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Kalif is the Germanization of the Arabic term chalīfa ( Arabic خليفة, DMG ḫalīfa pronunciation ? / i ), which in the general sense designates a deputy or successor, but is often used in a specific function as a title for religious-political leaders. When he is short for the terms chalīfat Allaah ( representative of God  /Audio file / audio sample خليفة الله / ḫalīfat Allāh ) or chalīfat rasūl Allāh ( successor of the Messenger of God  /خليفة رسول الله / ḫalīfat rasūl Allāh ), then the claim to the leadership of the entire Islamic community is usually connected with it. In addition, there is the title of caliph in Sufi orders and in the Ahmadiyya . In this context, the title of the caliph indicates that the person concerned is to be regarded as the successor and representative of the specific founder of the order or community.

This article deals with the history of the title of the caliphate; the article Caliphate provides information on the political history of the various caliphates .

The march of Caliph Omar 638 into Jerusalem

Origin of the title of caliphate

The noun chalīfa is derived from the Arabic verb chalafa (خَلَفَ), which means “to follow, to take the place”. The derived abstraction chilāfa (خلافة / ḫilāfa ) means "substitution, succession, caliphate".

The term khalīfa already occurs in pre-Islamic Arabia, in an Arabic inscription from the year 543, in which a kind of viceroy is meant who performs the duties of another sovereign . In the Koran the term occurs in two places: on the one hand ( sura 2:30 ) it refers to Adam , who is appointed by God as “governor '' on earth, in the other ( sura 38:26 ) it is used for David in used in his capacity as ruler and judge:

“Oh David, behold, we made you a representative ( chalifa ) on earth; So judge between people in truth. "

An account of the development of the term in early Islam that has come down to us from various Arabic writers is informative. Accordingly , when Abu Bakr became head of the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Mohammed , he was called chalīfat rasūl Allāh ("Successor of the Messenger of God"). When Umar ibn al-Khattab succeeded him as head of the Muslims, a man addressed him as Khalīfat Allaah , but Umar rejected this, pointing out that this title was reserved for David. When the man then addressed him as khalīfat rasūl Allaah, Umar also refused, arguing that this title belonged to Abu Bakr alone. The title used by the man chalīfat chalīfat rasūl Allāh ("successor to the successor of the Messenger of God") was considered correct by Umar, but objected that the title was getting longer and longer. As an alternative to this long title, he urged the believers to call him amīr al-muʾminīn (“Lord of the Believers”).

The title chalīfat Allaah (“Representative of God”), which made a much broader claim than chalīfat rasūl Allaah , is attested for the first time for Umar's successor Uthman ibn Affan (644–656). However, this term only appears in panegyric poems. The first Muslim ruler to use the term in inscriptions and on coins, and thus in an official context, was the Umayyad Abd al-Malik (685–705). Later, the Abbasids (750–1517) and at times also the Spanish Umayyads (929–1031), the Fatimids (909–1171), the Almohads (1147–1269) and the Hafsids (1229–1574) took the title of caliph for themselves Claim.

Selection and appointment of the caliph

Even among the first three caliphs, three very different selection processes were used. Abū Bakr , who was addressed with the title “Ruler of the Believers” ( Amīr al-Mu'minīn ), was appointed caliph by acclamation after considerable disputes . Before his death, he appointed ʿUmar as his successor. This in turn had a committee formed from six members, who should appoint one of their midst as his successor as caliph. Based on the assassination of the third caliph ʿUthmān , discussions arose as to whether a caliph could be deposed. The Kharijites called for the caliph to be removed from office.

The Umayyads , however, took the opposite view and established a dynastic principle for the first time, which required the unconditional obedience of the subjects. To this end, they drafted a new doctrine that contradicted the view of the nature of the caliph practiced before them. The caliph should no longer be the representative of the Prophet ( khalīfat rasūl Allāh ), but rather God's representative ( chalīfat Allāh ). Formally, there was still a certain electoral character, but the selection was limited to the sons of the Umayyad ruler and his brothers and cousins ​​on his father's side. The Umayyads emphasized both their genealogical descent from ʿUthmān, as well as a "legacy of Muhammad " in order to legitimize the dynastic rule of the caliph.

