The Islamic State (IS) claims to be in process of establishing a caliphate in the Muslim world. Most news media have either ignored or misunderstood the implications of the IS claim to the caliphate, however.
The BBC argues that: “When Islamic State (IS) declared itself a caliphate in June this year, and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claimed the title of caliph, it seemed confirmation of the group’s reputation for megalomania and atavistic fantasy. Al-Baghdadi insisted that pledging allegiance to this caliphate was a religious obligation on all Muslims – an appeal which was immediately greeted by a chorus of condemnation across the Middle East.”
The idea of a caliphate, an Islamic state ruled by a caliph, essentially implies leadership of the entire Muslim world. The meaning of the caliphate and its practical expressions have changed greatly over time from the sixth century to today.
A BBC Magazine article attempts to provide historical perspectives on the caliphate that provide background for understanding the current claims being made by the IS leaders. The article includes quotes from interviews with several historians of Islam.
See the article at the BBC Magazine online.