The Caliph-less century

The centenary of an absence


When exactly did the Caliphate come to an end? The abolition by the Turkish Grand National Assembly took place on 3 March 1924, which corresponded to 30 Rajab 1342. The official calendar of the Osmanli Caliphate, and for the beginning of the succeeding Turkish Republic, was the Rumi calendar, which corresponded to the Gregorian calendar, but which began with the Hijra. According to it, the date was 3 Mart 1340. Like the Osmanlis, the Rumi calendar has ended up on the dust heap of history. This calendar had been introduced during the Tanzimat reforms in 1840.

The Hijri calendar seems most appropriate for the abolition of an institution so inextricably bound up with Islam. Therefore, it seems appropriate to mark the centenary of its abolition on 30 Rajab 1442, which will fall next Friday (if the month runs to 30 days), rather than 3 March 2024, which will also be 3 Mart 2340.

When the Caliphate was abolished, the Osmanli Sultan had become just one among the monarchs of Europe. Yet the prestige of the office was such that it caused widespread upheavals in the entire Muslim world, and there was a Khilafat.

Movement in India. The Ali Brothers, who led this Movement, were put on trial for a sin the Raj deemed unforgivable: trying to suborn the loyalty of Indian Muslim troops, through a pamphlet they tried to distribute among Indian troops heading for deployment in the Middle EastAt this point, the Osmanli Caliphate had lost World War I. Perhaps nothing illustrates the changed position of the Caliphate than Osmanli participation in the War, where it was one of three Allies, along with Germany and Austria. The upheaval was not because the Osmanli Sultanate was abolished, but that the Caliphate had been.

The Caliphate, at that point, had been a continuously held office, which dated back to the passing of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), after whom it was instituted. The first four Caliphs are described as Rightly Guided, and were all Companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Though all belonged to the Quresh, they were not related to one another, and it was left to the Umayyid dynasty to introduce the hereditary principle.

The Umayyids were ousted forcibly the Abbasids. Theyy held the Caliphate the longest, from 750 AD, when it replaced the Ummayyids to 1516, when it handed over to the Osmanlis. It was also the dynasty which experienced the greatest decline of the office, and some sacralisation. It should be noted that the Caliphate was not a religious office like the Papacy. True, the Caliph was a requirement, but that was because all human activity was supposed to be governed by Islam, and that included how society was to be ruled.

The Muslim world has never gone this long without a Caliph, and the fact reflects not just the forces arrayed against this (which include all governments), but also that Muslims do not value the institution. The Caliphate was monarchical in the age of monarchy, and it would have to win consent, even it be only minimal, in this age of democracy.

The Caliph was supposed to be for all Muslims, which meant they were supposed to part of the same state. This was the pattern under the Rightly Guided Caliphs, the Ummayids and the early Abbasids. But it is possible to see a decline in this control under the Abbasids. The first part of the Caliphate not to obey the Caliph was Spain, where an Ummayyid Prince fled and became an independent Amir. More typical were the Tulunid rulers of Egypt, who never claimed to be anything more than the Caliphs’ walis, or governors, but who not only remained in office for long periods, but where son succeeded father.

This fiction was virtually all that the Abbasid Caliphs were left with, as the institution passed through a period where Caliphs were made and unmade, sometimes assassinated, and even dragged through the streets of Baghdad. However, Caliphs were apparently needed as a means of legitimation.

This might explain why the institution was revived after the first fell, in 1258, when the Abbasid Caliph was killed with an estimated 90,000 others. The Caliphate remained vacant for three years, until in 1261, an Abbasid claimant was installed in Cairo, and was maintained by the Mamluk rulers of Egypt. It was this Cairo Caliphate the Sultans of Delhi had to do with, who legitimated their rule as their governors.

The theory was that the local ruler was one of the Caliph’s governors. Increasingly, the governor happened to be a Turk military man. In fact, the Mamluk rulers of Egypt kept the Caliph on hand to legitimate them when the favoured means of transfer of power was carried out, which was a military coup. Ultimately, the Turkish military man par excellence, the Ottoman Sultan, swept aside the Mamluks and conquered Egypt. He took the Abbasid Caliph with him to Istanbul, deposed him and became Caliph himself.

A major change came when the Mughal Emperor did not bother obtaining that legitimation. The Emperor Akbar claimed to be Caliph in his kingdom, but not anywhere else. It was with the end of the Mughal dynasty in the 1857 War of Independence that Muslims in India had to deal with the bare minimum issue. They needed to acknowledge a Caliph in the Friday sermons, so that the prayers would be valid. Thus at the time that the Caliphate was at its lowest ebb, something shown by its continuous loss of territory in Europe, the British suddenly developed an interest in the preservation of the Caliphate, because of their Indian Muslim subjects. They had other interests in the Caliphate, but then came the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Perhaps the Jewish homeland issue showed why the Caliphate had to be abolished, apart from any residual Crusader sentiments (which could not be ignored, not with the prevalence of Evangelicalism in the British Army in the Victorian era). Sultan Abdul Hamid II refused the Zionist offer to pay off the Osmanli national debt in return for Palestine. The British and French promised a Jewish homeland, but that would require the break-up of the Osmanli state. That is what happened, though its demise had been predicted long before.

