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This page presents the definitions and interpretation of the concept of Khalifah by the early Muslim Scholars. Fucusing on the status and special quality (Free Will) of humankind vis-a-vis other creatures in the universe: Leadership, Responsibility and Accountability.

Prophet Muhammad (saaw) said:

"There will be Nabuwa with Rehma (prophethood with Mercy). The there will be Khilafah with Ba’yah (pledge). Then Allah will change it when He wishes. Then there will be Mulkan ‘Adoodan (Rule by force). Then Allah will change it when He wishes. Then there will be Mulkan Jabriya (against people’s will). Then Allah will change it when He wishes. Then there will be Khilafah Ala Minhajin Nabuwa (on the path of prophethood). The earth and the sky will bestow their treasures." (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Courtesy of Khilafah.Org)

Khalifah, Khalaif and Khulafa

KHALIFAH is an Arabic word literally meaning "one who replaces someone else who left or died" (English: caliph). In the context of Islam, however, the word acquires a narrower meaning. The Muslim Khalifa is the successor (in a line of successors) to Prophet Muhammad's position as the political, military, and administrative leader of the Muslims. The prophetic role of Muhammad is strictly not included in this definition, as the Qur'an and Hadith clearly state that Muhammad was the last of the prophets. Khilafa is a related Arabic word which, in the context of Islam, is used to denote the government of the Muslim state, of which the Khalifa is the head. A workable analogy of Khalifa and Khilafa is president and presidency or king and monarchy. The Khilafa is a fard kifaya on the ummah.

KHILAFAH (Arabic) - is used to denote the government of the Muslim state, of which the Khalifa is the head. A workable analogy of Khalifah and Khilafah is president and presidency or king and monarchy. The Khilafah is a fard kifaaya on the UMMAH.

The fisrt mater piece about Khalifah was written by Hassan bin Thabit. He wrote on Khalifah Uthman Ibn Affan; and he use the term "Khalifat Allah ( Vicegerent of Allah)" in 35 AH. Similar to Abu Al-Hasan Al-Mawardi (972-1058) in his book "Al-Ahkam Al-Sulataniya" used the terms,Khalifah of God and Shadow of God, describing the status of Muslim leadership. Khalifah is the "Head of the Political System" and Khilafah is the "Political Institution or Islamic System of Governance". The legitimacy of the Khalifah depends on the Bai'ah, the Pledge of Allegece of the People, and as long as he could perform the following functions:
  1. The defence and maintainance of religion
  2. The decision of legal dispute
  3. The protection of territory of Islam
  4. The punishment of the wrong doers
  5. The provision of troop for guarding the frontiers
  6. The waging of Jihad againts the Kafir Harbi
  7. The organization and collection pf zakat
  8. The payment of salery and administration of public fund
  9. The appointment of competent officials
  10. Personal attention to the detail of the government

In addition, Ibn Khadun (1375-1379 in his "Muqaddima, Chapters 25-28, defined the Khalifah as "The representative of the Prophet (pbuh); the exponent of the divinely inspired law (Shari'ah) and function to protect religion and the government of the world." Summarized from The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. e-k, pp 881-885

The prerequisites to becoming the Khalifa:
  1. The Khalifa must be Muslim.
  2. He must be a man.
  3. He must be knowledgeable in Islaam, and be able to make independent decisions if necessary.
  4. He must be just, have good morals, and be trustworthy.
  5. He must be physically able (non-handicapped), spiritual, brave, and helpful to protect the Ummah against its enemies. His eyes, ears, tongue, and body in general should be in working condition.Today, for example, an artificial limb could be used to offset an otherwise crippling injury.
  6. He must be politically, militarily, and administratively experienced.
  7. He must be from The Tribe of Quraish because they used to be the leading tribe, the majority.

However, many Muslim scholars have commented on this prerequisite.

Al-Mawardi has written that the Khalifa should be Quraishi based on the saying of Abu Bakr that the Khalifas are Quraishi and their ministers are non-Quraishi. The majority of scholars are of this opinion. Other scholars have arrived at a different conclusion. Abu Bakr Al-Baqlani has said that the leader of the Muslims simply should be from the majority. Muhammad Riya-Ad-Deen and Abu Hanifa wrote that the leader must come from the majority to make it easy to follow him.

The Majlis-Ash-Shura

There is no fixed size for this group, however, it is generally agreed that it should not be too large. Muslim scholars have established some basic prerequisites which the members of the Majlis-ash-Shura should have to become part of that group. All agree that the members must be adults (in Islam, this means anyone who has entered puberty), and of sound mind. These members are chosen by the various communities in the ummah. Other prerequisites, while generally agreed upon, differ slightly from scholar to scholar.

Al-Mawardi has written that each member should satisfy three conditions: he must be just, he must have enough knowledge of Islam to differentiate between a potentially good Khalifa and a bad one, and he must have sufficient wisdom and judgment to select the best leader.

