In the following pages I have given some of the opinions of Muslim doctors on the subject of the caliphate. The subject is of greater importance in the political work of the immediate future than almost any other question in view of the fact that within the last two generations several millions of our fellow-subjects in India have prayed for the Sultan of Turkey in the Khutba; and it is becoming increasingly important that the place and office of the caliphate should be clearly understood in the West.

The extracts which I have made from Muslim writers will serve to show how foolish and mistaken it is for European writers to compare the caliphate with the papacy. In the sense that the learned and charming writer the Right Honourable Ameer Ali writes1 it is of course true, but the very clear distinction between political and religious allegiance so familiar in Western states is flatly contradicted by the Muslim theory of the caliphate.

The clearest and most scholarly exposition of the caliphate is to be found in the Muqaddima of Ibn Khaldun, of which following is a free translation.

The Caliph is the representative of the giver of the religious law (Sahibu-l-shari'ati) in maintaining religion and governing the world. The office may be termed the Khilafate or the Imamate indifferently. When the Caliph is called Imam he is, as it were, compared with the leader, whose movements in prayer must be imitated by the whole assembly. The great Imamate is a term often used of the Caliph's office. He is called Caliph because he caliphs (i.e. succeeds or represents) the prophet; or 'the Caliph of God', or more fully,

1 Infra, p. 169. I have refrained from comment.


'Caliph of the apostle of God'. Many doctors took exception to the title khalifatu-llah, and refused to admit its propriety.

The appointment of an Imam is a matter of necessity from the point of view of law founded on the Ijma' of the Companions and Followers. Immediately on the death of the Prophet they took the oath of fealty to Abu Bakr and surrendered to him the conduct of their affairs. Succeeding centuries have followed this precedent, and such universal agreement indicates the necessity, and sanctions the setting up, of an Imam. (According to the Mu'tazilites the sole raison d'ętre of the Imam is to carry out the law: so that if the people were only righteous in their dealings there would be no need for an Imam. These views are to be attributed to their hatred of the abuse of power and position inseparable from human potentates.)

Four qualifications necessarily pertain to this office: Knowledge, Justice, Capacity (or competence), and the power to exercise the senses and limbs which reflect the activities of mind and body. A fifth condition, namely, that its holder should be a member of the tribe of the Quraish has been the subject of dispute.1

The first two qualities are essential because the imamate is a religious office (mansab dini). The third, Capacity, implies courage both in internal administration and in war, statesmanship, and leadership, and a knowledge of the political situation at home and abroad. Thus there is required of him the active exercise of mind and body so that he may defend religion and fight the enemy, and thereby fulfill the commands of the law and the claiming of the public weal.

The fourth condition contains an important implication. It includes the power of unrestrained action. If the Imam loses his independence through captivity or similar restraint it is as though he had lost the use of his limbs and faculties. He cannot be Imam. On the other hand, if it is only a

1 Our author's ruler approaches the ideal, yet it is interesting to see how temporal power is, in theory at all events, indissolubly linked with the caliphate, or, as he expresses it here, the imamate.


question of the loss of some of his powers through the action of subjects who have not overtly revolted against his authority, and it is found that he acts according to the requirements of law and justice, his imamate is to be allowed. But if not, Muslims may invoke the help of one to depose him and fulfil the duties of a Caliph.

With regard to descent from the Quraish it must be admitted that the principle was accepted by the Companions on the day of Al Saqifa. The Companions met the claim of the Medinotes to the right to elect Sa'd ibn 'Abada by the words of the prophet, 'The Imams are from the Quraish" (Al Aimatu min Quraishin), whereupon the Medinotes receded from their position. Moreover, there is in the Sahih the authentic tradition: 'This authority shall not cease in this tribe of Quraish,' and there are many other hadith to the same effect. History relates how the Quraish at home dissipated their strength in luxury and idleness, while their armies fought battles in all parts of the world, so that failure to consolidate and conserve their resources made the burden of the caliphate a task beyond their strength, and foreigners came to be invested with supreme power.

