Islamic History

The History of an Idea

Author(s): Hugh Kennedy

Reviewed by: Christopher Anzalone, George Mason University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, USA



The key Islamic concept of the caliphate (khilafah) shot into the public sphere with the rise to prominence of Islamic State, the militant organization that continues to control significant, if shrinking, territories in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and, through affiliate groups, in countries as geographically widespread as Nigeria, Yemen, Egypt, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The declaration by Islamic State’s amir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-[Adnani in June and July 2014 that the organization was a new “caliphate” made the concept both widely known and widely reviled among many in the public sphere. While to Muslims the term “caliphate” and caliph (khalifah) refers to the legitimate state authority and ruler, to the general public the term became synonymous with Islamic State and its mysterious leader, the former Qur’anic studies graduate and specialist, al-Baghdadi, and his cadre of ultra-violent, media-savvy supporters. It is in this environment that Kennedy’s newest book was published and it is a much needed addition to the literature on Islamic history and political and religious thought....

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