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About the New Caliphate, Mecca, and Stonehenge

2015-02-17

Rather than go in to a long, and probably mistaken, explanation, of what the caliph and the people of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) REALLY want, I will direct the reader to an article in the Atlantic, which is probably the best-informed short article in English that I have read.  The reason it is well-informed is that the author spoke at length with several advocates of what I will call the “New Caliphate” who live in, and are trapped there by the governments of, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Their passports have been confiscated, and they are under investigation and surveillance by government agencies and agents.  Because of specific laws in these countries, these advocates refuse to openly state that they have declared allegiance to the new caliphate.  The fine line here is that urging, or helping, others to immigrate to ISIS territory is also illegal.  Others have managed to immigrate to this territory, which is controlled by a man surnamed al-Bagdadi, who is the new caliph.

The Ottoman caliphate was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Atatuerk in 1924, when he declared the establishment of the modern state of Turkey.   However, that caliphate was not wholly legitimate for several reasons; the last really legitimate caliph probably died about 10 centuries ago.   The idea of the caliphate was proclaimed by Muhammed in the seventh century of the common era, and Sharia (the law and the social/economic structure of the state) was also set in stone by him.

There are several points about the Islamic State that most people do not fully realize.  First, it attempts to re-establish the Sharia (explained below) that Muhammed declared exactly as it was written in sacred documents like the Koran.  Second, it looks forward to an Apocalypse or perhaps, an Armageddon, in which all unbelievers will be killed (that means you.)  Third, it is unapologetic about its adherence to certain practices which sound really barbaric to Westerners: slavery (imposed especially on infidel women), traumatic punishments (which I will not mention because you know precisely what I am talking about), and the payment of a tax by Christians (who will be required to acknowledge submission to its rule.)

You might think that Saudi Arabia is a country in which Sharia is fully implemented.  This is not the case.  There is another aspect of literal Sharia which cannot be ignored: the obligation to provide “free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so.” (Quoted from the Atlantic article.)  This social and/or economic aspect is supposedly implemented in the new caliphate.  Free health care is included (apparently with vision care, which is not covered under the social policy of the United Kingdom.)

At the moment, the territory controlled by the new caliphate is some of the worst on Earth: mostly barren desert in the region of Syria and western Iraq.  There has recently appeared a satellite territory in eastern Libya.  Here were theatrically murdered (“brutally” is such an overused word) “over a dozen” (possibly 20 or 21) Christian Druze people (who had been immigrant workers from Egypt in the oilfields of Libya.)  A video produced by ISIS is available.  The government of Egypt retaliated and sent airstrikes against an eastern Libyan town said to be controlled by ISIS.  A spokesman on Egyptian TV stated that some “40 or 50” people were killed in the airstrikes.  (These quotes are from the New York Times.)

In a nutshell, what we have is a group of people who are fanatical adherents to a literal interpretation of a social policy as well as a “religion”(I use quotes because to these people, their faith is more than a religion; it is an obsession) which was established in the seventh century and cannot be changed.  Furthermore, these people seem to believe in a “Last Days” scenario, reminiscent of the proclamations of American Christian evangelists who deny global warming, some of whom seem to support the Tea Party.  Notice that I am not advocating nor denigrating any of this insanity.

This brings me to another point: Islam is supposedly the second most populous and the fastest growing religion in the world, with some 1.6 billion adherents (they are said to be outnumbered by Christians, with 2.2 billions.)  The vast majority of these people consider ISIS to be “un-Islamic.”  The foremost secular authority on Islam in the US, Bernard Haykel of Princeton, is quoted in the Atlantic article describing them as having “a cotton-candy view of their own religion” which ignores the historical and “legal” facts.

There is no single dominant authority within Islam; multiple interpretations are available from imams (learned Islamic men.)  An imam may issue a fatwa (proclamation) stating that, for example, jihad means to try to topple the US government.   In most countries with a Muslim majority, the government is explicitly religious, although here again there is no agreement as to the exact implementation.

This mixing of religion and government is explicitly outlawed by the United States constitution and the constitutions and governments of most Western countries.  The separation, or blending, of church and state represents probably the fundamental controversy between Islam and Christianity.  In other respects the two are basically monotheistic religions.

The penalty for apostasy is death.  However, before someone can be declared an apostate, she/he must be warned and educated about the “true religion” (that is, the beliefs of Muslims, as they are interpreted by whoever is in control at the moment.)  In fact, to declare another Muslim an apostate is dangerous; Mohammed apparently said “If one Muslim declares his brother an apostate, one of them is right.”

If you really want to know more about this (and I certainly don’t) read the Atlantic article at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

A footnote: the most holy mosque (house of worship, or masjid) in the world is in Mecca, and it contains a unique structure called the “Kaaba” (cube in Arabic.)  This is a roughly cubical stone building about 42 feet high, featuring a black stone which is said to be a meteorite which fell in the hills nearby.   The structure is associated with Abraham, who is said to have rebuilt it, and dates to at least 2000 years before the common era (BCE.)  The Abrahamic structure was not cuboid: it included a rounded portion on the eastern side, which is still preserved as a three foot high curved stone wall outside the current structure.

The structure has been repeatedly rebuilt; in 1979, golden doors were installed in the entrance.  It is apparently only entered twice a year for a ritual cleaning by chosen dignitaries.  During the hajj (pilgrimage), which the faithful are required to perform at least once in their lives (if possible), a ritual walk around the Kaaba is made, currently by about 6 million people a year.

It is interesting to me particularly because its sides are aligned with certain astronomical landmarks: at the north, the rising of the star Canopus, and at the east and west, the setting of the sun at the winter solstice and the rising of the sun at the summer solstice.  These astronomical alignments remind me strongly of another structure: the Stonehenge in Britain.

I am informed by Wikipedia that the earliest stones at Stonehenge were radiocarbon dated in 2008 to between 2400 and 2200 BCE, although other parts of the Stonehenge complex probably date to 3000 BCE (there are some 700 individual architectural features contained in the World Heritage Site, which is 24 square km in size and nearly 30 miles long.)

These dates make an interesting coincidence, which I prefer to explore as it antedates all this fuss about the Koran and the way we were supposed to live in the seventh century CE.

(All statements of “fact” are sourced from Wikipedia unless otherwise designated)

 

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