On November 16, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) announced that Professor Muqtedar Khan would no longer be delivering the Al-Faruqi Lecture at this year's American Academy of Religion annual meeting. IIIT justified this decision by declaring a certain post from Khan's Twitter account "to be inconsistent with IIIT's policies and interests." In fact, Khan had recently criticized an article published by the Islamist Yaqeen Institute, which discussed and endorsed the reestablishment of an Islamic caliphate.
In the essay that set it all off, Yaqeen writer Ovamir Anjum presented a caliphate as the "idea of a pan-Islamic union," which is winning more converts "with every suppressed uprising in the Muslim world, every new cycle of terrorism and punitive war, every new Muslim population violated with impunity, and every new wall erected in Euro-America." Now that ISIS's caliphate has collapsed, reasoned Anjum, this was precisely the right sort of "boost for the idea of a good caliphate" over a "bad" one.
Anjum concluded that a modern day caliphate would "not only be in accordance with the divine command but also is the only long term alternative to the mutually reinforcing coterie of despots and terrorists."
Khan disagreed. He responded that Anjum's "uncritical glorification of the idea of the caliphate [...]has no place in a serious discussion of global security" and moreover, such ideas "could prime young Muslims for recruitment and thus enable the resurgence of ISIS."
Additionally, Khan criticized Anjum's romanticizing of the historical caliphates, pointing to the "strife and discord" present even during the early time of the Rashidun (Rightly Guided Caliphs in the early days of Islam). Khan asserted that "Muslims should aspire for more democratic models that integrate Muslims with all of humanity rather than those that isolate them." He further insisted that "American Muslims should not be promoting a caliphate, especially when there exists a self-declared caliphate (ISIS) seeking recruits that is undoubtedly the most brutal regime in Muslim history."
IIIT claimed to "stand by [Khan's] right to engage in academic debate and with the rational arguments made in his piece" but not to "support his actions on social media that appeared to target the other organization." It is unclear to what "actions" IIIT is referring. If one looks through Khan's Twitter account, he only mentioned the Yaqeen Institute by name to describe his own piece, titling one tweet: "my response to American Muslims at Yaqeen Institute promoting caliphate."
So why does IIIT feel "that it would not be appropriate for Professor Khan to deliver the al-Faruqi Lecture this year"? Is it simply because it believes Khan was unnecessarily aggressive towards the Yaqeen Institute? Or is it punishing Khan for opposing the re-establishment of a caliphate?
Certainly, the caliphate is central to Islamist thought. And IIIT's Islamist credentials are undeniable. IIIT has long served as a leading thinktank for the global Muslim Brotherhood, and has been a key component of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood network. It has also been tied to terror on multiple occasions, once having provided at least $50,000 to a proxy organization for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
It is perhaps surprising that IIIT chose Khan in the first place to give a lecture named after IIIT's co-founder, Ismail al-Faruqi, who bemoaned Western influence in the Muslim world and envisioned a future where the understanding and development of all subjects, particularly scientific, would be imbued with an Islamic vision. A 1989 IIIT document based on Al-Faruqi's papers and speeches states unambiguously that "ultimate loyalty to the nation-state, is both impossible and blasphemous" for Muslims.
While IIIT presents itself as "a voice for moderation, diversity and modernity in Islamic thought," its actions show otherwise. IIIT's decision to retaliate against Muqtedar Khan is yet another clear indication of the theocracy that guides this Islamist thinktank's work and so tightly controls the expressions of American Muslim thought.