Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.
This question appeared after the emergence of the new states, when every state has its own borders and sovereignty. To answer this question we need to take a look at governance and state formation in the 7th century. History books would be good resources for such research. But I will talk concisely about how governance was organized back then.
First of all, at that time, mainly the 7th century, there were fewer states and more kingdoms and empires, particularly related to Muslims the Byzantine, Ottoman, Russian, Persian, and later the Abyssinian and British empires were highly important. At the time Islam arose there were not always clear borders with these empires, as the limits of your empire would be the last place your armies reach. There was also no international law to which every state or empire would agree or be compelled to commit. There was no United Nations. The nature of empires was often to “invade or be invaded”. Islam was revealed within such circumstances, thus, Islam and Muslims entered into the age of empires committing to its laws, rather than staying at Medina, waiting for one of these empires to invade and take them over. Islam is a realistic religion, and it has the solution to deal with any situation, one of which is dealing with the forces of warring empires. The constant conflicts between empires at that time had strong impacts on Islamic jurisprudence, which the Muslim scholars derived from the original sacred texts, mainly the Qur’an and Sunnah. So, we have to bear in mind that these jurisprudences are confined, in general, to the situations and circumstances within which they were issued.
The change of situations brings about a change in jurisprudence. This fact was well acknowledged by Muslim scholars. There is a principle in jurisprudence which says: “It is not denied that the rulings change with the change of time and place”. This principle has many applications, especially when we acknowledge that time and place have impacts on many rulings in Islam. Basically, not every ruling can be changed, for there are basic rulings which cannot be changed, such as the duty to worship, pray, carry out zakat, fast, and make pilgrimage to Mecca as well as for other deeds.
As for the things which change according to time and place, they are many. A few examples would be: assembling the various individual sheets of writings into one book to become the Qur’an, writing the Sunnah after the Prophet peace be upon him ordered the companions not to write anything other than the Qur’an, closing the doors of the mosques to prevent stealing, etc.
Let us analyze one instance of the forth-mentioned examples, which is writing the Sunnah. Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, ordered the companions not to write anything other than the Qur’an. He explictly said: “Do not write down anything from me, and he who wrote down anything from me except the Qur’an, he should erase that, and narrate from me, for there is no harm in it and he who attributed any falsehood to me deliberately he should in fact find his abode in the Hell-Fire” (Sahih Muslim, book 55, hadith 92). Here the Prophet, peace be upon him asked the companions to erase anything written other than the Qur’an which was not what the Prophet spoke, but rather what was revealed to him and that he recited from revelation. He ordered this as the Qur’an was still in the process of revelation, and the Prophet was afraid that some of the Qur’anic ayahs—revealed through the angel Gabriel directly from Allah might be confused and mixed with some of his hadiths, which were writings about what the Prophet himself said and did . At that time paper was rare, and people used to write on reeds, leather and bones. There was not a book for the Qur’an to be recorded into, nor for the hadiths. Every revelation to the Prophet was recorded on a separate pieces so mixing up these two sources was possible due to the environment at that time.
While he gave strict instructions of what to, and not to, record in writing, the Prophet, peace be upon him, pardoned them to narrate verbally, but not in written form, what he was saying, as he was the legislator and he had to explain the Qur’an to the people. When the Prophet died, and the revelation of the Qur’an was complete, scholars found that it was obligatory to write the hadiths of the Prophet to preserve them and they judged that since the Qur’an was now complete that mixture of these written hadiths with the Qur’an would be prevented.
So we see that despite an order being made by the Prophet, a change was made later in time when it was judged correct to record in writings the hadiths of the Prophet as well. The change of conditions that allowed them to defy the Prophet’s direct order has given us the Sunnah which help to guide Muslims all over their world. This decision had its impact to create a whole discipline, which we Muslims call “the Discipline of the Hadith”. It is a discipline that is specified in following the narration sequence of what the Prophet did and said and carefully comparing and judging them to refer to them as authentic or false.
This is just one instance, there is another discipline which is called “Usul al-Fiqh or Jurisprudence principles” which also did not exist in the time of the Prophet peace be upon him, but the change in conditions and situations lead to inventing this discipline and also codifying it in writing, despite the Prophet saying to write only the Qur’an.
So we see that as times and conditions change the faithful may judiciously respond to these conditions in ways that support and promote Islam. It was a godly decision to write down the hadiths and all of Islam benefits from this decision. Likewise codifying al-Fiqh, or jurisprudence principles is also beneficial and was called for after the Prophet was no longer alive.
