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The Thinking Muslim: Who wants the Caliphate? with Dr Ovamir Anjum

The Caliphate has in recent years acquired a meaning beyond its original conception. Although polling on the matter is contradictory at times, most analysts of the Muslim world would surmise that religiosity is on the increase and with it a demand to see Islamic scripture reflected in public policy. My guest this week, Dr Anjum Ovamir, although abhorring all that Isis may stand for, suggests that its brief rise to notoriety has opened up space for intelligent minded Muslim’s to reimagine a world with a just Caliphate. Undoubtedly, the appeal of the concept is enduring, the late professor of Islamic Studies (and neoconservative protagonist) Bernard Lewis placed the Institution at the centre of Muslim thinking since the death of the Messenger Muhammad (saw). He posits it remained a “potent symbol of Muslim unity, even identity, and its abolition, under the double assault of foreign imperialists and domestic modernists, was felt throughout the Muslim world”. For Lewis, the loss of the Caliphate is seen by Muslim majorities as a symbol of a century of humiliation, disunity, colonisation and despotic rule.

And you can see why Muslims observe the institution of the Caliphate to be intertwined with the deep-seated memory of Islam’s golden age and illustrious past. The Muslim world, that once saw itself at the centre of innovation, toleration, culture and wealth is now synonymous with civil strife, poverty, inequality and terror, of which the Syrian civil war and the deafening silence over the plight of the Rohingya’s and Uyghur genocides is just the latest in a long line of disasters.

So how can a reimagination of Muslim political order help the Muslim condition? Dr Anjum argues in a recent long read penned for the Yaqeen Institute that not only is there an urgent requirement for Muslim intelligentsia and civil society to debate the form a modern Caliphate would take but to seriously place it at the centre of Muslim social and political activism. He argues that Islam’s challenge has to be framed in the context of the broader tumults faced by the liberal order, namely the process of de-globalisation and the rise of populist nativism. Dr Anjum believes Muslim’s particularly the young and those that have come to the west to escape the malaise of the Islamic world owe it to the worldwide community to “link up beyond artificial borders to ask the fundamental questions that places Islam as an alternative to the prevailing order”.

The Caliphate surely does need more attention. There have been some laudable attempts in recent years to conceptualise a modern Islamic order, most notably in Pakistan by Dr Israr Ahmed and in the Arab World by Sheikh Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, may Allah reward them for their steadfastness, courage and contribution to the topic. However, the appeal of their movements has dissipated and today they fail to inspire the vast majority of Muslims that look to an intelligent and radical solution to our malady. Dr Anjum calls for a new wave of thinking on the subject, grounded in revelation and aimed at showing both Muslim’s and non-Muslims how Islam’s thought should be considered as an alternative to the contemporary decaying world order.

My guest this week, Dr Anjum Ovamir, although abhorring all that Isis may stand for, suggests that its brief rise to notoriety has opened up space for intelligent minded Muslim’s to reimagine a world with a just Caliphate. Dr Anjum calls for a new wave of thinking on the subject, grounded in revelation and aimed at showing both Muslim’s and non-Muslims how Islam’s thought should be considered as an alternative to the contemporary decaying world order.

Dr Anjum argues in a recent long read penned for the Yaqeen Institute that not only is there an urgent requirement for Muslim intelligentsia and civil society to debate the form a modern Caliphate would take but to seriously place it at the centre of Muslim social and political activism. He argues that Islam’s challenge has to be framed in the context of the broader tumults faced by the liberal order, namely the process of de-globalisation and the rise of populist nativism.

Dr. Ovamir Anjum is Imam Khattab Endowed Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Toledo. He obtained his Ph.D. in Islamic history in the Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Author of Politics, Law and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment (Cambridge University Press, 2012). His current projects include a multi-volume survey of Islamic history and a monograph on Islamic political thought.

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