10 Jun Interview with Sharique Naeem
A Muslim writer and political analyst who has been published in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Yemen, Libya and Iran says that the concept of an Islamic regime – a caliphate – could have “broad appeal” to Occupy protesters now demanding economic “equalization” in the United States.
The comments from Sharique Naeem, whose perspective is outlined in his recent article, “Whither the Nation State?” came in an interview with author Joel Richardson, a recognized expert on the Middle East and biblical prophecy.
Said Naeem: “There is an indication here that if a caliphate is established in the Middle East, its economic system may have broad appeal with the Occupy movement. Also unlike the misconception or fear that is sometimes projected that a caliphate will lead to a standoff and complete disruption of links between West and Muslim world; the case may be entirely different, leading to genuine exchange of ideas, more commerce, trade and dialogue.”
Naeem also discuss when and where a caliphate will be established. He said the terms “rights” and “freedom” don’t carry the same meaning in a Muslim culture as they do in the West.
“As a system on the whole, the two (capitalism and the Islamic economic system) are poles part. However, this does not mean there will be no interaction between the two, i.e., caliphate and nations with capitalist economies,” he said.
He said the developing “democracy” movements in the Middle East aren’t well-supported, and “as we objectively evaluate the various news from the Muslim world, it becomes clear that all previous models are no longer valid.”
“For instance the videos coming from Syria that show how central Islam is to the revolution and the growing calls for Islamic law in post-revolution Arab states,” he said. “They most obvious trend is the rise of political Islam.”
Joel Richardson: Allow me to begin by thanking you, Mr. Naeem, for agreeing to share your perspective. Do you believe the revolution spreading throughout the Islamic world will eventually result in the re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate?
Sharique Naeem: The developments are a significant step as it has shaken the political construct of the region. It’s historic to witness the way the masses have stood up to [call to] account and remove long-standing dictatorships. While in the immediate aftermath of some revolution[s], a move toward democracy has taken place. However the credibility … will erode fast, if it’s unable to address the core issues; and this would naturally create more acceptance of the idea of [a] caliphate. On the other hand, some revolutions, e.g. Syria, which has entered its 2nd year may, well conclude into a caliphate.
JR: How do you perceive the present Occupy Movement protests in the United States and the riots in various European nations as they relate to the revolutions in the Islamic world?
SN: Any concrete and comprehensive change requires people having the courage to stand up against the instrument and institute of existing oppression and carrying ideas for an alternative.
Today, much has been debated about the political oppression in dictatorships and relative “freedoms” under democracy. However, the debate concerning the economic oppression of capitalism is now increasingly coming to the center stage.
There is an interesting trend here to be observed. The revolutions against political oppression encouraged the people in the West to demonstrate against the economic oppression that they have witnessed. The Occupy Movement protests continue to expose and dent the credibility of the already fragile system of capitalism. And these demonstrations have the potential to further encourage the people in the Arab world to also seek an alternative system. This alternative of course, will most likely be the economic system that Islam offers.
Also on some levels, there are similarities in the yearning of the people on the streets of Cairo or New York. For example, both believe in the right to hold those in power to account, both openly and collectively. Both realize the economic hardships are the direct products of the existing system. Both feel that authority should not be manipulated by the exceptionally wealthy (corporations, banks or dictators). Both understand that a tiny minority has been benefiting for too long at the expense of the vast majority.
Needless to say, this does not mean that the Islamic revolutions and the Occupy Movement are on the same page. Some of the concepts have a very different understandings, e.g. rights, freedoms, outlook of society, sources of law, beliefs etc.
However, there is an indication here that if a caliphate is established in the Middle East, its economic system may have broad appeal with the Occupy Movement. Also unlike the misconception or fear that is sometimes projected that a caliphate will lead to a stand-off and complete disruption of links between West and Muslim world[s]; the case may be entirely different, leading to genuine exchange of ideas, more commerce, trade, and dialogue.
In my opinion, although the Occupy Movement will continue, it is unlikely to gain any real momentum similar to what has happened in the Arab world.
