Khilafah is what the Prophet (pbuh) sought to create and worked for in Mecca, for a period of thirteen years, until he (pbuh) established it Medina.
The famous Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun defined it as:
"A representation, of the one who has the right to adopt the divine rules, aimed at protecting the Din and ruling the world (Dunia) with it.
Al-Mawardi defined it as:
"Succession of the Prophethood aimed at protecting the Din and ruling the world (dunia)."
Taqi al-din al-Nabhani (the founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir) defined as:
"A total leadership for all the Muslims aimed at implementing the Shari'a of Islam and carrying the Message of Islam to the world."
The ruling system in Islam is a structure that is based on four principles:
1. The supremacy is to the Shari'a and not to the Ummah.
2. The authority is for the Ummah
3. Appointing one Khaleef is an obligation on all Muslims.
4. The Khaleef has power to adopt the divine law.
The State system is built upon eight pillars:
1. The Khaleef.
2. The delegated assistants.
3. The executive assistants.
4. The Amir of Jihad.
5. The Judges.
6. The governors of the provinces (wilaya).
7. An administrative system.
8. The consultative assembly (majlis al-shura).
A standard English-language encyclopaedia, defines 'caliphate' as:
the rulership of Islam; caliph, the spiritual head and temporal ruler of the Islamic state. In principle, Islam is theocratic: when Muhammed died, a caliph [Arabic = 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 Muhammed. The caliph could not, therefore, exercise authority in matters of religious doctrine. The Columbia encyclopaedia, Sixth Edition Online
The point can be argued and has been, that the caliph was not only the temporal and spiritual (meaning able to head worship services and conduct religious ceremonies and rites) ruler, he was also God's Deputy on Earth and thus was qualified to comment on, or more importantly, reinterpret Sura, Hadith and Sunna. Therefore, the caliph also had scholarly authority, could exercise religious authority and revise or establish religious doctrine. If the caliphate is restored, the potential struggle to define these differing interpretations would be critical not only to the US but to all Muslims.
However, to be fair, one must see how a noted Muslim and Islamist describes what 'caliphate' means. Abul A'la Maududi said:
The political system of Islam is based on three principles: Tawhid (unity of God/Allah), Risalat (Prophethood) and Khilafah (Viceregency). Tawhid means only Allah is the Creator, Sustainer and Master of the universe and of all that exists in it, organic and inorganic. The sovereignty of this kingdom is vested only in Him. He alone has the right to command or forbid. Hence it is not for us to decide the aim or purpose of our existence or to set limits of our authority; nor is anyone else entitled to make these decisions for us. This principle of the unity of Allah totally negates the concept of the legal and political independence of human beings, individually or collectively. No individual, family, class or race can set themselves above Allah. Allah alone is the Ruler and His commandments are the Law.
Now consider the Khilafah. According to the Arabic lexicon, it means 'representation.' Man, according to Islam, is the representative of Allah on earth, His viceregent. That is to say, by virtue of the powers delegated (author's emphasis) to him by Allah, he is required to exercise his Allah-given authority in this world within the limits prescribed by Allah. A state that is established in accordance with this political theory will in fact be a human caliphate under the sovereignty of Allah and will do Allah's will by working within the limits prescribed by Him and in accordance with His instructions and injunctions.
The above explanation of the term Khalifah also makes it abundantly clear that no individual or dynasty or class can be Khalifah, but that the authority of caliphate is bestowed on any community which accepts the principles of Tawhid and Risalat.
"(Without the Khalifa) the judges will be suspended, the Wilayaat (provinces) will be nullified, ... the decrees of those in authority will not be executed and all the people will be on the verge of Haram (committing unlawful acts)" (Imam al-Ghazali)
Muslim scholarship confirmed the need for law and order, governance and regulation of society. The nature of governance was articulated in the Caliphate theology by Sunni Scholars and the Imamate theology amongst Shi'i scholars, the key difference being whether the Caliph must be from the descendants of the Prophet(saw).
The Caliph is defined as the moral and temporal leader of the Muslim ummah, whose role is to implement the Shari'a, protect the frontiers and organise a global Islamic call through diplomacy and warfare. The fundamental principles of Islamic governance comprised: sovereignty is for God (hakimiyyat Allah), authority for the ummah (sultan lilummah) and the Caliph is contracted to implement and enforce the Shari'a with the responsibility of accountability resting on the ummah. The Caliph represented God's shadow on earth and was responsible for preserving rights and dealing with injustices. He would have an advisory body which would also represent and account him on behalf of the ummah. None of this was ever in any serious dispute amongst the classical jurists. As an example of the jurist's views, ibn Taymiyah wrote:
"Definitely the sultan is a servant of God, created by Him, always in need of Him and cannot dispense with Him. But there are some qualities possessed by the sultan like ability, authority protection, support and other attributes of mastery (su'dad) and lordship (samadiyya) on which rests the control and welfare of the people. That is the reason why he resembles the shadow of God on earth; besides he is the most effective cause to put the affairs of the people in order... However if there is no shadow there will be complete disorder. That is a case similar to the situation if God does not exist, because God is the One who sustains all mankind."
