The changing nature of the institution of Caliph, the definition of Ummah, and how these have an effect on the concept of an Islamic state Part I – Caliph

In Religion and philosophy on 25. December 2015 at 01:24

Essay is also published at Eqbal Ahmed Centre for Public Education.

The institution of a central religious and political authority in Islam is something that has been changing drastically through times. Furthermore, what constitutes a Muslim – the pure definition of being a believer – is something that has not a consensus. These two concepts become quite central when some movements talk about the so called revival of a Islamic state. Is there a canon for an Islamic state, the community and the political leadership of this?

This series on three articles will focus on these three subjects, the institution of the Caliph, what the Muslim community (Ummah) is and what is in this concept of an Islamic state. Focus will be on the plurality in understanding these institutions and concepts and how through history they have developed.

Part I – Caliph

There used to be a time when the word Caliph was mentioned we thought about oriental stories, magnificent palaces, harems, intrigues and power. Then war broke out in Syria and after a short while we came to know another kind of a caliph, one that will be the reference point for a long time.


Last Ottoman Sultan and Caliph leaving his office


With IS declaration of a Caliphate the public was served the stories about end of the Ottoman caliphate and the early Muslim dynasties, but the historic roots, its function and its power was limited as IS was to dominate the news with a whole different agenda.

Caliph is a title that has developed over time, its meaning, its power, even its name has been evolving. It has also been quite central on several crossroads in Arab and Muslim history, while at the same time been a distant concept even when it existed for majority of Muslims. The institution had its many paradoxes; a Caliph could be the tyrant, or the rebel, the first among equals or the foreigner invader, the most powerful or the symbolic figurehead, the pious or the heretic – you have them all.

The title – that of being a successor to Prophet Mohammad and therefore the natural leader of the Muslim community (ummah) – has its legitimacy according to many segments of Muslims from the Quran itself, or by tradition (Hadith) but mostly by custom. However, as is with all other matters, its purpose, electing and its power has been subject to many a difference in understanding what is suggested to be its legal theological basis.

What is in this title, and why do some militant movements try to have a hold on it? What is in its name, what power does it hold and is it a central part of Muslim theology as we like to believe it?

The vice-regent

As is known, the central basis for the split between what came to be known as Sunni and Shia Islam was in none other than whom was to be the successor to the Prophets mission on earth, the guardian or commander of the Muslim community. As both a political and spiritual leader has its power, it is no wonder such differences occurred – and interestingly, this struggle for power already was at present the day Mohammad – the Calipha-tul-Allah (Gods vice-regent on earth) – died in 632 A.C.

Immediately at that point the Muslim community, a union of different tribes, different regions and different social ranks of society, had its break. The three most powerful camps, all three drawing their claim from subjective understandings of what they considered legitimate sources, started what would later become the first in a series of Muslim civil wars.

It was during these initial years that precedence for electing and legitimising, importance and functions of a ruler was set. For Sunnis the legitimacy of a Caliph came from a Majlis (a proto-assembly) – while for Shias the legitimacy of a Caliph (or Imam in this case) came from God in the form of Ahle-Bayt – the infallible family consisting of Mohammad’s daughter Fatima, her husband Ali and their sons Hassan and most importantly Hussain.

Both these camps had their support from selective use of scriptures from tradition and from the Quran itself – later to be a dogma and even something that defined the parameters of their theology.

The first Caliph according to Sunnis was chosen by popular consent. Abu Bakr was an old companion and friend of Mohammad and used to administer politics when the Prophet was not present. He was from the Tayy branch of Quraish tribe, a sister clan to Mohammed and Ali’s Hashemi clan.

Abu Bakr received some initial opposition from the dwellers of Medina, but his argument was that since Mohammad was from Quraish tribe, his successor too needed to be from that tribe. Hence, the principle laid forth in theology became that a caliph needs to be popularly elected, and two, has to be from Quraish tribe.

Not all accepted this, they wished for another close companion of the Prophet, his nephew and son-in-law Ali ibn Abu Talib. Six months in Abu Bakr’s caliphate Ali had yet to give his pledge of allegiance, which he gave after the death of his wife, Fatima bint Mohammad. The principle Ali’s camp laid forth was that the Caliph/Imam was chosen by God’s will, and has to be from the progeny of Ali and Fatima – the holy Ahle-Bayt.