JR: Talk about the difference between economic freedom or what is most often referred to as capitalism and the Islamic economic system.
SN: The Islamic economic system and the economic system in capitalism are founded on different principles. Vocabulary like “Freedom,” “Values,” “Rights” etc. have different meanings to them within Islamic thought. As a system on the whole, the two (capitalism and the Islamic economic system) are poles part. However, this does not mean there will be no interaction between the two, i.e., caliphate and nations with capitalist economies.
JR: Would the economic structure of the caliphate relate closer to a Communist or a capitalist economic system?
SN: I would say neither; when looking at some of the details in isolation, one may get the impression that Islam is close to either of the two. However, any economic structure requires a comprehensive evaluation, to understand how its various components are linked with each other, and when this approach is applied to Islam’s economic system, one observes that it stands uniquely apart from both capitalism and Communism.
JR: Recent reports inform us that the eastern portion of Libya has declared independence from the rest of Libya. Similar divisions are reported in Yemen. If division and fragmentation continue in other transitionary Islamic nations, wouldn’t this point to the opposite of a developing Islamic unity rather than an emerging caliphate?
SN: These divisions may well be expected in the aftermath of fallen dictators. The history of the region needs to be evaluated to understand this trend. For centuries the political construct that unified these regions was the caliphate. It was the demise of caliphate that fragmented the region. The transition from caliphate to the model of nation-states was not the result of a struggle by the host population. Instead, foreign intervention, directly and indirectly, along with other factors has led to the fracture of the region. The Sykes Pecot agreement of 1916 is one such example. The nation-state model that took shape when the foreign intervention was rolled back required dictators to keep in place.
An important observation in this regard, is also noted by Samuel P. Huntington in his book ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ (1996) where he states:
“The structure of political loyalty among Arab and Muslims generally has been the opposite of that in the modern West. For the latter the nation state has been the apex of political loyalty.”
He further explains “Throughout Islam, the small group and the great faith, the tribe and the Ummah, have been the principal foci of loyalty and commitment. And the nation state has been less significant.” … “In the Arab world, existing states have legitimacy problems because they are for the most part the arbitrary, if not capricious, products of European Imperialism.”
In the scenario today, we again find foreign intervention to support and sustain the political model of democracy, as a replacement of the political model of dictatorship which was propped up decades earlier.
If the new “democracies” fail to fill the political void and address the grievances of the masses, the region is likely to witness two trends side by side: emboldened political expression on tribal, fragmented lines, and growing calls for transnational unity toward an Islamic caliphate. Either will essentially negate unity along the line of previously foreign-imposed nation-states.
JR: What would be your guess concerning a timeframe for the establishment of an actual caliphate?
SN: I think the events of the last year have given a new insight on how analysts evaluate geo-politics and the sustainability of political models. As we objectively evaluate the various news from the Muslim world, it becomes clear that all previous models are no longer valid. For instance the videos coming from Syria that show how central Islam is to the revolution and the growing calls for Islamic law in post-revolution Arab states. They most obvious trend is the rise of political Islam.
Sometime back there was a report in the United States by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) called, “Mapping the Global Future 2020”, which simulated a scenario for a caliphate in 2020. Another Harvard Law professor, suggested that within the next 10 years, a “caliphate” in the Middle East was far more likely to emerge than any form of liberal democracy. My guess is it will be quite sooner than 10 years.
JR: Do you think that it will be possible to reestablish a caliphate without a series of regional wars to bring resistor nations under its authority.
SN: Before the advent of the Arab spring (or “the Islamic Awakening” as some more properly refer to it), the regional domino effect of the emergence of a caliphate was only a hypothesis. However, the events in the Middle East have now added sound credibility to what was only a theory. The Islamic Awakening quickly revealed that the previous political setup reached its climax and is now negated. This had an immediate and profound domino effect, starting from Tunisia, then moving to Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen etc. The affirmation of a new political construct in any one place has the ability to spread quickly. If this political construct emanates from the ideology of the masses, then its historic significance is clear. It is able to show instant results in addressing some of the core issues of the people and exhibit the potential to solve other various standing issues. Whereas some friction can be expected, the caliphate may well be able to galvanize a significant portion of the region by channeling popular support from the masses, without the need of a series of regional wars.
