I met Prince El-Hassan bin Talal, former heir to the Jordanian throne, several times. In one of these meetings, we were talking about unifying ideas in the Islamic World.
At this point, he told me: The idea of Islamic Caliphate is by all means impossible to achieve and for modern times, the most appropriate idea that Muslims should aspire to is a cooperative idea similar to contemporary international experiences. Prince El-Hassan was inclined towards the Algerian philosopher Malek Bennabi’s theory regarding the Islamic Commonwealth.
Malek Bennabi studied Engineering in France in the 40’s then he came to Egypt and lived in Al-Maadi suburb in the 50’s. The philosopher contacted President Gamal Abdel-Nasser and the Egyptian government allotted to him a monthly salary so as to focus on his intellectual and philosophical output full-time.
Malek Bennabi used to write in French and in Egypt he became fluent in Arabic. Dr. Mustafa Mahmoud introduced him to the Egyptian cultural circles. The Algerian philosopher was one of the most prominent figures of the civilisational Islam current, which included the Egyptian philosopher Rouchdi Fakkar and the Lebanese thinker Shakib Arslan. Malek Bennabi was influenced by his teacher the giant intellectual Abdel-Hamid ibn Badis and the scholar Ibn Badis was, in turn, a disciple of the Sheikh Muhammad Abduh.
In 1954, the Algerian Revolution started. Both Ibn Badis (1889-1940) and Malek Bennabi (1905–1973) tried to imbed moderation and enhance modernity and rationality. The two big intellectuals’ system of thought was about to succeed except for the germ extremism that begn to grow in the country. This germ was responsible for the killing of great numbers of Algerians in the tragic years of terrorism.
Malek Bennabi criticised the political performance of the Algerian leadership after the independence. He said: Focusing on the political solution and neglecting the intellectual solution won’t lead to anything. Then Bennabi began expounding his famous theory of the susceptibility to colonialism where the intellectual conflict in the Islamic World and focusing on the margins and not the essence have made the Islamic World prepared for and susceptible to colonisation. Hence, the responsibility for the Islamic world’s backwardness doesn’t fall only on the shoulders of colonialism but also on the colonies even if they were a target of a conspiracy.
Bennabi’s criticism was extended to the Islamic world’s elites, which fell captive to Western charity in education and work where the student travels to Europe and his sole goal to learn language or a profession. “He doesn’t want to get to know the culture and reasons for development and means of progress. In its turn, Europe doesn’t want to give him these things and sees it is enough to distribute its garbage all over its colonies which has become a slave to Western economy”.
In his book “The Destination of the Islamic World”, Bennabi describes that big mistake in an attractive way: “The student, who is living in Paris, doesn’t see the woman gathering grass for her rabbits, but he sees the one who paints her fingernails, dyes her hair and smokes in cafés and symposia”.
In his book “Between Guidance and Losing One’s Way”, Bennabi concludes that it is imperative to decolonize the minds before anything. For decolonizing the minds requires many things including the concepts of culture and civilisation and these can’t be achieved immediately after the withdrawal of colonial armies and declaring independence.
In brief, Malek Bennabi’s intellectual project is the inevitability of conciliation between Islam and modernity, the critical thinking and the rote-learning. This has led him to the idea of the Islamic Commonwealth, which attracted big interest among the intellectuals at the time, then the call and the feedback vanished afterwards. Thinking of a universal project for the Islamic world is an issue that preoccupies the minds of many of its faithful sons, who after exerting much effort, have come to the conclusion that Muslims shouldn’t be captives to the theory that destroyed the Ummah (Islamic Nation) and tore down homelands.
History was falsified and hereditary kingdoms were described as the Caliphate. They weren’t only hereditary, they were also bloody. They were attained through blood and continued through blood and ending them was through blood.
The Umayyad Kingdom, the Abbasid kingdom, the Fatimid Kingdom and the Ottoman Kingdom were described as caliphates. However, the accurate description was the kingdom, sultanate or empire. There is no room at all to call any of them caliphate. The Prophet’s description was decisive when he mentioned that after his death thirty years of caliphate then forced rule.
Colonialism came in support – whether publicly or secretly – to the idea of caliphate in order to feed the cycle of conflict and the map of blood continues expands.
Many wrote about striving to establish the caliphate as a religious duty and even launching a holy war for achieving it. A great intellectual heritage was transcended by the blood sultans when they were striving for power and claim that they were doing this for the sake of God. According to a study made by Dr. Nasr Aref in the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University, titled “The Sources of Islamic Political Heritage”, all intellectuals who wrote about Islam and politics in the twentieth century didn’t get to know only 18 percent of the Islamic heritage that exists in the form of manuscripts in the world’s libraries.
In his book “The Jurisprudence and Evolution of the Caliphate to become a League of Eastern Nations” published in 1926, the great scholar Abdel-Raziq El-Sanhouri attempted to find a path for the Islamic peoples amid the staggering advances of the contemporary world. Both El-Sanhouri’s Islamic League of Nations or Malek Bennabi’s term the Islamic Commonwealth were attempts to renew Islamic jurisprudence and conciliate between the Ummah’s interests and the requirements of the times.
Contemporary interpretations, especially Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah’s efforts on confirming the legitimacy of the national state and the legitimacy of multiple national states within the Islamic world aimed at driving the Ummah to be a part of the world and our age. The word commonwealth points to collective prosperity. The British Commonwealth is a voluntary association that includes independent states that consult with each other concerning common interests and promoting understanding and world peace.
We can suggest discussing the idea of establishing an Islamic States’ Commonwealth or the Islamic Commonwealth and its General Secretariat be based in Cairo and Al-Azhar as its spiritual frame of the association. The General Secretariat would call Islamic states to join without any binding commitment in any policies or decisions. It is a consultative frame that relies on the cultural and religious common grounds that links the member states.
There is no future for our Ummah, if we didn’t decide firmly and determinately to end the march of blood and begin the march of science…leaving the House of War and moving to the House of Peace.