Among the first four caliphs, Omar (634-644), Uthman (644-656) and Ali (656-661) were assassinated, and the latter two had to endure open disobedience from those who rejected their authority. Uthman had to face rebellion from Egypt, while Ali had to fight the forces of Aisha – the daughter of Abu Bakr and the last wife of Mohammad.

Ali then had to face Uthman’s powerful cousin and Governor in Syria, Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan. Latter never gave his allegiance to Ali, on the basis that Uthman’s killers had first to be punished. Among the accused were Mohammad ibn Abu Bakr, the adopted son of Ali, and the biological son of Abu Bakr.

A third group known as Kharijites rejected both of the camps after initially supporting Ali. According to Kharijites a Caliph/Imam had to be one who is most fit in terms of strength (manpower/skills) and piety – Kharijites were to be known as the first Republicans in Islamic history.

It is estimates on thousands of sahabas (disciples of the Prophet) killing each other in these battles – in the end leaving Muawiya in power of the entire growing empire. With his consolidation of power the Caliphate became monarchy with his dynasty dubbed the Banu Ummayad Caliphate –Three decades after Mohammad’s demise, Muslims had already became deeply divided on the question of a successor to the Prophet.

In conclusion, by the end of first Islamic century, Muslims had already experienced several types of caliphs, elected by different methods, having legitimacy on different grounds, and with different forms of power. That would not change by the coming centuries.

The Khutba

As Ummayad dynasty came to an end, overthrown by the Abbasids, the power of Caliphate witnessed its first transition from one monarchy to another.

Abbasids – descendants of Mohammad’s uncle Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib, claimed legitimacy from kinship, as they too were Hashemis. Secondly, and more importantly, they rebelled on the cause of Alids/Shias and raised the black standard of Imam Hussain. Their sympathies to the Ahle-Bayt in addition to public anger at Ummayad rulers gave them popularity enough to stage open rebellion.

This rebellious period also saw the instrumentalisation of faith. Convenient prophesies from credible and dubious sources within Hadith literature was used by both camps to discredit the other. While the black standards from Khorasan was a bad omen, so was the Ummayad reign which soon was to reach its century in power.

Abbasids founded the city of Bagdad and had the khutba (Friday prayer sermon) read in their name. The sermon had early become a central institution for the ruler of his time to manifest his rule. Abu Bakr initiated this custom, adopted by the following caliphs.

The local lords and fiefs loyal to opponents of the ruler would use the name of his opponent in order to show defiance. When Abdullah ibn Zubayr launched his rebellion (680-692), the khutba in large parts of Ummayad empire was read in ibn Zubayr’s name, including the cities of Mecca and Medina.

Among those loyal to the Shia imams, the khutba would surely have their name, and though the Alid Imams had as of yet no political power, their presence and title was a mere act of rebellion for the Caliphs of their time. Ummayad’s had blood on their hands for many of these imams, including the grandsons of the Prophet Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain. Abbasids betrayed the Alid cause and they too continued with suppression of Alid Imams, provoking rebels, as those of Nafs-e-Zakariyya, al-Alawi, Yahya ibn Umar and the Zanj-slave revolt. Even a kharijite rebel spanning three decades in the same areas which is under IS today.

However, history would show its ironies – while the doctrine was that there could only be one Caliph/Imam, there was already several claimants – but now there were also rival-caliphs with substantial political power. From west on the northern tip of Africa, the Fatimid’s launched their campaign to overtake Abbasid lands. By 909, they had taken over large parts of northern Africa, installing a Shia-Ismaili Caliphate-Imamate.

This challenged the clergy of its time. While Ummayads had fled Damascus and established their Emirate in Spain, they had not claimed a separate Caliphate. Now as this was a fact, there was a breach in the doctrine of one Caliph at a time – this even more challenging as the rival-Caliph in Cairo was a Shia-Ismaili, claiming a title Sunni rulers had in their hand since the first civil war. Adding to the injury, the Fatimid caliphs had the khutba read in their names, despite having a substantial Sunni majority among their citizens.

The Ummayads of Spain soon followed after two decades and for a time the Muslim community had three rival claimants to the title with substantial political power and land at hand. Each one having their names read in khutba, and each claiming to be the rightful one.

