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12. Conclusion

12. History of the Khalifas- Conclusion

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم

Title: 12. History of the Khalifas: Conclusion

Author:  Abdassamad Clarke

Publication date: 24/11/2012

Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to the Muslim History Programme of the MFAS. This is the 12th and last of 12 sessions which make up the History of the Khalifas module. The lecture will last approximately 40 minutes during which time you should make a written note of any questions that may occur to you for clarification after the lecture. 

If anything should convince one of the relevance and importance of this course, it is the daily mayhem in the Middle East and further afield which is demonstrably the fall-out from the collapse of the khilāfa. You cannot understand the world today, whether you are a Muslim or a non-Muslim, if you do not understand the role the khilāfa has played.

Before we proceed to an outline of some of the key points in our history of the khalifas, let us first look for an insight into the motor forces.

Nietzsche provides the clue:

“…[Islam] had to thank noble and manly instincts for its origin… it said yes to life”

We come from a cynical age which distrusts politics, wealth and power. Everything we will look at must assume our understanding that three of the most important positive qualities are wealth, power and knowledge and that to seek them is a virtue not a vice, if the intention is clear. Knowledge is sought because it is the key of every matter of the dīn and the dunyā. Wealth is sought because by it someone can discharge their duties to their dependents, pay zakāh and give ṣadaqa and the person who does this is stronger in their dīn than someone who is poor and patient. Power is sought because by it the affairs of the community are taken care of and the farḍ kifāya is put into place and for this there is a huge reward. Thus, for those capable of it, there is merit in their seeking power. The blameworthy aspect of seeking power is in the case of those who are not capable of exercising it. Ordinarily other people are more knowledgeable of someone’s capability than they are themselves, but it is also not uncommon for someone to know that they not only have the requisite qualifications but also the duty to act. We add to these three, two others: worship and justice. These five form the warp threads on which the history of the khalifas is woven.


Abū Bakr aṣ-Ṣiddīq 

Right at the very beginning of the matter, Abū Bakr gave his very first khuṭbah and began thus: 

ثم تكلم أبو بكر فحمد الله وأثنى عليه ثم قال أما بعد أيها الناس فإني قد وليت عليكم ولست بخيركم  

Then Abū Bakr spoke and he praised and extolled Allah. Then he said, “People, I have been put in charge of you but I am not the best of you.”

Because he was aṣ-Ṣiddīq ‘the Utterly Truthful’ it is inconceivable that he was lying when he said this, just as it is inconceivable that he would speak with false modesty. And yet the consensus of the people of knowledge is that the best of mankind after the Messenger of Allah @ is Abū Bakr. Here the word ‘best’ is used in two senses, Abū Bakr intending the sense of personal virtue. And the misunderstanding of the difference between those two senses would cause much trouble and a group would emerge in opposition based on their insistence of the right to rulership of the ‘best man’, but in their case redefined genetically. He also said:

ولم تعرف العرب هذا الأمر إلا لهذا الحي من قريش هم أوسط العرب نسبا ودارا 

“And the Arabs do not recognise this command except among this tribe of Quraysh who are the midmost of the Arabs in lineage and in house.”

Clearly here he has established two fundamentally important matters of the khilāfa: it is not necessarily the ‘best man’, in the sense of personal virtue, who should rule, and there is no escaping the operation of the force of ‘aṣabiyya, a concept we will examine in a little more detail later insha’Allāh.

We assume your understanding that without the struggle of Abū Bakr to hold to what the Messenger of Allah @ left, both in fighting the Arabs who reneged on their dīn and in waging jihad on the Romans and the Persians, there would be no Islam today

‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb

‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, in his long khilāfa, puts much of the Sunna into practice and makes many new judgements which are themselves Sunna as well as demonstrating the way to reach new judgements. The dawla expanded greatly in his time and Rome and Persia were defeated, the formerly retreating to Constantinople and a reduced Empire, the latter utterly.

‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān and the Fitna

The expansion continued in the time of ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān and then hit the crisis of the beginning of the first fitna. He was murdered by rebels, which divided the Umma completely until the restoration of unity in the time of Mu‘āwiya. The fitna demonstrated the limits of a difference of opinion which is so severe that it leads to Muslims fighting each other but without declaring each other disbelievers. Then there arose one of the archetypal dissident groups, the khawārij ‘seceders’ who declared those who opposed them to be disbelievers.


