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Al-Andalus Caliphate in Second LifeAl-Andalus Caliphate, a private government sim based on what its creator says are “authentic Islamic principles,” has opened in Second Life. Here is a SLURL to the build. Al-Andalus plans to eventually incorporate a functioning judiciary, based on Islamic law.

Al-Andalus joins Caledon, the Confederation of Democratic Simulators, and others, as quasi-governmental systems in Second Life. It is a creation of ‘Michel Manen,’ who has been involved in other government and judicial projects in the virtual world.

From the Al-Andalus Caliphate announcement:

The Al-Andalus Caliphate Project reconstructs 13th Century Moor Alhambra and builds around this virtual space a community of individuals willing to explore the modalities of interaction between different languages, nationalities, religions and cultures within a political and juridical space shaped by authentic Islamic principles.

Developer ‘Manen’ said that over 200 avatars visited during the opening ceremonies, including ‘Robin Linden’ (Robin Harper, Linden Lab’s VP of Marketing and Community Development). The event featured music, tours, and a presentation by Second Life commentator ‘Gwyneth Llewelyn’ on Portugal’s e-Justice alternative dispute resolution facility that recently opened in-world.

The term “Caliphate” refers to a unified Islamic government, and as such, the build will likely be controversial. ‘Manen’ says that the term “corresponds to an authentic Islamic politico-legal system representing an alternative world view.” He says that “without understanding the fundamentals of Islamic law and politics we will never be able to fully come to terms with the diversity and richness of today’s Islamic societies, whose roots reach back 1000 years.”

According to ‘Manen,’ Al-Andalus will have a judiciary, and it will be based on Islamic law, specifically “leading edge research of how authentic Islamic legal principles can be applied in a 21st century context, and be compatible with universal ideals of dignity, equality, democracy, participation and human rights.”

‘Manen’ says, “many such strands exist in an extremely rich and diverse history of Islamic jurisprudence going back to the origins of the Ku’ran, and a lot of research is being done by scholars in Europe and North America, as well as the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.” He says that his goal is “to pull this debate together and try to apply it in Second Life.” Which, he says, “is much easier and less dangerous than in real life.”

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18 Responses to “Al-Andalus Caliphate Government Sim Opens in Second Life; Judiciary to Be Based on Islamic Law”

  1. on 14 Sep 2007 at 2:35 amMichel Manen

    The Juridico-Political Sources and Aims of the Al-Andalus Caliphate Project in SecondLife

    “Comparative law forces us to reflect upon our own legal system, on the “law as rules” approach, on our own legal practice, on our own legal tradition, on our own legal education.”

    Van Hoecke, Mark and M. Warrington, “Legal Cultures and Legal Paradigms: Towards a New Model for Comparative Law”, (1998) 47 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 495

    “[O]ne of our extraordinary achievements, for better and for worse, has been our self-exteriorization. Is there any human life anywhere untouched by Europe, any place untransformed, any history unchanged, any human mind unmodified by whatever it is that the world Europe symbolizes? To know its self, Europe must look also into the obscure mirror of all that is not-Europe.”

    Allott, Philip. “Eunomia: New Order for a New World”, 1990

    Why use the term “Caliphate”? Ben’s implicit question is of fundamental importance for understanding both the origins and ultimate aims of the Al-Andalus Caliphate Project in SecondLife. I would like to address it in detail on his blog -and will be happy to reply both here and in-world to any questions, comments or queries.

    Ever since Samuel Huntington’s seminal theory of the same name, first outlined in 1993 in the leading US foreign policy quarterly “International Affairs”, then expanded and published in book format in 1996, the emotional polemic of a renewed “Clash of Civilisations” has gained an ever-greater exposure, credibility, and hold upon our public consciousness. Well before September 2001, this metaphor began to take the shape of a self-fulfilling prophecy recreating reality in its own, constructed image, as we were increasingly inclined to perceive the Saddam Hussains and Osama bin Ladens of this world as personifications of an essentialist, unchanging, despotic, and irrational Islam which excludes, combats, discriminates, represses. Fear, hostility, and ignorance enjoined us to re-view Islam as a monolithic, menacing Other -a frozen reified set of essences counterposed imaginatively, geographically and historically against Europe and the West. A mirror-image of this process was, of course, to be discerned in fundamentalist discourses throughout Islamic polities -replete with strident narratives of Western conspiracies of conquest and domination, wherein the rejection of all Western ideas, concepts and ideals progressively became the lithmus test of one’s willingness to follow the Prophet’s ‘Straight Path’ and to live one’s life according to Qur’an’s Holy Law. Lost in this violent struggle between diametrically opposed conceptualisations of universalism and particularism was a certain understanding of overlapping historical experiences and an urgent need to realise the shared imperative of coming to terms with a radicalised modernity largely bypassing all traditional epistemological frameworks and established institutional structures of reflection, action, and control. 9/11 and its aftermath transformed this “clash of civilisations” into the central problématique of the 21st Century and vastly accelerated and intensified the antagonistic processes mentioned above.

