Munazzah Chou, UK
The concept of caliphate is the idea of leadership of Muslim society according to the will of God. Many Muslims have embraced the argument that such an institution is the best way of ordering society but the form it should take has been interpreted in many ways. Western writers have referred to caliphate as a ‘many-splendored’ concept, about which ‘there is no one way, no single template or legal framework’ by which to define it. They cite caliphs through history of many different sorts; warrior caliphs, pious caliphs, intellectual caliphs, pleasure-loving caliphs, incompetent caliphs, cruel and tyrannical caliphs. Some suggest that the ‘interpretations of what constitutes a legitimate caliph are so loose that it’s surprising how few caliphates have been declared…’ They suggest that this can be explained by the fact that any declaration would have been ‘Pythonesque in its deluded grandeur.’ That ISIS held control of as much territory as Hadhrat Abu Bakr, the first Rightly-Guided Caliph—the claim to Caliphate made by Baghdadi looks far more credible and the ‘mass executions and public crucifixions have also done much to erase any lingering aura of comedy.’
Caliphate is an English term which may well be nebular or ambiguous but the concept of khilafat, the original Arabic word, in the true Islamic sense has specific application. The Holy Quran refers to khilafat as a favour from God. The Holy Quran lays emphasis on the moral and spiritual requirement for the believers to receive the favour of khilafat. Much of our understanding of khilafat is based on the following Quranic verse:
‘Allah had promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely make them Successors in the earth [khalifas], as He made Successors from among those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them; and that He will surely give them in exchange security and peace after their fear: They will worship Me, and they will not associate anything with Me. Then whoso is ungrateful after that, they will be the rebellious.’ (Surah Al-Nur, Verse 56)
In this verse, the Holy Quran presents the institution of khilafat as a reward for collective piety, i.e. to ‘those who believe and do good works’. Thus God’s promise to establish khilafat as a blessing for mankind is firmly rooted in the moral and spiritual condition of sincere believers. When these conditions are fulfilled they will be made the leaders of nations; their state of fear will give place to a condition of safety and security, Islam will reign supreme in the world, and above all the unity of God will become firmly established.
In the book of Ahadith, Musnad Ahmad by Imam Ahmad bin Hambal, there is a Hadith narrated by Hadhrat Huzaifa (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) 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.’
[Masnad-Ahmad, Mishkat, Chapter Al-Anzar Wal Tahzir].
In this Hadith, the promise of khilafat is connected with Prophethood on two separate occasions. In between the two eras of khilafat, the reference to “the corrupt/erosive monarchy” and “despotic kingship” is what we could term “caliphate” but not khilafat. The Arabic words showing the relationship between khilafat and Prophethood are “khilafat -ala- minhaj-e-nabuwwat”, that is, khilafat on the lines of Prophethood. This explains the principle of khilafat as a continuation of the mission of the Prophet i.e the objectives of khilafat and Prophethood remain the same; moral and spiritual development of mankind.
There is therefore, a clear distinction between khilafat and caliphate. Caliphate deals with civil and political domain of the rulers in Islamic history, but khilafat deals with moral, religious and spiritual leadership of mankind. Therefore, a political ruler who might be called “caliph” may not be a khalifa in the Quranic sense of the word.
Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Messiah and Mahdi (on whom be peace), described khilafat as a second manifestation of God’s power – the advent of Prophets being the first manifestation. This second manifestation is the time of the demise of Prophets of God when the enemy thinks that the followers of a Prophet are in disarray and the community will be destroyed, ‘then God manifests His strong hand of might and sustains the collapsing community.’
After the death of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (on whom be peace) in 1908, after a hiatus of 13 hundred years, the divinely-guided Khilafat in Islam re-emerged in accordance with the prophecies of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam AhmadAS. This, the Ahmadiyya Khilafat differs significantly from the ideas of some Muslim groups with misplaced aspirations of political dominance. The Ahmadiyya Khilafat is apolitical; purely spiritual and religious in nature. While other Muslims wait for a Mahdi who would wage a “bloody” Jihad against the infidels, the Ahmadiyya Khilafat upholds the motto of “Love for all, hatred for none” and expounds the true greater Jihad as that which entails overcoming sinful and immoral temptations of the self.
The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) has reassured us of the unending blessings of this divine institution,
‘You should therefore, neither grieve over what I have told you (that the hour of my demise is nigh) nor should you be heart-broken for it is mandatory that you see God’s second manifestation. The coming of that manifestation is a lot better for you because it is eternal whose succession will not terminate till the end of days. When I go, Allah will send to you the second manifestation and it will stay with you forever.’
(Al-Wassiyat, pp. 6-7)
May Allah enable us to continue with our endeavours to become deserving of this divine blessing. Ameen
Graeme Wood, What ISIS’s Leader Really Wants, https://newrepublic.com/article/119259/isis-history-islamic-states-new-caliphate-syria-and-iraq
The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, Vol. 4, pp. 1869-1870.
Khilafat and Caliphate, Mubasher Ahmad, M.A., LL.B. https://www.alislam.org/topics/khilafat/khilafat-and-caliphate.pdf