It's Friday, so here's a bit of religion to think about.
Apparently all the main social ills that plague the various parts of the Muslim world today can disappear in an instant if we implement an "Islamic State" - according to some of my more zealously religious friends. The "Caliphate" is the magic cure-all that the world needs.
Well excuse my cynicism but in today's world, the Caliphate as it was practiced by the Muslims of the Golden Era is no longer practical. And I am not talking about just any period of the Caliphate, I am talking about the Khulafai Rashideen - the Rightly Guided Caliphs - Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali - the first four Caliphs of Islam.
Let's see why such an idealized "Islamic" state such as theirs would be impractical today.
First, a Caliph was for life.
We cannot have that today. No matter who the guy is, or how holy, we cannot appoint someone for life without any checks and balances. How do we hold him to account if after an election he won't have to face the electorate ever again? And we always need fresh blood, new ways of thinking and innovation to keep the State competitive in the global environment. Thus, a Caliph cannot be for life - and already we have changed a fundamental aspect of the Caliphate.
Second, Abu Bakr did say "follow me only as long as I obey the laws of Allah and His Prophet and if I go astray do not obey me". The question is, who today will judge a leader if the leader chooses to go astray? The so-called ulemah (clerics)?
In the time of those Caliphs, almost everyone could be called a cleric - everyone was a Companion of the Prophet and their knowledge of religion was taught by the Prophet himself. They all had a similar level of knowledge of Islamic law, zeal for justice and peace, and selflessness in spirit. We can see that as soon as that fell apart, anarchy started to seep in. We can see that increasing in the rules of Usman and Ali - as new generations, brought up after death of the original Companions, differed in minute aspects of religion and differed from the Caliph in how to interpret Islamic rules.
Moreover, today's ulemah are not immune to suspicions of ulterior motives. For example, when Umar ruled that a husband who uttered three divorces at the same time had issued an irrevocable divorce to his wife, no one accused Umar of implementing that law to subjugate women. Everyone believed that Umar had come to that decision keeping the best interests of Muslims at heart and after a sincere and honest contemplation. Again, Umar had codified that a woman whose husband had been missing, and therefore she had remarried, must return to her original husband if he reappeared. Again, this was Islamic Shariah.
And then Ali came and changed both of these rulings (and here we see examples of Islamic Shariah being changed). Under him, three divorces together was counted only as one, and once missing for four years, a husband could not claim back his wife if he returned and she had remarried in the meanwhile. In both these rulings, no one accused Umar or Ali of any ulterior motive. Both applied their interpretations of Islamic Law suited for their times as they best saw fit.
Today, however, the clerics have dubious motives for issuing edicts - be it money, power, fame or cultural reasons. Thus, we cannot trust our ulemah to interpret Islam in a just manner, and one of the main pillars of an "Islamic" state thus falls.
Third, what about non-Muslim citizens and women? Are they allowed to hold positions of power, authority and leadership within the "Islamic" state? Can they be Caliphs?
We see that even in the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, they followed certain Arab customs. The Caliph had to be from the tribe of Quraish, as "rest of Arabia would not follow a non-Quraish" as Umar had reasoned while championing for Abu Bakr, after the death of the Prophet. Similarly, the leader was from a noble tribe. Politics played a big part then, as they do now.
However, today, a Hindu man, for example, has the legislative power and Constitutional right, for example, to run for Prime Minister in a Muslim majority country such as Bangladesh. It's another matter that he will never be elected leader, but he has the right to run. And why not? He pays taxes, he is another loyal citizen of the country, why should he not have the same rights as any other Muslim citizen? Yet in a proper Islamic state as demanded by the fundamentalists, non-Muslims will always be second-class citizens.
And not just non-Muslims. In Umar's time, when he had conquered Persia, he made the Arabs live on a garrison by themselves. Different time, different values, and I am sure he had good reasons to do so. Today's time, however, we cannot have such a system of apartheid. The Prophet had said several times that there is no difference between an Arab and a non-Arab, a lesson forgotten by many of our ulemah today as they adopt Arab customs because it's more "Islamic". It can be argued that even today we do discriminate rights (for example we do not allow landed immigrants, who have lived here for a while and pay taxes, to vote until they become citizens) but no one is discriminated against by law due to their religion and race.
What is important to note from those Caliphs, and what many Muslims, miss, is that the reason they were such successful men and the State enjoyed such prosperity was not because they had a Caliphate. It's because the rulers were just, honest, God-fearing, sincere, not driven by power, upright and steadfast men. And they were surrounded, supported and critiqued by men of similar stature. That's the lesson we need to take. Today, what we need to fix our countries is not a so-called Islamic State that starts by legislating what a women can wear (something that the Caliphs never undertook, for example). No, what we need are honest, intelligent and sincere men (or women) leading our countries, and similarly capable men (or women) supporting those leaders, in solving the REAL problems of our societies.
That's why countries such as Malaysia, UAE, China and India forge ahead, while Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia continue to lag. It's not quantity or category, it's the quality.