Now many doctors go so far as to deny the necessity of Quraishite birth as a qualification for an Imam, relying on the literal sense of the words of the prophet, 'Hearken and obey even if a slavering negro be set over you.' And again, 'Umar said, 'If Salim the client of Hudhaifa were alive, I would have made him ruler.' The first proves nothing, for it is only a supposition; and the second rests on the opinion of only one of the Companions, and is therefore not authoritative. The great majority of Muslim doctors regard Quraishite birth as essential, and that one of that tribe must be Imam, though he be impotent to direct the affairs of the Believers. But we may refute this by pointing out that the condition of capacity cannot be fulfilled in such a case. What then was the reason for the doctrine that the Imam must be of the Quraish? Every law has a definite object, and the object of this law was not only to honour the prophet as is


generally believed. It was also to ensure the safety and well-being of the Muslim people. The Quraish were formerly the noblest and bravest of the Arabs and best fitted to link together the warring factions of the Arabian peninsula. No other tribe would have been able to put an end to dissension and lead Muslims to victory. The legislator, then, declared that an Imam must be of the tribe of the Quraish because they were obviously best equipped in every respect to maintain law and order. The Quraishite domination was more or less justified under the Umayyads and Abbasids. But if we recognize the principle that the legislator is not making laws for one time and one people, we shall see that the condition of 'capacity' at once applies. Applying, then, the motive underlying the dogma that the Imam must be of the tribe of the Quraish, we say that he who guides the destinies of the Muslim peoples, like the Quraish of old, must be renowned for patriotism, influence and power: dominating his generation he must be able to command the obedience of others, and unite them in the defence of the commonwealth. When God appointed the Caliph his representative (naiban 'anhu) He ordered him to seek his people's welfare and to protect them from disaster. And it is certain that He would not entrust this task to those who were impotent to fulfill it.

At this point we may note that the Shi'as' conception of the Imamate is quite different. With them the Imamate is the foundation of Islam. It cannot even be supposed that the prophet suffered the Imamate to be dependent on popular sanction. He, say they, appointed 'Ali; and though this assertion involves the branding of 'Umar and 'Uthman as usurpers they do not stop short of this folly. To support their claim they advance certain traditions which are unknown to men learned in the sunna and the law. Most of them are inventions (maudu') or come from tainted sources (matun fi tariqihi); or, if genuine, are not susceptible of their corrupt interpretations. These proofs are from 'clear' and 'hidden' sources (jali wa khafi). Of the first 'Who owns me as master has 'Ali as his master' is an example; of the second,


we may mention their interpretation of the events at Mecca when the prophet sent Abu Bakr to inform the people of the revelation of the suratu-i-barati and afterwards sent 'Ali to read it. This shows, they argue, that 'Ali took precedence of Abu Bakr. Such are the arguments on which they rely.

The caliphate was converted into an imperial throne by the natural pressure of circumstances. In The Sahih we read, 'God only sends a prophet when his people can defend him.' The exponent of sacred law does not care for this spirit. He prefers to lay stress on the Quranic injunctions to avoid pride and worldly display: his eyes are on the next world. Though he disapproves of imperial might he does not condemn it in its several activities, e.g. compelling respect for religion and securing the public weal. The 'first four Caliphs displayed a dislike towards luxury and ostentatious display of state and pomp. But this was because they had one and all been inured to the privations of a desert life. They lived on the meanest food and amid miserable conditions. The conditions prevailing in the Umayyad times made it necessary for men to rally to the reigning prince to save the country from the horrors of civil war. The later princes of this line, it must be confessed, gave themselves up to gross and sensual pleasures till the people gave the kingdom to the Abbasids. Through the impiety of some of this race the kingdom was taken from the Arabs altogether.

Yet though the caliphate became a monarchy it retained its essential characteristics for a long time. The ordinances of religion were enforced and men kept to the right paths. It was in the compelling force underlying authority that the change was made. Whereas in the past it was religion, it came to be the power of party passion ('asabiyya) and the sword. In the generation that followed the reign of Al Rashid nothing remained of the caliphate but its name, and that only while the racial pride ('asabiyya) of the Arabs supported it. With the subjugation of the Arabs the caliphate died, and all authority was invested in the monarchy. Foreign monarchs in the East, it is true, treated the Caliphs with respect from


a motive of piety, but they, claimed for themselves the titles and honorifics of the monarch.

