AskDefine | Define caliphate

Dictionary Definition



1 the era of Islam's ascendaancy from the death of Mohammed until the 13th century; some Moslems still maintain that the Moslem world must always have a calif as head of the community; "their goal was to reestablish the Caliphate"
2 the territorial jurisdiction of a caliph
3 the office of a caliph

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. A unified federal Islamic government for the Muslim world, ruled by an elected head of state or caliph.


Extensive Definition

A caliphate, (from theArabic خلافة or khilaafah), is the Islamic form of government representing the political unity and leadership of the Muslim world. The head of state's position (Caliph) is based on the notion of a successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad's political authority. According to Sunnis he is ideally a member of the Quraysh tribe elected by Muslims or their representatives; and according to Shia Islam, an Imam descended in a line from the Ahl al-Bayt. From the time of Muhammad until 1924, successive and contemporary caliphates were held by various dynasties, including the Umayyads (who were driven from Damascus to Córdoba), the Abbasids (who ruled from Baghdad and drove away the Umayyads from Damascus), the Fatimids (who ruled from Cairo), and finally the Ottomans.
The caliphate is the only form of governance that has full approval in traditional Islamic theology, and "is the core political concept of Sunni Islam, by the consensus of the Muslim majority in the early centuries."


The caliph, or head of state, was often known as Amir al-Mu'minin (أمير المؤمنين) "Commander of the Believers", Imam al-Ummah, Imam al-Mu'minīn (إمام المؤمنين), or more colloquially, leader of all the Muslims. Each member state (Sultanate, Wilayah, or Emirate) of the Caliphate had its own governor (Sultan, Wali or Emir). Dar al-Islam (دار الإسلام lit. land of Islam) was referred to as any land under the rule of the caliphate, including a land populated by non-Muslims and land not under rule of the caliphate was referred to as Dar al-Kufr (lit. land of non-Islam), even if its inhabitants were Muslims, because they were not citizens under Sharia (Islamic law). The first capital of the Caliphate after Muhammad died was in Medina. At times in Muslim history there have been rival claimant caliphs in different parts of the Islamic world, and divisions between the Shi'a and Sunni parts.
The first four caliphs, celebrated as the Rashidun (The Rightly Guided Caliphs), were Muhammad's Sahaba (companions); Abu Bakr, then Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab), then Uthman Ibn Affan, and the fourth was Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib). Sunni Muslims consider Abu-Bakr to be the first legitimate Caliph, Shi'a consider Ali to have been the first truly legitimate Caliph, although they concede that Ali accepted his predecessors, because he eventually sanctioned Abu-Bakr.
After the first four caliphs, the Caliphate was claimed by the dynasties such as Umayyads, the Abbasids, and the Ottomans, and for relatively short periods by other, competing dynasties in al-Andalus, North Africa, and Egypt. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk officially abolished the last Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, and founded the Republic of Turkey, in 1924. The Kings of Morocco still label themselves with the title Amir al-Mu'minin for Moroccans, but lay no claim to the Caliphate.

Rashidun, 632-661

Abu Bakr, the first successor of Muhammad, nominated Umar as his successor on his deathbed, and there was consensus in the Muslim community to his choice. His successor, Uthman Ibn Affan, was elected by a council of electors (Majlis), but was soon perceived by some to be ruling as a "king" rather than an elected leader. Uthman was killed by members of a disaffected group. Ali then took control, and although very popular, he was not universally accepted as caliph by the governors of Egypt, and later by some of his own guard. He had two major rebellions and was assassinated after a tumultuous rule of only five years. This period is known as the Fitna, or the first Islamic civil war.
Muawiyah, a relative of Uthman, and governor (Wali) of Syria became one of Ali's challengers. After Ali's death, Muawiyah managed to overcome other claimants to the Caliphate. Under Muawiyah, the caliphate became a hereditary office for the first time. He founded the Umayyad dynasty.
In areas which were previously under Persian or Byzantine rule, the Caliphs lowered taxes, provided greater local autonomy, greater religious freedom for Jews, indigenous Christians, and brought peace to peoples demoralized and disaffected by the casualties and heavy taxation that resulted from the years of Byzantine-Persian warfare.

