Turkey’s top cleric calls new Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ illegitimate

July 23, 2014
(Grand Mufti of Turkey Mehmet Gormez shakes hands with a onlooker after an inauguration ceremony in front of the Gazi Husrev Begova mosque in Sarajevo, November 15, 2012. Newly elected Husein Kavazovic is the 14th Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina and will be on duty over the next seven years. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic )

(Mehmet Gormez, head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, shakes hands with a onlooker during a visit to the Gazi Husrev Begova mosque in Sarajevo, November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic )

Islamic State, an armed group formerly allied to al Qaeda that has captured swathes of territory across Iraq, 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,” 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 told Reuters in an interview.

Since ISIL’s advance across northern Iraq in June, Christians have fled the city of Mosul, where the militants are based, after they were given the choice to convert, pay a religious tax or be executed.

Mosul’s Christian community is one of the world’s oldest, tracing its roots back two millennia.

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