JR: Is the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood is a sure sign of the coming caliphate?
SN: The popularity of various Islamic political parties reflect the sentiments of the Muslim populous and their desire to see a far more prominent role of Islam in the political domain.
The explicit reference to caliphate indicates the popularity of this idea amongst the Arabs. A similar reference was also made by the En-Nahda party in Tunisia.
It must be noted that the idea of a unified pan-Islamic state, the caliphate, is understood and accepted by virtually all.
We find that Islamic political parties engage in democratic process to acquire seats in parliaments in their own respective nations. And while they express support for each other, these political parties maintain their independent existence. There is no specific talk of unifying on one platform. However, when the idea of caliphate is expressed, the natural political unity it will lead to is clearly implied.
However, I do not think the Muslim Brotherhood will be able to materialize its ambitious statements concerning a caliphate, at least not through the democratic process. Their political maneuvers bear resemblance to the Islamic political parties in Pakistan, which at the time of election campaigns present radical aims in order to win over votes by appealing to the popular sentiments. But upon acquiring seats, they fail to deliver. Ironically this results in the vote base shifting toward liberal factions.
Like Pakistan, the de facto authority in Egypt rests with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and any democratic government will be under its umbrella.
Overall though, despite the ongoing difficulties expressed here, the resonance of the idea of caliphate is only likely to greatly increase within the political domain.
JR: What are the top three nations most likely to produce the leadership necessary to establish the caliphate?
SN: A number of countries may be speculated to be potential candidates giving rise to the caliphate. Some key factors that would be necessary for such a leadership are: the geo-strategic location of the country, the strength of its army, its population count, and the extent of its integration with neighboring nation states, etc. Such conditions would be necessary to muster internal as well as regional support.
Syria, where the revolution has entered its 2nd year, could perhaps provide that leadership. The news coming from Syria evidently shows the centrality of Islam as driving the revolution. Their objectives, which are evident from the revolutionary slogans, titles of Friday demonstrations, and speeches of defected soldiers etc. make the centrality of Islam there clear.
The status quo qualities of other revolutions have culminated into democracies with no real change at the grass roots level other than acquiring more rights of political expression and voting, which are too limited, as is evident from what the protestors continue to face in Cairo, as well as the ban in Libya on parties based on religion. This may well serve as a lesson to those spearheading the revolution in Syria, not to opt for another futile democracy.
Pakistan is another country where the emerging leadership could quickly garner support both internally and from Afghanistan. Its host population has already experienced the steep downsides of dictatorships and democracies multiple times, and hence this provides a stimulus for a new political system to fill the expectations of the masses. The “AfPak” (Afghanistan-Pakistan) region can potentially produce such a leadership.
The third option, in my opinion would be Yemen, Tunisia or Egypt.
JR: Elaborate a bit more on why you see Syria as a possible candidate to establish the coming caliphate?
SN: Syria, as I said, is one of the possible candidates. A number of reasons fortify its potential. Its proximity with the epicenter of Middle-East political friction gives it the leverage to garner support from masses in other Arab states, thereby minimizing any resistance once the state seeks to expand.
The duration and endurance with which it has braved already puts it in a position where people in other post-Arab spring states are looking up to its activists and eagerly awaiting its liberation from dictatorship.
Syria’s sizable military is an additional strength. And again, its emboldened masses and the dominant Islamic characteristics of their revolution goes in its favor.
JR: What are your thoughts concerning Bashar Assad? What do you predict will happen to him?
SR: Bashar’s crimes against humanity are clearly evident to all. His leadership and image have been irreparably damaged, not only among Muslims, but the whole world. Internally his power base is crumbling. Externally, while he has lost his stature, he still has some foreign support, upon whom he is relying to postpone his inevitable demise. If the events in Syria continue at this pace – which is quite likely – then it’s only a matter of time before he will have to face the daunting question of fleeing, resigning, or meeting the dreaded fate of Libya’s Col. Gadhafi.
