DOHA - Prominent Sunni Muslim scholar Yusef al-Qaradawi said on Saturday that the declaration of an Islamic caliphate by jihadists fighting the governments in Syria and Iraq violates sharia law.
Last Sunday, the jihadists of the Islamic State group declared a caliphate in areas they control in Iraq and Syria and ordered Muslims worldwide to pledge allegiance to their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, under the name "caliph Ibrahim".
Qatar-based Qaradawi, seen as a spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in his native Egypt, said in a statement that the declaration "is void under sharia." "We look forward to the coming, as soon as possible, of the caliphate," Qaradawi said, of the form of pan-Muslim government last seen under the Ottoman Empire.
"But the declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria," he added.
The influential cleric said the declaration and nomination of Baghdadi by a jihadist group "known for its atrocities and radical views" fail to meet strict conditions dictated by sharia.
The title of caliph, he said, can "only be given by the entire Muslim nation" not by a single group.
Since last Sunday, other leading Muslim figures have denounced the announcement by the Islamic State, which was previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
A caliphate is fundamentally a universal Islamic state ruled by a single leader with both political and religious authority.
Many Sunnis associate the caliphate with a golden age of Islam, but the declaration made by the Islamic State has triggered indignation among those who see it as heresy.
Al-Azhar, the top authority of Sunni Islam, "believes that all those who are today speaking of an Islamic State are terrorists," senior representative Sheikh Abbas Shuman told AFP earlier this week.
"The Islamic caliphate can't be restored by force. Occupying a country and killing half of its population... this is not an Islamic state, this is terrorism," he said.
In Saudi Arabia, bastion of Sunni Islam and home to the religion's holiest places, Al-Riyadh daily ripped the caliphate as being "no more than one person heading a terrorist organisation." Rebels in Syria, who have been battling the jihadists who have infuriated many by their brutality, have branded the caliphate announcement as "null and void".
Jordanian Al-Qaeda cleric Issam Barqawi, known as Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, also denounced it, warning it will lead to more bloodshed.