OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said in a speech in Vienna on May 5 that for 13 centuries, Muslims had shared a feeling of belonging to the Muslim ummah, or global community, bound together under the banner of the caliphate.
All that ended when the modern Turkish republic succeeded the Ottoman Empire in the years after World War I.
“The abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate was a turning point for the entire Muslim world,” Ihsanoglu said. “Following the abolition of this institution, many Muslims found themselves, for the first time throughout their history, facing the absence of the polity under which they lived for several centuries.
“The establishment of the Organization of the Islamic Conference can be seen as the embodiment of the concept of Islamic solidarity in the contemporary world,” he continued. “The OIC concretized a desire, expressed since long before, to keep alive and to demonstrate Islamic solidarity and unity in a framework of a corporate international forum.”
Although Ihsanoglu’s remarks, delivered at the Diplomatic Academy Of Vienna, do not amount to a call for the re-establishment of a caliphate, they do provide a glimpse of how he sees the 40 year-old Islamic body which he has led since 2005.
Under the leadership of Ihsanoglu, a Turk, the 56-nation OIC has been transformed into an influential actor in the international community.
The year he took the reins, 2005, the OIC adopted a “ten-year program of action” which includes calls for member states to coordinate their positions and to support each other’s candidatures for positions at the United Nations and other international institutions.
Its growing clout has been seen in the U.N. General Assembly and, perhaps most vividly, at the U.N.’s Human Rights Council. Its activist agenda, bloc voting and alliances with non-Muslim countries like China and Cuba have frequently stymied Western-led attempts to use the Geneva-based body to promote universal human rights.
From an organization seen by many Muslims and others as bureaucratic and ineffectual, it has become a bloc taken far more seriously, as witnessed by President Bush’s decision in 2008 to appoint the first U.S. envoy to the OIC.
“The OIC is the second largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations,” Ihsanoglu said in Vienna. “It is not a religious organization, but is mandated to coordinate and streamline the collective voice of the Muslim world.”
“It is also entrusted with defending the interests and the just causes of the Muslims and the Muslim world, and functions as the only official organization that represents and speaks on behalf of the Muslim world.”
‘Revive the caliphate’
Caliphates existed from the seventh century – the first caliph recognized by Sunnis was Mohammed’s companion and father-in-law, Abu Bakr – with successors ruling from Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and Constantinople (Istanbul) In 1924, Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk formerly abolished the institution.
Four years later, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt with the goal of uniting Muslims under Islamic governments with the eventual aim of restoring the caliphate.
Calls for a caliphate (khalifa in Arabic) frequently feature in the teachings and rhetoric of Islamists, with proponents ranging from Muslim Brotherhood leaders to top al-Qaeda terrorists, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
President Bush in a 2005 speech warned about the drive in the context of the conflict in Iraq, telling a National Endowment of Democracy audience that terrorists fighting coalition forces there “believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.” (Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna wrote about restoring a caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia.)
Although some Islamic scholars have said the time for the caliphate is over, surveys suggest that support for the concept is widespread among ordinary Muslims.
In a 2007 opinion poll of attitudes in four leading Muslim countries – Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan and Indonesia – University of Maryland pollsters found an average of 65 percent of respondents were in favor of “unify[ing] all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or caliphate.”
That same year, a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally in Jakarta calling for the restoration of a caliphate drew an estimated 80,000 people. The country’s biggest mainstream Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, says it does not view the idea as a priority.
On the 86th anniversary of the abolition of the caliphate, two months ago, a Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman in Britain, Taji Mustafa, said things were looking up for the campaign, citing among other things “the failure of global capitalism.”
In Pakistan on Sunday, Hizb ut-Tahrir activists held demonstrations against the U.S. and Pakistan’s government, calling for the restoration of a caliphate.