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Caliphate

CALIPHATE

the caliph was the temporal and spiritual ruler of islam until the office was abolished in 1924.

The Ottoman dynasty's claim to the office had been widely recognized in the Muslim world by the end of the nineteenth century, even though its historical basis was controversial. The claim was based on an alleged transfer of caliphal authority to the House of Osman after Ottoman armies conquered Mamluk Egypt. There an Abbasid caliph with descent from the Quraysh tribe of the Prophet Muhammad had been maintained as a dependent figurehead.


Nationalism and the Caliphate

The caliphate signified the ideal of pan-Islamic unity and solidarity and served as a psychological rallying point for Muslims against imperialist encroachments. The impending collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I mobilized Muslims worldwide to campaign for the retention of the caliphate. The India Khilafat Congress was especially active in this cause during the peace negotiations of 1919, since Indian Muslims were seeking self-determination based on allegiance to the caliph.

After the Ottomans were defeated in the war, the Anglo-French occupation of Constantinople (now Istanbul), the seat of the caliphate, further compromised the authority of Sultan-Caliph Mehmet VI Vahidettin. Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) and other leaders of the Anatolian independence movement declared that a principal objective was to liberate the sultanate and the caliphate from occupation forces. At the same time, Vahidettin denounced the resistance on Islamic grounds. Political and military circumstances, however, gradually transformed the nationalists' attitude toward the caliphate. In view of the successes of the independence struggle and the complicity of Vahidettin with the occupying powers, the rival Ankara government promulgated in January 1921 the Fundamental Law which established the nation's sovereignty. On 1 November 1922, it passed legislation to abolish the Ottoman monarchy, separating the sultanate from the caliphate and maintaining the caliphate as a vague spiritual and moral authority. On November 16, Vahidettin sought asylum with British authorities and left Constantinople for Malta and later the Hijaz.


A Caliphate without Political Authority

The new law authorized the Turkish Grand National Assembly to select a meritorious member of the Ottoman dynasty as caliph. As the Muslim world debated the legitimacy of a caliphate without political authority, the assembly conferred the title of caliph on Abdülmecit II (18681944), son of Sultan Abdülaziz. The separation of the caliphate from the defunct monarchy was a tactical step toward abolishing the House of Osman and soothing domestic and international Muslim public opinion.

Foreign reaction was apathetic as the Khilafat Congress recognized the new caliph. In Turkey, though, the caliph quickly became the focus around which the proponents of the constitutional monarchy rallied. In October 1923, Mustafa Kemal declared the Turkish republic. The designation of the president of the republic as the head of state further compromised the caliph's position.

In December 1923, Indian Muslim leaders Amir Ali and Aga Khan, the imam of the Ismaʿili sect, wrote a letter to the Turkish prime minister Ismet Inönü urging retention of the caliphate. The Indian plea only accelerated the end. The Kemalists denounced the intervention of the two Muslim leaders as interference in the affairs of the new state and discredited them as Shiʿite British proxies. Indian religious scholars called for an international conference to determine the status of the caliphate. On 3 March 1924, the assembly passed legislation eliminating the office as part of a string of secularizing measures, including the abolition of religious education. The Kemalists argued that the caliphate was superfluous because the government of each Muslim country should administer both temporal and religious affairs.

Attempts to Create a New Caliphate

Abdülmecit left Turkey for Switzerland and later France. Since Turkey had emerged as the strongest independent country in the Muslim world, its abandonment of the caliphate elicited concern and disapproval from colonized Muslims, while in Turkey and other independent Muslim countries there was relative indifference. There was no Muslim consensus on how to respond to the Turkish fait accompli. The sharif of Mecca, now the king of the Hijaz, Husayn bin Ali, immediately put forward his claim, which was sanctioned by Vahidettin. King Fuʾad of Egypt and Imam Yahya of Yemen also emerged as possible candidates, as did the Moroccan and Afghan kings. Others advocated the continued recognition of Abdülmecit as the legitimate caliph. Husayn had a strong claim due to his prestige and descent from the Hashimite family of the Quraysh. Further, the British had revived the notion of a Meccan caliphate on the eve of the Arab Revolt. However, by 1924 Husayn lacked real political authority. In fact, Indian Muslims were inclined toward his rival, Abd al-Aziz ibn Saʿud of Najd. Ibn Saʿud, surrounded by Hashimite power in the Hijaz, Iraq, and Transjordan, felt even more threatened by Husayn's caliphal ambitions and invaded the Hijaz, forcing Husayn to exile.

