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The Caliphate Myth Part 2

Read Part 1: One Ruler

The urgency of establishing the caliphate is portrayed by some through the following prophetic text:

“The caliphate in my ummah will be for thirty years.”
[at-Tirmidhi- Sahih]

The inference that they make here is that after thirty years the caliphate would be lost and it would then be the responsibility of the Muslims to reestablish it. Attached to that claim is the romantic utopian vision- that if the caliphate were to be reestablished all of the problems of the Muslim world would magically disappear.

It is permissible to derive a ruling from one single text of revelation if there are no additional texts providing more information on the subject. In this case, there are many more texts that give us additional information. Therefore, to derive a claim or an inference simply on the prophetic text quoted previously would not give us the complete picture.

We have the following prophetic text concerning the same subject:

“The caliphate of prophethood will be for thirty years, then Allah will give the rule to whomever He wills.”
[Sahih al-Jami’- Sahih]

The prophetic text above qualifies the specific type of caliphate that would exist for thirty years- a prophethood caliphate and not that the caliphate itself will only exist for thirty years.

It is highly unlikely that the existence of the caliphate would be prophesized to exist for only thirty years. The thirty year mark would be at the end of Hassan’s six month caliphate. To suggest that there were no other caliphs or a caliphate after Hassan would be historically difficult to accept. For example, Umar ibn AbdilAziz is unanimously considered to be a righteous caliph, and he came decades later.

Another prophetic text supports the point that the caliphate did not end after thirty years. The Prophet said:

“This deen will continue to be upheld until twelve caliphs pass over you. The ummah will gather around each one of them.”
[Abu Dawud- Sahih]

The prophetic text above states that there would be more caliphs after the five caliphs from the first thirty years. The words “will continue” could hint that these caliphs would be contiguous.

An important note regarding the previous prophetic text is that the words “The ummah will gather around each one of them” are not credible. This sentence has been declared unauthentic by hadith scholars and in addition, it has not been substantiated by history.

We are provided with more information about the conditions during the time of these twelve caliphs:

“Islam will continue to be powerful up to twelve caliphs.”

The qualifier, “powerful”, in the prophetic text above also fits the caliphate’s state and condition. It is an historical fact that the ummah enjoyed being in honor and strength to a high degree for the duration of the first twelve caliphs (Umar ibn AbdilAziz is included in the twelve).

Towards the end of the Umayyad Caliphate, after the twelve caliphs, we see signs of internal weakening which eventually made it possible for the Abbasid revolt to be successful. The Abbasid revolt further produced internal conditions that continued to weaken the ummah. This slow downward slope of weakness paved the way for the Crusader invasion and its devastating effects.

Regarding the previously quoted prophetic texts, al-Bayhaqi confirms that the dozen are the first twelve caliphs in history:

”This number (twelve caliphs) with the given description, existed until the time of al-Walid ibn Yazid ibn Abdil-Malik (towards the end of the Umayyad caliphate). Afterwards, there occurred baseless killing, great tribulations… then the rule of the Abbasids appeared.”

However, some cite the following prophetic text to claim that the caliphate has certainly ended, if not after thirty years then after the twelve caliphs for sure:

“Prophethood will be amongst you as long as Allah wills for it to last, then Allah will raise it. There will then be a caliphate upon the methodology of prophethood as long as Allah wills for it to last, then Allah will raise it. There will then be harsh rule and it will be as long as Allah wills for it to last, then Allah will raise it. There will then be oppressive rule and it will be as long as Allah wills for it to last, then Allah will raise it. There will then be a caliphate upon the methodology of prophethood.”
[Mishkat- Hasan]

There are two important points I want to make regarding the popular translation of the previous text. We will deal with one of them now and the other in the upcoming parts of this series, inshAllah.

The translation: “there will then be harsh rule” incorrectly translates the subject of the sentence to be “rule”.

The feminine form of the verb is used (the feminine arabic verb تكون “takunu” is used instead of the masculine يكون “yakunu”). Therefore, the subject that the word is referring to has to be feminine. The word “rule”(ملك) is masculine and could not be the subject intended.

The correct translation of the text should read as follows: “It will then be harsh rule”. The question is, what does the word “it” refer to?

The word “caliphate” (خلافة “khilafah”) is feminine and qualifies to be the subject of the sentence by virtue of the implied pronoun (هي “hia” the feminine version of “it”). The sentence should then be translated as: “It (the caliphate) will be a harsh rule.” Further analysis of the text shows that the Prophet is describing the various conditions of the caliphate and not that the caliphate will end. The fact that caliphate (خلافة “khilafah”) is mentioned in the indefinite form, gives additional weight to the argument that the caliphate can take on different states and conditions.

The pronoun “it” in the words, “then Allah will raise it” is in the feminine form (يرفعها  “yarfa’uha”) and must refer to a feminine noun. Therefore, it must be referring to the feminine word “caliphate” (خلافة “khilafah”) and not the masculine word “rule” (ملك “mulk”). The meaning would then be, “then Allah will raise it (the caliphate in that particular condition).

The previous prophetic text is actually describing the caliphate’s state of being throughout the ages. Initially, it will be upon the prophethood methodology, then the caliphate will be of harsh rule, followed by a caliphate of oppressive rule, and then the caliphate will return to the prophethood methodology again. It does not mean that the caliphate will end all together or be lost, but each caliphate era is characterized by different qualities of rule. It’s similar to a country that can have a good presidency and a bad presidency. They are both presidencies even though the bad one is not ideal.

The Prophet also clearly stated that the caliphs would be many in number. Claiming that the caliphate ended after five or a dozen caliphs would not mean they were many in number:

“The Prophets used to manage the affairs of the children of Israel consecutively. Every time a Prophet would pass away another would succeed him. Surely, there is no prophet after me. However, there will be caliphs, and they will be many.”

Interestingly, the Prophet uses the present tense “will be many”, which in Arabic gives the meaning of continuity.

The caliphate is the rule that comes in succession to the Prophet, where the caliph is responsible for governing the affairs of the nation as is explained by Ibn Khaldoun. The type of government does not necessarily invalidate the caliphate as the Prophet called all these rulers caliphs even though some were kings, for example. Thus, the caliphate allows for various forms of government such as, a kingship, an emirate, a sultanate, some forms of democracy, etc.

The titles of the Head of State also can vary and be any of the following: Caliph, Amir, Sultan, Imam, President, King, Prime Minister, etc. Early on in history, Umar ibn al-Khatab instead of being called the “caliph” was entitled the “Amir of the Believers”. The title changed many times thereafter as well, according to the time in history and region.

Ibn Taymiyah states, “It is permissible to call those who came after the upright caliphs ‘caliphs’ even if they were kings.”

It is also not a condition for a Head of State to be righteous or a religious leader in order to be called a “caliph”, thus differing from theocracy. The Prophet called righteous and unrighteous rulers caliphs as is mentioned in this prophetic text:

“There will be after me caliphs who know what they are doing, and will do what they are obligated to do. There will also be after me caliphs who will do what they do not know and will do what they are not commanded to do.”
[as-Silsilah as-Sahihah- Sahih]

In conclusion, the revealed texts show that there can be good and bad caliphates. At the end of the day, they are still caliphates. In light of this, one must ponder over the amount of blood shed, wealth spent, time lost by those who are trying to establish something that already exists.

However, one may state that since the caliphs, rulers, heads of state, kings, presidents, etc. are unjust and oppressive they are required to remove the bad caliphate with good ones to establish justice and Islam or the shariah.

Should there be a demolition of a caliphate that’s not ideal? Should the Heads of State be overthrown? Answers to these questions in Part 3, inshAllah.



  1. Yusuf - January 9, 2016 1:40 pm

    No, they should not be overthrown as that results in destruction of the land as per the hadeeth of the Prophet (saw). He warned us about these evil leaders that have hearts like Devils, and said we should continue to obey them as long as they don’t make us disobey Allaah. If we don’t, there will be bloodshed and corruption in the lands as we see now evident after the Arab Spring. They shouldn’t have attempted a revolution because in reality it was a demolition! May Allah forgive and guide this ummah! Ameen

  2. Yusuf - January 9, 2016 3:42 pm


    Check that article out. Sounds like something the sahabah did during the time of the Prophet (saw).

  3. Ayoub A. - January 20, 2016 8:07 pm

    Where’s part 3 sheikh?

    • Shakiel Humayun

      Shakiel Humayun - January 20, 2016 9:59 pm

      Coming soon inshallah, we had family visiting from out of state.