The Abbasid dynasty following the Umayyads proclaimed other criteria that should justify the use of the title of caliph. Accordingly, belonging to the Prophet's family decided the legitimacy of the Caliph's rule. The Abbasid caliphs also saw themselves as representatives of God and called themselves “the power of God on earth” ( Sultān Allaah fī ardihī ). The names of rulers they adopted, the use of the title " Imam " and the use of religiously significant insignia and relics were intended to underline the direct relationship with God and the religious significance of their caliphate . These efforts to legitimize are attributed not least to the fact that the Abbasids were not the only caliphate in the Islamic world of that time. The Abbasid rulers determined their successors, and in some cases their successors, often by will. The prerequisite for this was that the candidate was of legal age. In the event that no successor was appointed for the deceased predecessor, a committee made up of religious and state dignitaries decided on the future ruler.

Duties and functions of the caliph

The Koran does not contain any provisions on the tasks and functions of the caliph. Islamic legal scholars disagree on this to this day. The functions performed by the caliphs developed over time with the specific requirements of government activities. Under Abū Bakr , who, among other things, had to defend himself against attempts to split off Arab tribes, the function of the caliphate primarily served the military leadership of the Islamic state. Under ʿUmar , both the function of the legislative authority in criminal and civil law issues and that of the normative authority in religious and ritual questions developed. It was above all ʿUmar who initiated the establishment of organizational and administrative structures in order to consolidate the rapidly growing Islamic state territory. The compilation, editing and fixing of the Koran during the reign of ʿUthmān finally established the function of the caliph as religious authority.

The Umayyad caliphs were faced with the challenge of having to govern the ever larger and more complex empire efficiently. This could be done without the introduction of administrative innovations such as B. the creation of new offices, not succeed. Thus, they increasingly developed the legislative component with reference to their religious and dynastic legitimacy.

The main tasks of the Abbasid caliphs were the direction of prayer , the waging of jihad against the infidels and the keeping of the Islamic dogma of innovations ( bidʿa ). In order to carry out their administrative tasks, such as B. the duty to ensure the well-being of the Islamic community, they delegated more and more tasks to various institutions. Among the Abbasid caliphs, the function of the vizier as the executing authority of the will of the caliphs was of particular importance.

Use in the Ottoman Empire

The title "Caliph" has been used by the Ottomans since Murad I , but also by other non-Ottoman Muslim rulers of his time. It is therefore assumed that the title lost its original exclusive meaning in the 14th century. According to information from the late 18th century (e.g. in Ignatius Muradcan d'Ohsson's Tableau général de l'Empire Ottoman from 1787), the last Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil III. the Ottoman Sultan Selim I and all his descendants the right to the caliphate. This transition was carried out in a ceremony in Hagia Sophia , which was then used as a mosque . However, there are no records according to which Selim claimed or asserted such a right from al-Mutawakkil. In the phase of the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans seem to have been rather disinterested in the caliphate. In Aleppo , Selim I claimed the title of “protector of the two holy places” previously held by the Mameluks , but did not seek the caliphate as a religious institution. At that time he held the caliph al-Mutawakkil III. at his court and arranged for the relics of Muhammad to be brought to Istanbul . Through this act he de facto proclaimed his claim to be the most powerful ruler of the Muslim world and the protector of Islam. Selim and his successors used this title in the preambles of their legislation ( Kānūn-nāme ).

Also Siileyman II. (Reg. 1520-1566) praised in a KANUN name as "the chagan of the earth and Khalifa God messengers". The Ottoman reference to the title of caliph of all Muslims in the sense of an unrestricted claim to representation and determination only becomes clear after the empire had already passed its climax. Sultan Ahmed III. In October 1727 signed a treaty with the ruler of Persia, Ashraf Khan , as "Caliph of all Muslims" and sought confirmation of the title from Shah Nadir . In relation to the West, the Ottoman sultans first appeared as caliphs in the negotiations on the peace of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774 . Sultan Abdülhamid I described himself on this occasion as " Imam of the faithful and caliph of unity" to express that, after the Crimean Tatars should achieve political independence from the Ottoman Empire through this peace, he will continue to be their spiritual Head looked at. At the end of the 19th century the title of caliph was even given constitutional status in the Ottoman Empire. In the Ottoman constitution of 1876 it was stated in article 4: "The sultan in his capacity as caliph is the protector of the Muslim religion". The Ottoman caliphs, like the Umayyads before them and later the Abbasids, were recognized by almost all Sunni Muslims. After Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's overthrow of the Ottomans in 1923 , the Turkish National Assembly declared the Ottoman Caliphate to be abolished by law on March 3, 1924, and ordered the expulsion of the last Caliph Abdülmecid II from Turkey. One of Aga Khan III. A letter to the then Prime Minister İsmet İnönü , in which proposals for a continuation of the caliphate were expressed, was launched for the Turkish press. The Turkish National Assembly, which was still completely under the impression of the national liberation struggle, made the decision on the caliphate as a reaction to an alleged interference from outside a “national cause”, which sealed the end of this institution.