Al-Juwayni has four conditions for the Majlis-ash-Shura: each member must be a man, knowledgeable, above average relatively, and Muslim. Abdul-Jabbar is of the opinion that the members must have enough knowledge to select he who can be Khalifa - enough Islamic knowledge in particular, and wisdom and judgment in general.

Muhammad Rida wrote that the Majlis-ash-Shura should be the best of the ummah, composed of the scholars, leaders, soldiers, businessmen, and respected people of the society. All the members should have deep knowledge of Islam as a basic prerequisite. They must be people whose opinions and decisions are obeyed and respected. The Majlis-ash-Shura should have people from many fields of expertise to ensure a broad base of support and knowledge. Faiyadh has written that the Majlis-ash-Shura serves as an intermediary between the people and the Khalifa. The most qualified people to be in the Majlis-ash-Shura are the leaders of the different 'tribes', the Muslim scholars, and those experienced in life (i.e., experts in non-Islamic fields like economics, engineering, medicine, etc.). These are also the ones who represent the ummah and who can speak against the ummah. Al-Baghdadi believed that the Khalifa and the Majlis-ash-Shura should be selected from amongst those who can choose wisely.

How the Majlis-Ash-Shura selects the Khalifa

There are four conditions which must be met for the Majlis-Ash-Shura to legitimately select a new Khalifa:
  1. There must currently be no existing Khalifa.
  2. A qualified and willing individual must accept his nomination by the Majlis-Ash-Shura.
  3. The nominee must have been selected freely by the Majlis-Ash-Shura - and the members of the Majlis-Ash-Shura must give him their bay'a.
  4. The bay'a must be given to the nominee by the general populace - though some scholars say this is optional.

When the Majlis-ash-Shura votes for the Khalifa, the members must formally select one of the candidates, and there must be no objection against that candidate which can be supported by evidence. However, Muslim scholars have differed on the number of members in the Majlis-ash-Shura needed to select a Khalifa from the list of candidates. Some scholars say that at least a majority of the Majlis-ash-Shura must agree on the new Khalifa.

Al-Ashari believes the Khalifa could be given to an eligible person even by a single vote if he comes from the Majlis-ash-Shura and has a good Islamic character. There must also be no valid objection supported by evidence or witnesses. Another group of scholar's opinion is that the Khalifa must have two votes for him in the Majlis-ash-Shura who are good Muslims (two because the Majlis-ash-Shura is a jama'a which is at least three people).

A fourth opinion is that the Khalifa must have four votes (with no countering objection) because witnessing to a charge of adultery in Islam requires four witnesses. A fifth opinion holds that at least three votes are necessary to make the decision have the strength of a jama'a behind it. A sixth opinion is that at least five votes are needed to make an even stronger decision.Finally, a seventh group of scholars believes that it requires 40 members of the Majlis-ash-Shura to vote for the same candidate for him to become the new Khalifa since Friday prayer requires 40 people to be valid (according to some scholars).

Using force to choose the Khalifa

One way the Khalifa may be chosen is through the use of force. Many Muslim scholars say that if a person has already seized power, then to avoid Muslim bloodshed that person should be accepted if he upholds his duties as the Khalifa of the Muslim ummah. Ibn Hanbal wrote that if a Khalifa has seized power, it is haram to fight him. However, he must meet his responsibilities under Islam.

Ash-Shafi'i believed that a person who seizes power and then is accepted by the people is a legitimate Khalifa. An-Nawawi believed that if someone forces himself on the ummah, but is qualified, then he should be accepted by the people to avoid Muslim bloodshed and to preserve Muslim unity. An-Nawawi also claimed that if the new Khalifa subsequently does not follow the sunnah of the Prophet precisely, it would be still be questionable to fight against him because of the paramount importance of avoiding Muslim bloodshed and disunity.

Ibn Khaldun, Al-Asqalani and Al-Juwayni all believed that forceful seizure of power by someone is legitimate as long as he follows Islam as the new Khalifa. Ibn Taymiya wrote that after someone has seized power, he is legitimate so long as he follows the Qur'an and Sunnah. All scholars are in unanimous agreement that using force to displace an already established Khalifa who is meeting his responsibilities is forbidden. The above scholars rely on the following ahadith to support their opinions. From Sahih Muslim: A companion of the Prophet named Hudhayfah asked the Prophet about what the future holds for the Muslims. The Prophet replied that they will be led by devils at some point. The Prophet then added that the Muslims should obey these leaders. From Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim: The Prophet noted that there will come leaders whom the Muslims will not like - that is, they will not follow the Sunnah precisely. The Prophet continued and ordered the Muslims to "give your right to them, and ask God for your right," or in other words be patient. From Sahih Muslim: The Prophet asked people for their bay'a in which he asked for obedience during weakness and strength, wealth and poverty. This request for obedience from the people applies to the Khalifas as well unless they exhibit signs of kufr.

