Khilafat: its two portfolios, spiritual and temporal

By Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah and Dr. Zia H Shah

Baitul Futuh Mosque, London

With the political turmoil spreading from one Arab country to the next, during the last few weeks, several fears and demons have been reawakened.  Could these changes herald development of a theocracy or establishment of Caliphate in some Muslim country?  These speculations have served as a golden opportunity for some fear mongers.  For example, Glenn Beck claims that Caliphate will result from the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt.  Rush Limbaugh and Donald Rumsfeld have also been tilting at windmills and have joined Glenn’s Jihad against presumed Caliphate.  We label the commentary of Glenn and like as fear mongering, as there is no political tool available in the Muslim world to reestablish Caliphate.

What is Caliphate?  After the demise of the Prophet Muhammad, Caliphate – spiritual, moral and political succession — was established in 632, akin to the Papacy in Catholic Church.  Early on it was a democratic and beneficent institution, but, unfortunately, within a few decades it deteriorated into kingship, largely giving up the spiritual and moral dimension and providing only some political leadership to the Muslims, in some form, over the centuries.  The consolation for the believers, as they look back on the history, is that they find the events followed the predictions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, as he had said, “Prophethood shall remain among you as long as God wills. Then khilafat on the pattern of prophethood will commence and remain as long as He wills. A corrupt monarchy shall then follow and it shall remain as long as God wills. There shall then be a tyrannical despotism which shall remain as long as God wills. Then once again khilafat will emerge on the precept of prophethood.”

Khilafat after prophethood can have two portfolios, mainly spiritual and moral and secondarily temporal.  It was a special blessing of Allah for Islam that in the early history of Islam, after the demise of the Holy Prophet, the two portfolios were combined in one person during the tenure of the Rashidun Khulafa, the rightly guided Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, may Allah be pleased with them all.  This helped tremendously in the early consolidation of Islam.  This, however, is not the case after every prophet and was indeed not the case after Jesus, may peace be on him.  His earlier followers did not enjoy any temporal influence for a long time to come.  After the rightly guided Caliphs the title of Caliph was retained by the kings and temporal rulers but they largely lost moral and spiritual legitimacy and influence.  This gulf was filled by the Mujaddids and Sufis, over the centuries, in various parts of the Islamic Empire.

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