Recalling the Caliphate is not a history or a think tank report or a manifesto, it is a decolonial investigation into the way in which the appearance of a Muslim political identity impacts on the existing world order. Recalling the Caliphate is not a book about Turkey or Iran, let alone interstitial warlords in territories of collapsed states. It is not about political ambitions and schemes that are perhaps being concocted in capitals like Jakarta, Abuja, Dhaka, or Sarajevo, nor is it about the AK party or Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah. Recalling the Caliphate was not written to endorse a specific political plan or detail what the content or policy of any programme or organisation should be.
The demand for a book that discusses the politics of Muslimistan in relationship to existing parties, policies and polities is easily met, the academy and social media are awash with such discussions and debates. From the rantings of the alt. right to studies by academics, there is no dearth of material on the current state of affairs that Muslims confront. The political or even politics, however, is not exhausted by analysis of who is up and who is down, which group is in power and which is not, it is not a game of musical chairs played to the same old tune. The political is also about how we change the tune; it is about world-making.
The assumption that a book about matters Islamicate should confine itself to the existing, taken-for-granted order of things, is precisely what Recalling the Caliphate was written to query. The book belongs more to the genre of political theory than policy-making. This, of course, will disappoint those readers who want something concrete: those whose understanding of the political is fully occupied by actual politics of the day.
The preoccupation with the immediate play of policies, parties and polities in Muslimistan prevents us from understanding the development of forces and process that are not on the horizon of everyday statecraft and punditry. One of the major arguments in Recalling the Caliphate is that emergence of a global Muslimness is disruptive of the existing world order not only in terms of security or culturally but also philosophically. The appearance of various political actions in the name of Islam can be usefully described as Islamism.2 The emergence of Islamism is marked by two developments: a de-centring of the West and the increasingly muscular attempt to halt that decentring by re-asserting white supremacy (Sayyid,  2015). The post-colonial order is post-colonial not because colonialism has ended but because the colonial-racial logic that privileged whiteness has come under challenge and this challenge is provoking white revanchism.
Whiteness refers not so much to pigmentation, or phenotype but a political subjectivity. The concept of white supremacy is oft-used in critical race theory to describe a historical conjuncture in which social, cultural, economic and philosophical differences are refracted through a violent hierarchy between the West and the Rest, Europeaness and non-Europeaness: White and non-white. One way of understanding white supremacy is in terms of what Gramsci would describe as a historic bloc, that is, a mix of structural and superstructural elements which bound social relations into a specific formation. Hence, white supremacy is not an ethnographic but a political category. White supremacy refers to the way in which the prevailing sense of Europeaness is bound up with a dense interplay between economic, cultural and conceptual assemblages in which privileges and naturalises Whiteness as the essence of being human. White supremacy references not individuals or groups but a specific system of global domination on behalf of Europeaness (not necessarily Europeans). Its manifestations range from aesthetics to economics, from culture to realpolitik. From the seemingly neutral notions and concepts of ‘state failure’ to urban myths of ‘Eurabia.’
Recalling the Caliphate was written before the white supremacist tendency as represented by the election of Trump, the rise of Islamophobic white nationalist parties, and the vote for Britain to leave the European Union became explicit. In the last few decades, White supremacy had been absorbed into the banality of governance and cultural reproduction that constituted a neo-liberal order, it had been allowed to remain naturalised and unremarked only to be revealed episodically by the work of activists and marginalised academics and commentators. The ending of formal apartheid in South Africa, the election of Obama seemed to signal a post-racial world integrated by patterns of consumption the formation of a trans-national elite cutting across racial boundaries and hierarchies.
The Trump presidency has brought to the centre of US policy-making unapologetic Islamophobes and should help demonstrate, even to the most obtuse that the disciplining of Muslimness is not a marginal matter that only affects Muslim minorities but, rather it is a global phenomenon. White supremacy is in its current form is expressed through the cultivation and institutionalisation of Islamophobia domestically and internationally. Islamophobia is not merely the negative representation of Muslims or Islam or both. Islamophobia is a sustained an attempt to regulate and discipline Muslimness by reference to a Westernising horizon; it is an attempt to deny Muslim autonomy. What starts with Muslims does not end with Muslims; as a chain of metaphorical links in Trump’s various pronouncements makes clear: Mexicans, Blacks, Chinese are all bound together as those who threaten to undermine whiteness.