    And yet…

    Enframing each of these two incommensurable re-presentations of an existential struggle for survival between Us and Them is a common notion of law as medium of legitimation. Both distorting mirror of proclaimed alterity and potentially open window of cross-cultural communication, simultaneously separating and uniting us in a continuous, dialectical re-creation of Identity and Difference, law as medium of legitimation emerges as an essentially contested concept acting as both threatening sword and protective shield, open gateway and insurmountable barrier: it enables our two totalising empires of the mind to make common cause against the ravages of time and change, as they prop each other up against the storm blowing from the abyss of a world dissolved -yet also provides us with the opportunity to retrieve from each other’s histories suppressed, denied and defeated alternative visions of social existence whose rearticulation becomes the sine qua non of our very capacity to actively shape a profoundly destabilising and radically uncertain future-to-come.

    Our principal objectives in developing the idea of an Al-Andalus Caliphate community in SecondLife endowed with its own juridico-political system based on authentic principles of Islamic law and government is exactly that of investigating law’s dynamic function as medium of legitimation in Islamic societies. In order to do so, we must first avoid the pitfalls of both objectifying orientalist dogma and of more recent reconstructive legal studies combining sociological, critical and cultural approaches in an attempt “to release Islamic law from the colonial exhibition” by demolishing “the wall of legal orientalism”. Legal orientalism’s deeply flawed methodology, defined by essentialism, otherness, and absence, is rooted in an ahistorical positivism presupposing an Eurocentric “superior location” from whose vantage point Islamic law is invariably re-presented as archaic, flawed, and incomplete. Reconstructive discourses, whilst carrying out a devastating critique of the former and providing a convincing argument of the urgent need to engage positively with the various currents of Islamic jurisprudence, have nonetheless failed to fully come to terms with the internal dynamics of Islamic law. This is perhaps best illustrated in the fields of constitutional and public international law, wherein noble attempts to retrieve the substantive and methodological contents of an authentic and legitimate Islamic legal order nevertheless lead to untenable and contradictory positions seeking both to release Islamic law from the destructive consequences of its colonial encounter with the West, and to locate within its normative structure valid Islamic sources for the current, state-centric international order.

    Our second aim in developing the Al-Andalus Caliphate Project is therefore to rediscover, through a praxis-oriented analysis of the internal dynamics of the Islamic legal order, alternative conceptualisations of Unity and Diversity, Self and Other and Time and Space, actualised outside our historically-specific, Eurocentric experience. We hope to derive from these insights valuable lessons about the possibility of transcending our sovereignty-bound institutional structures and of actualising a post-Westphalian system of governance more universal, more democratic, and more tolerant of diversity than the present international order structured around the reified, ahistorical, totalising concept of the territorially-defined, sovereign nation-state. In order to do so, we aim to examine, in both theory -on our blog, forums and wicki- and in practice, within the context of the SecondLife community-building platform, the double dialectics of law and legitimacy in Islamic polities -between Reason and Revelation and between Tradition and Modernity, all whilst contrasting it with the parallel dialectical process at the heart of Western legal systems. We shall strive to adopt a sociological view of society as constituted of multiple overlapping and intersecting sociospacial networks of power, which crystallise as state structures around specific articulations of military, economic, political and ideological relationships, and examine the legally-mediated legitimating functions of these four sources of social power as they developed historically in classical Islamic polities. In particular, we wish to focus on the defining encounter between Western and Islamic conceptions of law as medium of legitimacy over the last two centuries and on the attempt to enframe the latter within the former’s modernist normative and institutional framework. Our ultimate goal is to rearticulate Islamic conceptions of territorial, social, political and cultural structures within the context of radicalised modernity and derive therefrom the possible foundations of an alternative conceptualisation of law’s mediating role within the double dialectics of Western legitimating structures. We will endeavour to transcend the superficial and dangerous rhetoric of the Clash of Civilisations and to show that “cultures and civilisations are so interrelated and interdependent as to beggar any unitary or simply delineated description of their individuality”. In particular, we aim to highlight the conceptual and historical necessity of different and competing alter egos in the development and maintenance of every culture, as well as the dynamic interaction between individuals and institutions in contests taking place both within and across wider civilisations.

    Recommended Readings on Islamic law and jurisprudence:

    An-Na’im, Abdullahi Ahmed. Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996

    Hallaq, Wael B. A History of Islamic Legal Theories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997

  2. on 14 Sep 2007 at 3:24 amBenjamin Duranske

    Thanks for posting, Michel. I suspect you’ll get some questions here, so I hope you do drop back in. I’ll start with a question I think others will have too: Given that at least for some portion of the world, “Caliphate” refers to a unified Islamic government that embraces both traditional religious principals and the political will of the Caliph — who reigns supreme — aren’t you concerned about it being misinterpreted? And given that, why pick that name?