Among Shias this too became a challenge as Shia-Ismailis were following the progeny of Ismail ibn Jaafar as the rightful chosen Imams, while another camp followed Musa ibn Jaafar (with additional splits and mergers to come). Another branch, the Zaydi Shias – the dominant in its time – believed in an Alid successor, but not hereditary rule. The utopian Qarmatians (an early offshoot of early Ismaili community) promoted a proto-Communist state with base in areas between Basra alongside the coast to Bahrain and emirates. This society even attacked Mecca, stealing the hajr-e-aswat (meteorite installed in one corner of the Kaaba) and launching their own annual pilgrimage around the stolen stone. A major blow to the Abbasid caliph in Bagdad as he had to buy it back only to receive it broken in several parts.

Not to forget the Ibadi/Kharijite states which already had their Imams as rulers – challenging those already claiming to be Caliphs. Ibadis would by time concentrate on the eastern tip of Arabian Peninsula, in what’s today Oman and Muscat. For quite a long time the Ibadi Imam was both a political and religious leader, though by time the Imam would become a fierce opponent. Today the agreement is to let the BuSaidi dynasty manage state of affairs, while the clergy is to focus on the religious aspect.

The clergy became either more defiant, as to say, that their Caliph was the rightful one, while the others were usurpers – because, there could only be One Caliph. Others started adjusting themselves and argued that one ruler alone could not possibly govern such a big landmass.

Other movements, especially those among Mutazilites, Ibadis/Kharijites, Zaydis and in general argued that there was not a necessity to live under a Caliph, and that a legitimate Caliph should be deposed if he was to be unjust. Interestingly enough a proto-Anarchist movement erupted in Iraq from some branches of the Mutazilites.

While new doctrines solidified, so did the schools of thoughts and theological methodology. What was known fact at that time, became among traditionalists eternal truth – little emphasis has till date been laid on the development in these understandings by time. In other words, reform and adjustment was the tradition, from now on, the codified result were to be the tradition.

The same happened to the institution of Caliph, initially the successors to Mohammad were not to be Prophets, as was the custom of the prophets of Bible. They were to lead the Muslim community and establish what was the codified word of God. For Sunnis the caliph was subject to the commandments in the law, and as they were fallible, they could err, while for Shias (with exception of Zaydis), their Imams were infallible, and could not be wrong.

Irony has it that Sunni theologians who lamented Shias for elevating Imams as infallibles also advocated infallibility to their own clergy. As tradition goes, if a cleric were to be right on one religious matter, he would receive two fold blessings, but if he were to be wrong, he would be granted one blessing. In other words, infallible in judgement whether right or wrong.

However, the Muslim clergy, be it for Shia or Sunni Muslims became an important institution to check the powers of the Caliph. As the Caliph became less of a religious figure, he was subject to clerics understanding.

This too became an issue of controversy as sects and schools of thought developed. Which one of these should the Caliph be a patron? Some Abbasid caliphs (813-847) were sympathetic to the rational school of philosophy/theology and launched the inquisition (mihna) on the scholars of their opponents. Those Sunni schools of thoughts that have survived to date have many a stories to tell of how their founders were tortured and even killed. Other schools were heavily adaptive to authorities, among them Hanafis, who legitimised the Caliphs power, as long as they could have their say on what was the right understanding of faith.

Several caliphs later, with rival-caliphs and usurpers and rebels, the Muslims saw a gradual change in Caliph becoming rather a secular political leader, weakened by his much needed mercenaries. Thus by the end of 10t century you had a weak Abbasid Caliph in Bagdad controlled by the viziers from the Shia-Zaydi (later twelver) Buyid dynasty, the Shia-Ismaili Caliph-Imam in Cairo and the Sunni Ummayad and Shia-Zaydi Hammudid Caliphs of Andalus/Spain.

The proxy

Until now the legitimacy of being a Caliph was either traceable to the early conflicts, or they were snatched from their predecessors. But how could new hopefuls earn this title, and hence political control?

In northern Africa, several dynasties proved that they would rather rule themselves, than being ruled by a foreign power from Damascus or Bagdad. The Berbers at first chose the Khwarijite/Ibadhi school of thought despite having to pledge allegiance to a Sunni Caliph – when they rebelled, as was the case with Rostamid dynasty – they claimed their Imamate (another name for Caliph) by means of having a republican principle. One particular rebel even produced a new claimant to Prophethood with a new codified sharia and Quran.

In Morocco, the Berbers chose Alid families, which would claim descent from Ahle-Bayt. Thus Zaydi dynasties as Hammudids in Spain and Idrisids became prominent with their claims to the supreme title. Occasionally the Arab-Berber rivalry would produce Berber dynasties as Al-Mohavid and Al-Moravid.

