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As a caliphate ( Arabic خلافة, DMG ḫilāfa ) one designates the rule, the office or the kingdom of a caliph , i.e. a "successor" or "representative of the Messenger of God" (خليفة رسول الله, ḫalīfat rasūl Allāh ). It thus represents an Islamic form of government in which secular and spiritual leadership are united in the person of the caliph. Muhammad's state in Medina was already based on a theocratic model : He was both the leader of the religious movement and the ruler of the sphere of influence in which this belief was lived.

In the shape خليفة الله( ḫalīfat Allaah ), meaning “Representative of God [on earth]”, the caliph title has existed since the Umayyads ruling from 661 onwards . Since according to sura 112 ( al-Ichlās ), however, no person can be equal to God - not even the head of all Muslims - this interpretation of the caliphate is, in the opinion of many Muslims, in contradiction to the teaching of Muhammad.

The caliphate from the 7th to 8th centuries:
  • Spread under the Prophet Mohammed, 622–632
  • Spread among the four “rightly guided caliphs”, 632–661
  • Spread among the Umayyads, 661–750
  • Caliphate of the four "rightly guided caliphs"

    Mohammed had no male offspring - one or more biological sons had died in childhood, and an adopted son was killed in battle. Only his daughter Fatima and possibly a few other daughters (the tradition is ambiguous here) survived their father, but even at the time of Muhammad's death had no sons of sufficient age to assume a leadership role. The Prophet had neither designated a successor nor established a procedure for his election. After his death in 632, the Muslim community leaders met. Some of them believed that Muhammad had chosen his cousin ʿAlī ibn Abī Tālib to succeed him. The majority of Muslims were not convinced of this and laid down the first guidelines for a succession. According to this, the Prophet's successor had to be an Arab from the tribe of Muhammad, the Quraish , who was responsible on the one hand for observing the rules of the Islamic faith and on the other hand for spreading Islam. The majority of Muslim leaders chose Abu Bakr , the father of Muhammad's favorite wife, Aisha , to succeed the Prophet. He assumed the title of chalifat rasuli llah .

    634 ʿUmar ibn al-Chattāb was elected second caliph and also held the title of caliph Amīr al-Mu'minīn (أمير المؤمنين, "Commander of the Believers"). During his tenure, Islamic expansion began, and the Muslims managed to expand their influence to Syria (635–636), Mesopotamia (636) and Egypt (639–642). After their victory at Nihawand south of Hamadan , the Sassanid Empire in Iran finally fell apart.

    ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān , a son-in-law of Muhammad, was elected third caliph in 644. His reign gained importance primarily through the final drafting of the Koran . But he also continued the expansion of his predecessor. So 647 Tripolitania (today Libya) and other parts of Iran were conquered and first forays into Anatolia were made. Over time, Uthman made himself a number of enemies by preferring his Umayyad clan in the distribution of offices and booty, especially among the military leaders and the Muslims of the conquered areas. In 656 he was murdered in Medina by rebellious Muslims from Egypt and Iraq.

    Uthman's opponents were mainly the followers of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the later Shiites . These and the rebel leaders now elected Ali as caliph. But Muawiya , the governor of Syria from the Umayyad clan and thus a relative of Uthman, refused to follow. Fighting broke out. Negotiations were agreed after the Battle of Siffin . A group of Muslims, the later Kharijites , saw this as a haggling and a great shame and left Ali's camp. In 661 Ali was assassinated by this group. His son Hasan renounced his claim to power when he recognized the overwhelming power of the Umayyads.

    Ali was the last elected caliph. Muawiya introduced succession during his reign, establishing the first caliph dynasty (that of the Umayyads in Damascus ). Since then, the proclaimed successors have become the new caliphs, or the title has passed to other rulers through wars. Hasan's brother Husain claimed the caliphate after Muawiya's death, but was defeated in the Battle of Karbala (680).

    See also The Era of the Righteous Caliphs

    Umayyad Caliphate

    After the Umayyads came to power under Muawiya, they repeatedly had to assert themselves against opposition movements. The legitimation of the Umayyads, who were accused, among other things, of being among the most violent opponents of the Prophet Mohammed in the early days of Islam, was controversial. After the pacification of the caliphate, the Muslims were able to resume their expansion. Under Abd al-Malik and al-Walid I , the Maghreb , the Iberian Peninsula , Transoxania and the Indus Valley were conquered at the beginning of the 8th century . With this the caliphate reached its greatest extent. Despite these successes, opposition from many Muslims persisted. The weakening of the Umayyad rule by internal power struggles from 744 on was intensified by the uprising of the Abu Muslim . In 749 the Abbasid dynasty forcibly took power.

