Khilafat and State

By Rafi Ahmad

The Islamic view is that sovereignty over the universe belongs to God, but mankind, as God’s deputy, is vested with authority in certain spheres, as a trust, for which it is accountable to God.

Hazrat Zafrullah Khan wrote:

As God’s sovereignty extends over the universe, the ultimate ideal of a state in Islam is a universal federation or confederation of autonomous states, associated together for upholding freedom of conscience, for the maintenance of peace, and for cooperation in promoting human welfare throughout the world…” [1]

The role played by a Khalifa is both spiritual and secular. According to, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad may Allah have mercy on him, Khalifatul-Masih IV, the implication of a Khalifa being the spiritual head of a confederation of states is that the Khalifa, if he sees fit, may relegate most or all his secular authority to the elected representatives of the members of the confederation [2]. Thus the concept of Khilafat transcends national sovereignty and ethnic divide and forms a truly universal supra-national entity.

A Khalifa has the promise of divine support so long as it remains firmly based on the precept of prophethood – that is, the principles and prototypes exemplified by prophets. He is bound by the ordinances of divine law. He decides questions of policy after consultation with the chosen representatives of the people. The concept of Khilafat is thus imbued with both secular and religious characteristics.

The institution of Khilafat is based on the precept of prophethood; and therefore, like prophethood, it can exist and flourish without a state.

Monarchy and Despotism

After the end of the rightly-guided Khilafat, the title of Khalifa was borne by the fourteen Umayyad kings of Damascus (661-750) and subsequently by the thirty-eight Abbasid monarchs of Baghdad (750-1258). After the fall of the Umayyad dynasty, the title was also assumed by the Spanish branch of the family who ruled in Spain at Córdoba (755–1031) and by the Faṭimid rulers of Egypt (909–1171). Thus there existed multiple contemporaneous caliphs from the 7th to 12th centuries [3].

The last Abbasid caliph of Cairo was captured in 1517 by the Ottoman sultan Selim I. The Ottoman sultans then claimed the title of Khalifa and brandished it for four centuries until it was abolished in 1924 by the Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the founder of Turkish Republic.

It is not uncommon for many scholars [4, 5] to state that the caliphate came to an end in 1924. But, as a matter of fact, it had reached its a nadir long time ago. What came to an end in 1924 was a vestigial and vacuous title misappropriated by a decadent monarchy, which, even in its imperial heyday, never represented the Muslim Ummah and nor had it exercised any positive influence over them since the 13thcentury.

Wishful Thinking

In 2005, President Bush warned [6]:

 “These Al Qaida terrorists are driven by a radical and perverted vision of Islam that rejects tolerance, crushes all dissent, and justifies the murder of innocent men, women and children in the pursuit of political power.  They hope to establish a violent political utopia across the Middle East, which they call caliphate … where all would be ruled according to their hateful ideology. This caliphate would be a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands”.

Mr. Bush is not alone in raising the spectre of the caliphate. After the recent unrest and demand for freedom and justice in the Arab lands, many public figures in academia and think tanks have expressed similar alarmist views, while some in the media have circulated wild caliphate conspiracy theories.

On the other end of the spectrum, the collective Muslim soul yearns for a global caliphate, which is cherished as a memory of past glories and timeless ideals. In recent years, interest among Muslims in international unity and the caliphate has grown. Popular Islamic movements identify a lack of spirituality and decline in personal religious observance as the root cause of the Muslim world’s problems, and claim that the caliphate cannot be successfully revived until these deficiencies are addressed.

Osama bin Laden has called [6] the 9/11 attacks

“a great step towards the unity of Muslims and establishing the righteous caliphate.”

A number of fundamentalist political parties have called for the restoration of the caliphate by uniting Muslim nations, either through peaceful political uprising or through force [7]. Two influential and radical pan-Islamic groups, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood, seek to restore the caliphate, but fail to differentiate between a militant Islamic state [8, 9] and the spirituality of the rightly-guided Khilafat. Some see the ineffectual Organisation of the Islamic Conferencean international organisation with 57 Muslim member states, as a precursor to the caliphate. Other scholars, like Tarek Masoud of Harvard Kennedy School, take a milder view envisioning the caliphate somewhat like the European Union for Muslims [10].

Clearly, at the core of the divergent ideas of restoration of the caliphate lies a minimal precondition of the political unity of the Muslim Ummah [7]. But that seems to be inconceivable in the present climate. In recent memory, Muslim countries have not been a picture of unity and harmony: the world has been a witness to the Black September of Jordan (1970), the failure of the Pan Arabic movement and of the United Arab Republic (1971), division of Pakistan (1971), the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the Darfur conflict (2003-2008), and the decision of the southern Sudan to secede from the north (2011). In a Friday sermon [11], Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul-Masih V, succinctly put it:

“How do they propose to establish Khilafat over every Muslim country when they cannot even agree on who could lead the prayer?”

The Ahmadiyya Khilafat categorically rejects militancy in every form and wages an intellectual jihad of the pen. When faced with bitter persecution, it practices patience and perseverance. When subjected to invidious intolerance, it preaches peace and tolerance. It champions the cause of the dispossessed and works towards uplifting the downtrodden.

The Ahmadiyya Khilafat has conquered no land and possesses no earthly dominion, but it wields its influence over the hearts and minds of millions by winning over one man and one woman at a time. It is a force for good in the world, and exemplifies, once again, an institution grounded in the precepts of prophethood.


  1. Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, Islamic Concept of the State,Review of ReligionsFebruary 1993
  2. Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, Islam International Publication, Ltd., 1992
  3. Caliphate”, Encyclopædia Britannica 2006, Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.
  4. Noah Feldman, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, Princeton University Press, 2008.
  5. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, 1996
  8. Kalim Bahadur, The Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, Chetana Publications, New Delhi, 1977.
  9. S. Leiken and S. Brooke, The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood, Foreign Affairs Magazine, Vol. 86, No. 2, March 2007.
  10. Global Public Square, CNN, February 20, 2011.
  11. Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Friday (25-2-2011) Sermon

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