Six Things Every Muslim (and Non-Muslim) Should Know About the Caliphate

Since ISIS declared its reestablishment, here’s what you need to know about the history and meaning of the Caliphate.

Since the militant group known as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) declared that the “caliphate has been re-established” in an area straddling the two countries, I’ve been inundated with emails, tweets, and texts asking for my opinion and explanation. I expected this, as in the past few months I’ve written and been interviewed numerous times on His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, whom the world’s Ahmadiyya Muslims take to be the true Khalifa, or Caliph.

Rather than reply to a barrage of emails, I thought I would address the bulk of questions here. These are the six things every Muslim and non-Muslim should know about the Caliphate.

1. What does the word “Caliph” mean?

Caliph, or Khalifa in its Arabic form, literally means “a successor,” or “one who succeeds another.” After Prophet Muhammad died, a system of Khilafat was established to keep the Muslim community united and to serve as moral and spiritual leadership. The first four Khalifas, Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman, and Ali are collectively known as “The Rightly Guided Khalifas.” This Khilafat lasted approximately 32 years, after which internal division and corruption led to the first split among Muslims — the Sunni-Shia split. Since then, the Muslim Ummah (community) has never been united under a Khalifa.

2. How is Khilafat established?

The Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad answer this question specifically. In short, the Khalifa is appointed by God. He is God’s man on earth. The Qur’an declares, “Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely make them Successors in the earth, 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…” (24:56, emphasis mine).

This verse explains not only that God will establish a successor among those who do good works, but also explains what that Khalifa will facilitate: “security and peace after their fear.” Thus, any notion that the Khalifa will create violence, terrorism, and bloodshed is a concept alien to the Qur’an.

Prophet Muhammad further foretold that after his death, Khilafat would be established, then soon end, but then one day return to Muslims once more just as it did the first time — on the precepts of prophethood. A brief look at Islamic history demonstrates that Prophet Muhammad foretold precisely what Muslims have endured.

3. If Prophet Muhammad was right, then where is that Khilafat on the precepts of Prophethood?

The Khilafat of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was established in accordance with the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s prophecy. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the awaited Messiah and Mahdi to revive Islam, bring man back to one God, and establish unity. Ahmad was that future prophet that Prophet Muhammad foretold would come.

Upon Ahmad’s death in 1908, a Khalifa was elected, just as a Khalifa was elected after Muhammad’s death in 632. The Holy Spirit superintends the election process. With Muhammad and Ahmad rest the only two instances in Islamic history when a Khalifa was established after the demise of a claimant to prophethood.

His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad is the fifth Khalifa of Islam since Ahmad’s demise. He continues that promised Khilafat, which has run uninterrupted for 106 years and counting. This Khilafat has vociferously stood for universal freedom of conscience, separation of mosque and state, human rights, education, and free speech. This Khilafat promotes good works and has removed fear and replaced it with security and peace for those people who accept this Khilafat and divine guidance. Today, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spans over 160 million Muslims in over 204 countries worldwide, and is the world’s fastest growing Muslim sect, seeking to unite humanity in peace and security.

4. Why do Muslims accept Mirza Masroor Ahmad as the Khalifa of Islam when the majority of Muslims do not accept him?

 As Khilafat is a divinely appointed office, legitimacy does not come from humanity, but from God Himself. Muslims who accept Mirza Masroor Ahmad as the Khalifa of Islam do so because they believe Prophet Muhammad was right that Khilafat would be re-established on the precepts of Prophethood. Indeed, this Khilafat was established on the precepts of prophethood after the Messiah Ahmad’s demise in 1908.

Moreover, throughout history, every claimant to having been sent by God was met with severe opposition and violence by the majority. The violent opposition by extremists against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is no different.

And far from being a sect minority, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the world’s single largest Muslim organization united under one Imam, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam.

5. Now that Al-Baghdadi of ISIS claims to be the Khalifa, why is one Khalifa more legitimate than the other?

The decision of legitimacy is based on the standard explained above of the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad. His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad continues a Khilafat established on the precepts of Prophethood, while the ISIS Khilafat was not. His Holiness promotes peace and security instead of fear and violence, while ISIS repeatedly calls to destroy non-Muslims and Shia Muslims. His Holiness is uniting Muslims of all sects into one Muslim community, while ISIS is only creating more sectarian conflict and terrorism. This simple comparison demonstrates which Khalifa adheres to the Qur’anic example and Muhammad’s example (Ahmad), and which does not (al-Baghdadi).

6. What do Muslims who accept His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad as the Khalifa of Islam advise on what to do with ISIS?

There are two elements to this question — the spiritual and the worldly. On a spiritual level, this is a matter between the new claimant to Khilafat and God. The new claimant is assuming an office that God has reserved for Himself to select. Thus, we believe God will address the new claimant as He deems appropriate.

On a worldly level, there is no doubt that the new claimant has violated any number of national and international laws. He is a violent man, a vicious terrorist, and a criminal of the highest order. We hope and pray that no more people are harmed from his violence and that he is brought to justice for his crime against humanity.

Thus, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad has advised, “The life of the Prophet Muhammad, the holy founder of Islam who such terrorists claim to represent, is filled only with countless examples of peace, tolerance, respect, and a deep love for humanity.”

Prophet Muhammad’s love and tolerance — that is what true Khilafat stands for.

Image via Hadzo.

Qasim Rashid
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  • salaamthebody

    This is all very interesting. ISIS comes out with an extreme caliph which receives exposure overnight. Ahmadiyyat has had peaceful khalifas for over a century and it never received that much exposure in that short a time.

  • Basheer

    Great answers to the common doubts regarding Khilafat. It is time for people to recognise the peace loving Khalifa, Mirza Masroor Ahmad.

  • Hemant

    will khalifa will be expect able supreme leader of Muslim all over world? is it possible in this time it will lead to civil war and chaos all over

  • Martin Hughes

    For some of us, the idea of ‘God’s man on earth’ in any form (could it be ‘God’s woman?’) is very frightening however many promises of peace and security (but for whom and when?) accompany it. The sacred text that is quoted is quite ambiguous: it doesn’t read naturally as a promise of security for all in the period of fear, while the true faith is being established.
    Furthermore, how can there be constitutional government in the presence of someone who has a divine mandate? Freedom of speech surely becomes ridiculous when you encounter the very voice of God.
    There may be some answers to these questions – maybe the messianic visitation could be very brief, maybe you can have a divine mandate to govern constitutionally. But claims of divine mandate without attention to the problems fill me with fear.

    • Christopher Janney

      Martin, I can understand your reasonable trepidation, but perhaps I can provide a different perspective as a caucasian American who converted to Ahmadiyyat over a year ago. The idea of a Caliph, as TheRealThunderChild pointed out in another comment, is similar to the Pope in Catholicism, but I can tell you that my experience has been quite different. My grandparents were Catholic, and I was able to experience that world growing up. I think some of the difference here is that, while we are only beginning to see piety from the Pope with the most recent one, our Kalifa has been living piously and guiding our community since it started.

      It is hard to wrap your mind around, but I encourage you to spend some time with the Ahmadiyyat community and see for yourself how it runs. It is not perfect by any means, but no society is. However, we live by the true teachings of Islam, and our Kalifa regulary travels and reaches out to all of us through our TV station, Muslim Television Ahmadiyyat (MTA). We have other educational programs through the community and through MTA, which were started by a past Kalifa. And yet, with all of this, the message is still that wherever you live, you are to live by the rules and be loyal to whatever country you are a part of. We even have a program in the US to demonstrate and communicate this called Muslims for Loyalty.

      When we say that God has directed the Promised Messiah, Mirza Gulam Ahmad of Qadian, and our Kalifas we are saying that it is spiritual guidance. The fear that you describe is because everyone thinks of the way that the Roman Catholic Church and others have mixed religion and government, and then abused the power to force everyone to believe the same way. That is not the case in the true teachings of Islam. We are taught to respect and protect all, regardless of belief. Anything less is unacceptable in the eyes of God. The Kalifa is a spiritual teacher and guide, not a political leader, nor does he desire to be. I hope this clarifies at least some, and perhaps sets your mind at ease.