    Abbasid Caliphate

    After the Umayyads were overthrown by the Abbasids, Iraq with the new capital Baghdad developed into the political center of the caliphate. At the same time, Baghdad, especially under Hārūn ar-Raschīd (786-809), became a metropolis bursting with splendor and wealth, as described in the stories of Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights , and a center of culture and natural sciences . In the 9th century the caliphate had reached its heyday. But the expansion and the bureaucracy demanded their price: More and more the caliphs gave political power to ministers of state, the viziers and middle officials . They themselves soon sank to mere nominal rulers, while the de facto rule lay with alternating military leaders in the capital or with local rulers.

    As early as the 8th century, an Umayyad had escaped to al-Andalus , where he founded the Emirate of Cordoba . From the beginning of the 9th century, further emirates were founded (including the Aghlabids , Tulunids , Tahirids and Samanids ), which were only formally subject to the rule of the caliphs in Baghdad. In the middle of the 10th century, the Abbasids were politically disempowered in Baghdad and were subsequently under the control of the Persian Buyids .

    Fatimid Caliphate

    Confrontation with the Caliphates of the West

    At the beginning of the 10th century, two counter-caliphates were founded in the west of the Islamic world . In 910, Abdallah al-Mahdi , the Grand Master of the Ismailis at the time , was proclaimed caliph in Kairuan and thus established the Fatimid caliphate . This saw the then Umayyad Emir of Córdoba Abd ar-Rahman III. caused 929 to also accept the title of caliphate. There were now three rival caliphates in the countries of Islam. However, the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba disintegrated into several individual empires as early as 1031 and finally went out.

    Much more dangerous for the Abbasids was the Fatimid caliphate, who presented themselves as the descendants of Ali ibn Abi Talib and his wife Fatima , who also gave the dynasty its name. They soon expanded their sphere of influence to all of North Africa, Syria / Palestine, Sicily and western Arabia and were even able to briefly gain control of Baghdad in the 11th century.

    The Ismaili propaganda of the Fatimids and the tutelage of the Buyid rulers increasingly undermined the authority of the Abbasid caliphate in the second half of the 10th century. The Abbasid caliph al-Qādir (r. 991-1031) then started an ambitious political program to strengthen his authority. He never missed an opportunity to publicly condemn Ismaili teachings as heresy and to brand the Fatimids as enemies of Islam. The fact that at the beginning of the 11th century two emerging Turkish dynasties in the east, the Ghaznavids and the Qarakhanids , formally put themselves into his service, the Abbasid caliphate gained new prestige during this period. Another power that the Abbasids formally recognized as chief were the Turkish Seljuks . They conquered Iran from the northeast in the years after 1035 and advanced as far as Baghdad in 1055, where they displaced the Buyids.

    State-theoretical foundation of the caliphate by al-Māwardī

    In the context of the efforts of the Abbasid caliphs to regain their authority, the treatise on state theory that the Shafiite scholar al-Māwardī (972-1058) wrote for the caliph al-Qāʾim belongs. In this treatise, entitled al-Aḥkām as-sulṭāniyya ("The Statutory Provisions"), a comprehensive theory of the caliphate is developed for the first time. A central idea is the delegation of offices. The caliph, who must belong to the Quraish , is the head of the Islamic community as imam , whose duties extend in an all-encompassing manner to the preservation of religion ( dīn ) and the management ( siyāsa ) of worldly affairs. However, he can delegate these tasks to various officials, to the vizier , who has general authority in all matters, the emir , who acts as governor in a province or conducts jihad , the Qādī , the family tree keeper, the imam, who is responsible for the The person responsible for carrying out the ritual prayer is the head of the pilgrimage, the tax officer and the muhtasib , who is ex officio responsible for “ territorializing what is right and forbidding wrong ”. The fiction of the caliph's sovereignty is satisfied by a formal recognition of the caliph's suzerainty and by the mention of his name in Friday prayers . What is referred to as the emirs in this work, which was of great importance for the subsequent period, were in reality the rulers of the Ghaznavids and Seljuks, who had real power in their hands but recognized the formal sovereignty of the caliphate.