There could be no agreement on a single candidate when no consensus existed on the continuation of the office. A Caliphate Congress (muʾtamar al-khilafa) convened in Cairo in May 1926 with the participation of ulama (clergy) from several Muslim countries. At this conference, King Fuʾad hoped to promote his claim, but the relative apathy toward the meeting and disagreement about eligibility requirements resulted in its adjournment with only the group's affirmation of the need to reinstitute a caliph. Yet the caliphate appeared as an ever-more-incongruent political institution in a Muslim world that was becoming increasingly fragmented. The issue of caliphal succession became embroiled in the nationalist rivalries and inward-looking struggles of the Muslim countries.

see also abd al-aziz ibn saʿud al saʿud; abdÜlmecit ii; atatÜrk, mustafa kemal; hashimite house (house of hashim); İnÖnÜ, İsmet; ismaʿili shiʿism; osman, house of; sharif of mecca; ulama.


Bibliography

Arnold, Thomas W. The Caliphate. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965.

Teitelbaum, Joshua. The Rise and Fall of the Hashemite Kingdom of Arabia. London: Hurst, 2001.

Toynbee, Arnold J. "The Abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate by the Turkish Great National Assembly and the Progress of the Secularization Movement in the Islamic World.". In Survey of International Affairs, 1925, vol. 1: The Islamic World since the Peace Settlement. London: Oxford University Press, 1927.

Hasan Kayali

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"Caliphate." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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caliphate

caliphate (kăl´Ĭfāt´, –fĬt), the rulership of Islam; caliph (kăl´Ĭf´), the spiritual head and temporal ruler of the Islamic state. In principle, Islam is theocratic: when Muhammad died, a caliph [Arab.,=successor] was chosen to rule in his place. The caliph had temporal and spiritual authority but was not permitted prophetic power; this was reserved for Muhammad. The caliph could not, therefore, exercise authority in matters of religious doctrine. The first caliph was Abu Bakr. He was succeeded by Umar, Uthman, and Ali. Sunni Muslims recognize these first four, or Rashidun (the rightly guided), caliphs. Shiites, however, recognize Ali as the first caliph. After Ali's death, Muawiya became caliph and founded the Umayyad dynasty (661–750), chiefly by force of arms. Its capital was Damascus. In 750 the Abbasid family, descended from the Prophet's uncle, led a coalition that defeated (749–50) the Umayyad family. The Abbasid dynasty (749–1258) is sometimes called the caliphate of Baghdad. One Umayyad, Abd ar-Rahman I, escaped the general massacre of his family and fled to Spain; there the emirate of Córdoba was set up in 780. This later became the caliphate of Córdoba, or the Western caliphate, and persisted until 1031. A third competing contemporaneous caliphate was established by the Fatimids in Africa, Syria, and Egypt (909–1171). After the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols under Hulagu Khan in 1258, the Abbasids fled to Egypt. The Ottomans captured Egypt in 1517 and Selim I assumed the title of caliph by questionable right. The Ottoman sultans, however, kept the title until the last sultan, Muhammad VI, was deposed. He was succeeded briefly by a cousin, but in 1924 the caliphate was abolished by Kemal Atatürk. A year later Husayn ibn Ali, king of Arabia, proclaimed himself caliph, but he was forced to abdicate by Ibn Saud. Subsequently, several pan-Islamic congresses attempted to establish a rightful caliph. A number of Islamist political parties and Islamist guerrilla groups have called for the restoration of the caliphate by uniting, either through peaceful political action or through force, Islamic nations in a transnational state.

See W. Muir, The Caliphate (1898, repr. 1964); T. W. Arnold, The Caliphate (1924, repr. 1966); A. S. Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects (1930, repr. 1970); M. Ali, Early Caliphate (tr. 1947); S. K. Bakhsh, The Caliphate (1954); P. K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (10th ed. 1970); H. Kennedy, The Early Abbasid Caliphate (1981).

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