Nothing to fear from the return of the Caliphate
May 28 2008 Agenda
Thousands of Muslims on Tuesday marked the return of the Caliphate – but not as you know it, says Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi.
This week I joined more than a thousand fellow Midlanders for perhaps the most important milestone in the Muslim world for decades.
Tuesday’s event at London’s Excel Centre, attended by 15,000 British Muslims, officially marked 100 years of the return of Khilafat, or as it is known in the West, the Caliphate.This news may perplex or unsettle some readers, but allow me to explain.
Any reference to the Caliphate, like jihad and sharia, usually conjures up images of blood and brutality, mainly in the context of a totalitarian theocracy. This issue has been brought into sharper focus in recent years following the rise of groups such as Al Muhajiroun and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which have called for the re-establishment of a worldwide Islamic state.
The national press, news channels and internet blogs have led a heated debate over the past few months, mostly - and understandably – condemning the idea. As the former Home Secretary Charles Clarke memorably remarked, “there can be no negotiation about the re-creation of the Caliphate”.
These fears of the prospect of more than a billion Muslims being led by one supreme head are, however, based on a flawed understanding of what the Caliphate actually represents. But it is not fair to blame the West for it either.
Some Muslims themselves have been guilty of painting a frightening though false picture of this great institution and the role of the early Caliphs in the survival and spread of Islam following the Prophet’s death.
The rightly-guided leaders who succeeded their beloved master were peaceful, pious and humble men who have had cruelty and corruption attributed to them, as though they were not teachers of truth, but territory-obsessed tyrants. Yes they had an impact on the politics of the world – the second Caliph ‘Umar successfully foiled a threat from the Roman and Persian empires – but they were not temporal figures.
The office of Khalifa (literally, successor or guardian) is a spiritual one, created to continue the message and mission of the Prophet, giving the faithful a lead figure that educates and reminds them and all humanity about their responsibilities to God, the rights of others, and the need for inculcating healthy morals.
The divinely-guided Caliphate came to an abrupt end following the assassination of the Prophet’s fourth successor, Ali, by when disputes both external and within the Muslim community had boiled over into violence. Self-styled caliphs followed but not without further bitter divisions among Muslims.
Despite those differences Muslims have recognized and campaigned for the need for unity under one leader again. The Qur’an declares Muslims to be “the best people raised for the good of mankind”, so surely there should be a prominent personality today and always to inspire them.
However, it would be unrealistic and unfair to expect followers of all persuasions to ignore centuries of conflict and unanimously accept the same individual as their guide. The theological sticking points between the various denominations are far too entrenched for that to ever be possible. Could anyone imagine every Anglican, Quaker and Methodist collectively pledging loyalty to the Pope?
Yet it is quite plausible for a significant proportion of Muslims to unite under a single, central authority with a clear vision, purpose and set of principles consistent with Islamic traditions, by which believers would conduct their lives.
This is where this week’s celebrations are most pertinent. After an absence of almost 1,400 years Khilafat was finally re-established in Islam following the appearance of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th century prophet, who claimed under divine instruction to be the promised world reformer foretold in most sacred traditions. His death in 1908 was followed by an unbroken chain of Khalifas who have offered the unity, identity and direction so desperately needed in the Muslim world.
From their first Khalifa, Maulawi Nuruddin, to their present head, Mirza Masroor Ahmad – all elected by the community’s eminent members – they have successfully spearheaded this Islamic revival, spreading to 190 countries and enjoying a growing global membership numbering tens of millions.
This is despite fierce attempts by fanatical forces in the Muslim world committed to completely destroying it.
Ahmadi Muslims have drawn immense strength from an unwavering belief in God and a relentless passion to serve humanity. By rejecting violence, instilling loyalty to one’s country of residence and defending complete freedom of conscience for all, the movement has become synonymous with peace and is a living reflection of true Islamic values.
The Khalifas have constantly motivated their followers to excel in both spiritual and secular disciplines, promoting the merits of religious as well as scientific knowledge.
Among their following have included illustrious personalities such as Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, a former President of the UN Assembly, and Professor Abdus Salam KBE, the first Muslim Nobel Laureate for Physics
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to set up schools and hospitals in the poorest regions of the world serving all regardless of faith or background. These commendable traits and accomplishments moved Ziauddin Sardar, a Muslim commentator and New Statesman columnist, to describe Ahmadis as “the most educated, organised and disciplined of all Muslim communities in Britain”, whilst Richard Morrison of the Times called them “model ambassadors for Islam at a time when the gulf of suspicion between the Western and Islamic worlds has never seemed more in need of bridge-builders”.
It is a huge testament to this community that in the face of violent persecution and vicious propaganda against it – last month Indonesia made the headlines when extremists burned down an Ahmadiyya mosque – it continues to gain strength. Nor has it ever had a problem of radicalism or terrorism among its members, since the Khalifas have instructed them to hold fast to community’s motto ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ as their guiding principle in life.
Unlike groups of the Hizb ut-Tahrir mould, this is not a community that believes that apostates should be killed, or that Israel must be effaced from the earth, but as is enshrined in its constitution, requires its members to shun “cruelty, mischief and rebellion”, and “cause no harm whatsoever to the creatures of Allah in general, and Muslims in particular, neither by their tongue nor by their hands nor by any other means”.
Additionally, they should keep themselves “occupied in the service of God’s creatures for His sake only; and shall endeavour to benefit mankind to the best of their God-given abilities and powers”.
The solution to most of the problems in the Muslim world – spiritual bankruptcy, moral turpitude, political instability and growth of terrorism – can be achieved through embracing the Ahmadiyya Caliphate.
If more Muslims came into its fold, imagine the beacon of light the Islamic world could again be.
* Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi is a teacher in Birmingham. He can be contacted at [email protected]