Why should Muslims become the metaphors for all that Eurocentrism wants to expunge? Why should how Muslims bury their dead, or dress or eat become a site of contestation and subject to moral panics? Part of the answer must be that growth of a global Muslim consciousness demonstrates the contingency of white supremacy. The decolonial impetus of Recalling the Caliphate was unambiguously directed at the challenge to white supremacy. The challenge to Eurocentrism is increasingly articulated by a sense of transnational unfolding Muslim collective identity. This identity is forged through the complex arrangement of various capillary actions in many parts of the world by which the demand for Muslim autonomy is effected. These social demands can be seen in the confidence by which various Muslims comport themselves in the contemporary world, insisting on being partners in the conversation on the future. The argument that Recalling the Caliphate makes is that a Muslim subject position has emerged where there is little in the way of institutional frameworks or structures to house it. Thus Muslims as Muslims face the challenge of being unrepresented and marginalised from the current world order.
Mobilizations in the name of Islam are not the only form of resistance to white supremacy, but it is undoubtedly the case that signifier of Islam, has become one of the principal signs by which white supremacy is being challenged. This can be seen from the way in white supremacists have focused on manifestations of Muslimness as one of their principal targets (along with ‘multiculturalists’ and ‘cultural Marxists’).3
Of course, this does not mean that all or most Muslims are necessarily or continuously or courageously involved in challenging white supremacy in its myriad forms. There is no doubt that there are many Muslims who support and identify with white supremacy or aspects of it or fail still to see it as anything other than the natural order of things. Some Muslims confronted with the enormity and depth and reach of white supremacy, may contend that there is no advantage in challenging it, they may even believe, that white supremacy is in many ways better than any possible alternative. They may convince themselves and try and convince others that living under conditions of white supremacy is not only compatible with Islam but is necessary for Islam. There are other Muslims who while proclaiming their rejection of white supremacy in most strident and violent terms and are able to combine these proclamations with acts of horrifying brutality which undermine Muslim understanding of Islam.
The existence of Muslims who are complicit with white supremacy does not refute the argument that at its most relevant and hopeful the articulation of Islam as a project of liberation involves decolonisation of white supremacy. This decolonisation is not only economic or military or cultural but also has an epistemological dimension. Neo-conservative historians and pundits highlight the epistemological arm of white supremacy, not by producing studies that explicitly praise the cruelties and iniquities of Western colonial enterprise, but rather by promoting books, blogs and documentaries which erase the relational and comparative from their analysis. Eurocentrism is perpetuated and maintained not only by crude propaganda but also epistemic stealth. It conflates the way things came to be with how they are. Eurocentrism fundamentally erases history by institutionalising an essentialism in the service of its universal claims. Once history is erased we become oblivious to the play of contingency that brought us to this set of arrangements. When we accept the way things are as natural and unremarkable, we are abandoning the possibility of understanding our place in the world and at the same time giving up on our ability to do justice. Justice requires us to imagine a better world; it compels us to recognise that things could have been different, from what they are now. It is this gap that emerges between what is and what should be that a call to justice seeks to close.
To the extent that there are different language games by which the call to justice can be made is a testimony to the irreducible heterogeneity of the world, it is also what those who speak only Westernese find so perplexing. Westernese is the language game or discourse that is dominant in the world; it presents itself as being universal, secular and individualistic. It has been successful in creating a subject position which can found in most parts of the world, which is occupied by a significant number of people who consider themselves to be the embodiment of the claims of Westernese. That is, they comport themselves as being liberal in attitude and habits of mind, universal in their outlook and orientation and secular or at least sceptical about claims made for language games other than Westernese.
