The Concept of Khilafat in the Holy Quran
For our discussion, we would like to make a distinction between “khilafat” and “caliphate” for reasons other than mere etymological development of the words.
In Arabic “khalifa” means “successor/deputy/vicegerent”, and “khilafat” is the dominion of a khalifa, or the institution that runs under the leadership of a khalifa.
In English, “caliph” is the chief civil and political Muslim ruler regarded as a successor of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him).
But in the Holy Quran, the words khalifa (in singular) and khulafa or khalaa’if (in plural) have wider connotations than “caliph” and “caliphs” in English. For example, the Holy Quran uses the title of “khalifa on the earth” for Prophet Adam as “God’s deputy or vicegerent on the earth” (2:31). In Arabic we can call him Khalifatul-Allah, but we cannot call him as ‘God’s Caliph.’
Similarly, David is called a “khalifa”, a vicegerent of God in the Holy Quran: ‘O David!
We have made you a khalifa (vicegerent) in the earth; so judge between men with justice and follow not vain desires, lest it should lead you astray from the way of Allah.’ (38:27). But we never say “Caliph David” in the English language; he is called “King David”. Moreover, in the Holy Quran the words khalaa’if and khulafa (plural of khalifa) have been used for some nations or specific generations in the sense that God did a great favor to them and made them dominant over the earth:
“And remember the time when He made you as khulafa after the people of Noah, and increased you abundantly is constitution.” (7:75).
“And remember the time when He appointed you as khulafa after ‘Ad, and assigned you an abode in the land.” (7:75).
But in English we do not refer to any nation or generation as “Caliphs.”
The Holy Quran specifically uses the term khulafa indicating a special favor of Allah to the people not only by granting them worldly power, but more specifically as a spiritual reward for their righteousness. In this sense, to retain the blessing of khilafat, vigilance is required as it is a test and a trail for righteous people.
“And He it is Who has made you khalaa’if (successors to win favors of God) on the earth, and then exalted some of you over the others in degrees of rank, so that He may try you by that which He has given you” (6:166).
“Then We made you khalaa’if (successors) in the earth after them (i.e. the earlier generation), that We might see how you would act.” (10:15).
“Who answers the distressed person when he calls upon Him, and removes the evil, and makes you khulafa (successors) in the earth?Is there a God besides Allah? Little it is that you reflect” (27:63).
In this verse the blessing of khilafat is closely connected with God’s answering prayer of the distressed, and removing a sorrowful state. Again, “Verily, Allah knows the secrets of the heavens and the earth. Verily, He knows full well all that lies hidden in the breasts. He it is Who made you khalaa’if (successors/vicegerents) in the earth. So he, who disbelieves, will himself suffer the consequences of his disbelief” (35:40).
In the above quoted verses, the Holy Quran lays emphasis on the moral, ethical and spiritual aspects as a requirement for the believers to receive the favor of khilafat from God. “Allah has promised to those among
you who posses faith, and do good works, that …continue reading at alislam.org