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(Redirected from Caliphate)
This article forms part of the series
Vocabulary of Islam
Five Pillars
Profession of faith
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Pilgrimage to Mecca
Prophets of Islam
Caliphs · Shia Imams
Companions of Muhammad
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Caliph (Anglicized/Latinized version of the Arabic word خليفة or Khalifah) is the term for the Islamic leader of the Ummah, or community of Islam. Selected by committee, the holder of this title claims rulership over all Muslims.

The Sunnis and Shi'as differ as to who was the first Caliph of Islam. According to Sunni thought, the first Caliph was Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, the father-in-law of Muhammad, who was elected into power in 632. The Shi'a, on the other hand, believe that the honour should go to Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali Ibn Abi Talib on the basis of his blood relation to the Prophet himself.

Following the conflict between the Fatimids and the Abbasids, other Muslim rulers began to claim the caliph title. With the defeat of these peripheral caliphates, the caliphate of the Ottomans began increasingly to be considered the undisputed primary caliphate. Thus, by the eve of the First World War, the Ottoman caliphate represented the largest and most powerful independent Islamic political entity.

The English word "caliph" comes from Arabic via French, which got it from Latin (calīpha), which romanized the Arabic word, Khalīfa (probably خليفة), literally "Successor of the Prophet". Khalīfa originates from the verb khalafa, meaning "to succeed" or "to be behind". Some Orientalists wrote it as Khalîf. Some movements in modern Islamic philosophy justify religious leadership via khalifa, meaning roughly "to steward" or "to protect the same things as God", and propose this to renew the Caliphate. The Rulers of the Ottoman state actually used title of khalifa for political purposes very seldomly. It is known that Mehmed II and his grandson Selim used it to justify their conquest of Islamic countries. At a later date, one of the last Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Abdulhamid II, used it as a tool against the European colonisation and occupation of countries with large Muslim populations. Today a khalifa as a single person does not exist, since the last Ottoman (Uthmani) Khilafah title and powers were transferred from the Ottoman family line to the Turkish Grand National Assembly (parliament) on 3rd March 1924. The Turkish Direktorate of Religious Affairs (The Diyanet ) still fulfills the duties of the khalifa within Turkey. There is no longer one symbolic ruler of the Muslims, which is considered by some to be a violation of the Islamic legislations, the Shariah. Others claim that after the four rightful kaliphas there never was one, and all of the people who claim to be "khalifa" are actually just "Melik" (king).

Note: The Caliphate is the application of Messengership of Prophets (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, until Jesus and Muhammad) as the institution to protect and order the Muslims according the Law of God (in the Quran and the Universe), with the structure imitating the structure of Heaven (Mulkiyah/Government) and Earth (Ummah/People).

See Also: History of Islam


Famous caliphs


The more important dynasties include:


The Rashidun

The Umayyads of Damascus

The Abbasids of Baghdad

The Abbasids of Cairo

The Ottomans

Note: From 1908 onwards constitutional monarch without executive powers, with parliament consisting of chosen representatives.

  • Mehmed(Muhammed) V - 1909 - 1918 (constitutional monarch/Caliph without executive powers, parliament consisting of chosen representatives)
  • Mehmed (Muhammed)VI - 1918 - 1922 (constitutional monarch/Caliph without executive powers, parliament consisting of chosen representatives)

The Republic of Turkey

Because the Caliph title is currently unused, it could be used again if the Turkish parliament were to decide.

Last updated: 02-06-2005 21:28:29
Last updated: 03-13-2005 10:47:28