Umayyads, 7th-8th century

Under the Umayyads the Caliphate grew rapidly geographically. Islamic rule expanded westward across North Africa and into Hispania and eastward through Persia and ultimately to Sindh and Punjab in modern day Pakistan. This made it one of the largest unitary states in history and one of the few states to ever extend direct rule over three continents (Africa, Europe, and Asia). Although not ruling all of the Sahara, homage was paid to the Caliph by Saharan Africa usually via various nomad Berber tribes.
Largely due to the fact that they were not elected via Shura, the Umayyad dynasty was not universally supported within the Muslim community. Some supported prominent early Muslims like Al-Zubayr; others felt that only members of Muhammad's clan, the Banu Hashim, or his own lineage, the descendants of Ali, should rule. There were numerous rebellions against the Umayyads, as well as splits within the Umayyad ranks (notably, the rivalry between Yaman and Qays). Eventually, supporters of the Banu Hisham and the supporters of the lineage of Ali united to bring down the Umayyads in 750. However, the , "the Party of Ali", were again disappointed when the Abbasid dynasty took power, as the Abbasids were descended from Muhammad's uncle, `Abbas ibn `Abd al-Muttalib and not from Ali. Following this disappointment, the finally split from the majority Sunni Muslims and formed what are today the several denominations.
The Umayyad Caliphate emerged as the rulers of the Islamic world. Although they maintained the Sasanians' administrative practices, the Umayyads considered Islam as primarily an Arab religion and were wary of Persian culture. They enforced use of the Arabic language in Persia, leading to the demise of the Middle Persian or Pahlavi alphabet in favor of the new Arabic/Persian alphabet in use to this day. They attempted to assimilate Persians as they had "Arabized" and assimilated the Egyptians and the Assyrians, but with much less success.

The Caliphate in Hispania

During the Ummayad period Hispania was an integral province of the Ummayad Caliphate ruled from Damascus, Syria. Later the caliphate was won by the Abbasids and Al-Andalus (or Hispania) split from the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad to form their own caliphate. The Caliphate of Córdoba (خليفة قرطبة) ruled the Iberian Peninsula from the city of Córdoba, from 929 to 1031. This period was characterized by remarkable success in technology, trade and culture; many of the masterpieces of Spain were constructed in this period, including the famous Great Mosque of Córdoba. The title Caliph (خليفة) was claimed by Abd-ar-Rahman III on January 16, 929; he was previously known as the Emir of Córdoba (أمير قرطبة). All Caliphs of Córdoba were members of the Umayyad dynasty; the same dynasty had held the title Emir of Córdoba and ruled over roughly the same territory since 756. The rule of the Caliphate is known as the heyday of Muslim presence in the Iberian peninsula, before it split into taifas. Spain possessed a significant native Muslim population until 1610 with the success of the Catholic-instigated Spanish Inquisition, which expelled any remnants of Spanish Muslim (Morisco) or Jewish populations.

Abbasids, 8th-13th century

The Abbasids had an unbroken line of Caliphs for over three centuries, consolidating Islamic rule and cultivating great intellectual and cultural developments in the Middle East. By 940 the power of the Caliphate under the Abbasids was waning as non-Arabs, particularly the Berbers of North Western Africa, the Turkish, and later the Mamluks in Egypt in the latter half of the 13th century, gained influence, and sultans and emirs became increasingly independent. However, the Caliphate endured as both a symbolic position and a unifying entity for the Islamic world.Ottoman rulers were known primarily by the title of Sultan and used the title of Caliph only sporadically. Mehmed II and his grandson Selim I used it to justify their conquest of Islamic countries. As the Ottoman Empire grew in size and strength, Ottoman rulers beginning with Selim I began to claim Caliphal authority.
Ottoman rulers used the title "Caliph" symbolically on many occasions but it was strengthened when the Ottoman Empire defeated the Mamluk Sultanate in 1517 and took control of most Arab lands. The last Abbasid Caliph at Cairo, al-Mutawakkil III, was taken into custody and was transported to Istanbul, where he reportedly surrendered the Caliphate to Selim I. According to Barthold, the first time the title of "Caliph" was used as a political instead of symbolic religious title by the Ottomans was the peace treaty with Russia in 1774. The outcome of this war was disastrous for the Ottomans. Large territories, including those with large Muslim populations, such as Crimea, were lost to the Russian Empire. However, the Ottomans under Abdul Hamid I claimed a diplomatic victory by assigning themselves the protectors of Muslims in Russia as part of the peace treaty. This was the first time the Ottoman caliph was acknowledged as having political significance outside of Ottoman borders by a European power. As a consequence of this diplomatic victory, as the Ottoman borders were shrinking, the powers of the Ottoman caliph increased.
Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reasserted the title as a way of countering the spread of European colonialism in Muslim lands. His claim was most fervently accepted by the Muslims of British India. By the eve of the First World War, the Ottoman state, despite its weakness vis-à-vis Europe, represented the largest and most powerful independent Islamic political entity. But the sultan also enjoyed some authority beyond the borders of his shrinking empire as caliph of Muslims in Egypt, India and Central Asia.

