Toward a Virtual CaliphateToward a Virtual Caliphate
Most interesting, however – but certainly least noticed – is a diverse body of "superstar" religious scholars whose efforts might serve as a more metaphorical embodiment of the caliphate. For this group, the caliphate is not so much a political institution attached to sovereign territory, but rather an ideal of pan-Islamic ecumenicism – a moderate and relatively inclusive form of lowest-common-denominator orthodoxy. In their minds, this community of shared knowledge and religious interpretation is explicitly designed as an antidote to bin Laden and the radical jihadis. Given the means of its establishment and propagation, such a tendency might perhaps best be thought of as a "virtual caliphate." The figure at the forefront of this movement is Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Qatar-based Egyptian religious scholar who trained at the venerable institution of Al-Azhar in Cairo – the Oxford of the Islamic religious sciences. Perhaps the worst thing the West could do is to cast figures such as Qaradawi as part of the problem simply because his views don't precisely correspond with US goals. While increased recruitment into the Qaradawi camp will not by any means produce a generation of Muslims favorably predisposed to US foreign policy, it will represent a consolidated, critical mass of influential and respected Muslims with whom meaningful dialogue with the hope of tangible progress can take place.