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What ISIS's new 'Islamic state' means for the world

June 30, 2014 14:51 IST

Image: Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant celebrate on a police vehicle along a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq
Photographs: Reuters Vicky Nanjappa

What is a caliphate? How will it impact Muslims in India and across the world? Vicky Nanjappa speaks to experts who analyse the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s declaration of an ‘Islamic state’  

Dreaded militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on Sunday announced the establishment of a ‘caliphate’ that ended nearly 100 years ago with the fall of the Ottomans. Experts see this move as a “holy war” and a bid to challenge the central leadership of the Ayman Al-Zwahiri-led Al Qaeda that considered the ISIS too violent.      

The ISIS renamed itself as the Islamic State in an audio message and written statement purportedly from its official spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani al-Shami on Sunday.

He said ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the caliph or head of the state. "It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to and support him. The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, becomes null by the expansion of the caliph's authority and arrival of its troops to their areas,” the statement said.

Sunday’s development raises several big questions as experts try to analyses the ISIS’s announcement.      

What ISIS's new 'Islamic state' means for the world

Image: A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant holds an flag and a weapon on a street in Mosul, Iraq
Photographs: Reuters Vicky Nanjappa

What is a caliphate? 

A Caliphate is an Islamic state, which heads all Muslims, and its emir is known as a caliph. The job of the caliph is to interpret and ensure the implementation of God’s will. The decision of the caliph is binding on all Muslims.

However, Sunnis and Shias have differences on the functioning of the caliph.  The Shias believe that a caliph should be a religious teacher or an imam while the Sunnis are of the opinion that he should be elected by the people.

What ISIS's new 'Islamic state' means for the world

Image: An Iraqi child waits with her family to get into a temporary displacement camp for Iraqis caught-up in the fighting in and around Mosul, Iraq
Photographs: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Vicky Nanjappa

How will the declaration of an ‘Islamic state’ impact the worldwide Muslim population? 

Several analysts have termed this a development more important than 9/11.

Animesh Roul, executive director, Society for Study of Peace and Conflict, said, “Al Qaeda breakaway group ISIS’s declaration of a caliphate on the day of Ramzan speaks a lot about the militant strategy of influencing the Sunni world for larger support. After taking over most of the border territories between Iraq and Syria, ISIS and its insurgent affiliates are expected to march further dividing the government forces and their supporters in this growing conflict. It could also create a rift within the global Islamist movement and one should wait and watch for any signs of infighting or any opposition from the Al Qaeda.”

What ISIS's new 'Islamic state' means for the world

Image: A Shi'ite volunteer wearing a mask, who has joined the Iraqi army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from ISIS
Photographs: Reuters Vicky Nanjappa

“The declaration of caliphate and the caliph -- al-Baghdadi -- would undermine Al Qaeda’s supremacy over the global jihadist movement and of course its core affiliate in Syria -- the Al Nusra.”

“However, it’s very premature to conclude that both groups -- Al Nusra and ISIS -- would now confront over territory or ideology. There would be an increased effort for reconciliations within the warring factions. And if support comes from Afghanistan and or Pakistan or from other Sunni-dominated countries, it would provide major boost for al-Baghdadi and the whole caliphate movement.” 

What ISIS's new 'Islamic state' means for the world

Image: Shi'ite Muslims scuffle with policemen during a protest against the ongoing conflict in Iraq, in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters Vicky Nanjappa

It is expected that the call of the caliph would influence Muslims across the world. But what about Indian Muslims? Roul said, “I doubt that any Indian Muslims would subscribe to the call right away. Those who are already radicalised, even though they are a minuscule number, would be ready to join or must be celebrating in their houses or secret camps.”

“We received reports earlier that some Indian Muslims in Iraq and Syria have joined the movement, but we have no substantial information about them and their involvements. Scouring the social media would give us any immediate hint on radicalised Indian youths.”   

What ISIS's new 'Islamic state' means for the world

Image: Members of Kurdish security forces with their weapons take cover in a shelter during clashes with ISIS militants in the village of Basheer, south of the city of Kirkuk, Iraq
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters Vicky Nanjappa

Other analysts point out that there is a possibility of a tussle between some of the Gulf states that are now left divided by the differences in the Al Qaeda and the ISIS. Many cadres of the Al Qaeda may switch over thus resulting in a power imbalance in the outfit.

The other concern is about Saudi Arabia where people subscribing to the extreme Wahabi school of thought could join the Islamic state declared by the ISIS, analysts said.