Khilafat Movement, 1920

In the 1920s the Khilafat Movement, a movement to defend the Ottoman Caliphate, spread throughout the British colonial territories in Asia. It was particularly strong in British India, where it formed a rallying point for Indian Muslims and was the one of the many anti-British Indian political movements to enjoy widespread support. Its leaders included Maulana Mohammad Ali, his brother Shawkat Ali, and Abul Kalam Azad, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, and Hasrat Mohani. For a time it worked in alliance with Hindu communities and was supported by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who was a member of the Central Khilafat Committee. However, the movement lost its momentum after the arrest or flight of its leaders, and a series of offshoots splintered off from the main organization.

End of Caliphate, 1924

On March 3, 1924, the first President of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as part of his reforms, constitutionally abolished the institution of the Caliphate. Its powers within Turkey were transferred to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (parliament) of the newly formed Turkish Republic and the title has since been inactive.
Scattered attempts to revive the Caliphate elsewhere in the Muslim world were made in the years immediately following its abandonment by Turkey, but none were successful. Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, the title of the former governors of the Hejaz, who aided the British during World War I and revolted against Istanbul, declared himself Caliph two days after Turkey relinquished the title. But his claim was largely ignored, and he was soon ousted and driven out of Arabia by Ibn Saud, a rival who had no interest in the Caliphate. The last Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI made a similar attempt to re-establish himself as Caliph in the Hejaz after leaving Turkey, but he was also unsuccessful. A summit was convened at Cairo in 1926 to discuss the revival of the Caliphate, but most Muslim countries did not participate and no action was taken to implement the summit's resolutions.
Though the title Ameer al-Mumineen was adopted by the King of Morocco and Mullah Mohammed Omar, former head of the now-defunct Taliban regime of Afghanistan, neither claimed any legal standing or authority over Muslims outside the borders of their respective countries. The closest thing to a Caliphate in existence today is the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an international organization with limited influence founded in 1969 consisting of the governments of most Muslim-majority countries.

Ahmadiyya Caliphate, 1908-present

The Ahmadiyya movement was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India, who claimed to be the promised Messiah and Mahdi, the one awaited by followers of all major religions. After his demise in 1908, his first successor, Maulvi Hakeem Noor-ud-Din became head of the community and assumed the title of caliph. The line of successors continues to this day, the current head being Mirza Masroor Ahmad, residing in London. From the outset the Ahmadiyya community has been viewed as heretical by other Muslim groups due to the founder's claim to prophethood. Muslims hold the view that Muhammad was the final rasul (prophet) and no apostle can come after him, as is stated in the Qur'an that he is the seal of the prophets. Ahmadis however call themself Muslims and claim to practice Islam in its pristine form.
Although the Ahmadiyya caliphate is not recognised by Muslims the community continues to operate under this structure, with the caliph having overall authority for all religious and organisational matters. According to Ahmadiyya thought, it is not essential for a Caliph to be the head of a state, rather the spiritual and religious significance of the Caliphate is emphasised.