      • Martin Hughes

        It’s just that there is no point in arguing with the Representative of God. He (must it be ‘he’?) may be full of piety and kindness but disagreement with him is surely inconceivable. There is then little scope for rational self-guidance and scope for political debate only so long as the Representative is silent -but how could he remain silent for ever when so many important points are up for decision? If my country and yours are in dispute would it make sense for us both simply to be loyal to our own cause when we can in effect appeal to Almighty God?

        • Christopher Janney

          That’s where you’re wrong. We have every right to disagree with the Khalifa if we feel that there is debate to be had. He is not God; there is only one God and that is God. He is simply a human being whose selection has been guided by God Almighty, and therefore he is not infallible. He can make mistakes, and he is open to debate, discussion, and questions. We all write to His Holiness regularly to ask for prayers, or to ask questions, or discuss issues in the community. He does not create law because from a moral perspective we follow the teachings of Islam, and from a legal perspective we follow the laws of whatever country we are in. We seek guidance from our Khalifa, and if the guidance includes anything legal, we must follow whatever the rule of the land we are in is. Although, we do try to handle as much as possible within our community, because God wants us as Muslims to be able to work together, treat each other fairly, and take care of one another.The only time that we would not follow the law of the land is if it is completely in opposition to Islam and God’s directives for us. Even then, we are instructed to migrate elsewhere rather than attempt to create a political uprising in the land we are in.

          As for the question about whether it must be a “he” (as you have mentioned this in both of your posts, I assume it is important), I would assume not, although we have never had a female leader in Ahmadiyyat. However, historically in Islam, the Holy Prophet’s (Peace and Blessings be upon him) own wife Aisha was a strong leader, and was even seen on the back of a camel leading during a battle. That seems a pretty good example of a strong woman as a leader to me! His first wife Kadija was a strong, rich, and powerful businesswoman as well. The problem is that there were men, human beings as you and I, that decided later they were uncomfortable with women leading and made a purely subjective decision to change that. God has never said that a woman cannot be a leader.

          • Martin Hughes

            Thanks for courteous reply and information! You’ll see what I’ve said to Rashid. I was interested in the question of whether God can be expected sometimes set female leaders over us because if the answer is ‘Yes’ then the human race is not sharply divided into a very large mass of those whom God does, and those whom God doesn’t, elect or commission. My view is that all of us can have some commission from God and that there is something of God’s voice in many human words – even that almost everyone has been moved by the Spirit at some time – but that none of us have a commission overriding or silencing all others.

        • Rashid.M

          “…but how could he remain silent for ever when so many important points are up for decision? If my country and yours are in dispute would it make sense for us both simply to be loyal to our own cause when we can in effect appeal to Almighty God?”

          Pardon me for interrupting, and I may be misreading the question, but I think there is some confusion over the leadership role of and subsequent loyalty to the Khalifa (caliph). The Khalifa operates in the domain of spirituality. It is only in this domain in which he exercises leadership. But such leadership does not extend to directions from God in matters other than those of faith. The relevant political leadership to which a Muslim must show loyalty is whichever person(s) lead the state in which they reside. The only instance in which a Muslim could question such (political) loyalty is when such loyalty directly suppresses the ability of any citizens (including themselves) to freely practice their beliefs, i.e. being loyal creates an irreconcilable contradiction. Otherwise, they are, like any other citizen, bound to the decisions and direction of their political leadership.

          The founder of the Ahmadiyya Community, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad stated:

          “The Holy Qur’an commands, ‘Obey Allah and obey His Prophet and obey those in authority among you.’ Believers are to obey those in authority, besides God and His Prophet. To say that ‘those in authority’ does not include a non-Muslim-Government would be a manifest error. For, a government-or authority-whose ordinances are in accordance with the Shariah (that is, they are not in conflict with it) is ‘authority from among you.’ Those who are not against us are among us. The Qur’an, therefore, is unequivocal on the point. Obedience to governmental authority is one of its imperatives.” (Works and Speeches, Vol. (i), p. 261)

          The loyalty to political leadership sits juxtaposed to loyalty to the Khalifa. Just as political leadership does not (or at least should not) interfere in the spiritual matters of its citizens, so too the Khalifa has no authority to interfere or make directions in political matters. To the extent that the Khalifa does engage with political leadership, it is only on the basis of offering advice in a spiritual context. For example the current Khalifa, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, in 2012 wrote letters to the Israeli Prime Minister and Iranian President urging them to seek peaceful outcomes to their disagreements and avoid war. If, however, a war did eventuate between Israel and Iran, Ahmadi Muslims living in Israel (e.g. Haifa) are duty bound to follow the directions of Israeli political leadership even if it means direct conflict with Ahmadi Muslims possibly living in Iran. And vice versa. Both sets of Ahmadis would retain their loyalty to the Khalifa by fulfilling their religious responsibility of loyalty to their political leaders. And, one could assume, both sets of Ahmadi Muslims would simultaneously be engaged in agitating for peace and justice, thereby also fulfilling loyalty to the spiritual leadership of the Khalifa.

          The second Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Community stated:

          “Our belief is that Islam requires every one to be loyal to the state under which he lives… To think that Ahmadis in India or Pakistan will remain loyal to their respective Governments only so long as the Ahmadiyya Head requires them to be so, is senseless and stupid. The Ahmadiyya Head has no prerogative in this matter. His role is to recapitulate, to implement, the teaching and spirit of Islam, not to alter one jot out of it. He is to fulfill not to destroy… Loyalty to a Government or State, according to us, is ordained by the Holy Qur’an and the Qur’an is the Book of God… The Ahmadiyya Head or Khalifa has no right to alter an ordinance contained in the Holy Book. The Khalifa is a deputy, not a dictator. A deputy it bound to authority in the same way as are all the others.” (al-Fazl, April 5, 1949)

          • Martin Hughes

            That is fine, you won’t be echoing the supremacist sentiments of the 1077 ‘Dictatus Papae’! My only reservation is that I would distinguish between someone elected with an element of divine guidance and treated with deserved respect (one might hope that there are many, of many religions, of whom this could be said) and someone who is actually God’s representative, in the sense of one who has complete authority to speak validly for another. I would use the term ‘representative’ only when that sort of plenary authority exists and would continue to suggest that if the person thus represented is God Almighty and omniscient, there is no logical place for disagreement or argument.

  • TheRealThunderChild

    So, and forgive me if I’m wrong, but a Caliphate seems to mirror a Pope and a Catholic Church(whether that be Roman, Ecumenical, Maronite , Chaldean etc) given that it refers to a mother faith and it’s supreme authority , “his holiness” the Caliph?
    Ok… If that IS the case, then why do some so ardently believe that said isn’t this, but rather a universal, enforced, hegemony of fundamental Islam?
    Like I say…forgive me if I’m wrong, I’m just trying yo understand.

    • Rashid.M

      “…why do some so ardently believe that said isn’t this, but rather a universal, enforced, hegemony of fundamental Islam?”

      This question is best answered by those who believe in that sort of caliphate. It seems to me to be tied in to a ‘fundamental’ misunderstanding of the freedom of religion explicit in the Quran, a freedom which makes political rule based on any particular religion’s laws impossible. Those who are ignorant of this freedom, some deliberately, instead hold that religious law (i.e. Islam) trumps ‘man made’ law by the very fact of its righteous divinity. And, therefore, it is the assumed religious duty of Muslims to establish that law over any other in every sphere, including the political. Of course there are two immediate problems with this line of thinking. Firstly, there is (as can be seen here) strong disagreement with the very (Islamic) validity of conflating a divine (spiritual) mandate with a mandate to politically rule over all (Muslims and/or non Muslims). This is regardless of whether such rule is imposed or not.