    It seems like you are inviting controversy here. Maybe that’s the point, but “Caliphate” is pretty definitely associated with at least a Caliph who was given his powers by a higher being. Whether Islamic or otherwise, that is a hard thing to accept for some people. For me, I’m not a big fan of it when the U.S. president asks God to bless the U.S.A. at the end of every one of his speeches, and I find it at least as annoying when terrorists and foreign leaders do it too, moreso, sometimes, because they seem to believe it to a greater degree. Why is this different? Isn’t a traditional Caliphate simply a dictatorial theocracy? And if so, why shouldn’t people be suspicious of a simulated government that wants to replicate that in a virtual world?

    One more question – let’s nail this down right away, because it has come up in comments elsewhere.  Is day-to-day Sharia law to be enforced in this sim? In other words — and I am not trying to make light of this, but it is already being asked — if an adulterer is found in the Caliphate, will she or he be virtually stoned? If my wife’s avatar shows up in a bikini or I fail to wear a prim beard, what will happen?

    Personally, I feel like virtual worlds are good petri dishes for this sort of experiment – people either sign up with you or not. Same with Metaverse Republic, the C.D.S. (back when they tried to make a judicial branch) and others. If people hate it, they won’t pay you for land/buy into your system/etc. so it’s a good opportunity to experiment. There’s lots of places to go that aren’t your sim, so hey… knock yourself out. But I’m interested in knowing why you chose this motif, now, and I suspect others are too.

  3. on 14 Sep 2007 at 7:48 amAmaranthar

    I’m wondering if “illegal” activity will be allowed at all, not being real familiar with Second Life myself. If it’s not, then the creation will be a utopia that falsely misrepresents the entire thing.

  4. on 14 Sep 2007 at 8:20 amTaran Rampersad

    Hmm. Well… let me take a few stabs here, Benjamin. I’m a Buddhist, not a Muslim, but I have close friends who are Muslim (and who are not extreme). Michel will correct me if I am wrong, I am certain.

    Caliphates have existed in the past – Ottoman, Abbasid and Umayad (sp? might be 2 ‘y’), but the key here is that in Muslim theology – only a Caliphate is considered to be ‘proper’. Thus, the challenge. From the outside looking in – as you and I are doing, and just about everyone else will be – it is easy to say that it is controversial, etc. But the controversy surrounding it is mainly from outside of Islam. Within Islam, at least the people I know of, a Caliphate is not controversial – it is a reunification of sects. Given the issues of sectarian violence we see in the Middle East and the 24/7 video coverage loopbacks… well, it seems like something completely different.

    I believe it was in the 1920s that the Caliphate was ended by the Turks… I saw a documentary on in some time ago, but the end of the Caliphate was preceded by something very interesting: the Kilafat (sp?)Movement. That movement actually united Hindus and Muslims in India. I believe Gandhi was instrumental in all of that, but the fact remains that after the Treaty of Versailles, the Caliphate was seen as a uniting power even by Hindus. Gandhi did break away after there was continued violence by the Kilafat Movement – but given the context of that time and the trouble Gandhi had with forming the non-violent civil disobedience… lets just say that Gandhi got knocked around a bit.

    So anyway, the Caliphates ended because the Muslim world became splintered in governance. Reuniting them so that there is peace in the region – which many Muslims seem to believe, particularly the Sunnis – well, that can’t be a bad thing. Isn’t that what the real issue in Iraq is right now? None of these are new issues. Some would say that Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was justified, since Kuwait was the result of British invasion and subjugation of the treaty… Anglo-Ottoman treaty, I believe. Pakistan is a product of the Lahore Resolution… which happened because after the fall of the Caliphate, the Muslim League became popular and the geopolitics had been changes substantially by the British.

    In fact, a read of the modern history of the Middle East does not vary much from that of Africa. Europeans came in, drew lines and tried to impose their own version of order on peoples who had their own concepts. When that is considered, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 would seem like a really big deal… it epitomizes the last 90 or so years in the Middle East.

    Of course, I don’t agree with the way extremists go about business, but I extend that to all religions. ‘Nuff said.

    From the outside looking in – I honestly don’t know, but I do know that every other ism and acy has its faults. But if we truly believe in democracy, and it can be demonstrated that the majority of Muslims see a Caliphate as the way in which they wish to live… and this will make the Middle East less turbulent… well, then.

    And if a simulator in Second Life is to be a place to test things out, well – why not? Apparently, at least some people are interested in the Caliphate as a unifying force. It isn’t going to go away; we can’t install democracies by killing everyone who doesn’t want one.

    Of course, Michel can correct me at any time, I’m just someone who was really interested in the Middle East and did a lot of reading on it in the 1990s. I just was recalling things I thought about since I read the post you had here.

    As far as controversy – the problem with reactionaries is that they are reactionaries – I know you already encountered one at – but that, too, is a real problem of the concept of the Caliphate. It is going to be controversial if only because it is Islamic in a period when Islam is under attack not only from the outside – but from within. A Caliphate would suffer the same thing in the real world, so it makes it a good model to see if it works in this context, and how well it works if it does.