As realities became more complex, and as the Caliph was weakened by the power of clergy and different military camps, the sole role of this institution became no more than symbolic. Powerful governors in Persia and Northern-Africa had de facto ultimate power, they only gave a symbolic gesture to their Caliph of liking. This too irked the clergy of different schools of thoughts as these local governors could be of different understanding, and thus an allegiance to a caliph would automatically legitimise the rule of their powerful viziers and governors – in other words, a rule by proxy.

The Buyids were a Shia-Zaydi dynasty that ruled large parts of Persia and Iraq, but were nominally subordinate to the Abbasid Sunni Caliph seated in Bagdad. The khutba were in Caliphs name, but the de facto rule was by Buyids. This would be used as an argument by hopeful commanders to launch their coups and civil wars. Some would even support a rival Caliph from the same dynasty. Others would have the deceased Caliphs name be read in khutba as they did not accept the living Caliphs reign. Intrigues and conflicts became common among major factions in a caliphate, and thus after each caliphs death the different fractions with their claimant would try to grab power. The prize was power legitimised by the candidate they supported.

As Bagdad became weak, so was the case with Cairo and the Fatimid’s. Following the first crusade the Sunni dynasty of Imaduddin Zengi in Aleppo and Mosul would give aid to the vizier of the caliph in Cairo in order to win support for his coalition – this despite Zengids having pledged allegiance to Bagdad. Before this pathetic situation for Fatimid’s, they themselves used to have local fiefs and lords in and around Bagdad read the khutba in their name, right under the nose of the Abbasid Caliph.

It was during these decades that Saladin would inherit the position as vizier of Cairo after the death of his uncle Shirkuh. Soon the khutba would be read in Abbasid Caliphs name. Saladin would later become an epic leader for Muslims in the 19th century, but was in his time suspected by Bagdad for being a major rival, and was quite disobedient to Zengids to whom his father was a liege lord.

As the crusades came to an end, the Muslims had now experienced a nominal caliph with no religious or political power, simply being a figurehead who legitimised the powerful lords and commanders who ruled by proxy.

Then the hordes came.

The children of Tur

Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, had reached Persia and knocked on the doors of Abbasid heartlands. In 1258 he sacked Bagdad and killed the last Abbasid Caliph by tucking him in a carpet and letting horses run over him. Thus came to an end, the seat of the Caliphate in Bagdad while the Mongols alongside Turks – known as the children of Tur in Persian legends – began their reign as the most powerful Muslim lords.

The Mongol Ilkhanate did not care for the Caliphs title, they had their legitimacy from being the progeny of Genghis Khan. Turks on the other hand had converted and supported either being patrons of Shia Imams or in allegiance to the Sunni caliphs. Seljuk Turks ruled in the name of the Bagdad caliph before Mongol invasion, but were now scattered. The Turkic Mamluk dynasties found an Abbasid claimant and installed him after taking control of Ayyubid Egypt.

Other Turkic dynasties flourished, especially in Anatolia where Oghuz Turks had several fiefs and lordships. They were in conflict with each other, with the Mongols in east, Kurds and Arabs in south and Byzantines in north and west. Among them Osman Bey became the ancestor to another great empire which became the last powerful dynasty to hold the title of Caliph.

The Turks who did not swear allegiance to a Caliph would have the khutba read in the name of the first four Caliphs. This became a theological innovation that has lasted till date. As there is no legitimate Caliph at present in the eyes of most Muslims, this became a convenient way to keep the khutba tradition ongoing.

Ottomans claimed the caliphate in the late 14th century, rejecting the Abbasid-Mamluk title in Cairo. But this did not stop the advances of Timur Lenk who had ambitions to replicate Genghis Khan – and was more interested in claiming legitimacy from being a revival of his mission. Timur would capture and kill the Ottoman Sultan Beyazid – starving him to death. Timurid empire came thought to an end and descendants established their rule in India in middle of 16th century.

The Safavid Turks of Azerbaijan revived the Persian empire and propagated the Shia-Jafari (twelver) theology among their subjects. By time they became ardent opponents of the Sunni Ottoman caliphate in west. To their East the Mughals (descendants of Timur) had their powerbase.

