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Caliphate: The History of an Idea.

Caliphate: The History of an Idea, by Hugh Kennedy, Basic Books, 11 October 2016, ISBN-13: 978-0465094387

This book contains an intriguing historical account that traces the lineage of the powerful concept of the caliphate from its inception to its modern manifestations. As Hugh Kennedy explains, "In order to understand the Islamic State's idea of caliphate and why it should prove relevant and important to many, we have to understand its roots deep in the Muslim tradition." Kennedy explores the historical connotations of the office and strives to draw a parallel between past Muslim concepts of the position to its present day existence in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The text breaks down the idea of a caliphate by historical dynasties and explains how the legacy and contributions of each dynasty shaped the modern geopolitical climate. The text vividly describes the rise and fall of the dynasties, their struggles with the office, their achievements during their reign, and the way their contributions are being used in modern times to portray a romanticized view of Islamic warfare.

From its use of the traditional black color scheme on banners and attire, which was adopted during the Abbasid era, to its espousal of the tradition of bay'ah, which signifies allegiance to an individual as the caliph, ISIL appears to use the concept of a caliphate to justify some of its barbaric and violent actions. These actions are viewed by many as a repetition of past atrocities committed during the Islamic Golden Age, traditionally dated from the 8th century to the 13th century. The book begins with the explanation of the idea of a caliph, or God's deputy on Earth, and culminates by correlating the flexibility of the concept with the way ISIL uses the idea to legitimize its political and religious power over the Arab world today. From the selection of the first caliphs after Mohammed's death (which undoubtedly set the tone for the way later dynasties would struggle for power, determine the powers held by the position, and create the division of the Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims) to the current claim that Abu Bakr Baghdadi is to be the next caliph, ISIL is indeed attempting to revive an ancient conception, which some would argue is a perversion of Islam.

Kennedy does a marvelous job of breathing life into a historical text that encompasses centuries of historical incidents, while setting the tone to make historical connections between past occurrences and the ideological movement that is unfolding in the present day Middle East. This text is a must-read for those who wish to understand the effects that past caliphates have on the ever-growing movement we see today.

Captain Braxton is the commander of the 74th Multi-role Bridge Company, Fort Hood, Texas. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Air Assault Course, the U.S. Army Airborne School Basic and Advanced Airborne Courses, the Sapper Leader Course, the U.S. Army Ranger School, and the Defense Support of Civil Authorities Phase II Course. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University.

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Author:Braxton, Dale C.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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