Disobeying and Removing the Khalifa

Many Muslim scholars have commented on when it is permissible to disobey or remove the Khalifa, which is normally forbidden when the Khalifa is meeting all his responsibilities under Islam. Al-Mawardi believed that if the Khalifa has followed the Qur'an and Sunnah, the people must follow and support him. On the other hand, if he becomes either unjust or handicapped to the point of ineffectiveness (such as blindness or an amputation), then he must be removed.

Al-Baghdadi believed that if the Khalifa deviates from justice, the ummah needs to warn him first to return to the straight path. If this fails, then he can be removed. Al-Juwayni held that since Islam is the goal of the ummah, any Khalifa who steps away from this goal must be removed. Ashighistani wrote that if the Khalifa is found to be ignorant, oppressive, indifferent, or a kafir after his selection, then he must be removed.Al-Ghazali believed that an oppressive Khalifa must be told to desist from his crimes. If he does not, then he must be removed.

Al-Iji believed the ummah has a definite list of permissible reasons to remove the Khalifa. Al-Asqalani wrote that if the Khalifa starts to act as an unbeliever, it is prohibited to obey him and obligatory to fight him. It is obligatory to stand against him if one can - and this entails a big reward. Those people who choose to ignore the situation are in sin, whereas those who cannot fight should emigrate (to organize resistance). Al-Asqalani used two ayahs from the Qur'an in particular to support his position. The first is from surat Al-Ahzab 67-68, "...And they would say, 'Our Lord! We obeyed our chiefs and our great ones, and they deceived us as to the right path. Our Lord! Give them a double penalty and curse them with a very great curse'...", and the second is from surat Al-Baqara 167, "...And those who followed would say, 'If only we had one more chance, we would clear ourselves of them, as they have cleared themselves of us.' Thus will Allah show them (the fruits of) their deeds as (nothing but) regrets. Nor will there be a way for them out of the Fire..."

Muslim reported that Ibn Umar said the Prophet ordered every Muslim to obey their leader unless commanded to do something bad, in which case they must neither obey nor listen. Muslim also reported that Ibn Malik said the best leader is the one where mutual love exists between him and the people, and the worst leader generates mutual hate. However, even in the latter case, fighting the Khalifa is prohibited unless he enters kufr by stopping prayers or zakat for example. Ibn As-Samit reported that the Prophet said to obey him in all things and situations, and not to remove the leaders unless they openly practice kufr. Abu Daud reports from Ibn Ujrah that the Prophet entered a masjid, and said there will come leaders after him who disobey the Qur'an and Allah. Those who help them are not of the Muslims, but if someone opposes them, he or she is of the Prophet's people. Courtesy of

The Khalifa must be seriously and unrepentantly off the straight path if he is to be accused of kufr. Actions like neglecting prayers, ignoring the fast, and claiming that the Qur'aan and Sunnah are outdated are the types of crimes that indicate kufr on the part of the Khalifa.In such circumstances, he must be warned quietly first before taking any physical action against him. However, in cases where the Khalifa is not a kafir, but is simply very belligerent (e.g., seizing the land of others unjustly), the people are obligated to yield their rights (including possessions) to avoid bloodshed. Instead, they should pray to Allah Almighty to restore their rights. Courtesy of

The Removal of the Khalifa

The Majlis-ash-Shura is the body which has the authority to remove the Khalifa if he behaves contrary to Islam. At first, the Majlis-ash-Shura must advise the Khalifa of his deviant behavior, and warn him to stop. If the Khalifa does not change, then he must be told to resign. If he refuses and threatens to use physical force to stay on (e.g., a corrupt army backs him), then the Muslim ummah has three options available to it at that point:
Fight him according to some scholars.
Be patient, and let him lead, to avoid Muslim bloodshed. This is the strongest opinion: the majority of the ahl-ul-hadith and scholars of the Sunnah advocate this view including Malik, Ash-Shafi'i, and Ahmad.

Depending on the circumstance, either fight or be patient according to some scholars. When should the ummah have to fight? Muslim scholars all agree that fighting is obligatory on the ummah when the Khalifa starts to alter Islamic doctrine and practice. This makes him a clear kafir. Some scholars say that the Khalifa can be fought even when he becomes only a fasiq - e.g., he believes in prayer, but does not do it regularly. The majority of scholars say that this particular offense (neglecting prayer) is kufr anyway - not just fisq.

Abu Bakr As-Siddiq [R.A] said:

"...Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger (Muhammad, pbuh). But if I disobey God and His Messenger, ye owe me no obedience. Arise for your prayer, Allah had mercy upon you."

Wallahu A'lamu Bissawab

KHALIFAH HOME Our Paper on the Concept of Khalifah
The Covenant Chronology of
The Khilafah/Caliphate
The Khulafa-ur-Rashidun
(The Rightly Guided Caliphs)
Muslim Sultanate
in South-East Asia
Muslim Nation-States
(20th C. till Present)
Related Articles on
Khalifah/ Caliph
Important Links