In the pages of Recalling the Caliphate, I focus on the ways in which the Islamicate is trapped in Westernese. The idea of the caliphate at its best and most empowering captures the drive to escape Westernese and liberate the Islamicate. It is important to note that the reason I am interested in the caliphate is because it is not an unambiguously canonical category that can be legitimated without contestation. The historical record of the caliphate demonstrates the ‘crooked timber of humanity’. The caliphate has been repeatedly compromised, and its humiliations and betrayals reveal it to be not so much an Islamic but Islamicate institution par excellence. The caliphate is a recognition of the necessity of the political for the perpetuation of Islam, and that the protection of Muslims must in large part be a political act rather than one of piety.
One of the most challenging aspects of Islamism is its relationship to Islam. The argument that I make is that for Muslims, Islam is an ontological category that cannot be reduced to any specific ontic manifestation. This recognition of the ontological nature of Islam can be seen when Muslim scholars have been willing to countenance the suspension of some of the ontic manifestations of Islam to secure its existence. For example, Aytallolah Khomeini declared that it was possible for the Islamic Republic of Iran to suspend the shariah in whole or in part if the survival of the republic was at stake. Lest this be considered to be a peculiarity specific to a reading of a particular madhab, a similar conclusion can be found in Ibn Taymiyya (not exactly known for his ecumenical embrace) who insists that the obligation to defend Islam from existential threat (as presented by Mongol conquests of 7th/13th century) is ‘the most obligatory of obligations’ (awjab al-wājibāt) and overrides any specific obligations to the practice of Islam.4 This way the various schemes that Islamophobes dream up to to defeat Chechens or Kashmiris or Palestinians or Uygurs or Moros by burning their bodies or wrapping them in pigskins are absurd. For these views of Muslims do not understand the ontological nature of Islam and think that if Muslims were cremated or buried with pigs they would give up their struggles because they would ‘not be able to go heaven’. Islam cannot be reduced to its rituals or common practices or its past. Islam’s ability to transcend any of its particular manifestations means it is inherently political. The contestation around its meaning cannot be halted without emptying Islam, turning into a cypher.
Islamism as the broader project is based on implicit recognition of this political necessity. For Islamists, Islam has to play a part in people’s lives, and thus it cannot be confined to the mosque or prayer times. Too many organisations and individuals who could be described as Islamists, however, too often retreat from acceptance of the political in the name of piety.
Throughout this book, there is an insistence that the cultivation of the Islamicate way of life cannot just be achieved by imposing a set of clear rules and guidelines. There will always be a politics of ‘following a rule’, that is, the disagreements and conflicts over the interpretation of rules and guidelines and how they are to be implemented in specific contexts, how they are to be used to domesticate situations and claims of exceptions that continually arise. The quest for a perfect human or perfect society is not only forlorn but undermines the possibility of the Islamicate. Such ideas of perfection rely either on notions of rational foundations, in other words, that a society that is governed by reason, that will eliminate disagreement and conflict and thus usher a harmonious union; or on convictions that many Muslims hold, that a society governed by Islam would eliminate the cause of conflict as disagreements could be resolved by an appeal to the canon of Islam. Such a position, often sincerely held, sees conflicts between Muslims as arising from one group of Muslims not properly understanding Islam. The cause of conflict, however, is not always misunderstanding or ignorance, conflicts can arise because two parties presented with same evidence can come to different conclusions. The existence of different madhabs is testimony the possibility of different conclusions being drawn from a similar evidentiary base. The Islamosphere (that is the circuit established by the circulation of Islam as master-signifier) has been and continues to be a space in which different interpretations coexist, coalesce and sometimes contend—this is an index of vitality, not decadence.
Disputes, disagreements and discord arise from the way in which identity is relational and contrastive, that is, identity rests on the difference, and erosion of difference can lead to the dissolution of a particular form of identification. The attempt to foreclose spaces of disruption means de-politicisation and erasure of ethical possibilities. In other words, antagonism is constitutive of identity, it is not merely, the product of ignorance or malevolence. The challenge is not to erase antagonism but to domesticate it sufficiently to allow it to generate a grammar, that is, politics is about mastering the political. In the Western plutocracies, the domestication of the political took the form of grammar that developed in series of revolutionary upheavals (England, America, France and Haiti) that now labours under the signifier of democracy. For Muslims, a similar domestication of the political took the form of the development of a political grammar in which an independent legal order acted to temper the excess of the powerful. The Shariah system was not just a series of rules, but also a system of courts and scholars independent of government. The European colonial enterprise was in large part responsible for dismantling or marginalising the Islamicate political grammar. The effect of this development was that Muslim demands for autonomy could not be expressed.