JR: Is there any talk throughout the Islamic world suggesting that a Caliph could come out of Turkey?
SN: In the recent years, there has been a significant rise in the popularity of Turkish PM Erdogan, and many look to him as a role model of democratic leadership. However, he is far from being the sort of leader a caliphate would require. Turkish so-called “Islamic’” government had sen[t] around 1,800 soldiers to Afghanistan, a region 3000 kilometers away, as part of a foreign occupation. And yet its support to Syria has been cautiously maneuvered and direct military assistance is not found. The politics of Erdogan bear the same hallmark of confused politics that is found in other Muslim countries, i.e., trying to maintain an image that is both secular and Islamic at the same time. Erdogan’s current pursuit of economic prosperity and development of regional ties are not sufficient parameters for a political leader to acquire the leadership of a caliphate since this leadership would have to garner rapid support for an entirely different system and hence would require radical steps be taken right from its commencement.
JR: What is the general opinion in Pakistan concerning Turkey’s rise in recent years?
SN: In my opinion, Turkey’s rise in recent years is within the framework of the status quo. Its political rise is in a democratic framework, its regional ties aim for building cooperation between the nation states, and its foreign policy has often resonated with U.S. regional objectives. In Pakistan, Turkey’s presence has seen a noticeable increase, and some democratic politicians do look up to it as an example to be followed and partnered with.
Turkey’s current political leadership is sometimes projected as a model for other Muslim nation states in the current political setup. However on close observation, it becomes clear that Turkey’s so-called “Islamic” democratic government will only resort to the use of Islamic tenants so long as it does not harm its economic interests and secular image in the corridors of power in the West.
Having said that, Turkey also does have some key factors that give it the potential of caliphate leadership. However, this does not appear to be the aim of the current prime minister.
JR: Are you awaiting the Mahdi? Could a Mahdi emerge to lead the caliphate?
SN: Scholars in the Muslim world are generally on the same page with regard to the leadership and pivotal role that the Mahdi will play. However the absence of the Mahdi does not in any way undermine the need and practicality of establishing political unity now. Therefore a caliphate may well emerge before the coming of the Mahdi.
JR: The present “Arab Spring” is resulting in a widespread rise of persecution against Christians by Muslims. Would this persecution cease under a caliphate?
SN: The accounts of persecution of Christians that are reported in the news go to further expose the failure of the present political setup and rulers. The people at large have suffered from brute force and tyranny, and in the absence of a just political order, chaos and insecurity affects many.
It would be utterly wrong to link instances of persecution as a direct result of increasingly emboldened Arab masses participating in the Arab Islamic awakening and to extrapolate it so as to imply that an any future Islamic state would cause such persecution to increase. There have been many instances that showed solidarity between Christians and Muslims on the Arab streets while protesting against Mubarak for instance.
For surety, [a] caliphate would be at the forefront of protecting and providing security to its citizens, Muslims and Christians alike. And history has many examples that show the protection of Christians under the caliphate. Egypt’s vast Coptic Christian population which lived for centuries under the caliphate is just one such example.
JR: According to Islamic jurisprudence, is it mandatory for the caliph to engage the non-Islamic world for the purpose of expanding the authority of Islam globally?
SN: Scholars of Islamic jurisprudence unanimously agree that the caliphate is responsible to carry the message of Islam to the rest of the world. This implies that the caliphate will engage with the rest of the world. A caliphate would be responsible to present Islam comprehensively; its creed and its systems as a means of liberating humanity. It will engage in trade and commerce, establish treaties and alliances, and seek to remove oppression and protect humanity.
JR: I would to thank you once again Sharique for your willingness to share your views on these matters as we in the West make every effort to properly understand the perspective of Islamists such as yourself, particularly as it pertains to the powerful winds of change sweeping through the entire Islamic world. Your thoughtful and articulate answers have been most beneficial and are greatly appreciated. May the LORD shine His face upon you and reveal Himself to you through Jesus the Son. Many Blessings.