Now let us talk about the conditions and situations of the Caliphate. This Islamic political system was a system that followed the Prophetic era, starting with Abu Bakr, then Omar, then Othman and ending with Ali bin Abi Talib, peace be upon them all. When these Islamic Caliphates emerged it was obligatory on every Muslim, men and women, to respond to the call and migrate from any place outside the Caliphate’s territory to the Caliphate. Anyone who did not join the Caliphate was regarded as a sinner. The normal status of these Caliphates, since they were neighboring the biggest empires at that time, was war. Muslim scholars referred to that war as “Jihad”, and they divided it into two types, the defensive or the obligatory jihad, and the offensive, which is to attack the enemy before they attack you—a practice labeled as preemptory strike by modern day states, as I have explained this issue in details in a previous article. Nevertheless, the difference between those two types of war was vague and unclear, as defense could be attack, and attack could be regarded as defense due to the nature of the situations and the rules of war back then.
Nowadays, the situation is completely different. The normal status of the states today is peace rather than constant war. Likewise today’s states have fixed geographical borders, within which there are rights and duties, which are different from the rights and duties outside of them. We have the United Nations with the majority of states in the world, 193, as members of its charter. We have international law and international treaties.
As a result jurisprudence in the time of the Caliphates would be different from this time of states and international law. In the past, empires and kingdoms dictated the religion of the people living there. That is why we have the famous saying: “People follow the religion of their kings”. When people happened to live in an empire or kingdom and follow a different religion, they were often treated as second or third grade citizens. As for the Arabs, their organizing nature was both religious and tribal in the same time. So, when a tribe announced their control over certain territory, all the members of that tribe are normally called to join that territory to strengthen it. The same thing applies with the Prophetic state. All the Muslims were obligated to take hijrah and join the Islamic state back in the time of Islamic Caliphates.
It’s also important to note that when Islam first emerged, there was not yet an Islamic Caliphate and the situation in Mecca and Medina and surrounding areas was hard on Muslims who lived among idolaters and non-Muslims who might do them harm. Unknown to many today, at that time Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him ordered these original Muslims to migrate to Habashah, or Abyssinia, bearing in mind that the Abyssinian king was Christian. He told them: “There is a king in Abyssinia who does not oppress anyone, so if you go out to him until Allah makes relief for you” (Sunan al-Baihaqi, vol.9, 16). Interestingly, this also indicates that taking hijrah is obligatory for those who suffer oppression to a land where there is justice. In the case of a Caliphate, hijrah would be coming home to a land ruled under Islam, but in this case, the Prophet was telling Muslims to see safety with Christian governance and avoid oppression for a time. Today when there are is also oppression and dictatorial regimes and even war in Muslim lands, we also see many Muslims seek to leave their so-called Muslim countries, in which they were oppressed, and migrate to western non-Muslim countries, because there is justice and peace. Centuries later, these Muslims are following the Prophet’s advice applied to today’s conditions as this attitude was the core reason of the first Muslims’ migration to Abyssinia!
When ISIS’s so called Islamic State, its falsely claimed “Caliphate” emerged in Iraq and Syria, people were dazzled and ordinary Muslims in the world were under the impression that another Islamic Caliphate had arose. When the so-called Caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi called Muslims from all over the world to come, stating it was obligatory for them to make hijrah and to join the Caliphate, they believed that it was obligatory for them to leave their stable and peaceful countries and join the Caliphate. What they missed is that conditions have changed and our learned Islamic scholars teach us it now a time of states, rather than empires and Caliphates. We have today a completely other type of world governance and our scholars tell us how to follow Islam today within it, peacefully and law-abiding and not making war or conflict among us or others.
Had the ISIS Caliphate risen up centuries ago and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi made his claims back then, he may have been correct to claim that Muslims must come to join the Caliphate and obey him, but not today as the situation and conditions for Islamic Caliphates no longer hold. Instead we have now a system of states and newly derived jurisprudence that Muslims must follow. Just as scholars made provision to change things to record the Prophets hadiths after he was gone, despite his order to write down only the Qu’ran, the same is true in regard to Caliphates. Our scholars today recognize the newly arisen international law and the formation of states and the peace that can occur by respecting international laws.
Yet, tragically, over 40,000 Muslims from all around the world were misled by ISIS and migrated to Iraq and Syria. Most of them discovered that it was the worst decision they made in their lives, and many lost their lives and they and their families suffered greatly in the process. The grave mistake they committed was that they believed the allegations of ISIS’s recruiters, which contradict the pure Islamic teachings. Islamic scholars today know and agree that the Caliphate or the Islamic State is not applicable today in its old form and claims for it to be reinstituted and for hijrah to be a duty today are simply false claims. The conditions and situation are different in today’s world from those in the 7th century, when the Prophet peace be upon him was sent. These changes have huge effect on governance and jurisprudence, and that is why we have our Islamic scholarship to guide us and to help develop modern opinions for Muslims in order to live peacefully in today’s world and spread the word and love of Allah around the globe.