    Al-Māwardī linked the delegation of power to a rule after the Shari'a. Because later Islamic theorists were convinced that any form of rule was better than anarchy, they also legitimized pure tyranny as long as the nominal supremacy of the caliph was maintained.

    Al-Ghazālī (1058–1111) gave up many of the requirements that al-Māwardī still considered necessary during the Seljuk rule. The caliph should no longer have to have the ability to lead the jihad, nor is government competence ( kifāya ) required as long as a competent vizier is at his side. Instead of the ability to do idschtihad , that is, to independently interpret the law, the caliph only needs to possess waraʿ , fear of God. In his theory, the caliph is the one to whom the holder of real power ( šauka ) takes the oath of allegiance . Conversely, the one who has real power and subordinates himself to the caliph by naming him in the Chutba and on his own coins is the ruling sultan. With this theory al-Ghazālī legitimized the practice common in his time.

    The Fatimid dynasty was defeated by Saladin in 1171 , who at the same time returned Egypt to the legal sphere of the Abbasid caliphate. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Almohads and (as a reaction to their decline) the Hafsids also claimed the caliphate in the Maghreb , but the Abbasid caliphs were the only ones whose position as heads of the Islamic community was recognized outside their own territory . Several rulers received letters of appointment from Abbasid caliphs in order to be recognized as sultans , for example in Yemen the Rasūlide ʿUmar, who made himself independent from the Egyptian Ayyubids in 1232 .

    Abbasid Shadow Caliphate of Cairo

    Postcard from the Dr. Paula Sanders Collection with graves of the Abbasid shadow caliphs in Cairo

    Although the caliphs were able to regain their political power at least in Iraq during the 12th century, the Abbasid caliphate was smashed in 1258 with the conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols under Hülegü . However, two Abbasid descendants managed to escape to Egypt. With the help of the Mamluks who ruled Egypt, they tried to recapture Baghdad. After this attempt was unsuccessful, az-Zahir Baibars , the now undisputed leader of the Mamluks in Egypt, elevated the only remaining Abbasid to caliph and, conversely, had him confer the title of sultan. In this way he received the religious and political legitimation that he still lacked due to his origins as a military slave.

    The Abbasid princes from this line performed their largely formal office in the following centuries, a caliphate without rulers, but which gave the Mamluk sultans the necessary Islamic legitimacy. However, this Abbasid shadow caliphate gained so much prestige that some rulers outside the Mamluk Empire also sent their homage ( baiʿa ) to the caliph in Cairo and received letters of appointment from him. For example, in 1283 the Golden Horde recognized the Abbasid shadow caliph of Cairo as the leader of the Islamic community. In 1497 the rulers of the Songhay Empire in West Africa recognized the Cairin caliph.

    Most of the time, however, the Abbasid caliphs had little to say within the Mamluk empire; here the Mamluk sultans and emirs set the tone. Individual Abbasid caliphs such as al-Mustaʿīn bi-Llāh (officiating 1404–1416) achieved such a reputation that coins were minted in their name.

    The Hafsids also saw themselves as heirs to the Abbasids of Baghdad, who were overthrown in 1258, and were even temporarily recognized by the Sherif of Mecca and the Egyptian Mamluk Sultan.

    Caliphate of the Ottomans

    Unlike the Mamluks, the Ottomans in the 16th century no longer relied on legitimation from the Abbasid caliphs. The last Abbasid caliph was deported to Istanbul in 1517 after the Ottoman conquest of Cairo and imprisoned there. Although the Ottoman Grand Vizier Lutfī Pasha appeared in the 1530s with the claim that the last Abbasid had transferred the title of caliph to the Ottoman sultan Selīm after the conquest of Egypt, the Ottomans did not pursue this claim to the caliphate any further because of Islamic scholars the objection arose that because of their non-membership of the Quraish they did not meet one of the requirements for taking over the caliphate.

    Revival of the idea of ​​the caliphate

    It was not until the 1770s that the Ottoman sultans began to use the title of caliph for themselves again. This happened in the context of the negotiations for the peace of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774. Sultan Abdülhamid I described himself on this occasion as the "Imam of the faithful and the caliph of the professors of unity". In this way, he wanted to achieve that he would be recognized by the Russian side as the protector of Muslims living on Russian territory, just as, conversely, Russia saw itself as the protective power of Orthodox Christians living on Ottoman territory.