At present, with nationalism the prevalent ideology, the restoration of the Caliphate seems risible. However, the OIC’s existence shows there is sufficient sense of Muslim unity that ex-colonial governments proffer it as a sort of substitute. A Caliphate would have much on its plate; Palestine, Kashmir, the Rohingya, the Uighur, Syria, the Kurds, Afghanistan, are all issues which it would have to deal with if it was to have any credibility.

It would not be restored if it was merely to perpetuate a dynasty. There is no restoration movement for the Ummayids, Abbassids or Osmanlis, for example. At the same time, a Caliph is not supposed to be a religious figure, a sort of Sunni pope. He would not have any religious function, just be a ruler following the Shariah. There has been an attempt to restore him as a terrorist group leader, as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was, but that didn’t work.

One side-effect would that it would help end terrorism. One of the characteristics of the Caliphate is that it monopolises the right to wage jihad. For example, that there should be jihad against the USA is a given, but the Caliph may decide that that should be later. He may decide on peace for another decade. But he will not allow anyone to declare private jihad, as at present.

The Muslim world has never gone this long without a Caliph, and the fact reflects not just the forces arrayed against this (which include all governments), but also that Muslims do not value the institution. The Caliphate was monarchical in the age of monarchy, and it would have to win consent, even it be only minimal, in this age of democracy.

At the same time, perhaps there is more support for the idea than for the religious parties. The past few decades have seen socialism and now capitalism discredited among the masses, to the extent that there is a demand for Islam, not out of any sentiment, but in an attitude of ‘might as well try it, what is there to lose?’


  1. To my little understanding, the history of Arab world suggests that the Pre & Post Hijrah Period have stark differentiation. Few called post-Hijrah period, including Post Nabi Jahillya, as ‘Political Islam’? Question is a) whether Noor of Allah (the Noor-e-illahi) isn’t includes teachings of many Pre-Nabi prophets (as Nabi himself suggested)? and b) The post Hijrah (including Post Nabi Jahillya) is also Islam? Before dragging and linking Arabian Caliphates with religion, one also needs to understand difference between “Noor-e-illahi” and the diverse Arabic Codex, Wahy, Tanzil, Dhikr, Huda, Recitations by Qari, Hikmah or governing norms of Arabs.

    Many in their Jahillya confuse between “Noor-e-illhi” and such Arabic governing norms, which are preached by Arabic Brahmins interpreting the noble teachings in their Jahillya. Unfortunately, all of them are now ‘Islam’ leading to factions of ‘Universal Brotherhood’? It is not clear, as to followers of which codex, Hadith, Wahy, Tanzil, Dhikr, Huda, Recitations by Qari, Hikmah or governing norms of Arabs or their innumerable interpretations, by which the writer is considering Pakistanis as true followers of “Noor-e-illahi”? One has to understand that even if the entire Arab World is wiped-out, even then the Roshanai of “Noor-e-illahi” won’t fade to guide the world.

    Historically, within a day from the death of Nabi, the Arabian Cultural Jahillya again started descending on Arab World? Many Caliphs came on the scene (with their own group & followings) as Thekedaar of ‘Noor-e-illahi’. There are generations of these Caliphs in Arab world and everyday new Caliphs, having sword in his hand, are appearing in Arab world. All of them have their own interpretation of Codex or Allah’s teachings (Noor-e-illahi). In today’s Pakistan, everyone is Caliph of his own and are slowly turning every household into a new Caliphate. Everyone in Pakistan needs to understand that “Noor-e-illahi” is verbal recitation and one’s own connection with Almighty for humanity and peaceful social living which assimilated by Indus Valley Civilization as “Noor-e-illahi”. It is a pathetic interpretation (Jahillya) to consider such Jahils as followers of Islam. Precisely this Jahillya is reason, in Pakistani curriculum, right from Sword carrying Mohammad Bin Kasim to all present day Arabian coming to this land are preachers and propagators of Islam. In short I ask two simple questions:

    a) Whether destruction, desecration others’ religious places, symbols, collection of scriptures or denouncing their religious practices is Islam? Are those who do it, the followers of Islam? If that be so, what was the need for Nabi to collect pieces of Black Stone, join them and place it at Masjid al Harem after destruction of 360 Idols temple?

    b) Whether “Noor-e-illhi” is Nabi’s entire life or the enlightening massage of Allah received by him in cave or afterwards through Gabril?

