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Masters in Education from Nottingham University in the UK. Also studied Masters in Islamic Studies and Islamic Banking & Finance. Political activist with interests in Geopolitics, History and Phil ...
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In a Nutshell:
The nature of the Caliphate (Khilafah) changed after the first 30 years of the Khulafah Rashidah. It became more temporal in nature however it remained a Caliphate until 1924 when secular nation states emerged.

It is often claimed the Khilafah became a monarchy after the first 30 years. They say this because the position of Khaleefah was "passed down" in a similar manner to how a monarchy passes down power within a dynastic context. Much of this relates to historic revisionism as a consequence of European colonialism and the need to darken Islamic history to bolster nation states:

"To control a people, you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture. And when your conqueror makes you ashamed of your culture and your history, he needs no prison walls and no chains to hold you" (John Henrik Clarke, Afro-American Historian)

I'll consider this hadith in some detail and what it means in this answer.

Writing nearly two centuries after the Mongol conquest of Baghdad, the classical jurist al-Shirazi insisted on the centrality of the Cairo Abbasid caliph for contemporary affairs, in both legal and metaphysical terms. In his explanation, the honour of the caliphate originates with the first of men and prophets: Adam.

Shirazi invokes God's words to the angels, "I am putting a trustee (khalifah) on earth" (Qur'an 2:30) to convey the honuor of God's designating Adam as the first of caliphs responsible for tending to God's creation. In addition to selecting Adam for this high and noble station, God further distinguished him by placing this successive leadership in his progeny (khala'if in Qur'an 6:165). Accordingly, he describes the word caliph or khalifah as the noblest of all titles. The best of creation in each era inherit this paternal role (magām al-ubuwwah) from the father of humankind and no king or sultan can compare with the glory of a caliph. Indeed, the caliph commands what God commands, and therefore opposition to him in reality means disobedience of God.

As he elaborates, the caliphate travelled from prophet to prophet until it reached the Muhammad (saw), the final seal of prophets and then from saint to saint after him and from him, until it reached "Our Master, the Commander of the Believers" al-Mu'tadid III Dawud. The caliph has been granted all the lands of Islam, he explained, as well as executive authority over them as the metaphorical shadow of God on earth in whom all the weak and powerless can seek refuge. His very presence provided stability and order in the world and yields immense blessings and benefit to all. In al-Shirazi's eyes, supporting religion and the welfare of Muslims are synonymous with taking care of the caliphate and appreciating its worth and the cause of success, salvation, and every good.


Evidences

1. خلافة النبوة ثلاثون سنة ثم يؤتي الله الملك من يشاء
"The Khilafah will be 30 years then there will be mulk" (Abu Dawud and Hakim)

2. الخلافة بعدي في أمتي ثلاثون سنة ثم ملك بعد ذلك
"The Khilafah after me in my Ummah will last for thirty years. Then there will be mulk after that." (Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Abi Ya'laa, and Ibn Hibban)

3. "The Khilafah in my Ummah after me will be for thirty years. Then there will be mulk aduud (hereditary rule) after that." (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud (2/264), Musnad of Ahmad (1/169))

4. تكون النبوة فيكم ما شاء الله أن تكون ، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها ، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة ، فتكون ما شاء الله أن تكون ، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها ، ثم تكون ملكا عاضا ، فيكون ما شاء الله أن تكون ، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها ، ثم يكون ملكا جبريا ، فتكون ما شاء الله أن تكون ، ثم يرفعها إذا شاء أن يرفعها ، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة ، ثم سكت

"The Prophethood will remain amongst you for as long as Allah wills it to be. Then Allah will raise it when He wills to raise it.
Then there will be the khilafah upon the Prophetic method. And it will last for as long as Allah wills it to last. Then Allah will raise it when He wills to raise it.
Then there will be biting mulk, and it will remain for as long as Allah wills it to remain. Then Allah will raise it when He wills to raise it.
Then there will be forceful mulk and it will remain for as long as Allah wills it to remain. Then He will raise it when He wills to raise it.
Then there will be a Khilafah upon the Prophetic method. Then he (the Prophet) was silent. (Ahmad and Abu Dawud)

5. لتنقضن عرى الإسلام عروة عروة فكلما انتقضت عروة تشبث الناس بالتي تليها فأولهن نقضا الحكم و آخرهن الصلاة
"The knots of Islam will be broken, one by one, and every time a knot is annulled the people will hold fast to the one that follows it. The first of them to be broken is the rule (al-hukm), and the last of them is the prayer (al-salat)." (Ahmad, Ibn Hibban and Hakim)


Analysis

The misunderstanding relates to the various ahadith on this matter that speak of "Mulk" arising after 30 years of Khilafah - some erroneously translate this term as kingship or monarchy.