Religious Basis


The following excerpt from the Qur'an, known as the 'The Istikhlaf Verse', forms the basis of the Quranic concept of Caliphate:
"Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely make them Successors (Khalifas) in the earth, as He made Successors (Khalifas) from among those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them; and that He will surely give them in exchange security and peace after their fear: They will worship Me, and they will not associate anything with Me. Then who so is ungrateful after that, they will be the rebellious."[24:55] (Surah Al-Nur, Verse 55)
Sunni's argue that to govern a state by Islamic law (Shariah) is, by definition, to rule via the Caliphate, and use the following verses to sustain their claim. So govern between the people by that which God has revealed (Islam), and follow not their vain desires, beware of them in case they seduce you from just some part of that which God has revealed to youO you who believe! Obey God, and obey the messenger and then those among you who are in authority; and if you have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to God and the messenger's rulings, if you are (in truth) believers in God and the Last Day. That is better and more seemly in the end.


The following Hadith from Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal prophesies two eras of Caliphate (both on the lines/precepts of prophethood). "Hadhrat Huzaifa narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: Prophethood will remain among you as long as Allah wills. Then Caliphate (Khilafat) on the lines of Prophethood shall commence, and remain as long as Allah wills. Then corrupt/erosive monarchy would take place, and it will remain as long as Allah wills. After that, despotic kingship would emerge, and it will remain as long as Allah wills. Then, the Caliphate (Khilafat) shall come once again based on the precept of Prophethood." In the above Hadith the first era of Caliphate is commonly accepted by the Muslims as that of the Rashidun.
Nafi'a reported saying: Umar said to me that he heard Muhammad saying: Whoever takes away his hand from allegiance to God will meet Him on the Day of Resurrection without having any proof for him, and whoever dies whilst there was no baya'a on his neck (to a Caliph), he dies a death in the days of ignorance (Jahilliya).
Hisham ibn Urwah reported on the authority of Abu Saleh on the authority of Abu Hurairah that Muhammad said: Leaders will take charge of you after me, where the pious (one) will lead you with his piety and the impious (one) with his impiety, so only listen to them and obey them in everything which conforms with the truth (Islam). If they act rightly it is for your credit, and if they acted wrongly it is counted for you and against them.
Muslim narrated on the authority of al-A'araj, on the authority of Abu Hurairah, that Muhammad said: Behold, the Imam (Caliph) is but a shield from behind whom the people fight and by whom they defend themselves.
Muslim reported on the authority of Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin, who said, I accompanied Abu Hurairah for five years and heard him talking of Muhammd's saying: The Prophets ruled over the children of Israel, whenever a Prophet died another Prophet succeeded him, but there will be no Prophet after me. There will be Khalifahs and they will number many. They asked: What then do you order us? He said: Fulfil the baya'a to them one after the other and give them their due. Surely God will ask them about what He entrusted them with.

The Sahaba of Muhammad

Al-Habbab Ibn ul-Munthir said, when the Sahaba met in the wake of the death of Muhammad, (at the thaqifa hall) of Bani Sa’ida: Let there be one Amir from us and one Amir from you (meaning one from the Ansar and one from the Mohajireen). Upon this Abu Bakr replied: It is forbidden for Muslims to have two Amirs (rulers)...
Then he got up and addressed the Muslims.
It has additionally been reported that Abu Bakr went on to say on the day of Al-Saqifa: It is forbidden for Muslims to have two Amirs for this would cause differences in their affairs and concepts, their unity would be divided and disputes would break out amongst them. The Sunnah would then be abandoned, the bida’a">Bid‘ahbida’a (innovations) would spread and Fitna would grow, and that is in no one’s interests.
The Sahaba agreed to this and selected Abu Bakr as their first Khaleef. Habbab ibn Mundhir who suggested the idea of two Ameers corrected himself and was the first to give Abu Bakr the Bay'ah. This indicates an Ijma as-Sahaba of all of the Sahaba. Ali ibni abi Talib, who was attending the body of Muhammad at the time, also consented to this.
Imam Ali whom the Shia revere said: People must have an Amir...where the believer works under his Imara (rule) and under which the unbeliever would also benefit, until his rule ended by the end of his life (ajal), the booty (fay’i) would be gathered, the enemy would be fought, the routes would be made safe, the strong one will return what he took from the weak till the tyrant would be contained, and not bother anyone.