    There is enough non-sense writing and bravado in Pakistan equating “Noor-e-illhi” with such Post Nabi Arabian Cultural Jahillya of Caliphates. Don’t mix inter-continental trading or human migration of Arabs as propagation of Islam. Most of such acts are linked NOT to Islam but to “Pre/ Post Nabi Arabian Cutural Jahillya”. Please excuse me and enlighten me if my words are blasphemous. 🤔

  2. No one anywhere in the world is seen to be interested in overthrowing the shackles of slavery they have allowed to be put upon themselves. Do we not hear “The people of the USA are free and democratic”? Who tells us the forgoing? The Mafiosi that enslaves the free and democratic people of the USA.
    What is the proof? Just too many. It is said that quite a few Presidents of the USA dared to give the people of the USA, a State financed Health Service. The Presidents failed to do so. Why? The Mafiosi will not allow it. Rather instead US taxpayer’s money is used to give them wars after wars. All phoney wars. Why? The War Mafia makes millions upon millions of dollars through such phoney wars. Do the people of the USA have democracy? No. Is there democracy anywhere in the world? No.
    The people throughout the world do not work for the democracy, so do not get it, will never get it. Many a people friendly intellectuals have come and gone rubbing their hands in despair seeing the slavery people bring upon themselves because of their own inaction. These intellectuals advised people to organise their own Peoples’ Union to work to bring about democracy. Such a wonderful idea has fallen on the deaf ears of the people throughout the world.
    Are there Muslims around? No. There is no sign of existence of Muslims around. How can one tell? The absence of Peoples’ union in the form of Peoples’ Jumeeyah in every nook and corner of countries spanning from Morocco to Indonesia.
    If there were Muslims around, they could be asked if they heard Allah’s command to come together to join hands with each other to organise their Jumeeyah in the localities where they live so that they could establish, collectively Allah’s rule by making the practice of Udl wul Ehsaan outpouring in the habits and practices of every soul.
    Was there a King or a Ruler when Muslims showed the responsibility of establishing and running an Islamic State in Mudeenah? No. None whatsoever. What made the people take that responsibility? They were true to their Kalimah thus showed the Kalimah in their deeds. Thus, had no trouble in joining hands with each other to establish Allah’s Government. Today we do not see many people showing the Kalimah in their deeds, hence not one Islamic State.
    By the way it is not only fake Muslims we encounter in millions. Sadly, overwhelming number of people claiming to belong to their faith, totally fail to prove their claim to be true through their deeds.
    Thus, we can see millions of fake Jews, fake Christians and fake of every religion in the world.
    So, if people throughout the world do not come out of their homes to show the responsibility of working together to bring about Democracy, they shall never see Democracy. Rather instead shall remain under the slavery of the slave taker they allow to keep themselves, slaves.
    Similarly if people calling themselves Muslims do not show the responsibility of responding to Almighty’s command ” Wahtusaymoo bay hublillahay Jumeeyah ” they shall never be able to establish an Islamic State.
    How can one say Muslims live in any place ? Udl wul Ehsaan shall be out pouring in the habits and practices of every Muslim in that place thus will be haven of peace.
    What do we deduce looking back at the so-called Islamic era? Starting from Yazeed ibn Muawiyah we all can see people called Muslims abandoning their promise to Allah to create Islamic State. Rather instead, throughout the so-called Muslim rule we see them opting for a human allah and remain content with him. How bad was it in Turkey? The first born, when about to ascend the throne to become their human allah , would have all him brothers murdered. Murdered by asphyxiation. Why? Not to shed blood.
    What did the so-called Muslims do in Spain? They built an ornate Nasrid Palace inside the sprawling fort called Alhumrah for their human allah. Every human allah there, most of them tyrants also built highly ornate palaces for them, so much so that the non-Muslims after the departure of Muslims from Spain also built copies of their palaces.
    The conditions of so-called Muslims, today shall never change. Never. Not until every one claiming to be a Muslim brings about such qualities in them that were present in early Muslims i.e. whosoever met them will try to become like Muslims.
    The thought of creating a human allah doing everything for the Muslim Ummah should be purged from the mind of every deluded person. Allah has made it very clear in the following words. “No soul shall carry the burden of another soul on Yaumulqiyahmuh”. We all can see that the responsibility of creating and running an Islamic State is that of every one who recites the Kalimah. The Muslims, when they used to be Muslims, came together, joined hands and thus established and managed the first Islamic State. Since they obeyed Allah, and cared for their responsibility they did not need a human allah as such there was none. The holy Prophet (saw) when asked by a crowd of deluded people to allow them to declare him the King of Arabia had to remind the crowd that the job title given to him by Allah is only and only “Ubd wa Rasool” full stop.

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