in category Ottomans

Were the Ottoman rulers Caliphs and the Ottoman state a Caliphate?

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Masters in Education from Nottingham University, qualified teacher in the UK. Has studied Masters in Islamic Studies also Islamic Banking and Finance. Interests in Politics/History/Philosophy.
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In a Nutshell:
The Ottoman rulers themselves and scholars across their lands saw them as Caliphs and their state as the Caliphate. Even rulers of autonomous regions gained legitimacy from the Ottomans. Their enemies like the British, whilst often avoiding the term caliph and caliphate during their existence, gleefully employed it once their rule was terminated in 1924.
By the reign of Sulayman (1520-56), it was accepted the Ottomans were caliphs as well as sultans. The title of caliph was only really used in relations with other Muslim powers, like the rulers of Morocco, who were not under the direct authority of the Ottomans.

Ebu Su'ud, the leading Ottoman jurisconsult (1545-74) was categoric on this matter, redesignating the title of Sultan to Caliph, according the Caliph powers to interpret the divine sources and shari'ah (Colin Imber, Ebu's-Su'ud: The Islamic Legal Tradition)

Around 1553 in response to scholars claiming only a member of the Quraysh can be a caliph, the Ottoman grand vizier Lutfi Pasha wrote a pamphlet addressing this issue. His argument was a caliph is absolutely necessary, based on the widely known hadith stating

"Whoever dies without having known the imam [caliph] of their time, their death is the death of the jahiliyya..."
He then cites numerous authorities, including the historian Tabari, to the effect that the title of sultan belongs to a ruler who holds the power, while the imam is 'the one who maintains the Faith and governs the kingdoms of Islam with equity'. The caliph is 'he who commands the good and prohibits the evil [that is, maintains the shari'a]'. If the conditions mentioned above, that is conquest, power of compulsion, maintenance of the faith with justice, commanding the good and forbidding the evil, are combined in one person, then he is a sultan who can justly claim the titles of imam, caliph, wali and emir without contradiction. He points out:

'Our ullama have said that a man becomes sultan by two things: the first by the swearing of allegiance to him and the second is that he can effectively execute his decisions'
and then adds that not one of the legal authorities he has consulted has ruled or asserted that the caliph

'should be of Quraysh, nor of Hashimi descent, nor appointed by the Abbasid or any other person.'
For him, the requirement the imam should be Qurayshi was relevant to the beginnings of the caliphate, when the Quraysh asserted their rights over the ansar of Medina and Arabia privileged Quraysh over others, and was no longer relevant.

Lutfi's argument claimed the caliphate belonged to the one who leads and protects the Muslim people. The qualifications for the office are power and competence. Inheritance or kinship have no part in this. This argument also found in discussions of Juwayni and Ghazali in the eleventh century, for whom power was the main qualification for the office of caliph.

In the eighteenth century, another example of this title appears in the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca of 1774, where sultan Abd al-Hamid I (1774–89) ceding sovereignty of the Muslim Crimea to Catherine the Great of Russia. The sultan was described as 'the imam of the believers and the caliph of all those who profess the unity of God [that is, Muslims]'. (Hugh Kennedy, Caliphate, History of an Idea, pp. 215-257)

Abdul-Majid (d. 1861) on his rise ordered hundreds of wine bottles from the cellar of his father, the late Mahmud II, to be poured into the Bosphorus (Abu-Manneh, 1994). On appointment as Caliph, he proclaimed:

"God has appointed me Amir al-Muminin and a Caliph" exhorting Muslims to perform the five daily prayers and calling on state officials that "if they see men in the streets who did not go to the mosque, they should ask them about the reason..."
Moreover, he went on to write:

"The Caliphate has passed on to us by inheritance and by right… Because of that and because God had entrusted to our care the lands and the people, we have to depend upon divine support and upon the spiritual aid of the Prophet. Consequently it is our wish to see that the exalted Shari'a is applied in all matters and that all the inhabitants should enjoy tranquillity and peace." (Abu-Manneh, 1994:189)
Given the distance, the Caliphate has played a subordinated role in Indo-Muslim history. It would appear more often when a new political power began to establish itself and was craving legitimacy. This would suggest all were aware of the significance and importance of the caliph, with all legitimate authority flowing from him, whether they took notice or not. A number of rulers, mainly Turkic and Afghan, of the so-called Delhi sultanate between 1206 and 1526 sought investiture from the Abbasid caliph, even after he faded into the shadows of Mamluk-ruled Cairo. (Otto Spies, 'Ein Investiturschreiben des abbasidischen Kalifen in Kairo an einen indischen Koenig', Professor Muhammad Shaf Presentation Volume, Lahore: Punjab University Press, 1955, pp.241-53)

In 1785 Tipu Sultan of India had an embassy dispatched to the Sublime Porte. He requested Sultan Abd al-Hamid I (d. 1789) to permit him to set up a number of factories in the Ottoman lands, addressing the sultan clearly with caliphal appellations, thus showing an awareness of the continuation of the historical caliphate by the Ottomans (Hikmet Bayur, 'Maysor Sultanı Tipu ile Osmanlı Padişahlarından I. Abdülhamid veIII. Selim Arasındaki Mektuplaşma', Belleten-Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 12, 47, 1948, pp.617-54). 

Correspondence sent to the Ottomans from around the world often included the appellations of Caliph - an example appears here
 whilst European writers often wrote about them in glowing terms. Voltaire wrote in his 'Treatise on Tolerance' about the Islamic Ottoman Caliphate:

"Let us reach out from our narrow little sphere for a moment, and examine what goes on in the rest of the globe. The Turkish prince, for example, rules peacefully over twenty races of different religious conviction; two hundred thousand Greeks live in Constantinople in perfect safety, and the Mufti himself nominates and presents the Greek patriarch to his emperor; there is even a Roman Catholic patriarch living there. The Sultan nominates Catholic bishops to some of the Greek islands, with the following words: "I commend him to go and reside as bishop on the isle of Chios in accordance with its ancient customs and vain ceremonies". This empire is stuffed with Jacobites, Nestorians, Monothelites, Coptics, Christians of St John, Jews, Gebers, and Banians. The annals of Turkey bear no record of a revolt raised by any of these religious communities." (Voltaire, Treatise on Tolerance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 20-21)

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