Safavid emperors introduced reforms in Shia-Jafari theology to claim their title. As the Shia-Jafaris believe that their 12th imam went into hiding by 10th century, there could not be a living representative of the hidden Imam. Ismail Shah of the Safavids claimed being this representative, gravely opposed by the orthodox clergy, but something which became a political tool to be replicated by one Khomeini in contemporary times.

The lack of a living Imam was also one of the motivations for why the Zaydi Buyids converted to twelver islam, as they did not descend from Ahle-Bayt and would be required to choose a Alid as overlord as per Zaydi tradition.

Safavids were instrumental in giving refuge to the second Mughal emperor after he was chased from power by the Suri dynasty. Suri’s are reported to having claimed the title of Caliph, which would later be replicated when Mughals retook their power. Thus by the end of 17th century three major Turkic dynasties were all claiming their own legitimacy of being the sole representatives of Muslims.

The fall

Safavids fell to the hands of Nader Shah and later dynasties became insignificant outside their realm. Mughals too fragmented and lost huge chunks to rebelling states and colonial powers. Ottomans were lingering on by the grace of western powers, and large swathes of Muslim lands were by now governed by foreign non-Muslim colonial powers.

This too became a turning point among the clergy. How come we have a Caliph in Istanbul, but not his power reigning over us? Is it possible to live under a foreign power, while at the same time pledging allegiance to a Caliph living far away? Some started questioning this, as the distance were this great even before, the Caliph was merely a name, his authority had faded long ago they claimed.

And there, under foreign occupation, with the emerging of messianic movements alongside rebels against the colonisers, old thoughts erupted in new wrapping. The Mahdi of Sudan, of Somalia and of Libya all initiated their resistance by claiming to be the foretold saviour of Muslims. The title of Mahdi became a favourable way of legitimising the title of Caliph/Ameer-ul-Momineen (Commander of the faithful) when one could not snatch it from others or lacked the traditional legitimacy. Till date, the King of Morocco still has the claim to the title of Ameer-ul-Momineen in his hands.

This also paved way for theological differences as a Mahdi was a part of Islamic eschatology and which would cause controversies among the orthodox clergy. Among the Shia creed there has been several claimants to this title of Mahdi – the Bahai faith is for example a result of this. Among Sunnis there has been the Mahdavis in South-Asia and the Ahmadi creed in Punjab amongst others. For the purely religious Mahdists the title of Caliph became a non-political and purely theological one. Among the resistance fighters, it became a political alternative. Even today the descendants of the Mahdi of Sudan are quite powerful, and the descendants of Somali Mahdi are respected in Somaliland. The Senussi order became royals in Libya, while the descendants of Sokoto-caliphs are a major political power in Nigeria.

But another event changed the understanding of the need of a Caliphate drastically, and that change came from within the Muslim society.

And the reform

Muslim intellectuals, learned in philosophy, theology and politics, engaged a lively debate which brought forth a reform movement in Islam following the French revolution. The Nahda movement in Egypt and Levant provoked debates on what went wrong with Muslim power, emulated by intellectuals as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and the like in South Asia.

Both movements saw dramatic changes in their times to ask such questions. In South Asia, the failed first war of independence in 1857-58 ended the Mughal-rule and solidified British control. In Middle East, the Turkish Sultan-Caliph introduced civil and political reforms, though they came late and by the end of First World War, the empire had shrunk, and came under administration of the western powers.

Turks themselves, led by Pasha Kemal ended the Caliphate by transferring its powers to the Grand Turkish Assembly – exiling the last Caliph. Kemal’s moves were resented by the British as it would oppose their hold of the weak state. Some Muslims of the Deobandi-sunni orientation in India launched a pro-Caliphate movement, but became a political tool in the hands of Congress as Muslim League opposed it. Fight for Caliphate was in the eyes of Muslim League a regressive fight and would not solve any problems.

Quite ironic as early 19th century saw colonial powers supporting old Muslim institutions, while Muslims themselves, engulfed by enlightenment ideals of Europa opposed these institutions.

Revivalists on the other hand started preaching a reinstating Caliphate. It was necessary for Muslims to live under a Caliphate they would argue – as a Caliph would enforce Sharia law, and thus by its enforcement, it would bring justice and progress, just as history tells. Jalaluddin Afghani and Muhammad Abduh were prominent names within the revivalist camp, but as they were progressives and modernists, there was the regressive trend, the most prominent in the guise of Arab nomads from Nejd.