  5. on 14 Sep 2007 at 9:29 amBenjamin Duranske

    Great stuff, Taran. Thanks for the comments. My first exposure to the term came from, of all places, a science fiction book by Orson Scott Card, (Shadow of the Giant, part of the outstanding Ender’s Game saga) that featured a very young, and rather wise, Caliph under a great deal of pressure from within to invade his neighbors. It has been a while since read the book, but my recollection was that Card treated the subject with a fair eye.

    At the end of the day, most of the questions about governments in Second Life go in the same bucket for me as a lot of the rest of the world — the market will sort it out. Essentially, since travel and citizenship aren’t restricted, people should feel free to try whatever they feel like trying. It creates a marketplace of politics that can’t exist as easily in the real world, simply because people in the real world do not have the luxury of switching governments with a click. I have no idea if this is a good idea, but based on what Michel has said (rather than the easy, knee jerk reactions of some commentators) it seems like — at minimum — a reasonable experiment.

  6. on 14 Sep 2007 at 2:59 pmAshcroft Burnham

    This is a very interesting experiment indeed, and I should be interested to see just how exactly the governance is worked out.

    My understanding of the project is that it is to be a modern, liberal and forward-looking interpretation of traditional Islamic/Arabic principles of governance, perhaps in a very similar way to the way in which many modern Western European states (and the US) are (to greater or lesser extents) modern, liberal and forward-looking interpretations of traditional Christian/European principles of governance.

    To the gentleman who asked about stoning adulterers, I daresay that that will be as likely as the modern-day US burning witches.

    Writing as somebody who is not religious at all – and being equally suspicious of all religions – I am intrigued by the project. I have ordered myself a small residential plot there myself, partly because I know Michel, partly because I know that the building there is (going to be) of the highest quality, and that I’m intrigued at how both the governance and the cultural aspects will work out.

    I particularly dislike claims that any one religion is better than any other, and in particular the trend in certain nations to prejudice against Islam in particular, in consequence of the actions of a tiny minority of deeply evil extremists. In reality, the Islamic extremists are to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity.

    The reality is that there was a time, during the medieval period in Europe – the very period on which Al Andalus is based – in which the Arabic nations were amongst the most advanced, technologically and culturally, in the world. At a time when Christian nations were burning witches and heretics and launching crusades against “heathen” nations, the Islamic nations in Arabia were flourishing, prosperous and culturally diverse, and highly tolerant of other cultures. Southern Spain in particular, which is the model for Al-Andalus, was a prime example of just such a state, until the Christian rulers of Spain (in the same era as the Spanish Inquisition) invaded and plundered and destroyed the beautiful palaces and gardens; that was the same Spanish nation that, in 1492, expelled all the Jews from Granada.

    Suppose that it was in Arabia, not England, that humans first learnt to cast iron and harness the power of steam: how would the world be different from how it is to-day? Would the Arabic nations be leading the world’s economy, colonising North America, and have liberal, modern societies, while Western Europe festered in a mire of internal strife and Christian fundamentalism? That is the question posed by the Al-Andalus project, and I should be intrigued if it even hinted at an answer.

  7. on 14 Sep 2007 at 6:28 pmJohn Carter McKnight

    I’m highly intrigued by this project, both as a contribution to a growing cultural/legal marketplace, and by its goal of recreating al-Andalus.

    My knowledge, like Benjamin’s, is second-hand and limited: my sources are my wife’s Masters thesis on public Jewish art of al-Andalus, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The Years of Rice and Salt, which posits a Europe wiped out by the Black Death, and an Islamic Enlightenment with centers in al-Andalus and Samarkand.

    I am concerned over the interpretation of Sharia which will prevail- will it be authentically medieval, will it retain the heavy use of corporal punishment (which could readily be done, consensually, in SL), will it deny equality to women, gays and lesbians?

    A very, very intriguing project, all around.

  8. on 15 Sep 2007 at 7:04 pmMichel Manen

    Cross-Cultural Dialogues About Universal Values and Recognition of Diversity: From Al-Andalus to Afghanistan and Beyond…

    “Western political models for governance in the Muslim world will shrivel like transplanted trees unless they include the nourishment of Islamic culture from which political Islam emerges… [E]fforts in the Muslim world to advance political and social thought totally independent of the framework of Islamic culture is doomed to be fractured, unintegrated, rootless, and alienated. Thus the superficial “Westernization” we see at the elite level in the Muslim world provides a misleading measure of genuine political and intellectual progress within these societies, even if it commands superficial Western admiration. Westernization-by-fiat represents the imposition of a Western overlay on top of Islamic culture and practice, primarily benefiting the elites but failing to reach down into the roots of Muslim society and culture.”

    Graham E. Fuller, Former Vice-Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA

    A dialogue across linguistic, ethnic, national, religious, cultural boundaries always involves the need for translation. Without translating words, concepts, ideas, values from one language, background, history, frame of reference or world view to another there is no real, meaningful dialogue or communication. Talking to each other rather than at each other – that is what the Al-Andalus Caliphate Project is truly about. And this cannot properly be done in conveniently brief sound-bites providing short and facile answers to complex and difficult questions. The central issue I will attempt to address is the key challenge of the 21st Century – which we have entered, in the words of former UN General Secretary Kofi Anan, “[t]hrough a Gate of Fire”: how do we translate the universal human rights and values formulated at an abstract level in Charters and Declarations, at a practical level – in the specific languages, histories, and traditions, of various communities, societies and cultures, in a way understandable and legitimate within their own frames of reference? Universal values and particular cultural customs, traditions, and histories are not opposing foes forever challenging the other – they are two essential faces of the same dynamic of communication and progress across time and space, proceeding dialectically in a never-ending process of interaction and change. Ensuring that universal values and diverse cultures remain constantly in touch, as part of this two-way process of communication and mutual learning from each other is the ultimate aim of Al-Andalus.
    In reply to the questions raised in various media of information and discussion about the Al-Andalus Caliphate Project in SecondLife, I want to briefly address, firstly, the notion of universal human values, then that of cultural diversity and authenticity, and finally three key concepts rooted in millenary Islamic political and juridical traditions which are central to our project: that of community (Ummah), of consultation (Shurah) and of Islamic law (Shariah).

    The Universal Imperative

    Equality, Dignity, Democracy, Non-Discrimination Based on Race, Gender, Nationality, Religion, Respect for Diversity and all Human Rights as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are just that: universal. Although “modern” and “western” in form and expression (without going here in detail into what these terms really mean and who they re-present), they do not belong to any one time and place. They cannot be claimed, or appropriated by one society or civilization – nor can they be rejected out of hand as alien or foreign by any community, country, culture. They are deeply embedded into what makes us all human beings and represent the best of who we are and what we strive to achieve – and are a beacon of strength and hope for millions of people across the world who are denied their enjoyment to at least some extent and struggle in their daily lives to move one step closer towards attaining them. Growing up in Eastern Europe under a repressive Communist dictatorship, I was one of those who learned how to draw strength and inspiration from these values, which guided me and my family in our long trek across countries and continents, from Ceausescu’s Romania, to an Algeria barely beginning to feel the impact of a reviving political Islam, to a still-divided Germany fearful of being the central theatre of war for a nuclear confrontation between the world’s two superpowers, and finally further away, to a Canada which had just adopted its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They then became the bedrock of my career as a political scientist and jurist, as I studied them in theory at both undergraduate and graduate levels in Canada and the United Kingdom, and applied them in practice in fields such as human rights and refugee law. Therefore, both personally and professionally, I cannot conceive of being involved in any project or venture whose aim is to diminish, deny, or destroy any one of these fundamental human rights which are our common heritage, as human beings, all across the world.

    The Struggle for Recognition

    Just as fundamental as respect for universal values is the recognition of social and cultural diversity. It is one thing to unapologetically believe in democracy and human rights – and quite another to claim that a particular version of them must be transplanted, in practice, from one culture or society to another without any prior need for local translation, communication, participation and legitimation. Respect for diversity and difference is not limited to the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the movies we see and the countries we visit: it entails, first and foremost, a genuine attempt at meaningful dialogue and critical understanding of histories, cultures, traditions, ways of life. If we have learned one key lesson in the first decade of the 21st Century, it must be that democracy and human rights cannot emerge from the barrel of a gun and be imposed by fiat from above, but can only emerge from below, from a genuine process of grass-roots participation and communication deeply anchored in the particular histories and world-views of the communities, societies, cultures desiring to adopt and practice them. This, in turn, involves a difficult and lengthy task of translation of universal values as expressed in practice in one particular environment, rooted in a specific time and place, into an entirely different environment, with its own, equally authentic, history, culture, and points of reference. Even more importantly, in a globalised world where boundaries are no longer an obstacle to the movement of people, information, and ideas, all societies are becoming hybrid to a greater or lesser extent by an increasing intermix of communities, languages, religions. Therefore, a second lesson we should have learned through bitter experience over the past two decades is that upholding democracy, dignity, equality and human rights must necessarily imply recognizing that they also belong to all individuals who are members of the increasingly diverse communities sharing the same space – be it real or virtual. Any attempt to exclude any of them from such a dialogue is a dangerous step on the road towards marginalization, denial of difference, silencing – leading ultimately on a straight path to discrimination, repression, and ethno-cultural cleansing. Such a genuine dialogue between diverse individuals and communities, both within specific societies and across cultural and political boundaries is the urgent and critical endeavor the Al-Andalus Caliphate Project aims to take part in and contribute to. A third lesson we must learn – probably the least understood yet just as critical at a time when environmental, economic, social and humanitarian challenges spill across borders and require concerted, decisive, and effective international actions, is that such a process of translation must go both ways – and that we have just as much to learn from the history of Islamic societies as they have from ours. Islam, after all, emerged in the 7th century AD in the middle of a divided, tribal, semi-nomadic society and was able, in a remarkably short period of time, to bridge these barriers and divisions of ethnicity, language, and place, and create the first truly global community and civilization, stretching from Spain and North Africa to the Middle East, India, Central Asia and the Asian-Pacific Archipelago. Trade, commerce, science, technology, music, poetry and the arts flourished and developed across this vast cultural highway based on the Arabic language and Islamic law in centers of trade, learning and justice such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, Bukharah, Delhi, Samarkand – to name just its brightest lights. United in their complex and multi-layered diversity, Islamic societies between the 7th and the 18th centuries are rich in insights for us, today, as we are confronted by another globalising phase of history where overcoming narrow ethno-national interests and boundaries, and the ability to speak the same language across political divides, are the necessary prerequisites in our efforts to address the increasingly urgent and global problems of our times.
    So how do we go about promoting this difficult task of a two-way process of discursive translation from a western-based political and legal discourse into societies deeply rooted in Islamic histories, traditions, and cultures –and vice-versa? In brief, we need to undertake a careful task of retrieval of genuine, authentic, legitimate political and juridical concepts and principles rooted in the histories and traditions of Islamic societies, going back to times preceding the critical colonial encounter with Western societies in the 19th and 20th centuries and, though a dynamic investigative process of discussion and debate, reclaim them as critical cultural resources supporting and legitimating the more abstract universal values which are our common heritage. In doing so, it is vital to realize that there is no such creature as a unique, monolithic, unchanging “Islam” forever resisting and opposing “western values”. Like other cultures and civilizations, Islamic communities and societies are complex, multi-layered constructs with multiple and diverse strands of ideas, values, experiences, and histories. Some of these strands and interpretations are just as genuinely respectful of democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights as similar western concepts – whilst others are just as dangerous, reprehensible and unjustifiable as the inquisitions, torture, pogroms, ethnic cleansings and genocides which are as much part of European and American histories as ancient Greece and Rome, the Magna Charta, the US Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration des Droits de L’Homme et du Citoyen and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ummah, Surah and Shariah are three such concepts I wish to address now.

    Islamic Principles of Government and Justice: Historical Background and Modern Relevance

    Islam’s singular achievement in the 7th and 8th centuries AD was the acceptance and adoption of its universal, transcendental message of salvation through faith, prayer and social justice as a complete way of life –first by a number of fractious tribes in the Arabic Peninsula, then across even-widening spaces stretching from Iberia and North Africa to the Middle East and deep into Asia. Transcending ethnic, linguistic, tribal and cultural boundaries, the message of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunna, together with the Arabic language and the Islamic system of justice (shariah) administered by the Caliph (Prophet’s successor) and the ulemas (Islamic lawyers, judges, scholars, and religious specialists) became the key unifying factors of the Ummah (community), which included both Muslims and non-Muslim communities living under the rule of the Caliph and which accorded women certain legal (albeit unequal) rights far in advance of other legal systems in Europe, Asia and Africa. The tension between the Caliph’s claim to embody both the temporal and spiritual leadership of the Ummah as the Prophet’s successor, and the ulemas insistence that they alone had the knowledge and authority to interpret and apply the shariah became the key dynamic of the Islamic system of government: -namely, who exactly had the legitimate authority to exercise critical interpretation (ijtihad) between the Objective and the Transcendental, between the Human and the Divine, between Reason and Revelation. Islamic Law (Shariah) here plays the role of medium – of tertium quid mediating between the internal dynamics of each term, in an open-ended process of continuous interaction and mutual redefinition where synthesis and equilibrium are constantly posited, yet never fully attained. Thus, the fundamental objective of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fikh) is to ensure the valid exercise of reason (‘aql) in light of the guidance of revelation (wahy); and therefore, its substantive and methodological content is, from beginning to end, a millenary conversation on the relationship between the two, engendering a wide variety of schools of jurisprudence, interpretation, and thought. All such discourses invariably claim to represent God’s Straight Path and, therefore, draw their symbolism and legitimation from the Prophet’s Message; yet each propounds a very different exposition of the relationship between this Message and the Ummah -that is, of the need for, and the role of intermediaries qualified to mediate between the “inside” and the “outside” of society, between God and His Believers.

    Although the ulemas recognized the Caliph as the Ummah’s temporal leader, they asserted that the Qur’an and Sunna set clear limits on the powers of the Caliph, who could be righteous, and therefore legitimate, only as long as he respected these limits (hudud). Two of the most relevant such limits are spelled out in the Qur’an – namely the duty of consultation (shurah – 38th verse of 42nd Sura) and that of making lawful the good things and making unlawful impure things (157th verse of the 7th Sura). Based on these verses, the ulemas claimed the right to be consulted by the Caliph in his decision-making process, as sole competent and authoritative sources of deciding what was good and therefore lawful, or else impure and therefore unlawful. Failure on the Caliph’s part do to so would result in his loss of legitimacy as leader of the Ummah and of a call for his overthrow and replacement. This struggle between the Caliph and the ulemas for the right to be the primary intermediaries between Reason and Revelation, between God and His Believers became the driving force of the Islamic system of government and led to the rise and fall not only of individual caliphs, but of entire dynasties, as documented in his famous Muqqadimah (Book of Exemplaries) by 14th century Islamic Scholar Ibn Khaldun, considered to be the father of modern history and sociology. The very origins of Al-Andalus can be traced back to such a struggle in the 8th Century AD, as the Umayyad dynasty was overthrown in 749 AD by a popular revolt justified on grounds that the Caliph had violated Qur’anic duties of “doing the good and prohibiting the bad”. Whilst the new Abbasid Caliphs moved the Caliphate’s capital from Damascus to newly-founded Baghdad, Abd ar-Rahman, grandson of the tenth Umayyad Caliph, fled Damascus where the rest of his family was murdered towards the Berber lands of North Africa, where his mother originated from. He eventually migrated to the Iberian Peninsula and became the founder of a dynasty that ruled Al-Andalus for three centuries.

    Of fundamental importance in this narrative is the understanding that limitations on the powers of the temporal ruler, the rise of an independent judiciary and rights of membership and participation in the political process in Islamic systems of government arose out of this tension between the Caliph and the ulemas over the right to interpret and apply the shariah in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunna –and not, as in western societies, by virtue of an individual’s citizenship rights derived from his belonging to a particular state or nation –and later on, to a territorially-defined, sovereign nation-state. Civil society in the Islamic Ummah developed thus historically mainly around networks of traders and merchants asking for the dispensation of justice by ulemas and for protection against the unchecked power of the Caliph. The ulemas, in turn, came to be considered sole authoritative and legitimate interpreters of the Qur’an and Sunna, entitled to issue considered opinions (Fatwah) in all such matters and capable of challenging even the temporal authority of a Caliph who failed to abide by them. Failure to know and understand these historical facts and processes are at the very source of our inability to even grasp the reasons behind the rise and fall of leaders and political systems in contemporary Islamic societies, or the emergence of political Islam over the past four decades -of the ability of an exiled Ayatollah to overthrow Shah Reza Pahlavi and establish a theocracy in Iran, of the popularity and success at the polls of such groups as Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamist parties in officially secular Turkey, and even the existence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Only by becoming familiar with, and building upon, Islamic political and legal traditions, frames of reference, and world views, will universal values such as democracy, equality, dignity, and human rights be actualized in an authoritative and legitimate manner in Islamic societies. In turn, by learning from the history of Islamic societies how rights of political participation, separation of powers, justice, and the rule of law can arise authoritatively across vast geographical spaces englobing a multitude of ethnic, national, cultural and linguistic groups, those of us living in western nation-states may well derive valuable lessons about building legitimate political and legal structures across national boundaries -so as to be able to address authoritatively and efficiently the increasingly urgent and intractable challenges of environmental pollution, global poverty, and humanitarian disasters we are facing today with increasing regularity.

    In conclusion, to actually equate the institution of the Caliphate to that of an absolutist ruler of all matters spiritual and temporal claiming a God-given right to universal dominion, or to assert that shariah law can simply be reduced to such unjustifiable and reprehensible penalties as beheadings, stonings, cutting of hands, and repression of women is not only to demonstrate an utter lack of knowledge of the history of Islamic politics and jurisprudence, but ironically enough also to give a fresh impetus to the claims of the most extreme Islamist groups arguing for a general struggle (jihad) against the allegedly neo-colonial design of an imperialist, monolithic “West” threatening the very values and way of life of the community of believers (ummat al-mu’minin). This is exactly where the work of translation outlined above as the main task of the Al-Andalus Caliphate Project in SecondLife inscribes itself. By retrieving authentic principles of Islamic government and justice, and recreating a virtual Ummah composed of various nationalities, religions, and creeds, conducting its affairs in accordance with a system of government and justice which will be both legitimate in Islamic terms and in conformity with universal values of equality, dignity, democracy, participation and human rights, we hope to show that there are strands of political Islam that can be developed and built upon in order to arrive at our shared goals and be able to address the common challenges we face at the start of this new millennium. Such a fresh, bold interpretation of Islamic systems of governance and justice as they apply to contemporary political and social conditions is the sine qua non of a peaceful, prosperous future for our entire (real) world. The Al-Andalus Project in SecondLife fully intends to play a small role in this vital and exciting process currently taking place in political, legal, and academic circles in Islamic and non-Islamic institutions and societies across the world, and show the extraordinary potential of the emerging Metaverse to assist in addressing real world issues in new, creative and unique ways.

    Recommended Readings:

    Fuller, Graham E. “The Future of Political Islam”. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

    Ramadan, Tariq. “Western Muslims and the Future of Islam”. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

  9. [...] [repris de Virtually Blind] [...]

  10. [...] On Virtually Blind, Manen elaborates that “many such strands exist in an extremely rich and diverse history of Islamic jurisprudence going back to the origins of the Ku’ran (sic.), and a lot of research is being done by scholars in Europe and North America, as well as the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.” And his goal is “to pull this debate together and try to apply it in Second Life [which is] much easier and less dangerous than in real life.” [...]

