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Religion and Society

The Caliphate is not a Matter of Faith

Most Muslims have never been subjected to the authority of a caliph. The discourse on the “Islamic state” as a legitimate state is a recent ideology that, emerging between the 1930s and the 1960s, links the legitimacy of a state’s political regime to a particular understanding of religion. Today’s Islamic world needs both a religious reform that can stimulate fresh reflection on the polity, understood not as a religious institution but as the administration of public affairs, and a political reform that can promote alternation in power.

“Islamic state” is a relatively recent technical term. It was first used by Byzantine travellers and historians to designate the lands dominated by the Ottomans. Muslim historians and jurists, on the other hand, used the expression dār al-islām i.e. the “abode” in which the majority of the inhabitants are Muslim, where Muslims and dhimmīs enjoy security and where no one can prevent anyone from building Islamic places of worship and practising Islamic worship.



To Emigrate or Not to Emigrate?



When the British occupied India and gradually conquered the Moghul Sultanate until it fell in the aftermath of the 1857 rebellion, some jurists stated that that territory was no longer “Islam’s abode.” Other jurists replied that the British were indeed an enemy to be fought but that the territory continued to be “Islam’s abode” since the occupiers were not opposing the presence of mosques, Muslims or their acts of worship. In support of their argument, they cited the case of the Ottoman sultan who, having lost the Crimean peninsula in a war against the Russians, established (in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, 1774) that the Muslims would not have had to emigrate as long as their places of worship, their mosques, their mortmain property and their judges were left intact.



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