In my work, I argue that the identity of Islamism is based not on its content as such, but on the way in which those contents are inserted into a series of contrasts. Islamism emerges in contrast to Kemalism. Kemalism is not merely the programme of transformations initiated by Mustafa Kemal and his followers in a country devastated by a decade of existential struggles, invasions, and occupations, rather Kemalism was a discourse that sought to hollow out the Islamicate world system. The logic of Kemalism as it structures the emergent polities of Muslimistan in the wake of the unravelling of Europe’s formal empires had, of course, distinct local and temporal variations. However, it involved the emphasis on the construction of polities in which ethnicity becomes the centrepiece of nationality, and this involved the marginalisation of the role of independent Islamicate institutions in public life. The opposition between Kemalism and Islamism is not objective but constitutive. The tropes and themes that circulate within the discourse of Kemalism do not define it; rather it is how these tropes and themes are contrasted and given meaning through those contrasts that are the key. It is a caricature to believe that themes or policies have an intrinsic nature that links them irrecoverably with one worldview or another. For example, vegetarianism can be articulated as a component of pacifism or National Socialism; it does not have an intrinsic meaning outside its various articulations. To suggest that there is an overlap between an element of one discourse and another is to forget that ‘denotation is the last connotation’.5 To argue that Islamists and Kemalists are the same because they use similar terms, and practice the similar policies, is not only a problem of empirical over-statement but conceptual under-theorisation. As such it provides an apt illustration of the problem that confronts any serious analysis of phenomena that are described as being non-Western. One response to Eurocentrism is to assert a theoretical universalism, in which all particularities are to be dissolved in favour of categories and concepts which are deemed to be universal. What has become increasingly clear is that the purported universalism of these concepts is undermined by very particular readings of European experiences and their enlargement as representative of human history itself. Beneath the claims of universalist validity and applicability is the figure of Europe as the silent constitutive comparator which gives shape to all these concepts. An example of this can be seen in the way debates about Islamism often turn upon the necessity of separating religion and politics, without making much of the case of why it should be so or even more interrogating whether the concept of religion does justice to formations that now we describe under label of Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism let alone, Islam.
The second response to Eurocentrism is to assert a singular essence, which grounds the exceptional character of Islam. This retreat into exceptionalism is enabled by the existence of networks of Orientalism which continue to dominate the production of knowledge (in its various forms) of the non-Western, including the Islamicate. This strategy of asserting the unique character of the Islamic voids most explanations by simply referring everything to peculiarities of Islam. Endemic violence, socio-economic inequalities, the absence of transparent and accountable governments are simply presented as natural consequences of ‘Islam’. Claims of exceptionalism serve to de-historicize Islam, and its venture. The consequence for Muslims of such a process makes them a people without history and thus, as I argue in this book, a people without a future.