The title of caliph in Sufi orders and in the Ahmadiyya

After the emergence of the Sufi order, the title of caliph was given a new meaning by being adopted there by the successors of the order's founder. To this day there is a General-Caliph of the Muridiyya ( Khalife général des mourides; KGM) and a General-Caliph of the Tijaniyya ( Khalife général des Tidianes; KGT) in Senegal . The former resides in Touba , the latter in Tivaouane .

In this sense, Abdallahi ibn Muhammad , the successor of the Sudanese Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi , also referred to himself as al-Chalifa .

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad founded the Ahmadiyya movement in Qadian in 1889 . After his death in 1908, he was followed by the Khalifat ul-Massih ("Caliph of the Messiah"), the spiritual leaders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community . The AMJ caliphs are elected for life by an electoral committee. Since April 22, 2003, Mirza Masroor Ahmad has been the spiritual leader of the AMJ as Khalifat ul-Massih V. He has resided since April 2019 in a place in Tilford, Surrey, Great Britain, which is called by the community of Islamabad and is about 45 minutes south of London.

See also


  • Patricia Crone , Martin Hinds: God's Caliph. Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam. Cambridge 1986.
  • Bernard Lewis : The Political Language of Islam . Translated from S. Enderwitz. Berlin 1991, pp. 79-91.
  • Tilman Nagel : State and Faith Community in Islam. History of the Muslims' notions of political order. 2 vols. Zurich-Munich 1981.
  • Rudi Paret : Signifaction coranique de ḫalīfa et d'autres dérivés de la racine ḫalafa. In: Studia Islamica 31 (1970), pp. 211-217.
  • Khalīfa. In: The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New Edition . Vol. 4 (1997), pp. 937-953.

Web links

Wiktionary: Kalif  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

supporting documents

  1. Cf. Bernard Lewis: The Political Language of Islam. Berlin 1991, pp. 80 and 212.
  2. Cf. Bernard Lewis: The Political Language of Islam. Berlin 1991, p. 80f.
  3. See Patricia Crone, Martin Hinds: God's Caliph. Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam. Cambridge 1986, p. 6; Bernard Lewis: The Political Language of Islam. Berlin 1991, p. 82.
  4. Cf. Bernard Lewis: The Political Language of Islam. Berlin 1991, p. 82.
  5. Peter Heine : Khalif . In: Adel Theodor Khoury , Ludwig Hagemann , Peter Heine (eds.): Islam-Lexikon , Vol. 2. Herder, Gütersloh 1990. ISBN 3-451-04036-0 . P. 441ff.
  6. Peter Heine: Khalif . In: Adel Theodor Khoury, Ludwig Hagemann, Peter Heine (eds.): Islam-Lexikon , Vol. 2. Herder, Gütersloh 1990. ISBN 3-451-04036-0 . P. 443f.
  7. a b c P.M. Holt, Ann KS Lambton, Bernard Lewis: The Cambridge History of Islam . Cambridge University Press. Cambridge 2008. ISBN 978-0521291354 . P. 320.
  8. See Tilman Nagel: State and Faith Community in Islam. Vol. 2, Zurich-Munich 1981, p. 173.
  9. See Tilman Nagel: State and Faith Community in Islam. Vol. 2, Zurich-Munich 1981, p. 177.
  10. Abolishment of the Caliphate and Turkey's transformation to Modern State. Ataturk Research Center, accessed September 23, 2015 .