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In a Nutshell:
Most jurists historically stipulated a Caliph must be of Quraysh lineage based on a number of ahadith. Others like Ibn Khaldun argued the reason the Prophet (saw) made this stipulation was due to competence. Quraysh was respected throughout Arabia and as rulers would gain the support of most tribes. If this can be done by other tribes or dynasties, this is permitted.


"People are subservient to Quraysh in this matter: the Muslims among them [being subservient] to the Muslims among them, and the disbelievers among them [being subservient] to the disbelievers among them." (Muslim, Bukhari, Ahmad).

"This matter will remain in Quraysh, so long as two of them remain" (Muslim, Volume 9, Book 89, Number 254)

'This matter (of the caliphate) will remain with the Quraish, and none will rebel against them, but Allah will throw him down on his face as long as they stick to the rules and regulations of the religion (Islam).'" (Muslim, Volume 9, Book 89, Number 253)

"There will be twelve Muslim rulers (who will rule all the Islamic world) ... All of them (those rulers) will be from Quraysh." (Bukhari, 7222; Muslim, Volume 9, Book 89, Number 329)

"The religion will continue upright until the Hour has been established, or you have [been ruled] over by twelve Caliphs, all of them from Quraysh" (Muslim)

"Islam will continue to be triumphant until there have been twelve Caliphs, all of them from Quraysh." (Muslim)

"Verily this matter [of rule] shall [remain] in Quraysh so long as when they are asked for mercy, they show mercy, when they rule, they are just, and when they distribute, they are equitable, so whoever from them does not do this, then upon him is the curse of Allah, the angels and all of humankind, and compulsory acts and voluntary acts will not be accepted from him" (Ahmad, al-Bazzar, al-Tabrani with trustworthy narrators as cited in Majma al-Zawa'id (5:193))

Allah's Messenger (saw) said to Quraysh, "Verily this matter [of rule] shall [remain] among you and you shall remain in charge of it, until you innovate actions [that deprives you of Allah's support], and when you do this, Allah shall impose upon you the worst of His creation which will tear you apart just as a stick is torn apart." (Ahmad, al-Tabrani, Ahmad)

It was narrated in the hadith of Anas (ra) in marfu form:

"The imams are from Quraysh so long as they do three [things]:

- when they are asked for mercy, they show mercy;

- when they make a treaty, they keep it; and

- when they rule, they are just" (Musnad Al-Bazzar as mentioned in Kashf al-Astar by al-Haythami (2:228))

Juristic Analysis

From the above ahadith most classical jurists historically argued Qurayshite lineage was a mandatory condition for contracting the Caliphate. Some went as far as claiming there was a scholarly ijma (consensus) on this, Nawawi (ra) being an example:

"These hadiths and those similar to them are clear proof that the caliphate is specific to Quraysh and its contraction is not permissible for any beside them, and on this ijma' convened in the time of the Companions and also after them. So whoever disagrees in this [matter] amongst the heretics (ahl al-bid'ah), or alludes to a disagreement from other than them, he is confuted by the ijma of the Companions and the Successors, and those after them by the authentic hadiths."

However this is not the case as noted by scholars like the Shafi'i usuli Amidi who said this was one of the six conditions that was disputed amongst scholars. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani also disagreed saying:

"In order to convey ijma, it is necessary to interpret what has been transmitted from Umar (ra) on this, as Ahmad transmitted from Umar with a chain whose narrators are trustworthy that he said, 'If my appointed time [of death] reached me and Abu Ubaydah were living, I would appoint him as caliph' ... 'And if my appointed time reaches me and Abu Ubaydah is dead I would appoint Mu'adh ibn Jabal as caliph' to the end of the hadith. Mu'adh ibn Jabal (ra) is an Ansari with no [familial] connection to Quraysh... And it is possible one may argue: probably the ijma on the conditionality of the caliph being Qurayshite occurred after Umar or Umar's judgement changed" (al-Fath, 13:119)

Likewise Imam al-Juwayni:

"[One] of the conditions of Imamate according to our [Shafi'i] scholars is that the Imam [must] be Qurayshite, since Allah's Messenger (saw) said, 'The Imams are from Quraysh' and he said 'Put Quraysh ahead and do not go ahead of it'. This is something that some people had disagreements about, and there is [legitimate] scope in it for this other interpretation." (Kitab al-Irshad fi Usul al-I'tiqad, p. 427)

"The reason for this [conditionality of Qurayshite lineage] is that knowledge is claimed by every extremist zealot, and when the splendour of mulk combines with little knowledge, no one can attribute to the malik absence of knowledge; but lineage is something that one cannot have claim to, so those who are not related [to Quraysh] will not claim Imamate. Thus, this is the reason for affirming the conditionality of lineage. We do not rationalise the need to establish a lineage for the Imamate, but Allah specified this high position and lofty rank to the members of the Prophetic household. That is from the grace of Allah, He gives it to whomsoever He wills." (Ghiyath al-Umam fi al-Tiyath al-Zulam, p. 82)

And Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi:

"Al-Ka'bi believed that the Quraysh is more deserving of it than the one who is suited to it from the non-Qurayshi, but if they fear a civil war, its contraction is permissible for a non-Qurayshi." (Usul al-Din, p. 275)

All of the ullama have related the statement of Dirar ibn Amr al-Ghatafani:

"There is no distinction at all between one being Qurayshi or an Ethiopian slave, and neither of them have any advantage and merit over the other" (Sharh al-Ashbah wa 'l-Naza'ir by al-Hamawi (2:267))

leading to the possibility Muslims did not consider this opinion after the establishment of the hadith 'the Imams are from Quraysh' and its practice by the Muslims century after century and by consideration of this, ijma convened before a dispute occurred. Ibn Hajar however refuted this understanding:

"I say: practice of the view of Dirar [occurred] before those who undertook the caliphate from Kharijites against the Umayyads, like al-Qatri, existed … Likewise, non-Kharijites were called Amir al-Mu'minin from those who stood against al-Hajjaj, like ibn al-Ash'ath, then the caliphate was used [as a title] for all who stood in a region from the regions in whatever time, so the caliphate was designated [for an individual] while [he was] not from Quraysh, like Banu Abbad and others in Andalusia, and like 'Abd al-Mu'min and his descendents in all of the West [African] lands. They resembled the Kharijites in this, although they did not profess their opinions, nor adopt their views, rather they were from the Ahl al-Sunnah and called to it." (Fath al-Bari, Kitab al-Ahkam (13:118, 119))

Ibn Khaldun discussed this condition at length in his Muqaddimah:

"Once it is established that Quraysh as a condition was intended to remove dissension with the help of [Qurayshite] group feeling and superiority, and [if] we know the Lawgiver does not make special laws for any one generation, period, or nation, we [also] know it is due only to competence. Thus, we have linked it up with [the condition of competence] and have established the underlying cause (illa) included in the purpose behind Qurayshite lineage, which is the existence of group feeling. Therefore, we consider it a condition for the person in charge of the affairs of the Muslims he belong to people who possess a strong group feeling, superior to that of their contemporaries, so that they can force the others to follow them and the whole thing can be united for effective protection." (Muqaddimah, p. 170)

Baqilani held a similar position:

ومن القائلين بنفي اشتراط القرشية القاضي أبو بكر الباقلاني لما أدرك عليه عصبية قريش من التلاشي والاضمحلال واستبداد ملوك العجم من الخلفاء فأسقط شرط القرشية وإن كان موافقا لرأي الخوارج لما رأى عليه حال الخلفاء

Among those who did not require the condition of being from the Quraish tribe was the judge Abu Bakr Al-Baqilani when he realized that in his time the solidarity in favor of the Quraish had vanished and that foreign kings possessed power over the Caliphs, so he no longer saw a need for this condition, despite agreeing with the Khawarij on this matter, since he could observe the state of the Caliphs.​​​​​​(Ta’reekh, Ibn Khaldun)

Around 1553 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.

Others who differed are cited by scholars but need further investigation:

  • Dr. Abd al-Azim al-Dib on Juwayni's Ghiyath al-Umam (p. 82) states Ibn Taymiyyah professed non-conditionality of Qurayshite lineage for the caliph - however this does not seem to appear in Fatawa Ibn Taymiyyah.
  • Ibn Khaldun transmitted in the Muqaddimah (p. 169, chapter 26) that one of those who said being Qurayshite is not a condition is Qadi Abu Bakr al-Baqillani - however in his book Tamhid al-Awa'il (p. 471-3) Baqillani appears to support the view of the conditionality of being Qurayshite.
  • Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri in Fayd al-Bari (4:498) claims "in Mawahib al-Rahman Qurayshite lineage is not a condition according to our Imam (Abu Hanifa). Moreover, I do not know whether this is a narration from him or not." If this is authentic, it would appear the non-conditionality [of Qurayshi lineage] is a narration from Abu Hanifah.

As for the ahadith citing Quraysh such as "The imams are from Quraysh" and "This matter will remain in Quraysh, so long as two of them remain", those who do not stipulate Qurayshite lineage as a condition see this as a declarative statement (khabar) and not a shari' condition for contracting the caliphate.

They also argue Allah says, "O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another" (Qur'an 49:13), since it negates superiority of lineage; and the Prophet's (saw) saying, "There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab."


Most jurists historically stipulated a Caliph must be of Quraysh lineage based on a number of ahadith. Others like Ibn Khaldun argued the reason the Prophet (saw) made this stipulation was due to competence. Quraysh was respected throughout Arabia and as rulers would gain the support of most tribes. If this can be done by other tribes or dynasties, this is permitted.

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