The sayings of Islamic scholars

Al-Mawardi says: It is forbidden for the Ummah (Muslim world) to have two leaders at the same time.
Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi (Al-Nawawi) says: It is forbidden to give an oath to two leaders or more, even in different parts of the world and even if they are far apart.
Ahmad al-Qalqashandi says: It is forbidden to appoint two leaders at the same time.
Ibnu Hazm says: It is permitted to have only one leader (of the Muslims) in the whole of the world.
Al-sha’rani says: It is forbidden for Muslims to have in the whole world and at the same time two leaders whether in agreement or discord.
Al-Qadhi Abdul-Jabbar (he is a Mu’tazela scholar), says: It is forbidden to give the oath to more than one.
Al-Joziri says: The Imams (scholars of the four schools of thought)- may Allah have mercy on them- agree that the Caliphate is an obligation, and that the Muslims must appoint a leader who would implement the injunctions of the religion, and give the oppressed justice against the oppressors. It is forbidden for Muslims to have two leaders in the world whether in agreement or discord.
The Shia schools of thought and others expressed the same opinion about this
Al-Qurtubi said in his Tafsir of the verse, "Indeed, man is made upon this earth a Caliph" that: This Ayah is a source in the selection of an Imaam, and a Khaleef, he is listened to and he is obeyed, for the word is united through him, and the Ahkam (laws) of the Caliph are implemented through him, and there is no difference regarding the obligation of that between the Ummah, nor between the Imams except what is narrated about al-Asam, the Mu'tazzili ...
Al-Qurtubi also said:The Khilafah is the pillar upon which other pillars rest
An-Nawawi said:(The scholars) consented that it is an obligation upon the Muslims to select a Khalif
Al-Ghazali when writing of the potential consequences of losing the Caliphate said:The judges will be suspeneded, the Wilayaat (provinces) will be nullified, ... the decrees of those in authority will not be executed and all the people will be on the verge of Haraam
Ibn Taymiyyah said: It is obligatory to know that the office in charge of commanding over the people (ie: the post of the Khaleefah) is one of the greatest obligations of the Deen">Deen (Arabic term)Deen. In fact, their is no establishment of the Deen except by it....this is the opinion of the salaf, such as al-Fadl ibn 'Iyaad, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others


Once the subject of intense conflict and rivalry amongst Muslim rulers, the caliphate has lain dormant and largely unclaimed since the 1920s. In recent years though, interest among Muslims in international unity and the Caliphate has grown. For many ordinary Muslims the caliph as leader of the community of believers, "is cherished both as memory and ideal" as a time when Muslims "enjoyed scientific and military superiority globally," though "not an urgent concern" compared to issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Various Islamist movements have gained momentum in recent years with the ultimate aim of establishing a Caliphate; however, they differ in their methodology and approach. Some are locally-oriented, mainstream political parties that have no apparent transnational objectives.
Pioneer Islamist Abul Ala Maududi believed the caliph was not just an individual ruler who had to be restored, but was man's representation of God's authority on earth; Khilafa means representative. Man, according to Islam is the representative of "people", His (God's) viceregent; that is to say, by virtue of the powers delegated to him, and within the limits prescribed by the Qu'ran and the teaching of the prophet (peace upon him), the caliph is required to exercise Divine authority.
One of al-Qaeda's clearly stated goals is the re-establishment of a caliphate. Bin Laden has called for Muslims to "establish the righteous caliphate of our umma." Al Qaeda recently named its Internet newscast from Iraq "The Voice of the Caliphate."
According to author Lawrence Wright, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood, "sought to restore the caliphate, the rule of Islamic clerics, which had formally ended in 1924 following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire but which had not exercised real power since the thirteenth century. Once caliphate was established, Zawahiri believed, Egypt would become a rallying point for the rest of the Islamic world, leading the jihad against the West. "Then history would make a new turn, God willing," Zawahiri later wrote, "in the opposite direction against the empire of the United States and the world’s Jewish government.""
In Pakistan the Tanzeem-e-Islami, an Islamist organization founded by Dr. Israr Ahmed, calls for a Caliphate.
The Muslim Brotherhood advocates pan-Islamic unity and implementing Sharia, it is the largest and most influential Islamic group in the world, and its offshoots form the largest opposition parties in most Arab governments. Founder Hassan al-Banna wrote about the restoration of the Caliphate, but officially sanctioned Islamic institutions in the Muslim world generally do not consider the Caliphate a top priority and have instead focused on other issues. Islamists argue it is because they are tied to the current Muslim regimes.
One transnational group whose ideology is based specifically on restoring the caliphate as a pan-Islamic state, is Hizb ut-Tahrir (literally: "party of liberation"). It is particularly strong in Central Asia, Europe and growing in strength in the Arab world and is based on the claim that Muslim can prove that God exists and that the Qur'an is the word of God. Hizb-Ut-Tahrir believes in a non-violent political and intellectual struggle, that is both a ground up and top down approach in the Muslim world, whilst in the Western world its aim is an intellectual struggle to show Islam as an alternative system to capitalism and a solution to regulate the natural environment and global warming. In the Muslim world view of this party, foundations of beliefs, rationality and causes are looked into rather than plain political analysis, which can be ideologically biased.


