In a chilling move over the weekend, the extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) declared the establishment of a caliphate or an Islamic state in large areas of Iraq and Syria. Claiming to control lands from the Aleppo province in northwestern Syria to Diyala province in eastern Iraq, ISIS commanded Muslims all across the world to show allegiance to the new caliphate and its shadowy leader, Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The statement also said that the group was changing its name to just the Islamic State while dropping all limiting descriptors such as the Levant, Iraq, al-Shams and Syria.
In an online statement, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, a spokesperson of the Islamic State said that the new caliphate nullified the legality of all established Muslim bodies, from emirates to states, which now had to respect the authority of the new leader of the global Muslim community. He commanded all Muslims to accept and obey al-Baghdadi, now anointed Caliph Ibrahim and Prophet Mohammed’s successor.
Announcing the restoration of the caliphate on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month is significant. Such restoration, which brings with it a measure of glory and pride connected to Islam’s 1400-year long golden age beginning in mid-7th century, has been the stated goal of Sunni Muslim activists for decades, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al Qaeda. But al-Baghdadi’s breakaway group that was deemed too brutal to be part of the al Qaeda network is the first to assert this claim on a global stage.
As social media erupted with chatter about the declaration of the establishment of the new caliphate in Iraq and Syria by ISIS, an expansion map drawn out by the Islamist group was also being widely shared by its online supporters. The map shows how the caliphate plans to expand its influence over the next five years over countries that once used to be the holdings of the Ottoman Empire, and includes North Africa, the Middle East, and large parts of western Asia, as well as non-Muslim majority countries. Indeed, ISIS has regularly stated their intent to return to the geo-political boundaries in place before the Great War and has accused the Allied Forces of using the Sykes-Picot Agreement to carve up the Ottoman Empire in a way that divides the Muslim population and restricts the rise of a modern caliphate, much like the one which ruled over the North Africa, Middle East, and large parts of Europe and Asia.
The impact of the bold announcement is not yet clear but experts are predicting a surge in fighting among Sunni militants, who till now were in alliance with ISIS as they battled the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite-majority regime. However, as power sharing becomes the focus of Sunni militants, the prospect of cooperation is unlikely, especially as the battle for leadership of the global Muslim population comes into play.
While al Qaeda has long been the face of the international jihadist cause, ISIS has recently emerged as a challenger to that mantle. According to Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center, this is occurring because the younger members of the global jihadist community are showing increasing support for ISIS’s ability to obtain results through brutal action.
While world and regional leaders react to the announcement of the new caliphate with alarm, the Iraqi government continues to battle ISIS in an attempt to wrest back control as evidenced by the ongoing violence in Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. It is apparent that the ISIS declaration of the establishment of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria is going to mean that the month of Ramadan, usually associated with peace and prayer, is going to be filled with bloodshed and violence for Muslims in the region.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay