February 07, 2011

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Understanding Egypt: History of the Caliphate (part one) Editor’s note: The Blaze is featuring some guest posts to help our readers gain a deeper understanding of the situation in Egypt.  In this post, Joel Richardson looks at the Caliphate concept in historical context. Historically, Caliph (Khalifa) is the title given to those individuals who succeeded Muhammad after his death as the leader of the Muslims.  The Arabic word khalifa means successor, and the full title khalifatu rasulil-lah means “successor to the messenger of Allah”. The Caliph is to be the political, military and administrative leader of all Muslims. The Caliph is the Pope, President and General of the Islamic world all wrapped into one. The office and government of the Caliph is known as the Caliphate (Khilafat). The Caliphate is the only form of government fully sanctioned within early Islamic theology.  The purpose of the Caliphate is to govern the Islamic world under the Islamic Shariah law. Caliphs were also referred to with other titles such as Imam al-Ummah (leader of the Muslim community) or  Amir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful). From Muhammad’s death until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, various Caliphates or dynasties ruled the Islamic world. The most significant Caliphates in historical order were the Rashidun, the Abbasid, the Umayyid, and finally the Ottoman. At times in Muslim history, there have even been rival claimant Caliphs in different parts of the Muslim world. Although the purpose of the Caliphate is to unify all Muslims worldwide, rarely has this genuinely been the case.  Islamists however often downplay this fact and instead portray the first thirteen hundred years of Islam through a highly idealized lens: From the first moment of its creation, the Islamic State implemented the Shariah comprehensively,  conducted the affairs of the society solely according to Islam, and propagated Islam throughout the world for over thirteen centuries.  Occasionally internal tensions fractured the integrity of the State, but incidents were short-lived.  Throughout its thirteen centuries of existence, the Khalifa continued as a single indivisible entity that united all the Muslims under a single authority.

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