Mulk:

The term Mulk is a homograph (mushtarak), having multiple meanings, linguistically originating in the notion of ownership.To determine the correct meaning, further enquiry is required. Given this is a prophecy about future events, and no other text clarifies the precise meaning of this word, we can only look at subsequent events to determine what was meant.

It is however worth considering one hadith first. The Prophet (saw) said "After me there will be no more prophets but khulafah and they will be many in numbers". The khulafah rashida numbered 4 or 5, by no stretch of the imagination can they be seen as "many in number" if they were followed by Kings and Monarchs which raises doubt about such a claim.

Considering history, the rulers following the 30 year period ending with Imam Hasan (ra) start with the 20 year rule of the companion Mu'awiyyah (ra), continuing with those from the Umayyad dynasty, first amongst them his son Yazid, and including illustrious rulers like Umar bin Abdul Aziz (ra).

Monarchical rule as a phenomenon is contested amongst scholars given its diversity through history and across civilisations and cultures. However during the prophet's era, dominant neighbouring civilisations like the Byzantines, Persians and others had monarchical rule that broadly exhibited characteristics of:

  • personal sovereignty,
  • divinely ordained familial rule, and
  • legal ownership/inheritance of power.

A monarchical system is primarily defined by whoever is sovereign - whoever has the ultimate right to legislate laws. Then comes support for the loci of power as the sole prerogative of a given family or dynasty. Finally an institutionalised legal system of rights and duties is required, defining who can inherit power. In a monarchy, the king or queen is the sovereign, the ultimate source of law in the land, theories like "divine right of kings" arguing God ordained power within given dynasties and legal arrangements in place for features such as primogeniture, rights of the first born.

Khilafah:

The Umayyad Khilafah and rule (and later Abbasid and Ottoman rule) had none of these characteristics. The driving ideology of state and governance always was Islam, as seen in the legal system, juristic debate, collective culture, and nasihah literature.

Since the passing away of the Prophet (saw) until the fall of the Khilafah in 1924 Allah (swt) was always recognised as sovereign, the ultimate source of law in the land, no matter how oppressive some individual Khulafah were. The judiciary always judged by Islam across the Muslim world, even territories that became autonomous, and no reports have ever been cited by any other legal system having been applied. No legal system was ever institutionalised in relation to inheritance of power or primogeniture - the Islamic bay'ah being remaining the means of transfer of power from the people to the new khalif.

The misapplication of the bay'ah by Muawiyah when he chose his son to become khalifa after him was exactly that - a misapplication of the bay'ah. It was not an application of the concept of royal bloodline, a legal system allowing for the inheritance of power, nor an application of the idea of the sovereignty of the people.

The meaning of the term Mulk in the ahadith then can only refer to the alternative meaning of the term which is treating power as if they owned it, by retaining it within their family, regardless of the wishes of the ummah, ie a bearing down and control of power - abusing and distorting the bay'ah process. The system however remains a Khilafah - albeit one that has some temporal characteristics whereby this system can also be characterised as dynastic but not monarchical. Dynasties however are permitted under Islam

Dynasties:

Whilst some object to dynastic rule that characterised much of our history, they should note even the khulafah rashidah were all from the Quraysh dynasty, and the Prophet (saw) recommended caliphs be chosen from that dynasty.

"The imams (rulers) are to be from Quraysh." (Ahmad)

"Verily this matter belongs to Quraysh and no one opposes them but Allah will throw him onto his face (in the Fire), so long as they uphold the faith." (Bukhari, 3500)

Dynastic rule is permitted, subject to the ummah freely giving bay'ah to their members - something we saw happen throughout our history.

Monarchic rule however is forbidden. We have never had monarchic rule in our history.

Scholars:

This understanding has been confirmed by jurists and scholars throughout our history who fulfilled the bay'ah and confirmed their rulers as caliphs.

The Maliki jurist Qadi Iyad famously said:

"...it has been mentioned in the latter hadith 'The Khilafah after me will be for thirty years, then there will be a hereditary rule' this contradicts the hadith regarding the twelve Khaleefah for in the thirty years there were only the Khulafah Rashidun and months in which the bay'ah was given to al-Hasan b. al-Ali. The answer to this is: What is meant by 'the Khilafah will be for thirty years' is the Khilafah of the Nubuwwah (Prophethood)…" (As quoted by an-Nawawi in his Sharh Sahih Muslim, 1821)

Sayf ad-Deen al-Amidi, the great Shafi'i usuli scholar, says:

"And his (saw) saying 'After me the Khilafah will be for thirty years and then it will turn into a mulkan adooda (hereditary power)' this hadith does not indicate the Khilafah is restricted to the Khulafah Rashideen (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali (ra)) since their Khilafah lasted for thirty years as stated by the Prophet (saw). And nor does the hadith mean that there is no Khilafah after the Khulafah Rashideen.

Rather what is meant is: The Khilafah after me in terms of the responsibilities of the Imamah and following my Sunnah without increase or neglect will be for thirty years, contrary to the period after this when most of the ruling will be of kings. Despite this the continuity of the Khilafah is indicated by the following two things:

The first: The Ijma of the Ummah in every age on the obligation to follow an Imam of that time and upon the fact the Imam and Khalifah must be obeyed.

Second: He (saw) said: 'then it will become (taseer) mulkan'. The personal pronoun (dameer) in 'taseeru mulkan' refers to the Khilafah. Since the mentioned (verb) cannot refer to anything other than the Khilafah, as if it is saying 'and then the Khilafah becomes a mulk' It judged that the Khilafah will becomes a mulk, the judgment on a thing requires that the thing itself exists." (al-Imamah min Abkar al-Afkar fi Usul al-Din, p.306)

Al-Taftazani observed:

'This is a difficult problem, for the people of influence and representation (Ahl Halli wal aqd) of the Muslim people were agreed on the Khilafah of the Abbasids and some of Banu Marwan, such as 'Umar b. 'Abd al-Aziz, for example. Perhaps the meaning here (referring to the above hadith that the Khilafah will be thirty years) is rather that the perfect Khilafah, in which there is no dross due to difference [of opinion] or inclination away from following [the right Khaleefah], will be for a period of thirty years, and then after it there might be or there might not be a Khilafah... If objection is made that since the period of the Khilafah was thirty years, then the time subsequent to the rightly guided Khalifahs is devoid of the Imam and whole of the Muslim people are thus disobedient an when they die, they die as in the days of ignorance, we reply that it has already been pointed out that the perfect Khilafah is what is meant.'

Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti recounts the history of the Khulafah charting 900 years with the death Mutawakkil Abul Izz in 903 AH and the appointment of his son al-Mustamsik Billah, commenting in his introduction:

"This is a brief history in which I present the biography of the Khulafah, the Amirs of the Believers who looked after the affairs of the Ummah from the time of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq – may Allah be pleased with him! – until this our time…" (Tarikh al-Khulafah - History of the Caliphs)

Notable scholars throughout Islamic history had a relationship with the Khulafah, whether they accounted them, such as Abu Hanifah and al-Mansur, or worked for them such as Qadi Abu Yusuf who was the Qadi al-Qudah (chief judge) under Harun al-Rashid or they participated in the bay'ah of a Khaleefah such as Izz b. Abd as-Salam, who gave bay'ah to Mustansir Billah after the defeat of the Tatars.

Towards the end of the Uthmani Khilafah, Sheikh al-Hind Maulana Mahmood Hassan (the then head of Darul Uloom Deoband) issued a fatwa regarding saving the Uthmani Khilafah from the enemies of Islam:

"The enemies of Islam have left no stone unturned to strike against and harm the honour and prestige of Islam. Iraq, Palestine and Syria that were won over by the Prophet's companions and his followers, after in numerous sacrifices, have once again become targets of greed of the enemy of Islam. The honour of Khilafat is in tatters. Khalifat ul-Muslimin, who used to unite the entire community on this planet; who is the vice-regent of Allah on this earth; used to implement the universal law of Islam; who used to protect the rights and interests of Muslims and used to preserve and ensure the glory of the words of the Creator of this universe be preserved and implemented, has been surrounded by enemies and made redundant." (From the Fatwa of Sheikh ul Hind Maulana Mahmood Hassan, 16th Safar 1339 AH, October 29 1920 CE, appearing on page 78 of English translation of 'The Prisoners of Malta' by Maulana Syed Mohammad Mian)

Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar, a founder of the Khilafat movement noted:

"The ruler of Turkey was the Khaleefah or successor of the Prophet and Amir -ul- Mu'mineen or chief of the believers and the Khilafah is as essentially our religious concern as the Qur'an or the Sunnah of the Prophet." (My Life a Fragment, pg.41)

The contemporary scholar Mohammad Al Hassan Al-Didu of Mauritania addresses this issue too and makes it quite clear that the caliphate lasted until the end of the Ottoman era:





Conclusion

The nature of the Caliphate (Khilafah) changed after the first 30 years of the Khulafah Rashida.

Over time, it became more temporal in nature, however it remained a Caliphate until 1924 when secular nation states emerged.

References

Amidi, al-Imamah min Abkar al-Afkar fi Usul al-Din
Erik von Kuehnelt Leddihn, Liberty or Equality
Fatwa of Sheikh ul Hind Maulana Mahmood Hassan, 16th Safar 1339 AH, October 29 1920 CE, page 78 of English translation of 'The Prisoners of Malta' by Maulana Syed Mohammad Mian
Gerald Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam - The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661-750
Hugh Kennedy, Caliphate - The History of an Idea
Hugh Kennedy, When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World_ The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty
Jo van Steenbergen, Caliphate and Kingship in a Fifteenth-Century Literary History of Muslim Leadership and Pilgrimage
Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism - A Comparative Study of Total Power
Mohammed Ali Johar, My Life a Fragment
Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim


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