The Man Made Caliphate | Pergas Blog

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The Man Made Caliphate

15 November 2018 9:39 am // Written by Muhammad Ashraf Bin Anwar;

The Arabic word ‘khalifah’– a successor or the deputy [Caliph] of the ‘khilafah’ [Caliphate] has historically been used extensively, and at times been manipulated for perverse political and personal agendas, detrimental to Islam’s rich tradition of inclusivity, peace and universality. Extreme modern ‘Khalifatist’ in the likes of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the others, not only has been casting a dark shadow on Islam’s rich history but also attempting to destroy the very legacy that the first four rightly–guided (rashidun) deputies [Caliphs] preserved.

While some historians and intellectual scholars in the likes of Ali Abdel Razak, Patricia Cones and others [1], challenge the very foundation on the notion of the Caliphate being an ‘Islamic doctrine’ or a religious duty; the majority of the traditional legal and jurist scholars [2] argue that the Caliphate was unequivocally indeed an obligation (wujub al-khilafah) with the substantiation of only the scholastic consensus.

Regrettably, extreme radicalized groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI) and others, manipulated and exploited such sentiment of the first four rightly– guided (rashidun) deputies’ Caliphates (khilafah) to justify their quixotically problematic quest of a twenty first century Islamic Caliphate. Realisation on the legal aspect of the Caliphate is thus imperatively crucial to further debunk their popular rhetoric of establishing the Islamic state under the facade of a ‘divine cause’, religious obligation and the ultimate salvation to our current predicament.

The Qur’an and the Caliphate

As the notion of the Islamic Caliphate is a pivotal aspect that has consistently been asserted and disseminated by various militant groups and individuals, revisiting traditional Islamic sources and narratives that implied such empirical claim is crucial to deconstruct this ‘divine cause’.

At its roots, the term ‘Khalifah’ indeed did appear on several occasions in the Qur’an:“Just think when your Lord said to the angels: “Lo! I am about to place a caliph on earth,” [3]

“O Dawood! Surely We have made you a ruler [Caliph] in the land; so judge between men with justice and do not follow desire, lest it should lead you astray from the path of Allah,” [4]

However, such verses can hardly advocate a satisfactory attestation to a specific concept or features of a government. “Many of the verses of which the term occurs were incapable of any interpretation directly connecting them with the political institution they were to defend, since the reference to Successor (khalifah) or Successors was made in general terms and clearly had no reference to one single exalted individual.” [5]

Although there are some prophetic narratives that sanction on the obedience towards the ruler, a critical analysis on the prophetic traditions would similarly substantiate that there is no particular concept or a specific features of a government as mentioned before in regards with the Qur’an.

Moreover, from a historical point of view, following the death and the assasination of Ali–the fourth Caliph of Islam, Muawiyah emerged triumphant and established the first heredity dynasty of Islam: the Umayyad Caliphate, which was primarily perceived by many historians as the first Islamic monarchy Caliphate by contrast to the first four rightly–guided (rashidun) deputies’ Caliphates.

Historical and archelogical evidence of the ruins of Anjar – the first strong hold of the Umayyads, also established that the Umayyads not only have adopted the architectural style of the Byzantine empire but are also familiar with the the imperial rule of Persian and the Byzantine empire. Both system were  then taken by them and incorporated to build the system of an Islamic Caliphate. In view of this, some scholars also noted the apparent features of the Sasanid empire; which subsequently concluded that the notion of the Caliphate as an originally an Islamic product was in fact factually incorrect.

Muslim and the State

Although the idea of an Islamic State has consistently been romanticised by militant groups and being contested and debated amongst jurist and scholars; current socio-political context with the existence of a democratic elected government and the concept of secularism give rise to various inquiries such as – the legitimacy of the Islamic State or the need to be in an Islamic State to fully fulfil the religious obligation. While some of these prevailing questions have already been addressed earlier in this article, it is imperative to note that Muslims living under a non-Muslim government is not un-Islamic.

Although the majority of early Muslim jurists affirmed that Muslims should never live under an un- Islamic government without a valid justification, one could argue that such conclusion was primarily based on their humiliating experiences after Christianity’s reconquest of Muslim towns in Spain.

Today, the notion of living under non-Muslim government or state is not the exception but in fact a norm for many Muslim around the globe. As long as freedom of religion are supported and the five necessities (al-Darurat al-Khams) in fiqh – religion, intellect, self, property, dignity and honor are protected and preserved with no ‘apparent’ contradiction of the Islamic principles, Muslim are not obligated to migrate or live under a Muslim rule.


Evidently, as the notion of ‘al-khilafah’ [The Caliphate] does not have any foundation in the Qur’anic text but in fact a man-made notion that was inspired by foreign features in the likes of the Byzantine, Persian and even the Sasanid empire, the establishment of an Islamic State or Caliphate ‘as asserted by the extremist militant group’ is thus not an obligation or a religious duty.

As there is no emphasis on the ‘political dimension’ as presented in the earlier parts of this article, and in light of the existence of a democratic elected and just government that support freedom of religion and preserve the very fabric human sanctity and the five mentioned necessities in fiqh, the notion of being in a Caliphate as a religious duty is in fact a quixotically unpragmatic and problematic statement.

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[1] (1999). Khalil Athamina – The Pre-Islamic Roots of the Early Muslim Caliphate : The Emergence of Abu Bakr. Der Islam: Journal of the History and Culture of the Middle East 76 (1):1-32.  

[2] Muhammad Azfar Anwar – Before The Caliphate, Mphil Paper at

[3] Imam an-Nawawi, Al-Juzayiri, al-Qurtubi  (based on the lecture notes in Azhar University)

[4] Qur’an [ al-Baqarah 2 : 30 ]

[5] Qur’an [Sad 38 : 26]

[6] (2005). Crone,   Patricia.  Medieval Islamic Political Thought. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. 462 p.


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