A title (from the Arabic khalīfa, meaning successor, lieutenant, deputy) applied to the successors of the Prophet Muḥammad. The first caliph was Abū Bakr (a.d. 632–634), and the last, the Ottoman Abdul Mejid (1923–24), the Ottoman caliphate being abolished in 1924 by Kemal Ataturk. Very early in the political history of islam, controversy over the office of the caliphate divided the Islamic world, giving rise to three competing groups: the sunnites, the shĪ’ites, and the Khārijites.
The Sunnite theory of the caliphate was that the office was an elective one, thus following the custom of pre-Islamic tribes. But the candidate had to be of the tribe of Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet Muḥammad. The Khārijites opposed this limitation, holding that the election should be truly democratic, allowing for the election of any person, even a non-Arab. The Shī’ites opposed the very principle of election, holding that God Himself made the appointment of their imĀm, whom they regarded as impeccable.
The duties of the caliph were to preserve the religion; to establish equity; to maintain public order; to maintain penal sanctions; to equip armies for guarding the frontiers; to lead the holy war (jihād ) against those who refused to accept Islam until they either did so or entered into the status of protection (see dhimmi); to collect the alms; to divide the booty; to employ trustworthy men and appoint good advisers; and to attend personally to the supervision of the conduct of government. In order to qualify for the caliphate a person had to be an adult male of the tribe of Quraysh, of good character, free from mental and physical defects, with administrative ability, knowledge of the law, and the courage to defend the territory of Islam.
The Prophet Muḥammad died without making provisions for a successor. His sons had died before him. Abū Bakr was the first caliph, followed by three others, all of whom were elected democratically. These four caliphs, Abū Bakr, 'Umar, 'Uthmān, and ‘Alī, are referred to as the"rightly guided caliphs" (al-khulafā’ al-rāshidūn). Their combined reign extended from 632 to 661, a period referred to as that of the Orthodox Caliphate, the seat of which was in mecca, one of the two holy cities of Islam, the other being medina. The succeeding period was that of the Umayyad Caliphate (661–750). Its founder was Mu’āwiya (661–680), who moved the seat of government to Damascus (see umayyads). Henceforth, the caliphate became hereditary, though the representatives of the community still expressed their consent through the institution of the bay'a, symbolized by a handshake with the caliph and denoting recognition of his authority and obedience to him. This dynasty had 14 caliphs and was succeeded by the ‘Abbāsid dynasty, which numbered 37 (see ’abbĀsids). The capital of this dynasty was in Baghdad, and its downfall came with the sacking of the city by the Mongols in 1258. In Spain, the Umayyad Caliphs of Cordova reigned from 756 to 1031 (followed by minor Spanish dynasties until 1492). The rival Fātimid Caliphate of Egypt, representing the Shī’ite minority in Islam, numbered 14 caliphs who reigned from 909 to 1171 when the dynasty was overthrown by the famous Sultan saladin. The Ottoman claim to the caliphate was based on an alleged nomination of the Sultan Selim I (1515–20) by the last member of the ‘Abbāsid dynasty, who died in exile in 1539 in Egypt. But Selim did not fulfill the necessary qualification of belonging to the Prophet's tribe of Quraysh, hence the anomaly in the Ottoman Caliphate until it was abolished.
Bibliography: t. w. arnold, The Caliphate (London 1924). h. laoust, ed., Le Califat dans la doctrine de Rasīd Ridá (Beirut 1938). l. gardet, La Cité Musulmane: Vie sociale et politique (Paris 1954).
CALIPH , in Arabic khalīfa, means successor, deputy, or representative. It is generally considered to be an abbreviation of khalīfat rasūl Allāh, "successor of the Messenger of God," but recent research suggests that originally the title may have been "khalīfat Allah," "Deputy of God." The term khalīfa seems to be related to koranic usage (Sura 2:28; 38:25, etc., referring to certain biblical figures in their relationship to God). It soon became one of the standard titles of the rulers of the Islamic state that grew up following the death of the Prophet Muhammad (632 c.e.), alongside Amīr al-Mu'minīn ("commander of the faithful") and Imām ("leader," scil. in prayer). All three were regular titles of those who claimed overlordship of the entire Islamic world, from the first caliph, Abu Bakr (632–34), and his immediate successors, through the *Umayyads (661–750) and the *Abbasids (750–1258), though from as early as the middle of the 10th century few caliphs held much real political power outside *Baghdad. In 1258 the *Mongols who conquered Baghdad killed the last Abbasid caliph and the office in effect died. However, the *Mamluks, who ruled Egypt, found an Abbasid prince to whom they gave the title of caliph, and descendants of the Abbasids continued to hold the title, as minor officials of the Mamluk court, granting an illusory legitimacy to their patrons, until 1517, when the Ottomans conquered Egypt and put an end to the Mamluk regime there.
Reflecting the decline of the Abbasids in the 10th century, other rulers began to challenge them politically and in other ways, claiming also the title of caliph, first the Shi'i Fatimids who ruled North Africa (from 909) and Egypt (from 969), deposed by Saladin in 1171; then the Umayyads of *Córdoba in Islamic Spain, from 929 to 1031 (with a shadowy continuation thereafter till near the end of the 11th century). Later the title became even more devalued and was commonly found among the titulature of very minor rulers, and even in that of rulers whose territories had never formed part of the historic lands of the original caliphs. It is also found among the titular language of the Ottomans, though at first without any special significance. But following the end of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a secular Turkish state after World War i, the institution of caliph was formally abolished, in order to prevent its use as a universalizing ideology for Islamic unity. Nonetheless, it has continued now and again to surface as just that among a variety of Islamic revivalist movements, in the Arab world, in India, and even in the modern west.
At first just a political title, "caliph" came to have religious-political content too, but the decline of the political strength of the caliphate drained its political significance and left it with largely religious meaning (in this sense fairly comparable with the historical development of the title of pope). Theorists of the caliphate from the 10th century onwards, when the institution was already in decline, laid down qualifications for the holder of the title, including religious learning, moral rectitude, absence of physical blemishes, and above all descent from the tribe of Quraysh (that of the Prophet Muhammad). Succession to the title was, with that qualification, in theory elective, but in practice most caliphs were either nominated by their predecessors or installed (and as often deposed) by the soldiery. Mention of the name of the reigning caliph in the Friday sermon ("khutba") in the mosque and on coins signaled (often no more than formal) recognition of his suzerainty.
Until the time of the Abbasids, caliphs, as rulers, helped to create the basic lines of the practical relationship of Jews (and Christians) to Islam and the Islamic state. Early caliphs imposed restrictions on them and granted them freedoms in line with koranic pronouncements; in general caliphal relations with Jews (and Christians) followed an up-and-down pattern, though with a greater tendency to tolerance than what we find in medieval Christian Europe.
Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah (tr. F. Rosenthal), 1 (1958), 385–481; P. Crone and M. Hinds, God's Caliph, Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam (1986); D.J. Wasserstein, The Caliphate in the West. An Islamic Political Institution in the Iberian Peninsula (1993).
[David J. Wasserstein (2nd ed.)]
ca·liph / ˈkālif; ˈkal-/ • n. hist. the chief Muslim civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor of Muhammad. DERIVATIVES: cal·iph·ate / ˈkāləˌfāt; ˈkal-; -fit/ n.
So caliphate XVIII. — F. caliphat (medL. caliphātus); see -ATE 1.