Scholar Olivier Roy writes that "early on, Islamists replace the concept of the caliphate ... with that of the amir." There were a number of reasons including "that according to the classical authors, a caliph must be a member of the tribe of the Prophet (the Quraysh)" (This is not the view of all Islamist groups, as both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir view the Ottoman state as a caliphate.) Also they state that to be from the Quraishi tribe is sunnah but not obligatory to the validity of the caliphate.
A non-Muslim, United States President George W. Bush has mentioned the Caliphate in speeches on the War on Terrorism claiming it as an integral part of the radical Islamic ideology at war with Western freedom.
U.S. President Bush has said that al-Qaeda terrorists and those that share their ideology hope to establish a violent political utopia across the Middle East, which they call caliphate, where all would be ruled according to their hateful ideology ... This caliphate would be a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands, stretching from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Political system

Electing or appointing a Caliph

Fred Donner, in his book The Early Islamic Conquests (1981), argues that the standard Arabian practice during the early Caliphates was for the prominent men of a kinship group, or tribe, to gather after a leader's death and elect a leader from amongst themselves, although there was no specified procedure for this shura, or consultative assembly. Candidates were usually from the same lineage as the deceased leader, but they were not necessarily his sons. Capable men who would lead well were preferred over an ineffectual direct heir, as there was no basis in the majority Sunni view that the head of state or governor should be chosen based on lineage alone.
This argument is advanced by Sunni Muslims, who believe that Muhammad's companion Abu Bakr was elected by the community and that this was the proper procedure. They further argue that a caliph is ideally chosen by election or community consensus, even though the caliphate soon became a hereditary office, or the prize of the strongest general.
Al-Mawardi has written that the caliph should be Qurayshi. Abu Bakr Al-Baqillani has said that the leader of the Muslims simply should be from the majority. Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man also wrote that the leader must come from the majority.

Shi'a belief

Shi'a Muslims believe in the Imamate, in which the rulers are selected from Muhammad's Ahl al-Bayt. They believe that before his death, Muhammad had given many indications, in Ghadir Khumm particularly, that he considered Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, as his divinely chosen successor. They say that Abu Bakr had seized power by threatening and using force against Ali, and so Shi'a Muslims consider the three caliphs before Ali as usurpers. Ali and his descendants, the twelve Imams, are believed to have been the only proper leaders.
In the absence of a Caliphate headed by their Imams, some Shi'a believe that the system of Islamic government based on Vilayat-e Faqih, where an Islamic jurist or faqih rules Muslims, suffices. However this idea, developed by the Marja (Ayatollah) Ruhollah Khomeini and established in Iran, is not universally accepted among Shi'as.

Sunni belief

Immediately following the death of Muhammad, a secret meeting took place at Saqifah, of which Ali, who was appointed by Muhammad as his successor at Ghadir Khumm, had no knowledge. At that meeting, Abu Bakr was elected caliph by chiefs of Arab clans. Sunni Muslims developed the belief that the caliph is a temporal political ruler, appointed to rule within the bounds of Islamic law (Sharia), and not necessarily qualified in Islamic law. The job of adjudicating orthodoxy and Islamic law was left to Islamic lawyers, judiciary, or specialists individually termed as Mujtahids and collectively named the Ulema. The first four caliphs are called the Rashidun meaning the Rightly Guided Caliphs, because they are believed to have followed the Qur'an and the sunnah (example) of Muhammad in all things.