A necessary preliminary to the installation of the Caliph is the bai'a or oath of allegiance tendered in the name of the Muslim people. He who makes the bai'a recognizes the rights of the Caliph over the Muslims, and undertakes to obey all his orders whether they are agreeable to his own interests or not. He places his hand in the hand of the Caliph when pledging his faith to confirm the undertaking, just as do buyers and sellers. In fact, the word bai'a is derived from ba'a, to buy or sell; hence bai'a meant a mutual handtaking:1 this is its meaning in ordinary and legal language, and, indeed, what is meant in the hadith by the bai'atu-l-nabiyyi on the night of 'Aqaba and near the tree. So of the bai'a of the Caliphs and of the oath of the bai'a. The Caliphs used to require an oath embodying a formal declaration of assent to the compact. The bai'a now consists of a salutation modelled on the court of Kosroes: one must kiss the ground, the hand, foot, or hem of the monarch's garment. Bai'a has thus lost its earlier meaning, though it still contains the idea of promising obedience by a compact: the essential idea of joining hands has been lost, the humble posture of the subject being a necessary concession to court etiquette and the dignity of the sovereign. So general has this form of bai'a become that it must be regarded as valid.

As has been explained, the Caliph is the representative of the lawgiver, and acts for him in protecting religion and governing the world. The lawgiver's religious function is to compel men to observe their religious obligations, and it is his duty to secure the temporal prosperity of his subjects in his character of temporal ruler. The religious power of the Caliph is exercised through peculiarly Muslim offices which are subordinate to him. These are connected with public prayer, religious decisions, civil justice, the Jihad, or

1 Cf. the similar act when giving a pledge in Job xvii. 3, mi hu leyadhi yittaqea', and Prov. xvii. 28, xxii. 26.


war against unbelievers,1 and the police—all of which are subordinate to the great imamate, which is the caliphate. The most exalted office of all is the Imamate in prayer. It is higher than the mulk or sovereign power in its essential nature, for the prophet's appointment of Abu Bakr to represent him in prayer was taken by the Companions to carry with it the appointment to temporal supremacy over the Muslim people. Unless the latter were dependent on the former such an assumption would have been groundless.

The government of the great mosques pertains to the Caliph, though he may refer it to the sultan, vizier, or qadi; so also the right of presiding at the five daily prayers, the Friday prayer, and those of the two great feasts and on eclipses and prayers for rain. The first four Caliphs and the Umayyads jealously guarded their privileges of presiding at public prayer, but when the caliphate became absorbed in sovereignty, and the rulers would not recognize other men as their equals in matters religious or temporal, they allowed others to replace them in presiding over public prayers.

The Caliph should appoint to the office of mufti the most worthy scholar and legist, and himself exercise a proper control over unworthy aspirants to that office. The Qadi's appointment is likewise subject to the caliphate. His office is to apply the decisions and principles of the sacred book and the sunna to the settlement of all disputes and actions between litigants. Originally this office was filled by the Caliph himself. 'Umar first delegated it to another. The functions of the qadi have been enlarged so as to include the administration of the affairs of the insane, orphans, bankrupts,

1 'The Mohammadan Common Law makes the fighting only a positive injunction where there is a general summons (that is, where the infidels invade a Mussulman territory, and the Imam for the time being issues a general proclamation, requiring all persons to stand forth to fight), for in this case war becomes a positive injunction with respect to the whole of the inhabitants.'— The Hedaya or Guide; or, A Commentary on the Mussulman Laws, translated by Charles Hamilton, London, 1791, vol. ii, Book IX, p. 141.


the testamentary dispositions of Muslims, pious benefactions, and so on. Formerly the qadi was charged with the righting of wrongs — a function which requires the strong hand of the magistrate to enforce its decrees. Up to Al Muhtadi the Caliphs exercised this function themselves, though sometimes they delegated it to their qadis. Sometimes too the qadis were made leaders of bands to carry the jihad into enemy territory.

The office of chief of police is a religious function based on the religious law.1 His powers were more extensive than those of the qadi, for he had power to act to prevent crime and oppression. Later on the functions of these two offices were absorbed by the sultan whether they were confided to him by the Caliph or not. The duties of the police are of two kinds: first, to establish the guilt of suspected criminals, and to apply the legal penalties—mutilation or the lex talionis (sometimes the holder of this office is called wali), and secondly those duties which pertain to the qadi in relation to the punishment of evil-doers.