What later became a Saudi state was beforehand a band of Bedouins in the central Arabian Peninsula who though claimed to implement Islam, also fought the Ottoman Caliph. Ottomans had earlier fought them and hanged their clerics and leaders in public show, but as they weakened, the nomads got their hands free.

While the Saudis made progress, so did the Hashemi clan in Mecca (in the region of Hejaz). When the Turks disbanded the Caliphate, Hashemis took the mantle in 1924 and for a short time claimed allegiance from Muslims – to little avail.

By then Ali Abdel Razeq had published his book on the need for a secular state and why a Caliph was not a necessity. Al-Kawakabi had written on why it is important to fight an unjust ruler, even though he claimed to be religiously ordained, and the reformist of South Asia as Iqbal claimed that the entire Muslim community were to be considered together the vice-regent of God.

These reformists also noticed how the religious institutions still had their sway despite a Caliph not being present. Al-Azhar institute had survived several dynasties, and was still present. But that was not enough for another stream of revivalists. Maudoodi from South Asia an early Islamist laid theoretic ground for an Islamic State in where the head was to be considered an Ameer-ul-Momineen, the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen was greatly influenced from Maudoodi and Qutb and claimed that success for Muslims would only be achieved if Sharia were implemented on political stage. Hizb ul-Tahreer became a more vocal supporter of reviving the Caliphate.

From these movements the more violent fractions established jihadist movements such as Taliban, Al-Qaida and IS. The leader of Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar claimed the title of Ameer-ul-Momineen, which did not catch the momentum, though IS was more successful in their work and propaganda and are now uniting different terrorist movements under their allegiance. After Mullah Omars death, Ayman Al-Zawahiri (Al-Qaida leader) would give his allegiance to the new Taliban leader, thus rejecting IS claimant Abu Bakr Al-Bagdadis title.

Khomeini became for shias what Maudoodi and Qutb was for the Islamists among Sunnis. He launched the doctrine of Vilayet-e-Faqih, a rule by clergy, which he emulated from Safavid legitimising of their power. Such a rule would be in accordance with the wishes of Imam Mahdi, and would be a temporary just rule until Mahdis arrival according to this doctrine.

Khomeini received opposition from many Shia clerics, but he was powerful and had many of them linger in house arrest. Ayatollah al-Sistani, the leading Shia cleric of contemporary times reject such a rule for Iraq and presents theory of wilayat al-umma ‘ala nafsihi – in principle that human being manages its own affairs.

During the current war in Syria and the sectarian tensions in Iraq, messianic stories are ignited to tell of a foretold battle between good and evil and the arrival of Mahdi. This was also the case during Iran-Iraq war in 80s. Such events has painted the understanding and significance of certain elements of Islam. Jihad became a more important factor, revival of caliphate a duty among jihadists and a goal to establish the utopian society.

Irony is that Osama bin Laden used to talk of reviving the Ottoman Caliphate, yet his brand of Islam were fought off brutally by Ottomans themselves.

Such details, from all the history, are by Islamists and revivalists tried being kept a secret. Why talk of prophets disciples fighting each other, or why pollute the names of those most powerful Caliphs through times? The illusion these movements wants to make is that their ‘heroes’ were selfless devotees of the true faith, pure in piety and in intentions. Thus creating a story of a golden age where a just and pure caliph ensured progress and success.

The alternative

Muslims today have little or no relations to a Caliph. Even the Saudis have not claimed such a title and design themselves rather as Custodians of the two holy Cities (of Mecca and Medina), they know their claim to this title would not be accepted.

Among Ikhwan movement the Caliph might not be the goal, but a result of a successful campaign to reform society and in the end have enough political support for this result. An elected Caliph is in tune with early tradition, while the defunct titles either are in the Grand Turkish Assembly in the form of Prime Minister or the head of the Religious Department, Diyanet. What about the head of the Ottoman house? The King of Jordan, the successor to the Hashemi caliphate? Others would point at Al-Azhar institution or the Moroccan Amir-ul-Momineen, or should we ignore the Sokoto pretender in Nigeria?

Another stream of thoughts has been quite common the late decade, and is common between Shias and Sunnis. The need for a secular state has been on the tongue of more and more traditional segments of the clergy.

As Daesh think they have revived the Caliphate, another important challenge to this old title has put its sway among Muslims. While Islamists are not vocal about a Caliph, the need for a secular state wins the argument by pointing to history. Caliph is merely a title that changes through time, and given the divisions and conflicts it has on its record, is it worth its time for the future?


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