Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XXIII Part II

Forms of Government

The resurgence of the Caliphate idea

Despite the ideal of a global human unity that espouses freedom and spontaneity and is bound neither by regimentation nor by uniformity, the world at large seems yet to be ready for a truly internationalistic outlook. Otherwise it would be difficult to explain the resurgence of the Caliphate movement in the beginning of the 21st century where rationalists expect science to rule every facet of human consciousness.

It would be interesting to recount Sri Aurobindo’s observations in 1917 in the background of World War I and the looming disintegration of the Ottoman Empire: ‘The Moslem Caliphate, originally the head of a theocratic democracy, was converted into a political institution by the rapid growth of a Moslem empire, now broken into pieces’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 468-469). In fact, the title ‘Caliph’ had metamorphosed from religious to political overtones when the Ottoman Empire made its peace treaty with Russia in 1774 while it retained moral authority over an area whose sovereignty was vested in Russia. In a travesty of righteousness, the British propagated the view that the Ottomans were the actual Caliphs of Islam (inheritors of the Prophet’s heritage) among Muslims in colonial India and the Ottoman Sultans reciprocated this gesture by asking Indian Muslims to support the British rule. The rise of the Caliphate movement in the 21st century which threatens to disrupt universal values in general and Western culture specifically demonstrates the remarkable shortsightedness of the erstwhile British administration in colonial India.

Sri Aurobindo continued in that 1917 write-up: ‘The Caliphate now abolished could only have survived as a purely religious headship and even in that character its unity was threatened by the rise of new spiritual and national movements in Persia, Arabia and Egypt’ (Ibid, pg 469). Nearly seven years later, precisely on the 3rd of March, 1924, Mustafa Kemal, President of the Turkish Republic, as part of secular measures, constitutionally abolished the institution of the Caliphate. Interestingly, in 1926, the same year Sri Aurobindo had the realization of the global cognition (the Noosphere) of the Overmind, efforts to revive the Caliphate failed in the Cairo summit where most Muslim countries did not participate.

However Sri Aurobindo was pragmatic enough to warn as early as 1917 that though the old forms of Asiatic monarchy and theocracy were bound to disappear and seemed not to resurface in the aftermath of World War I, yet, there could be a chance of revival in new figures in future (Ibid). His foresight is a testimony to the fact that the Hizb ut-Tahrir and Muslim Brotherhood want a re-establishment of the Caliphate while the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) actually declared itself a Caliphate on 29th June, 2014 under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The long-term goal of the ISIS seems to construct a gigantic State in the form of a Islamic Caliphate that would include the whole of the Middle-East.

What would be the future of such revival attempts of the Caliphate? Analysts who are worried over the gravity of the menace still harbour hopes that the revival won’t succeed in the long run. The ISIS rips apart the Shia – Sunni divide, is a victim of internecine conflicts within various extremist groups while the sustained modus operandi through genocide, beheadings, kidnappings, and targeting soft objects like masses in a church would find little global sympathy. However the ISIS does not seem to be perturbed by the doubts of the rational analysts. Sri Aurobindo pointed out long back that the real future of the Caliphate movement would be decided not by theocracy or aristocracy but by a ‘new intelligentsia’ , ‘increasing in energy and the settled will to arrive and bound to become exceedingly dynamic by reason of the inherited force of spirituality’ (Ibid). He was confident that a new spirituality determined by the mentality of the new intelligentsia would certainly surpass the old ideas and symbols. One might add that this new intelligentsia with its new spiritual understanding has to arise within the folds of the willing perpetrators of the Caliphate idea as well as the unwilling victims of the unleashed terror. That can only happen through a dynamic spiritual change fostered initially by a small group but with the potentiality of wider repercussions; a mere rational approach would not suffice to counter the irrationality that has its moorings in the inconscience of the formidable past.

Date of Update: 24-Dec-15

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu