Thousands of PA Arabs participated in a mass rally in Ramallah earlier this week calling for the establishment of the Muslim Caliphate – the worldwide Islamist government that will “bring the coming of the Mahdi.” the Muslim messiah.
The Caliphate is essentially a union of Muslim countries under the spiritual and political leadership of a single individual, the Caliph. It has been an Islamic concept since the days of Muhammad, when it was established by several of his disciples. The office of “official Caliph” has been disputed at times, with rival would-be Caliphs battling each other for the title.
The last official Caliph was Abdülmecid II, who lost the office in the aftermath of the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in World War I. The best-known Caliph in the West was Suleiman the Great, an early Ottoman sultan who, in the 16th century, conquered most of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, even conquering parts of Europe, until he was stopped at “the Gates of Vienna.”
With many Muslim states politically and religiously divided, and dependent on the West for support, radical Islamists have been pushing for the reestablishment of the Caliphate – this time to be led by the all-powerful Mahdi, who will unite all Muslims and establish Islam as the dominant religion in the world, ruling for several years before the "Day of Judgment". Although the identity of the Mahdi is a secret, many Islamists believe that he is alive now, and several individuals have claimed the title. Many Islamists were said to have believed that Osama Bin-Laden was the Mahdi, or his right-hand man, until he was killed several years ago by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The Ramallah rally included many students from Bir-Zeit University, the PA's most prestigious university located north of Jerusalem and a major recipient of economic funding from the EU and the United States. Marchers gathered at a large mosque in El Bireh, a suburb of Ramallah, and marched to Manara Square, a large gathering place in central Ramallah. Speakers at the rally urged believers to “have faith” in the future, to give up their Western ways, and to do more to fulfill the tenets of Islam.
The rally was sponsored by Ḥizb at-Taḥrir (Party of Liberation), which has its own Mahdi candidate – organization leader Ata Abu Rashta, born in Mandatory Palestine and a long-time resident of a refugee camp near Hevron. Speakers at the rally said that Abu Rashta, as Mahdi, would unify Muslims and establish Sharia law in countries around the world. In addition, the speakers called for unity among all Muslims in order to ensure “victory in Syria,” the “liberation of Palestine from the hated Jews,” and the “freeing of mankind from the chains of capitalism.”