Differences have been expressed on ancillary aspects of theory and implementation details. Mawardi for instance focused on the Abbasid rule in contradistinction to the Fatamid pretenders in his political discussions of the twelfth century. Al-Nabhani takes Islamic law and uses it to show how the Caliphate would be implemented in contemporary Muslim societies and how it would deal with problems. The divine evidences used for this form of government included:
"Indeed, we have revealed to you the book with the truth so that you may rule between mankind by that which Allah has shown you" (Qur'an 4:105)
"So rule between them by that which Allah has revealed and follow not their desires, but beware of them in case they seduce you from just some part of that which Allah has revealed to you" (Qur'an 4:49).
"Whosoever does not rule by that which Allah has revealed, they are disbelievers (Kafiroon)... the zaalimoon (oppressors)... the fasiqoon (evil doers)" (Qur'an 4. 5:44-47)
"When the oath of allegiance has been taken for two Khalifs, kill the latter of them"
"Whosoever comes to you while your affairs has been united under one man, intending to break your strength or dissolve your unity, kill him"
"The children of Israel have been governed by Prophets; whenever a Prophet died another Prophet succeeded him; but there will be no prophet after me. There will soon be Khulafa'a and they will number many (in one time); they asked: What then do you order us? He (saw) said: Fulfil allegiance to them, the first of them, the first of them and give them their dues; for verily Allah will ask them about what he entrusted them with"
"The one who removes his hand from obedience he will meet Allah without a proof for himself' and Whosoever dies without a bay'ah (to a Khalifah) on his neck dies the death of Jahiliyya"
"Whoever pledged allegiance to an Imam giving him the clasp of his hand and the fruit of his heart, he should obey him as long as he can and if another comes to dispute with him, you must strike the neck of the latter."
"Whosoever dies and he does not have over him an Imam, he dies the death of Jahilyyah."
Abu Bakr replied: "It is forbidden for Muslims to have two Amirs (rulers)..."
Umar advised these six people to select a Khalifah and appointed to them a three day time limit. After a long talk with them he said: "When I die, consult for three days and let Suhaib (in these days) lead the Muslims in prayer. Do not let the fourth day come without having an Ameer upon you."
Ali ibn abi Taalib (ra) said, "The people will not be straightened except by an Imam (Khalifah), whether he is good or bad." (Bayhaqi, No. 14286, Kanz ul-ummal)
Numerous jurists supported and substantiated the idea of the Caliphate. According to the Mufassir (exegete) Al-Qurtubi, when referring to "And when your Lord said to the angels, I am going to place in the earth a Khalifa" Qur'an(30:2), "This Ayah (verse) is a source in the selection of an Imam and a Khaleef (Caliph), he is listened to and he is obeyed, for the word is united through him and the Ahkam (laws) of the Caliph are implemented through him and there is no difference regarding the obligation of that between the Ummah, nor between the Imams except what is narrated about al-Asam, the Mu'tazzili." He also said: "The Khilafah (Caliphate) is the pillar upon which other pillars rest."
For Nawawi, "(The scholars) consented that it is an obligation upon the Muslims to select a Khalif."
According to al-Ghazali, when writing of the potential consequences of losing the Caliphate, "The judges will be suspended, the Wilayaat (provinces) will be nullified, ... the decrees of those in authority will not be executed and all the people will be on the verge of Haram (commiting unlawful acts)".
For Imam al-Mawardi, "The contract of the Imama (leadership) for whoever is standing with it is an obligation by Ijma (consensus)."
Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal, said, "The Fitnah (mischief and tribulations) occurs when there is no Imam established over the affairs of the people."
Al-Jaziri said regarding the four Imams: "The Imams agree that the Imama (Leadership) is an obligation and that the Muslims must appoint an Imam who would implement the deen's rites and give the oppressed justice against the oppressors."
After stripping revisionist accounts from the various periods of Muslim history one notes an impressive history which achieves genuine continuity and exemplifies the application of Islam that few civilisations in human history can match.
In conclusion, the Caliphate system historically has been an essential part of the body of Islam. Its purpose was to promulgate a universal moral order; arguably similar in perspective, if not content, to other religious traditions and to policy making based on natural law arguments.
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