The current Moroccan royal dynasty, the Alaouite family, which came to power in 1666, has a potentially marginal claim to a caliphal mantle.
They claim descent from Muhammed through his daughter Fatimah Zahra and her husband, the fourth Rashidun caliph Ali (similar to the reasoning of the Shi'a Fatamid counter-caliphate). The claim is not discussed or pressed and it is unlikely that it would be taken seriously, much as the claim of the Berber Almohads caliphate was disregarded by most Muslims 1,000 years ago.
There remain three potentially legal claimants to a traditional caliphate. Starting with the most tenuous, the heir-apparent of the 'absorbed' Nizam of Hyderabad, currently Barkat Ali Khan Mukarram Jah Asaf Jah VIII, is a legitimate claimant to a restored caliphate. The caliphal claim is through marriage, as he is the son of General Azam Jah, eldest son of the last ruling Nizam of Hyderabad and Princess Durr-e-Shevar daughter of Abdul Mejid II, the last Ottoman caliph and cousin and heir of the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The line of the Nizamate, rulers of the largest and wealthiest Princely State in pre-independence India, runs from the founder, Asaf Jah I in 1725 to 1948, when the last ruling Nizam abdicated after India invaded and occupied Hyderabad. The Nizam was married to Princess Durr-e-Shevar in November 1931 with the provision that the Nizam's son was nominated as the heir-apparent to the then caliph-in-exile Abulmecid II.
Abdication from the Nizamat in 1948 and absorption of Hyderabad into Hindu India has not legally invalidated the claim from an Islamic legitimacy perspective.
The current heir-apparent, Asaf Jah VIII lives in Istanbul, Turkey and his heir is Prince Azmet Jah. This combined line, uniting the Ottomans with the line of Muslim Hyderabad in a South Asian Muslim caliphate, would potentially be highly attractive to a large majority of Muslims in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia and possibly in southern and eastern Africa. It would most likely not be attractive to the Arab states or to the Islamic institutions that espouse an Islam that is 'Arab'. Most of the prerequisites to be caliph would probably be met except for one: that of being a member of the Qureshi, the Prophet Muhammed's tribe.
Assumption of the caliphate by a combined Ottoman/Nizamat line would also draw upon a previous Muslim South Asian imperial dynasty that never advanced a claim to the caliphate, the Mughal Empire (although it was reported that Emperor Aurangzeb did have the Khutba read in his name in 1660, which implies caliphal status).
The first Nizam had been granted governorship of the recently conquered Deccan by the Mughals in 1713 and although independence was never openly declared, the Mughals soon recognized the autonomous status of the Nizamat and acknowledged its independence in 1724, although the Nizam himself never openly commented upon it. It can be argued that residual legitimate Mughal authority resides in the line of the Nizam.
The next claimant to the caliphate is the Osman family. Their claim, as described earlier, is a combination of 'Force Majeure' (in the international law sense of the word) of the almost irresistible Ottoman military with the formal transfer of legitimacy from the last Abbasid caliph, al-Mutawakkil III in 1517. Reinforcement of this claim to the caliphate was provided in 1774 when the Ottoman Empire declared a 'Universal Caliphate' based on the Treaty of Kuçuk Kaynarca, signed between itself and the expanding Russian Empire. Aside from recognizing the cession of territory to Russia and granting of protection rights to the Orthodox Church over Christians in Ottoman territory, it also granted the Ottoman Empire the right to protect Muslims in Russian territory. This was the first time ever that the powers of a Muslim, not just an Ottoman, caliph had been exercised outside of the caliphate borders and sanctioned by a European (or any foreign non-Muslim) power.
The current heir-apparent to the Ottoman caliphal throne is Ertugrul Osman V, who happens to reside in New York City. Living in a two-bedroom apartment over a restaurant on Lexington Avenue, his full title is 'Devletli Necabetli Ertugrul Osman Efendi Hazrerleri' and he is the 43rd head of the Imperial House of Osman. Born in 1912 in the then Ottoman Empire, he was attending school in Vienna, Austria when he received word that the caliphate was abolished. He moved to the United States in 1933 and assumed the title in 1994. He is the seventh post-imperial head of the House of Osman and his heir-apparent is currently Prince Burhaneddin Cem Efendi. There are, in strict genealogical order, a total of 25 men in the line of succession to the title, the youngest being Prince Turan Cem Osmanoglu, born in 2004 and a descendant of Murad V (who ruled for 93 days in 1876).
The final traditional and potentially most legitimate claimant to a restored caliphate is the Sharifan/Hashemite royal dynasty currently resident in Amman, Jordan in the person of King Abdullah II. The claim is based on the fact that the current king is the 43rd direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, a powerful argument anywhere in the Muslim world. Secondly, the Hashemite family has ruled Mecca and much of the surrounding Hijaz region of Arabia since 1200 AD.
Thirdly, they are now a royal Arab family, one which does not subscribe to the extremely austere Peninsular Wahhabi creed of Hanbali Islam, with an extraordinary amount of international political credibility based upon the rule of King Hussein (1952-99) and his successor, the current king.
The first reported thoughts in declaring the Hashemites a new caliphal dynasty were by Sharif Abu Numayy in the thirteenth century. The thought was never translated into fact due to the much stronger Mamluk and then Ottoman forces in Syria and Egypt. In 1858 and 1860 the Arabs of northern Syria, under a British effort to oppose French expansion into the Levant and Egypt, supported the establishment of a 'new Arabian state under the sovereignty of the Shereefs of Mecca' as a kind of caliph.
From 1870 onward the idea of a Sharifan caliphate was repeatedly and publicly considered in various British circles, with the occasional support of such Muslims as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakabi.
Deposed as Sharif in October 1916 by the Ottomans, against whom he was in revolt as part of the Arab Uprising in the First World War, al-Husayn ibn Ali al-Hashimi, declared in November 1916 himself not only King of Hijaz, which was internationally recognized, but also Malik bilad-al-Arab (King of all Arabs), which was not. In 1924, he went further and declared himself caliph, abdicating his kingship to his eldest son, Ali bin Husayn, who ruled as such until his removal by the rivAl Sa'ud/Wahhab dynasty of the Najd region of Arabia. The Sharifan 'caliphate' ostensibly lasted until the death in 1931 of al-Husayn, who lived in exile in Transjordan with his son Abdullah bin al-Husayn.
Abdullah, first emir (1921) and then king (1946), ruled Transjordan and upon the death of his father did not assume the caliphate. Through the following reigns of Talal, Hussein and now Abdullah II, no Hashemite king has openly considered adopting the title of caliph.
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