At time of writing this preface, Rohingya Muslims are subject to genocide. Trump has moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, signalling the continuing efforts to erase the Palestinian people. In Kashmir, the most intense military occupation (in terms of security personnel per capita of captive population) is almost over seven decades long. To this list one could add any number of places where Muslims’ lives do not seem to matter at all: Chechenya, Yemen, Syria, Libya… and this list could just go on and on. When lives do not matter, it is a strong indicator that those lives are considered to belong to a people without a future. Being a people without a future is not a matter of academic aesthetics, it has a visceral quality. In the face of such unrelenting cruelty, the only question that seems to be worth answering is: what is to be done? The urgency of the question is understandable but its hastiness mitigates against a strong answer. After all, it would be possible to make another list where those are suffering are not Muslims, or to deny that there is anything in common between the different places on any such list, or to argue that part of the problem is to see these as Muslims and not specific instances of violence occurring for local reasons. Muslims are not being killed, tortured and imprisoned just because they are Muslims. What is to be done requires a clarity about what actually is being done. This task of clarification is not just empirical, it requires more than the reporting of facts. It requires an understanding of the theoretical frameworks by which facts are formed. Pointing out that most Muslims have been killed by other Muslims is as interesting or useful as pointing that more Americans died at the hands of other Americans than as a result of all of America’s wars. The argument that for example, there are local and specific histories that account for mass murder of Rohingya Muslims does not obviate the way in which violence upon the body of Muslims has overlapping convergences and connections. Similar tropes are deployed whether the perpetrators are Muslims, ex-Muslims or non-Muslims: justifications of attack on Muslimness take form of stopping Islamisation or terrorism or both. The signifier of Muslim is being read as disruptive of the current world order. The emergence of political subjectivity that is organised around the sign of Islam requires a conceptual vocabulary that does not repeat the mantras of Eurocentrism. The inadequacy of Eurocentrism is due not to the exceptional nature of Islam, but the particular historical configurations which have produced a global Muslim identity without an institutional or cultural or philosophical framework to channel it. The idea of the caliphate resonates because it seems to offer a mechanism that is trans-national so unlikely to become contaminated by the xenophobia implicit in many forms of nationalism, and has scale to guarantee its sovereignty so that it can be an effective restraint on Islamophobia. The caliphate, however, cannot escape the ability of different political projects to try and harness its potential. The European attempts to establish an ‘Arab’ caliphate as means of subverting the Ottoman state, is one such example, the neo-Baathist-takfiri attempt to legitimate their warlordism is another example.
The contemporary condition of the Ummah can be characterized by the way in which Muslims are too weak to be accommodated and too strong to be ignored. By recalling the caliphate some hope that it is one way of bridging this paradox. The idea of the caliphate is in many ways adjunct to a hope for a political and cultural transformation that can help Muslims break free from the current global impasse. The caliphate then is not merely a geopolitical entity, rather its significance transcends murky politics of betrayals and disappointment: for it signals the possibility of a decolonial horizon.
It is only by decolonising Eurocentrism in all its various and complex manifestations that a ground for imagining better futures can be cleared. A part of such imaginings has to be the formation of a new conceptual vocabulary which does not reiterate Eurocentrism. One such project of developing a conceptual vocabulary that rejects Eurocentrism takes the critique of Orientalism seriously, and is animated by ontological rather than an ontic approach to the production of knowledge, is to call it Critical Muslim Studies.6 When all is said and done, Recalling the Caliphate is just book of Critical Muslim Studies.
 The Arabic version of the preface can be found in Sayyid, S. Istiʿādat al-khilāfa: al-niẓām al-ʿālamī wa tafkīk al-istiʿmār [Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonization and World Order]. Translated by Mohammed El-Sayed Bushra. Beirut: Arab Network for Research and Publishing, 2018. I want to thank Mohammed El-Sayed Bushra for his sabr and his dedication in translating this book. His insights have helped me to think through some of my arguments. For an author to have a such a careful reader is both humbling and a pleasure. I would also like to thank Uzma Jamil and Abdoolkarim Vakil who read versions of this preface and were most generous with their time and incisive with their comments.
 By the term ‘Islamism’, I do not merely refer to parties, groups, policies, and states of Islamist leaning that exist in Muslimiistan, but to something broader than that. For this reason, I deliberately avoid using the familiar expression ‘Political Islam’, which is often used to indicate such manifestations.
 See for Sindre Bangstad’s analysis of the way in which Anders Breivik the mass murder who killed over seventy Norwegian youngsters saw his actions as being defence of white Norway from a coalition of Muslims, Marxists and mutliculturalists. Bangstad, Sindre (2014) Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia, London: Zed Press.
 I want to acknowledge Mohammed El-Sayed Bushra’s encouragement and prompting on making these links. I also want to thank Tajul Islam and Mustapha Sheik for advice and consel on discussions of Ibn Taymiyya.
 See Roland Barthes, S/Z (1974).
 For further elaboration of the research programme of Critical Muslim Studies see ReOrient Editorial Board. 2015. “ReOrient: A Forum for Critical Muslim Studies.” ReOrient: The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies. 1:1, 5-10. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/reorient.1.1.0005