ISTANBUL – The declaration of a so-called caliphate by Islamist militants in Iraq lacks legitimacy and their death threats to Christians are a danger to civilization, Turkey’s top cleric, the successor to the last caliph’s most senior imam, said.
The Islamic State last month declared its leader, Ibrahim al-Baghdadi, “caliph” — the historical title last held by the Turkish Ottoman sultan who ruled much of the Muslim world.
“Such declarations have no legitimacy whatsoever,” said Mehmet Gormez, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, the highest religious authority in Turkey, which, although a majority Muslim country, has been a secular state since the 1920s.
“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, whether from a political or legal perspective.”
Gormez 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 said in an interview.
Gormez is in a unique position to question al-Baghdadi’s claim to the caliph’s seat. His office was created in 1924 to replace the Ottoman Sheik al-Islam, the mufti with authority to confirm new sultans and who also served as chief legal adviser.
“Its structure has changed greatly in modern times but its historical ties, of course, continue,” Gormez said.
The caliphate itself was abolished in 1924, part of early modernizing efforts by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular Turkish Republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.