    Around the middle of the 19th century, the Ottoman sultans began to emphasize the title of caliph more in order to gain the support of Muslims outside their sphere of influence. Since there was no longer an Islamic head of state in India after the Mutiny of 1857, the idea of ​​an Ottoman caliph as the political and spiritual leader of the Islamic world fell on particularly fertile ground there. The name of the ruling Ottoman sultan was now often included in the Friday sermons in Indian mosques. The Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II , who ascended the throne in 1876, was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of ​​the caliphate. Article 4 of the constitution of the Ottoman Empire, which was passed immediately after his accession to the throne, stated: "The sultan in his capacity as caliph is the protector of the Muslim religion". The Muslims in Daghestan also recognized this religious and political claim. When they waged a jihad against Russia during the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877/78 , they did so in the name of the caliph.

    As a reaction to the occupation of Anatolia and Istanbul by Allied troops at the end of the First World War , the so-called caliphate movement emerged in India in 1919 , which appeared against the British with the demand that they should work for the preservation of the Ottoman caliphate. The scholar Abū l-Kalām Āzād became their theoretician. According to the classical doctrine, he demanded a monarchical caliphate as the spiritual center of the Islamic world with Islamic rulers appointed by him in various countries; the Ottoman caliph, however, should also have political power.

    Reinterpretation and abolition of the caliphate

    The last caliph Abdülmecid II (1923)

    The demands of the Indian caliphate movement, however, have been overtaken by real developments. In the new nation-state of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Pascha , the winner of the Turkish liberation struggle , began a comprehensive political reform program. In the course of this, the Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922 by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and a new caliph was installed with Abdülmecit II , whose office was limited to the representative area. In a treatise published by the National Assembly entitled "The Caliphate and National Sovereignty" ( Hilafet ve Hakimiyet-i Milliye ) the conversion was justified by the fact that, given that the Prophet had not clearly regulated his succession, the Muslims the Have the freedom to organize the caliphate as they see fit.

    These developments sparked heated debates in the Arab countries of the Middle East. In 1923 Raschīd Ridā wrote a treatise on the caliphate in which he took the view that Islamic society absolutely needed a caliph. In addition to defending Muslims, his main task should be to exercise the law through ijtihād . He should do this in consultation with a body of experienced men, guardians and interpreters of Sharia law. According to Rashīd Ridā, the Ottoman caliphate was only an “emergency caliphate”, because the Ottoman sultan, who spoke no Arabic, was not suitable for ijtihad. In addition, he did not come from the Quraish clan, which was generally believed to be a necessary prerequisite for the office of caliph. But he had to be tolerated, since there was no one who would have been better suited, because at least he could protect the Muslims. Faced with the fact that the Ottoman caliphate was on the verge of extinction, Rashīd Ridā called for the establishment of a new Arab caliphate. The future caliph, however, should not be recruited from among the Arab rulers, but from religious scholars.

    Just two years later, in March 1924, the Turkish government completely abolished the Caliphate with Law No. 431. Abdülmecit II and all members of the Ottoman dynasty were expelled from the country.

    After 1924

    Demonstration by the Danish branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir for the re-establishment of the caliphate in 2006

    After the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate on March 3, 1924, leading scholars from Azhar University in Egypt called for an international congress to elect a new caliph. The initiators of the conference intended to proclaim the Egyptian King Fu'ad I as caliph at the conference . However, the Hashimite king Husain ibn Ali of Hejaz anticipated this: in March 1924 he was proclaimed the new caliph by a group of ulamas in Transjordan . Outside of the Hashimite areas (Hejaz, Transjordan , Iraq) his caliphate was hardly recognized anywhere. King Husain's ambitions were completely dashed when the Hejaz was overrun by the Wahhabi Ichwan of the Saudi ruler Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud in the autumn of 1924 . Husain had to abdicate and left the kingdom. His claim to the caliphate no longer had any basis.

    A year later there was a heated debate in Egypt when the Egyptian judge ʿAlī ʿAbd ar-Rāziq published a book in which he questioned the need for a new caliph. He explained that neither the Koran nor the Hadith had identified the caliphate as a necessary institution, since Muhammad's task was purely spiritual, while his political actions were only relevant to the circumstances of his time and did not need to be continued in the form of the caliphate . Resistance to this position led to Abd ar-Raziq being dismissed from his judicial office. When the international caliphate congress, to which the Azhar had invited, finally took place in May 1926, the participants could not agree on the constitutional character of the caliphate, and after this congress no further supranational conference dealt with the caliphate question.

