What Happens When a Caliph is Captured?
In the wake of the Islamic State’s announcement of the killing of its previous leader Abu al-Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, the consensus among analysts and observers has (correctly) realised that the proposed identification of him with Bashar al-Sumaida’ie, who is currently arrested in Turkey, cannot be correct.
Hassan Hassan, who first brought forth this proposed identity to wider public attention, has at various points suggested that the Islamic State has been playing some kind of trick: either the announced death is fake, or when al-Sumaida’ie was captured, the group gave the “Abu al-Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi” caliph identity to another individual.
The first suggestion is definitely not true. As for the second idea, it is implausible for reasons explained below. There is a point for consideration here that has relevance for past, current and future Islamic State ‘caliphs’: what happens to the caliph’s status as a caliph (i.e. his ‘imamate’/his status as ‘the imam’ of the Ummah/Muslim community) if he is captured by the enemy? While this matter is not discussed in any of the Islamic State literature I have reviewed so far, it is most notably discussed in the work of the medieval jurist al-Mawardi and his discussion would likely be relevant to the Islamic State’s thinking on the matter. The discussion comes from pp. 28-29 in this edition of his work “al-Ahkam al-Sultaniya wa al-Wilayat al-Diniya” (“Authority Rulings and Guardianships of Religion”) and I have translated it in this post. The most important points of relevance for this discussion are as follows: