Turkey's religious head calls new Islamic 'caliphate' illegitimate

Turkey's religious head calls new Islamic 'caliphate' illegitimate

ISTANBUL - Reuters
Turkeys religious head calls new Islamic caliphate illegitimate

Mehmet Görmez, the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, the highest religious authority in Turkey, has described the Islamic State’s announcement of a ‘caliphate’ as 'illegitimate.'

The declaration of a “caliphate” by Islamist militants in Iraq lacks legitimacy and their death threats to Christians are a danger to civilization, the head of Turkey’s religious authority has said.

The Islamic State, an armed group that has captured territory across Iraq, declared its leader, Ibrahim al-Baghdadi, “caliph” last month. 

“Such declarations have no legitimacy whatsoever,” said Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate. “Since the caliphate was abolished there have been movements that think they can pull together the Muslim world by re-establishing a caliphate, but they have nothing to do with reality, either from a political or legal perspective.”

Görmez also said death threats against non-Muslims made by the group, formerly known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), were "hugely damaging." 

“The statement made against Christians is truly awful. Islamic scholars need to focus on this [because] an inability to peacefully sustain other faiths and cultures heralds the collapse of a civilization,” he told Reuters.

Görmez’s office was created in 1924 to replace the Ottoman Sheikh al-Islam, the mufti with authority to confirm new sultans and who also served as chief legal adviser. The caliphate itself was abolished in 1924, part of early modernizing efforts by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the secular Turkish Republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Today Görmez’s department drafts the weekly sermon delivered at the nation’s 85,000 mosques, which it supervises. It also employs all of Turkey’s imams - Muslim preachers - who are technically civil servants trained by the state.

“The caliphate is erroneously viewed as a religious authority by Westerners, who see it like a kind of papacy. But historically the caliphate was a legal entity that accepted religious references. It was a political authority,” Görmez also said.

Democratic values

Muslims can no longer be unified under the rule of a single ruler like a caliph but could emulate political blocs like the European Union with shared democratic values, Görmez added, speaking after wrapping up an international conference in Istanbul that brought together dozens of scholars from the Shiite and Sunni branches of Islam.

Conflict between the two denominations has been blamed for much of the bloodshed in Iraq and Syria, but Görmez said that economic and social factors in areas were the root causes. “After a century of occupation, dictatorial regimes and suppressed identity, they are trying to express their vengeful anger and hatred by appropriating religion,” he said.