    Since then, a caliphate has only existed in various special Islamic communities such as the Ahmadiyya , the Muridiyya and the Senegalese Tijaniyya . Since the 1960s, the Fulani state in West Africa, founded by Usman dan Fodio at the beginning of the 19th century, has also been called the Caliphate, namely the Caliphate of Sokoto .


    • Patricia Crone , Martin Hinds: God's Caliph. Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam . 2003, ISBN 0-521-54111-5 .
    • Bawar Bammarny: The Caliphate State in Theory and Practice. In: Arab Law Quarterly (Brill). Volume 31, 2017, No. 2, pp. 163-186.
    • Hamilton AR Gibb: Luṭfī-Paşa on the Ottoman Caliphate. In: Oriens. 15, 1962, pp. 287-295.
    • Mikel de Epalza: Fonction du califat dans la communauté islamique: cas d'Al-Andalus. In: Simon Jargy (ed.): Islam communautaire (al-Umma). Concept et réalités. Labor et Fides, Geneva 1984. pp. 47-66.
    • Yves Thoraval, Ludwig Hagemann, Oliver Lellek (eds.): Lexicon of Islamic culture . Nikol, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-937872-05-1 .
    • Stefan Heidemann: The Aleppine Caliphate (AD 1261). From the end of the Caliphate in Baghdad via Aleppo to the restorations in Cairo . Brill, Leiden 1994, ISBN 90-04-10031-8 .
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    • Hugh N. Kennedy : The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates. 2nd Edition. London 2004.
    • Hugh N. Kennedy: The Caliphate. A pelican Introduction . Penguin, London, ISBN 978-0-14-198140-6 .
    • Tilman Nagel: State and Faith Community in Islam. History of the Muslims' notions of political order. 2 volumes. Artemis, Zurich / Munich 1981, ISBN 3-7608-4529-0 and ISBN 3-7608-4531-2 .
    • Janina Safran: The second Umayyad caliphate: the articulation of caliphal legitimacy in al-Andalus . Cambridge, Mass. 2000, ISBN 0-932885-24-1 .
    • Reza Pankhurst: The Inevitable Caliphate? A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, 1924 to the Present . Oxford University Press, New York 2013, ISBN 978-0-19-932799-7 .

    Web links

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

    See also

    Individual evidence

    1. Patricia Crone, Martin Hinds: God's Caliph. Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam. 2003.
    2. Heinz Halm: The Empire of the Mahdi. The rise of the Fatimids . Munich 1991.
    3. ^ Janina Safran: The second Umayyad caliphate: the articulation of caliphal legitimacy in al-Andalus .. 2000.
    4. ^ Tilman Nagel: State and Faith Community in Islam. Volume I, pp. 345-397.
    5. Hamilton AR Gibb: "Constitutional Organization" in Majid Khadduri and Herbert J. Liebesny (eds.): Origin and Development of Islamic Law Vol. I of Law in the Middle East . Middle East Institute, Washington, DC: 1955. pp. 3-27. Here p. 19.
    6. Heidemann's book on this episode.
    7. Bertold Spuler: The golden horde. The Mongols in Russia, 1223–1502. Harrassowitz, 1943, p. 69.
    8. Hamilton AR Gibb: Luṭfī-Paşa on the Ottoman Caliphate. 1962.
    9. ^ Tilman Nagel: State and Faith Community in Islam. Volume II, p. 177.
    10. ^ Azmi Özcan: Pan-Islamism. Indian Muslims, the Ottomans and Britain (1877-1924) . Leiden 1997.
    11. Kemal Karpat: The politicization of Islam. Reconstructing identity, state, faith, and community in the late Ottoman state. Oxford 2001, p. 86.
    12. Gail Minault: The Khilafat movement: religious symbolism and political mobilization in India. New York 1982.
    13. ^ The French translation of the treatise in Revue du Monde Musulman. 59, 1925, pp. 5-81.
    14. Hamid Enayat: Modern Islamic Political Thought. The Response of the Shīʿī and Sunnī Muslims to the Twentieth Century. London 2005, pp. 69-83.
    15. Law No. 431 of March 3, 1924 In: RG . No. 63 of March 6, 1924.
    16. ^ Martin Kramer: Islam assembled. The Advent of the Muslim Congress . New York 1986, pp. 86-105.
    17. ^ Martin Kramer: Islam assembled. The Advent of the Muslim Congress . New York 1986, p. 83.
    18. Kramer p. 99ff.
    19. DM Last: Sokoto. In: Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2nd Edition. Volume IX, p. 711b.