It started with a simple message: “I am master of the lands of the rising sun while you rule those of the setting sun. Let us conclude a firm treaty of friendship and peace.” The year was 1218 A.D and the message was sent from Genghis Khan to Ala ad-din Muhammad, ruler of the Khwarizmi Empire. Genghis then sent a caravan consisting of 500 Muslims to establish official trade ties with Khwarzemia. Members of the caravan were arrested by the governor of the Khwarzimean city, Otrar. Genghis Khan then sent a second group of three ambassadors (one Muslim and two Mongols) to demand that the caravan at Otrar be set free and the governor be punished. Shah Muhammad of Khwarizm ordered the execution of the Muslim ambassador and sent the two Mongols back with their heads shaved. These events were sufficient to awaken a sleeping giant. The Mongol juggernaut was kicked into action and by the year 1219, the conquest of Islamic states by the marauding Mongol army had started. Its high point was the capture of Baghdad, the capital of the Islamic caliphate in 1258 A.D by Hulegu, Genghis Khan’s grandson. The body of Caliph Al-Musta`sim was rolled in a carpet and trampled on by galloping horses.

After a span of 600 years, there was no universally recognized caliph in the Islamic world. There was the Umayyad ruler of Andalusia, the Mamluks in Egypt, and the Slave Dynasty in India, all of whom claimed to be Caliphs in their own right. Contrary to popular belief, there has been no single caliphate in the Muslim world during much of recorded history. It was not until the year 1517 A.D that Ottoman Sultan Selim I claimed to be the Caliph of Islam after taking the figurehead Abbasid caliph into custody while in Cairo. His proclamation was challenged by the Safavid ruler of Iran and founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, Babur. In the year 1923, the Ottoman Caliphate was brought to a deserved end by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, Hizb ut Tehrir has strived to revive the caliphate, believing that the “downfall” of the Muslims has been caused due to lack of a Caliph. The goal of establishing a caliphate is shared by organizations in Pakistan (Tanzeem-e-Islami, Jamaat e Islami), Egypt (Muslim Brotherhood) and other parts of the Muslim world. Until recently, this goal was nothing more than wishful thinking. Things changed a few months ago, as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gained a foothold in parts of Iraq and Syria and declared the establishment of a Caliphate. Their leader Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself as the ‘Amir ul Momineen,’(leader of the rightful).

Like all recent bad news in the world, this one also has a ‘Pakistan/Afghanistan connection’. The current head of ISIS, Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi is said to have spent a considerable amount of time in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime and served as a member of the Maulvi Ishaq group.

Upon taking charge of northern provinces of Iraq and adjoining parts of Syria, ISIS (which has since changed its name to “Islamic State” or IS) issued the following decree:

‘Women are told that they should not go outside unless necessary, because their place is to provide stability at home. They must wear full, wide Islamic dress. Stealing or looting will result in amputation of limbs. Criminals can be crucified. Muslims must participate in group prayers at mosques on time. Drugs, cigarettes and alcohol are banned. Rival political or armed groups are also banned. Apostasy is punishable by death and carrying flags, except those of the Islamic state, is not allowed. Graves and shrines are forbidden and will be destroyed.” (Morocco’s Prime Minister recently argued that women should stay at home, only to be confronted by scores of women armed with frying pans outside the parliament).

On 9th July, a tomb was destroyed with a sledgehammer by members of IS. It was believed to be the tomb of Prophet Jonah (Yunus). On 20th July, militants from the group set fire to an 1800 year old church in Mosul. Last week, a statement issued by the group warned Mosul’s Christians that they should convert, pay a special tax, leave or face death. As a result, Christians fled the city en masse before the deadline expired.

In addition to kicking Christians out of Mosul, the “Islamic State” stoned a woman accused of adultery, in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Since establishing the “caliphate”, at least four shrines of Sunni Arab or Sufi figures have been demolished, while six Shiite mosques have also been destroyed across the militant-held parts of the Nineveh province. Apparently, it’s easier to fight for the ideal of the caliphate than to create one.It has also been pointed out that the newly established caliphate is more concerned about expelling non-muslims and destroying buildings than protecting Muslims. Not a whimper has been heard from the Caliph regarding the deaths of hundreds of Muslims in Gaza.

Upon closer inspection, the concept of the caliphate and the Islamic state is a modern concoction of seventh century ideals and tribal customs. Veteran journalist Owen Bennet Jones reported, “The ISIS is a very modern organization. The brochure detailing its 2012-13 activities is like a state of the art corporate report.”

According to Egyptian journalist Khaled Diab, “the Abbasid caliphate was centuries ahead of Mr. Baghdadi’s backward-looking cohorts. Abbasid society thrived on multiculturalism, science, innovation, learning and culture—in sharp contrast to ISIS’s violent Puritanism.” He was also of the view that “the only truly Islamic state, is a state of mind.” In truly medieval fashion, rivals to the ‘throne’ have refused to accept the authority of Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi. This posse includes the Afghan Taliban, Hizb ut Tehrir and Muslim Brotherhood. Naysayers have demanded a Game of Thrones style matchup between the contenders, but this is a distant possibility. Perhaps it’s time for the many closet caliphate-lovers living amongst us to plan their immigration to the Islamic State and trade in their green passports. The ideal of the Caliphate however, appeals far more to these people than its stern reality, and it would be surprising if they took the challenge to task.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.