In a video released over the weekend, AbuBakr Shekaku, head of the Nigerian jihadist group known as Boko Haram, appears to have declared allegiance to the Islamic State, proclaiming lands currently under Boko Haram control in the province of Borno part of the “Caliphate.”
Despite this, much of the Western media seemed confused about the nature of a Caliphate and what it means. From the AFP report:
In a July video, Shekau voiced support for the leader of the Islamic State and the Levant (Isil) militants Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in late June declared himself “the caliph” and “leader of Muslims everywhere”. But there was no indication from Shekau in the latest video that he was associating himself with Baghdadi, whose Sunni Muslim fighters have taken over parts of Iraq and Syria. As such, it was not clear if Shekau was declaring himself to be a part of Baghdadi’s call or if he was referring to a separate Nigerian caliphate.
The position of Caliph is one with purported dominion over the entire “ummah” the total collective of the Muslim faithful.There can only be one legitimate Caliph, and one Caliphate, as Shekaku is no doubt aware. Given that the laudatory language Boko Haram has in the past offered towards the IS Caliphate, the most likely conclusion would be that Boko Haram either has joined, or intends to join the Islamic State of Al-Baghdadi. It would be incongruous for Shekaku to praise IS, and then negate its primary achievement by denying it legitimacy by claiming he was the true Caliph.
It’s worth noting that while this confusion over whether or not Boko Haram was declaring for the IS Caliphate or declaring its own Caliphate was echoed in all the western reporting which followed from the AFP report, the same confusion is not at all present in an OnIslam.net report, which draws from the same AFP wire. The OnIslam.net report also ignores the extraneous historical detail of the Sokoto caliphate, a 19th century Nigerian Islamic state which laid claim to the Caliphate title. This is a classic example of how the disinclination to study Islamic law on matters leads to injecting unnecessary complexity into the analysis of events.
If it is the case that Boko Haram has acknowledged the territory it controls as part of the IS Caliphate, this is a major development for the Islamic State. The claim of authority by its “Caliph” Al-Baghdadi has largely been rejected by other Jihadist groups, with only minor exceptions. Yet being recognized as receiving the bay’at (oath) of notable scholars and jihadi emirs who hold actual territory is central to Al Baghdadi’s claim of legitimacy. Of course whether either group is capable of meeting the perceived obligation of such an oath, sharing and exchanging resources, personnel etc, is an entirely other matter.