists, the day the caliphate was declared is not a historic day in which the Islamic caliphate is resurrected about 90 years after it was dismantled by the Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The party most concerned with this development is Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) because resurrecting the caliphate is a priority in its political literature. Nevertheless, it did not hide its rejection of ISIS’ announcement. “Resurrecting the caliphate should not be accomplished through blood, charges of apostasy and explosions,” explained Osman Bakhach, the director of the central media office of the party in Lebanon. He said: “We are invested in the question of the Islamic caliphate and are advocates of the idea. We devised for this end a certain approach - the prophetic approach - calling for a state that opens its arms to all people, Muslims and others, including Christians and Jews, not to be a state where Muslims can not stand each other and fight amongst each other. That is something we categorically reject.”

He added: “We do not approve of the methods and practices of some Islamist groups today. Intra-fighting, in our opinion, is not the right way to bring about the caliphate. Threatening those opposed to the establishment of the caliphate in this way is improper. Establishing the Islamic state is not accomplished by considering every dissenter an apostate whose killing is deemed lawful. In this way, ISIS proclaims itself both adversary and arbiter.”

Bakhach did not rule out the possibility that individuals will support the idea “because the caliphate is the dream and wish of every Muslim. Some simple-minded people might get carried away by this call and support it.” He argued that “the political context of ISIS requires reassessment, especially in Syria because since its inception, the group did not fight the Syrian regime, rather it raised the banner of liberating the liberated and entered into conflict with the opposition. That is why we believe that its call is a claim that is not undisputed.”

Head of the political bureau of al-Jamaa al-Islamiyah, Azzam al-Ayoubi, told Al-Akhbar: “We do not support declaring the caliphate this way. We actually consider it part of the project undermining the Islamist movement in the region, directly or indirectly.” He pointed out that “the caliphate was declared by an organization that has a lot of questions around it, especially in terms of its performance, as it distorts Islam and reduces it to a state that alienates people from religion.” He believes it is unlikely that any Islamist organization or movement in Lebanon would “support this call for the establishment of the caliphate.” He expects, however, that “some individuals will pledge allegiance to it.” In his view “what happened is heretical and illogical and the call has no basis or underlying foundations.” This prompted him to wonder: “How can one declare the establishment of the caliphate and the caliph is a person not known to people and can not walk down the street?”

This opposing position regarding ISIS’ declaration of an Islamic caliphate in this manner was also adopted by the Tawhid Islamic Movement. Its secretary general, Sheikh Bilal Shaaban, argued that establishing the Islamic caliphate is “something that every Muslim wishes to see, as long as this caliphate values human beings and protects their lives, religions, dignity and honor because the Islamic project is a project of life and justice, not a project of killing and injustice. Is that what is happening today?”

Shaaban also expects that “support for the call to establish a caliphate will come from individuals only.” However, he did not hide his analysis of the issue: “I hope that it is not a manifestation of the competition and ongoing conflict between ISIS on one hand and al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front on the other.”

Rejecting ISIS’ announcement of a caliphate is not restricted to movements within political Islam. Salafis took the same position, but they point out specific details. Safwan al-Zoubi, director of al-Ukhuwah or Brotherhood Association, believes that the declaration of the caliphate “does not fulfill all its preconditions, specifically, establishing power and authority over the land (people), naming Ahl al-Hal wa al- Aqd, i.e., those who have binding authority to elect or depose a caliph on behalf of the Muslim community and citizens pledging their allegiance. These necessary conditions are not available.”

Zoubi said that declaring the caliphate was “a mistake and a hasty step because it separates and divides Muslims instead of uniting them.” He stated: “It is not right for the caliph to impose himself and wait for the people to pledge allegiance to him. Rather he should wait for a decision by Ahl al-Hal wa al-Aqd.”

Nabil Rahim, Salafi cleric and member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, said about ISIS’ declaration of the caliphate: “The foundations for establishing the Islamic caliphate do not exist yet. In addition, they do not have the right to announce a caliphate except after consulting with Ahl al-Hal wa al-Aqd in their region and this did not happen.” Rahim argued that “this step is an exercise in futility that skipped over intermediary stages and did damage to the Islamist movement.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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