  11. [...] Virtual Al-Andalus I thought this might be an interesting topic of discussion. THere’s a sim in SL that’s establishing a virtual caliphate. It’s leaning more to the left than the right from the sounds of it. A brief quote: "The Al-Andalus Caliphate Project reconstructs 13th Century Moor Alhambra and builds around this virtual space a community of individuals willing to explore the modalities of interaction between different languages, nationalities, religions and cultures within a political and juridical space shaped by authentic Islamic principles." This is an article about it on a blog about law in virtual worlds: Virtually Blind – Virtual Law | Legal Issues That Impact Virtual Worlds Blog Archive Al-Andalus Caliphate Government Sim Opens in Second Life; Judiciary to Be Based on Islamic Law and this is their website: Al-Andalus Caliphate What do you think about the project? Personally I think it’s a fascinating social experiment. I’m curious to see how it works out and what the response is to it both from those more to the right and those who might have an issue in general with that type of governance. [...]

  12. on 12 Nov 2007 at 1:00 pmSophrosyne Stenvaag

    We will be hosting Michel Manen for a discussion of Islamic law and community in Second Life this Saturday, November 17, from 1-3pm Pacific time.

    Please see this post for event details and location.

  13. on 13 Nov 2007 at 8:36 amTaran Rampersad

    Just to note here that there will be a discussion on this on Saturday, November 17, from 1-3 PM SLT

    See for details.

  14. [...] events include a party at Al Andalus (another microgovernmental project in Second Life that opened in September) to commemorate the opening of Extropia’s “embassy” there, and a December 22 Solstice [...]

  15. on 25 Feb 2008 at 8:42 amSameh Strauch

    Some of the comments here are incredibly offensive. Denied a Caliphate in the real world, some would apparently deny Muslims one even in cyberspace!

  16. on 07 Mar 2008 at 2:14 amMichel Manen

    Al-Andalus Caliphate Inaugural Festivities
    Saturday, March 8th, 2008
    11:00 hrs slt to 22:00 hrs slt

    Al-Andalus Alhambra & Al-Andalus Generalife

    Contact Person: Michel Manen; E-mail:

    The Inaugural Festivities of the Al-Andalus Caliphate Project in SecondLife, celebrating the completion of the building phase of Al-Andalus, will take place on Saturday, March 8th, 2008 between 11:00 hrs slt and 22:00 slt, in the Al-Andalus sims (Alhambra and Generalife). Come and join our party under the stars of SL’s most amazing city and enjoy the music of ten of SL’s best known entertainers!

    Schedule of events

    11:00-12:00: Live DJ Cynthia Wilder – Arabic Dance Music
    12:00-13:00: Edward Lowell – Love Songs and Original Ballads
    13:00-14:00: Akito Kuramoto – Classical Violin (Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven)
    14:00-16:00: Live DJ Gabrielle Riel – Hard Rock and Romance Dance Music
    16:00-16:30: Naftali Torok – Folk Violin
    16:30-18:00: Joaquin Gustav – Spanish Guitar
    18:00-19:00: Noma Falta – Bayou Soul and Blues
    19:00-20:00: Brixton Canning – Romantic Music
    20:00-21:00: Kelvinblue Oh – Blues on the Run
    21:00-22:00: Komuso Tokugawa – Electric Blues

    Project Summary

    The Al-Andalus Caliphate Project is an attempt to reconstruct 14th Century Moor Alhambra. It aims to build around this virtual space a community of individuals willing to explore the modalities of interaction between different languages, nationalities, religions and cultures shaped by authentic Islamic principles. Those principles include political participation, separation of powers, justice and the rule of law.

    Membership in the community is open to all, regardless of sim land ownership, SL premium status, species of avatar, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or other traditionally separatist classification, either real or apparent. The plan is to create a system of political and legal governance, based on notions of community self-governance, active citizen participation, equality, dignity, social justice, democracy and human rights.

    Future Plans

    We have now reached the most exciting – and challenging!-phase of our project: the moment when we bring together our two sims and our diverse community and begin our common work to see our project develop and grow. We will hold our first citizen meeting, on March 5th, where we will make decisions concerning the governance of our communities and the educational and entertainment activities we wish to pursue.

    We look forward to debating and approving a constitution that will define and structure our system of government. From there, the citizenry will guide the activities of the sims. We hope to establish Al-Andalus as one of Second Life’s educational, entertainment, commercial and tourist hubs, establish links and common projects with both SecondLife and Real Life organizations having similar interests, and continue to bring creative ideas in democracy, as well as beautifully-designed and built sims to the grid. We hope you can join us.

  17. [...] Ummah of Noor mosque, a replica of Mesopotamia by the Federation of American Scientists, and the Al-Andalus Caliphate project. As the title suggests, much of the focus was on understanding the religion and learning about how [...]

  18. [...] Ummah of Noor mosque, a replica of Mesopotamia by the Federation of American Scientists, and the Al-Andalus Caliphate project. As the title suggests, much of the focus was on understanding the religion and learning about how [...]

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