The office of hisba or local police carries with it a far-ranging commission. He may act in the public interest in putting down public abuses and offences against public safety or morals.

The office of inspector of coinage (sikka) is also religious, and is dependent on the caliphate. Certain offices have been suppressed or have fallen into desuetude, or have been absorbed into the temporal administration (sarat sultaniy-yatan). Of the latter we may mention the government of the provinces, the vizirate, the supreme command of the army, and the collection and administration of the public revenues. Jihad has practically ceased except in a few countries; where

1 This passage from one of the great classic writers of Islam shows how meaningless such phrases as the spiritual prerogatives', or 'the purely religious attributes', sound in Muslim ears. It the Chief Commissioner of Police is a religious (dini) office, what are 'purely religious functions', and by what word do politicians propose to translate 'spirituals in connexion with the Caliph's jurisdiction?


it survives it is for the most part dependent on the sultanate. Another office which has disappeared is the registry of sharifs, set up to establish the veracity or otherwise of those who claim to be descended from the prophet.

The title Commander of the Faithful (amir ul mu'minin) pertains to the caliphate. It dates from the time of the first Caliphs. When Abu Bakr was proclaimed Caliph the Companions and the rest of the Muslims hailed him as Caliph of the messenger of God. Umar in his turn was called 'the Caliph of the Caliph of the messenger of God'. Obviously there was no end to such a title if it was to be indefinitely extended thus to each succeeding Caliph, and so it was decided to replace it by another title. The title amir ul mu'minin was adapted from one used of the army leaders. In the Jihiliyya the prophet was called Amir of Mecca and Amir of the Hijaz, so that when one of the Companions hailed 'Umar as amir ul mu'minin the title was generally approved and adopted. Since then the title has been inherited by succeeding Caliphs. It is not without significance that leaders of rebellion against existing authority such as the Shi'as and Abbasids at first adopted the title Imam, and after they were secure in the government claimed the title 'Commander of the Faithful'.

The title properly was a sign that its possessors reigned over the Hijaz, Syria, and 'Iraq, the native land of the Arabs; and though each Abbasid Caliph had a distinct name they all bore the title amir ul mu'minin. So also did the Fatimids of Africa and Egypt. The Umayyads of Spain followed their ancestors in not adopting titles like the Abbasids. They did not assume the title Commander of the Faithful because they could not hope to obtain possession of the caliphate, and because they did not hold the Hijaz, the cradle of Islam. But in the beginning of the fourth century when 'Abdu-l-Rahman came to the throne he took the title Al Nasir li Din Allah with the honorific amir ul mu'minin, being moved to do this by reports of the humiliations to which the Caliphs of the East were subjected. Cut off from all communication with


the outside world, they were insulted and even blinded and murdered. His example was followed by his successors until ruin overtook the Arab caliphate. The Caliphs in Cairo and Morocco and the petty kings of Spain all suffered dishonour and contempt from their subjects, and with the degradation of the caliphate went the essential unity of Islam.

Our next extract is from the 'History of the Caliphs', written by Jalalu-1-Din Al Suyuti (849—911).1 It is interesting to observe that he refuses even to mention the descendants of 'Ubaid Allah al Mahdi, who assumed the title of Caliph in 296, on the ground that the assumption of the title was illegal for many reasons, of which he thinks it sufficient to mention that he was not of the tribe of the Quraish. Moreover, Al Suyuti devotes some pages to discussing the question as to whether the caliphate as an office ever existed in the mind of the prophet at all.

The two shaikhs, he says, have recorded regarding 'Umar that he said when he was stabbed, 'Were I to name a successor then verily he named a successor who was greater than I (i.e. Abu Bakr). And were I to leave you without one, then verily he also hath left you so who was greater than I.'

The authority of Hudhail ibn Shurahbil is quoted to refute the claim of the Alids that Muhammad bequeathed the caliphate to 'Ali. But the objection is raised, 'Why then was not 'Ali the immediate successor of Muhammad rather than Abu Bakr?

