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Book Review: The Inevitable Caliphate: A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, 1924 to the Present' by Reza Pankhurst

22/09/2014 11:19 BST | Updated 19/11/2014 10:59 GMT

To be or not to be, that is the question. Perhaps the most perfect sentence ever constructed in the English language.

Raza Pankhurst's latest work doesn't have the poetic endurance of Shakespeare but its central premise is concerned with the dilemma so eloquently posed by the master playwright in Hamlet. The tragedy of the Danish prince that has endured as a fictional masterpiece of English drama has played out in the Muslim conscious for nigh on a hundred years.

Except as Pankhurst shows nobody can quite agree on who the prince should be, what exactly are the confines of his authority and how his role should be defined in the age of the nation state.

The now infamous Hizb ut-Tahrir were clear that such royal titles as prince or king or president should not be confined on the incumbent as they were imports of the Imperialist West. Terms however like Sultan or Leader of the Believers and Head of State were acceptable. Such details form an essential component of Pankhurst's work as he shows the various strands of thought under differing political contexts that have developed around the issue of the Caliphate.

That issue, of course, is more alive in our present time than at any over the last hundred years but that does not mean it has been entirely dormant. Its seems as if ever since Mustafa Kemal's abolishment of the seat of the Caliph and his statement that the idea of a unified Muslim state was misguided, different groups have been trying to prove him wrong.

Al-Baghdadi and ISIS have caught the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al Qaeda unawares by declaring a Caliphate. For these other players the Caliphate has been an end game that has remained but a dream. And yet to limit the desire or subject of Caliphate to what are considered, by western liberal standards, as extreme factions is to do a disservice to history.

As Pankhurst demonstrates when looking beyond the Middle East many smaller and less well know factions have also based their structure upon having a Caliphate style head.

Among these is the global Gold Dinar Community led by a Scotsman born as Ian Dallas in 1930 with an ultimate aim of destroying global capitalist banking and creating Islamic trading communities.

This is the ultimate strength of Pankhurst's work as it discusses the Caliphate within the confines of normative Islamic tradition giving the varying and divergent positions of different factions. In this respect anyone trying to understand the current happenings in the Middle East could do worse than refer to the work. What they will find is a narrative that does not use western liberal democracy as the yardstick to measure the Caliphate against, and thus render the subject into little more than anti-Muslim polemic.

The Inevitable Caliphate: A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, 1924 to the Present by Reza Pankhurst, pp. 256, Hurst Publishers, paperback: £18.99