With the end of the Ottoman Empire, the essential character of the Middle East changed in the 20th century. From his series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey considers lingering anticipations in the Muslim world for a restored caliphate.
As the 19th century wore on, the Ottoman Empire, the empire of the Ottoman Turks, became a weaker and weaker empire. They were driven back. They lost territory. By the end of the 19th century, that Ottoman Empire was often referred to as “the weak man of Europe.” It was a very much diminished empire in terms of energy and power and the ability to defend itself. After World War I, as many of the empires of Europe had collapsed, so it seemed that the Ottoman Empire would collapse. Indeed, in 1924, Kemal Ataturk, an important leader in Turkey, put an end to the Ottoman Empire and created Turkey as a modern secular state. Ataturk put an end to the caliphate; he said there will no longer be a caliphate. Since the Turks possessed the essential emblems, the robe of the “prophet” and the sword of the “prophet,” they were able to put those things in a museum and say there will be no more caliphate.
So, the essential character of much of the Near East was changed in the 20th century for Muslims. For centuries, really all the way back to Mohammed, there had been this caliphate that gave them a sense of center, of pride, of leadership, and of eschatological anticipation. We must never forget that Islam has a profound eschatological sense. We might almost say they’re rather postmillennial. They have this confidence of ultimate success, and that will be led by the caliph. Therefore, the anticipation always was that someday the caliphate would be restored. And so, it is an eschatological statement that ISIS or ISIL, whatever we are calling them these days, now say they are going to restore the caliphate. This is not just a political observation. This is an eschatological fulfillment for many Muslims, and that is why it has a certain measure of attraction.
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