Writing of the fall of the caliphate he says: 'Things came to such a pass that nothing remained of the caliphate in the provinces but the name, after it had been that in the time of the children of 'Abdu-l-Malik b. Marwan the Khutba was read in the name of the Caliphs in all the regions of the earth, the east and the west, the right hand and the left) wherever the true believer had been victorious, and none in any one of the provinces was appointed to hold a single office

1 Tr. by Major H. S. Jarrett, Calcutta, 881, pp. 2 ff. (Bibliotheca Indica, xii, Series III).


except by order of the Caliph. Regarding the immoderate lengths to which things went, verily in the fifth century in Spain alone there were six persons who assumed the title Caliph.'

Al Suyuti's account1 of the temporary restitution of the caliphate in Cairo after the death of Musta'sim at the hands of Hulagu illustrates the threefold qualification required of an aspirant to the caliphate, namely, descent from the Quraish, public election and homage, and temporal power. 'He rode through Cairo, and subsequently certified his family descent through the chief Kadi Taju-l-Din b. Bint Al 'Azz, and he was then acknowledged Caliph. The first who swore allegiance to him was the sultan, next the chief Kadi Taju-l-Din … and lastly the nobles according to their degree. This occurred on the 13th Rajab (12 May, 1261). His name was impressed on the coinage and read in the Khutba, and he received the surname of his brother, and the people rejoiced. He rode in procession on the Friday, bearing the black mantle, to the mosque in the citadel. He then mounted the pulpit and preached a discourse in which he extolled the nobility of the house of 'Abbas, blessed the Caliph and the Muslims, and prayed before the people. Next he proceeded to the ceremony of the bestowal on the sultan of the robe of honour usually granted by the Caliph and the diploma of investiture. A pavilion was erected without the walls of Cairo, and the Caliph and the sultan rode to the pavilion on Monday 4th Sha'ban, and there were present the nobles, kadis, and prime minister. The Caliph with his own hand invested the sultan with the dress of honour. . .'

Lastly, we may cite the views of a learned and distinguished Indian writer of today on this question:2 'Until the rise of the house of 'Abbas there was little or no difference between the assertors of the right of the Ahlu-l-Bait to the pontificate and the upholders of the right of the people to elect their own

1 Op. cit., p. 563.

2 The Spirit of Islam, by Ameer Ali, Syed, Calcutta, 1902, pp. 288 ff.


spiritual and temporal chiefs. . . . The Church and State were linked together: the Caliph was the Imam — temporal chief as well as spiritual head. The doctors of law and religion were his servants. He presided at the convocations, and guided their decisions. Hence the solidarity of the Sunni church. . . . The question of the Imamate, or the spiritual headship of the Mussalman commonwealth, is henceforth the chief battle-ground of the two sects. The Shi'as hold that the spiritual heritage bequeathed by Muhammad devolved on 'Ali and his descendants. They naturally repudiate the authority of the Yamaat (the people) to elect a spiritual head who should supersede the rightful claims of the Prophet's family.

According to the Sunnis the Imamate is not restricted to the family of Muhammad. But no one can be elected to the office unless he is a Quraishite?

In a note the author writes: 'There is a great difference of opinion, however, on this point. Ibn Khaldun, being a Yemenite himself, maintained that it was not necessary for the Imam to be a Quraishite; and many Sunni doctors have held the same view. The Sultans of Turkey have since the time of Salim I, the father of Sulaiman the Magnificent, assumed the title of Caliph. They base their title upon a renunciation of the caliphate and Imamate in favour of Salim by the last Abbasid Caliph of Egypt.'

They also hold that the Imamate is indivisible, and that it is not lawful to have two Imams at one and the same time. As Christianity could yield obedience to but one Pope, so the Muslim world could yield obedience to but one lawful Caliph. . . . As formerly, the Ummayads, the Abbasids, and the Fatimids reigned contemporaneously at Grenada, Bagdad, and Cairo; so at the present day the sovereigns of the house of Kalar and Osman possess the dignity of Caliph at Teheran and Constantinople, and the rulers of Morocco in West Africa. It must be said, however, that the Sultan of Turkey, the custodian of the two holy cities1 and the holder

1 The Sultan is no longer the de facto Guardian of the Holy Places


of the insignia of the Caliphate—the banner, the sword, and the mantle of the Prophet—has the best claim to the dignity.'

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