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The Caliphate

Caliphate is a unique political system that was developed by the Muslim religious community after the death of the prophet Muhammad for ruling the state according to the principles of Islam. It regulates the lives of people in every land where the Muslims dominate. However, Caliphate treats people of any religion, nation, or location equally, without setting preferences for Muslims only. It follows the laws of sharia and defines the power of these laws. According to classical political science, Caliphate is a theocracy, in which one person is a political, religious, and civil leader. However, at the same time, it follows the main principles of the modern democracy. In the modern realities, the caliphate is an effective basis for building a prominent Muslim state because it strikes the perfect balance of the democracy and theocracy.


Caliph means a successor. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, hot debates about the next leader arose among his people. Since the prophet had three daughters and no male heir, the power could not be passed hereditarily because, in the Muslim tradition, women could not inherit from their father. Therefore, the Muslim community elected Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad’s close companions, for the first Caliph (Ali and Jeff 11). Abu Bakr was Muhammad’s father-in-law; however, it was not the decisive factor for his election. The main reason was an urgent need for a leader. Muhammad created a centralized Muslim state, which required the ruler to keep its borders. The times of Abu Bakr and two other caliphs, Umar I and Uthman, are considered the golden age of the Muslim Empire (Ali and Jeff 11). First caliphs expanded the Muslim state to the new territories. Following the politics of Muhammad, they united other Arabian tribes in a powerful country. However, it had not lasted for long. At the times of the fourth caliph, the rebellion tore the Muslim state into the three parts, and the golden age finished. There were three more Islamic caliphates that finished in the 13th century. Every time when Caliphs led the state, the territory was increased and the state development was boosted. Nowadays, the Caliphate is a synonym to a prosperous Muslim state that is headed by a wise leader.

The reason for the successful Caliphs rule was the unity. Muhammad united different clans and tribes; thus, the ruler of one clan could face strong opposition from other clans. The religious leadership of the elected caliph softened the contradictions between these groups. Moreover, while the Caliphate increased its territory, it experienced regular riots. That is why the Caliph tried to convert all new people to Islam because the Muslims were taught to obey their religious leader. The Islamic Empire has followed a straight path of development since the rule of Muhammad. The centralized religion was the main tool that helped to convert pagan tribes into Muslim Empire citizens. First caliphs created ummah, the community of the most prominent Muslims; it was the new ruling elite. These new powerful groups followed the principles of Islam, as well. In the new lands, the Muslims always established the rule of the Muslim elite that had to support the local elders. In this way, local elites turned to Islam very fast with the view to getting ways to the ruling positions. Such religious unity allowed conquering new territories in Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. In every new land, Muslim Arabs constructed fortresses for the defense and mosques as religious and educational institutions. Training soldiers of the local origin and teaching local people increased the Islamic influence in the conquered regions. In such a manner, the Muslim force was based not only on the military power but also on the religious and cultural expansion. After the death of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Umayyad dynasty was established. It performed expansion of all neighboring regions, including the territory of the modern Spain (Iberian Peninsula). Again, the fast acquisition could not go without regular riots, and some of them were successful. After the defeat of the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II, in 750, the Umayyads were eliminated by their competitors, Abbasids. The rule of Abbasids, including the famous caliphs Harun al Rashid and al Mamun, can be considered the peak of the Muslim Empire (Kennedy 112). Abbasids changed the vector of the whole Empire development. Instead of conquering the territories to the North and West, they headed to the East, namely to Persia. They used their practice of uniting Muslim leaders and the local elites into an ummah. In this way, Islam Empire became international. Moreover, Abbasids moved the capital to Bagdad. It solved one of the oldest problems of Islam expansion the isolation. The Arabian elite was often isolated from the local non-Arabian tribes. It caused the administrative dependence from the Arabs and the discrimination of non-Muslims in the tax system. This movement created the financial and political base for the further development and prosperity. From the Persians, Muslim rulers adopted the principles of administration, tax system, civil laws, and other knowledge. Until 833, the Abbasids developed arts, science, commerce, and industry (Bennison 68). Thus, from the unit of several tribes, the Muslim Empire reached its peak of becoming a centralized state with a single official religion and the set of rules as the main law. Till now, the humanity uses some achievements of the Muslim civilization of that time, especially in mathematics, astronomy, navigation, and some other natural sciences.

Muhammad is considered a role model of the human behavior in Islam. His life is known in the details to every Muslim. In fact, Islam focuses on Muhammad, his biography and his deeds, and this model has been working effectively for many centuries already. His virtues are popularized as the model for every Muslim. The birthday of the prophet is a great holiday; the Muslims celebrate it with the gift exchange, food donation to the poor, and music and poetry festivals. Quran presents the ideas of the prophet. The problem is that Quran was written in 6-7 centuries; therefore, its language is outdated. In such a manner, some words have a different meaning, while the syntax is problematic, as well. Of course, the modern editions provide the Quran in easy words that are clear to many. However, Muslims still need a religious leader in order to understand the words of Muhammad correctly. Every Muslim has to comprehend the meaning of the prophet’s words and act according to them. Therefore, they require the assistance of a religious leader, and it is the reason for their great authority in the Muslim society. Therefore, despite the fact that the prophet is the main role model for every Muslim, different interpretations can provide a bit varying meaning of his words. This phenomenon is the root of many problems.

Rashidun Caliphate was the first one in the golden age of Caliphates (Bennison 18). It was the period of the strong Muslim state under the rule of the first four caliphs after the death of the Prophet. The first caliphs made financial and political reforms, united the tribes under their rule, and forced the movement of the Arabian tribes to the North. This age finished with the Civil War, known as the First Fitna (Kennedy 45). The third caliph, Uthman, was killed by the rebels. On the one hand, some Muslims believed he was justly executed. This part of Muslims followed Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was the son-in-law of Muhammad. Later, he became the fourth caliph and the first Imam of Shia Islam because he was not only the religious leader but also the heir of the Prophet. On the other hand, some Muslims believed the killers of Caliph Uthman had to be prosecuted. The split increased and transformed into the Civil War. It was a defeat of all Muslims and the evidence of their inability to live according to the standards of the Islamic faith. They could not understand the position of each other and failed to strike a compromise. A different understanding of some basic principles led to the division between Sunni and Shia Muslims, without mentioning some minor groups. Every group claimed it followed the right rules and assured that all other groups were misinterpreting the words of the Prophet. In this way, they violated the rule to treat all people equally. The First Fitna caused the end of the Rashidun Caliphate and the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty, which had ruled for almost a century. Despite the First Fitna occurred at the end of the seventh century, its results were still important in the contemporary world. The attitude to the Caliph is the basic contradiction between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Shia believes that Caliph should originate from the family of Muhammad and his son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib (Ali and Jeff 25). In such a manner, the Shia understanding of the Caliphate is similar to the heredity monarchy. Correspondently, for Shia, the Caliph has both the civil and religious authority. For this reason, they deny the legitimacy of the first three out of four caliphs. Sunnis believe the Caliphs should be elected by the Muslim community. Their understanding of the Caliphate is similar to standards of the modern democracy.


In such a manner, the Caliphate was the basis for the Muslim state’s success and prosperity. Being united by religious leaders, Muslim clans and tribes joined their efforts and focused on fighting external enemies instead of the internal opposition. Moreover, the election of the Caliph meets the standards of the modern democracy. Unfortunately, the different approaches of Shia and Sunni Muslims make the unit of all Muslims in a single state impossible. Therefore, the Caliphate is a theoretical model of a successful state in the modern world.

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