Majlis al-Shura: Parliament

Traditional Sunni Islamic lawyers agree that shura'', loosely translated as 'consultation of the people', is a function of the caliphate. The Majlis al-Shura advise the caliph. The importance of this is premised by the following verses of the Qur'an:
The majlis is also the means to elect a new caliph. Al-Mawardi has written that members of the majlis should satisfy three conditions: they must be just, they must have enough knowledge to distinguish a good caliph from a bad one, and must have sufficient wisdom and judgment to select the best caliph. Al-Mawardi also said in emergencies when there is no caliphate and no majlis, the people themselves should create a majlis, select a list of candidates for caliph, then the majlis should select from the list of candidates.
Narrated ‘Aisha: The people of Quraish worried about the lady from Bani Makhzum">Banu MakhzumBani Makhzum who had committed theft. They asked, "Who will intercede for her with Allah's Apostle?" Some said, "No one dare to do so except Usama bin Zaid the beloved one to Allah's Apostle." When Usama spoke about that to Allah's Apostle Allah's Apostle said: "Do you try to intercede for somebody in a case connected with Allah’s Prescribed Punishments?" Then he got up and delivered a sermon saying, "What destroyed the nations preceding you, was that if a noble amongst them stole, they would forgive him, and if a poor person amongst them stole, they would inflict Allah's Legal punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad (my daughter) stole, I would cut off her hand."
Various Islamic lawyers do however place multiple conditions, and stipulations e.g the poor cannot be penalised for stealing out of poverty, before executing such a law, making it very difficult to reach such a stage. It is well known during a time of drought in the Rashidun caliphate period, capital punishments were suspended until the effects of the drought passed.

Famous caliphs

  • Abu Bakr - First Rashidun (Four Righteously Guided Caliphs) of the Sunnis. Subdued rebel tribes in the Ridda wars.
  • Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab) - Second Rashidun. During his reign, the Islamic empire expanded to include Egypt, Jerusalem, and Persia.
  • Uthman Ibn Affan - Third Rashidun. The Qur'an was compiled under his direction. Killed by rebels.
  • Ali (Ali ibn Abu Talib) - Fourth and last Rashidun, and considered the first imam by Shi'a Muslims. His reign was fraught with internal conflict.
  • Hasan ibn Ali - Fifth Caliph (considered as "rightly guided" by many Sunnis as well as Shias). He ruled for six months only and handed the powers to Muawiyah I in order to unite the Muslims again.
  • Muawiyah I - First caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. Muawiyah instituted dynastic rule by appointing his son Yazid I as his successor, a trend that would continue through subsequent caliphates.
  • Umar ibn AbdulAziz - Umayyad caliph considered by some (mainly Sunnis) to be a sixth true and legitimate caliph under Islamic Laws of electing Caliph.
  • Harun al-Rashid - Abbasid caliph during whose reign Baghdad became the world's preeminent centre of trade, learning, and culture. Harun is the subject of many stories in the famous work One Thousand and One Nights.
  • Suleiman the Magnificent - Early Ottoman Sultan during whose reign the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith.
  • Abdul Hamid II - The last Ottoman Sultan to rule with absolute power.
  • Abdülmecid II - The last Caliph of the Ottoman Dynasty, the 101st Caliph in line from Caliph Abu Bakr and nominally the 37th Head of the Ottoman Imperial House.



  • Crone, Patricia & Hinds, Martin -- God's Caliph, Cambridge University Press, 1986
  • Donner, Fred -- The Early Islamic Conquests, Princeton University Press, 1981
  • The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
caliphate in Bulgarian: Арабски халифат
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caliphate in Esperanto: Araba imperio
caliphate in French: Califat
caliphate in Scottish Gaelic: Cèileafaid
caliphate in Galician: Califato
caliphate in Korean: 칼리파
caliphate in Croatian: Kalifat
caliphate in Latvian: Kalifāts
caliphate in Malay (macrolanguage): Khilafah
caliphate in Polish: Kalifat
caliphate in Russian: Халифат
caliphate in Albanian: Kalifati
caliphate in Swedish: Kalifat
caliphate in Turkish: Hilafet
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