      Secondly (as can be seen in the Middle East etc.), there is, even amongst those who believe that a divine mandate assumes a political one, disagreement about who amongst them has the divine right to politically lead. As a consequence they condemn and attack each other in an effort to assume political control, i.e. power. Therein lies a number of contradictions between what ISIS claims and what is inherent in the Quran. How can peace and security, as promised in the Quran, be brought about by war, killing and disorder? How could it possibly lead to anything other than what Hermant rightly describes as “civil war and chaos”? How can the spiritual mandate be fulfilled whilst simultaneously, and violently, pursuing a political one? The two are antithetical.

      For these reasons, the caliphate of the likes of ISIS and others who hold similar ideologies, will always fail in the end. And for these reasons, the caliphate (Khilafat) of the Ahmadiyya Community continues to grow and prosper peacefully throughout the world.

  • Abubakr

    Islamic Belief of Finality of Prophethood

    The holy Quran and the holy Prophet’s Ahadith (teachings) eloquently prove that prophethood (nabuwwat and risalat) came to an end with our Prophet Muhammad(SAW). There are decisive verses to that effect. Being the last Prophet in the chain of prophethood, no one ever shall now succeed him to that status of dignity.
    “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things.”
    (Holy Quran, 33:40)
    Interpreters of the Holy Quran

    All the interpreters of the Holy Quran agree on the meaning of Khatam-un-Nabieen that our Prophet(SAW) was the last of all prophets and none shall be exalted to the lofty position of prophethood after him. Here are a few examples:

    Imam Hafiz Ibn-e-Katheer:

    “This verse is conclusive of the precept that our Prophet(SAW) is the last and that there shall be no Nabi (Prophet) after him. When there shall be no Nabi to follow him, the ordainment of a Rasool (Messenger) can not arise by logic of anteriority because the status of a Rasool is more exclusive then that of a Nabi. Every Nabi is not a Rasool, but every Rasool is a Nabi. There exists a continuous and unbroken chain of citations of Ahadith from a large number of venerable Sahabah or Companions of the Prophet(Allah be pleased with them), that there shall be no Nabi or Rasool after Muhammad(SAW)”.
    (Tafseer Ibn-e-Khateer, Vol. 3, P. 453)
    Imam Ghazali:

    “No doubt the Ummah (all Muslims) has unanimously understood from this word (Khatam-un-Nabieen) and its circumstantial reference to mean non-existence of a Nabi or Rasool ever after Muhammad(SAW) and that (this word calls for) no reservation or tacit interpretation in it; hence its dissident is certainly the one who rejects the Ummah’s unanimity”. (Al Iqtisad fil Etiqad, P. 123)
    Finality of Prophethood and Ahadith

    The Prophet(SAW) unequivocally declared that he was the final Prophet. There are a large number of Ahadith to sustain this article of Islamic faith. Not only that but the Prophet(SAW) was also pleased to bring forth such expositions of this word (Khatam-un-Nabieen) that all doubts relating to his finality in prophethood stand void and misinterpretations exposed. Many people having theological distinctions to their credit have stressed upon the unbroken and consecutive nature of those Ahadith which concern finality of prophethood. Opinions of some of them are quoted below:

    Hafiz Ibn-e-Hazam says on page 77 of his Kitab-ul-Fasl:

    “All those personages who have dwelt upon the subject of Muhammad'(SAW) prophethood, his miracles and expounded the holy Quran, have stated that he(SAW) had informed that there would be no prophet after him”.
    Hafiz Ibne-Khateer writes under the caption, “finality of prophethood”:

    “And on this (Finality of Prophethood) there have come from Allah’s Messenger(SAW) “mutawatir” (absolutely certain and numerous) Ahadith which have by an unbroken chain of his companions (Allah be pleased with them)”.
    Allama Syed Mahmood Aloosi writes in Tafseer Roohul-Mani:

