Whether people want to believe it or not, Saudi Arabia basically serves as the unofficial caliphate at this time due to their religious and political influence. One very important tool for their religious influence and control is the Hajj. The Hajj is one of the five obligatory tenets of Islam. Shia and Sunni alike must cross Saudi borders in order to make their pilgrimage to Mecca. Besides the Hajj, Saudi Arabia has also controlled which version of the Qur’an would be printed for centuries. They also have had their hand in influencing almost every Sunni government in the Middle East. In addition to the religious significance, the yearly Hajj is a huge moneymaker for Saudi Arabia. Many Muslims have criticized Saudi Arabia for monetarily benefiting from the Hajj and the tight control they have over it.
The true caliphate has to be elected to the position and serve as both the political and religious leader for the ummah (Muslim community). With all of the different sects in Islam, it will be nearly impossible for the ummah to vote on and recognize a single legitimate caliphate. ISIS claims to be the new caliphate, and is therefore challenging Saudi Arabia. If Saudi Arabia were to lose this significant religious landmark, they would lose their religious and political influence within the region.
If ISIS were to challenge their authority and destabilize Saudi Arabia, the Saudis could potentially lose control of their state and the Hajj. Whoever controls the Hajj controls which pilgrims are allowed to participate in the Hajj. If ISIS were to control the Hajj, they could coerce the ummah to give them authority as the rightful and legitimate caliphate. Securing control over the Hajj and countering the Iranian-influenced Syrian government might be the reasoning behind the Saudi kingdom’s recent interest in sending troops into Syria to fight ISIS.
Saudi Arabia will have to pick their battlefronts carefully; if they continue to hit Yemen hard, then they will be forced to ignore the Syrian ISIS threat. If they send troops to both Syria and Yemen, they could possible spread their assets too thin to maintain internal control and security over the nation. Saudi Arabia will more than likely have to rely on external support (they have already requested assistance from the U.S.) to fight along both borders. It will be interesting to see how Saudi Arabia will play their hand in the continued fight against ISIS.
Featured image courtesy of the Telegraph