Resurrecting the Caliphate: The Creed of Abraham and ISIS’s Hermeneutics of Power

Abstract: This talk will focus on the contemporary militant group referred to by the acronym ISIS (or ISIL) and its views on the “caliphate.” As this group sees it, its so-called Islamic State represents the resurrection of the historical office of the caliph after its abrogation in 1923. ISIS anchors this position in the concept of “the creed of Abraham” (millat Ibrahim) mentioned in Qur’an 2:124 in order to derive a scriptural and theological mandate for their project. The lecture will analyze how credible this position is by resorting to a survey of the views of several influential Muslim exegetes on the concept of millat Ibrahim and explore whether their views align with those of ISIS. It will conclude by reflecting on what the larger implications of this survey are for the contemporary period.

Biography: Asma Afsaruddin is Professor of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and Class of 1950 Herman B. Wells Endowed Professor in the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. She received her PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Johns Hopkins University and previously taught at Harvard and Notre Dame universities. Her research interests include Islamic religious and political thought (both modern and pre-modern); Islamic intellectual history; Qur’an and hadith; and gender in Islam. She is the author and editor of eight books, including Jihad: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2021); Contemporary Issues in Islam (Edinburgh University Press, 2015); Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought (Oxford University Press, 2013), recently translated into Indonesian, which won the World Book Award in Islamic Studies from the Iranian government (2015) and was a runner-up for the British-Kuwaiti Friendship Society Book award (2014); and The First Muslims: History and Memory (OneWorld Publications 2008), which has been translated into Turkish and Malay. She has also written over fifty research articles and book chapters on topics as diverse as Qur’anic hermeneutics, hadith criticism, pluralism in Islamic thought, inter-faith relations, war and peace in the Islamic tradition; Islamic feminisms, and modern reform movements in Muslim-majority societies.

Professor Afsaruddin is currently a member of the academic council of the Prince al-Waleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University and is a past member of the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion. She was previously the Kraemer Middle East Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the College of William and Mary (2012) and a visiting scholar at the Centre for Islamic Studies at the London School of Oriental and African Studies (2003). She has also been a fellow with the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) based in Cairo and the American Research Institute of Turkey (ARIT) based in Istanbul. Afsaruddin lectures widely on various aspects of Islamic thought in the US, Europe, and the Middle East and has served as a consultant for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the US Institute of Peace, and other governmental and non-governmental agencies. Her research has been funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which named her a Carnegie Scholar in 2005. In 2019 she was inducted into the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars in recognition of the scholarly and professional distinction she has achieved in her field.