    “That he (Muhammad(SAW)) was the final prophet, is ordained by the Quran, acknowledged by the Sunnah and agreed upon by the Ummah; hence a claimant to the contrary will be (determined as) Kaffir (unbeliever) and put to death if he is persistent”.
    To conclude therefore finality of prophethood is an article of faith by the Qurans text and Mutawatir Ahadith. Some are reproduced below:

    The Last Brick

    The Prophet of God(SAW) affirmed:

    “My position in relation to the prophets who came before me can be explained by the following example: A man erected a building and adorned this edifice with great beauty, but he left an empty niche, in the corner where just one brick was missing. People looked around the building and marveled at its beauty, but wondered why a brick was missing from that niche? I am like unto that one missing brick and I am the last in the line of the Prophets.”
    (Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Manaqib). This Hadith has also been related in Muslim, Tirmizi, and Musnad of Ahmad.
    Line of Prophethood Terminated

    The Holy Prophet(SAW) observed:

    “God has bestowed upon me six favors which the former Prophets did not enjoy: (1) I have been endowed with the gift of pithy and perfect speech. (2) I was granted victory owing to my awe. (3) The spoils of war were made lawful unto me. (4) The whole earth has been made the place of worship for me and it has become the means of purification for me also. In other words in my religion, offering of prayers is not confined to certain specified places of worship. Prayers can be offered at any place over the earth. And in case water is not available it is lawful for my people to perform ablutions with earth (Tayammum) and to cleanse themselves with the soil if water for bathing is scarce. (5) I have been sent by Allah to carry His Divine message to the whole world. (6) And the line of prophets has come to its final end in me.”
    (Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah)
    Address to Hazrat Ali

    The Holy Prophet(SAW) told Hadrat ‘Ali:
    “You are related to me as Aaron was related to Moses(peace be upon him). But no Apostle will come after me.”
    (Bukhari and Muslim, Kitab Fada’il as-Sahaba)
    Difference With Tribe of Israel

    The Holy Prophet(SAW) observed:

    “The tribe of Israel was guided by prophets. When a prophet passed away, another prophet succeeded him. But no prophet will come after me; only caliphs will succeed me.”
    (Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Manaqib).
    Thirty Liars in the Ummah

    It is related by Hazrat Thauban(RA) that our Prophet(SAW) said:

    “In my Ummah there shall be born thirty liars (dajjals) each of them will claim that he is a prophet but I am the last of the Prophets; there shall be no prophet after me”.
    (Abu Dawood and Tirmizi)
    No Prophet or Messenger After Me

    The Prophet of Allah(SAW) affirmed:

    “The chain of Messengers and Prophets has come to an end. There shall be no Messenger nor Prophet after me.”
    (Tirmidhi, Kitab-ur-Rouya Babu Zahab-un- Nubuwwa, Musnad Ahmad, Marwiyat-Anas bin Malik)
    Last Prophet: Last Ummah

    Abu Hurairah(RA) said, I heard the Prophet(SAW) saying:

    “We are the last (ummah) but will precede all on the Day of Resurrection except that the Book was given to them before us”.
    (Bukhari and Muslim)
    If There Were To Be A Prophet It Would Have Been Umar(RA)

    The Holy Prophet(SAW) said:

    “If an Apostle were to succeed me, it would have been ‘Umar bin Khattab.” (Tirmidhi,Kitab-ul- Manaqib)
    I Am Hashir, I am Aaqib, I am Muqaffi

    The Holy Prophet(SAW) observed:

    “I am Muhammad, I am Ahmad, I am the effacer and infidelity shall be erased through me; I am the assembler. People shall be assembled on Doomsday after my time. (In other words Doom is my only successor.) And I am the last in the sense that no prophet shall succeed me.”
    (Bukhari and Muslim, Kitab-ul-Fada’il, Bab: Asmaun-Nabi; Tirmidhi, Kitab-ul- Adab, Bab: Asma-un-Nabi; Muatta’, Kitab-u-Asma in-Nabi, Al- Mustadrak Hakim, Kitab-ut-Tarikh, Bab: Asma-un-Nabi.)