Thus the rise to the khilāfa of Mu‘āwiya is not a new departure, for if he is the most politically competent ruler and not necessarily the ‘best man’ he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor Abū Bakr. And his decision to nominate his own son was made because of his judgement of the ‘aṣabiyya operational in Sham and the likelihood that the Syrians would accept no one else, not merely from his personal fatherly feelings. 

The Second Fitna

The second fitna and the death of al-Ḥusayn î are best understood as the first of many such instances: the operation of those who call themselves shi‘ah whose behaviour has always been inimical to the interests of the Ahl al-Bayt and to the interests of the Muslims. In this case, they persuaded al-Ḥusayn to emerge as a contender for the khilāfa, contrary to the advice of almost all of the Companions, and then they betrayed him and left him to his fate. Thus the divisive nature of the call for the ‘best man’ was revealed.

Bani Umayya

The Umayyad khilāfa – considered to be ‘the Arabic’ khilāfa – was characterised by the furtherance of the jihad to East and West, so that many millions of people are Muslims today because of them. 

‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān 

One khalīfa, ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān, made many of the most significant decisions that affect us until this day, such as the minting of the Dīnār and Dirham rather than continuing the existing usage of Roman and Persian coins, the use of Arabic as the language of administration, and was dependent on the work of his governor al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf in carrying out his reforms. 

The Collapse of Bani Umayya

It collapsed because of their failure to understand how to deal with the non-Arabs’ embrace of Islam – the Persians, Copts and Berbers – and because of a variety of other factors such as a series of rebellions and external attacks. It was in this epoch that the mawālī ‘the freed slaves’ in particular began to embrace Islam and all of a sudden supplied many of the leading people of knowledge and many who aspired to political power.

Bani al-‘Abbās 

Bani al-‘Abbās come to power in a coup, a means which the fuqahā’ come to endorse as valid if the new khalīfas put the sharī‘a into effect. Their first period of strength is characterised by a number of things, some of which they initiated, some which took place during their time and some which they inherited from the previous rulers. It is perhaps important to emphasise that many things (social life, commerce, administration and education etc.)  actually continued uninterrupted between the Umayyads and the ‘Abbasids.

The Imams and ‘Ulamā’ 

There is a bloody period of the crushing of dissent, which included crushing many of the ‘ulamā’, e.g. Abū Ḥanīfa, may Allah be merciful to him. The first wave of compilation by the scholars starts and this is the epoch in which the madhhabs begin to take shape. The later crisis of al-Ma’mūn’s time and his embrace of mu‘tazila ideas provokes the formulation of ‘aqīda in a systematic way supported by logical proofs and the emergence of three schools of thought. There is also the embrace of the culture of the new Islamic peoples and their philosophy and arts in general, which lead to a further crisis.

The Fragmentation of the Dawla

Most significantly this marks the beginning of the breakup of the khilāfa with the cession of parts of the dawla to local dynasties. This can be viewed as a negative consequence of local ‘aṣabiyyas that have not been absorbed into the greater ‘aṣabiyya. It creates two crises that will determine some of the long later epoch of the dynasty: the reduction of revenues to the centre, and the removal of the fighting forces of the Khurasanis who had been the backbone of the dawla, thus necessitating the employment of Turks as fighting men. Of course, the consequence was the spread of Islam among the Turks.

Devolution of Power

Apart from geographical fragmentation, Bani al-‘Abbās contributed considerably to divesting the office of the khalīfa of many of its powers, first of all vesting authority in the wazir, and later handing substantive political power to a sulṭān, thus reducing the khilāfa itself to little more than a kind of papacy. The later Bani al-‘Abbās, however, include some distinguished khalīfas as well as many who are quite undistinguished. But the condition of political fragmentation had grown so severe that the khilāfa was incapable of meeting either the Crusader or the Tatār invasions in any organised fashion, and was thus swept away by the latter. The Tatār in turn began to adopt Islam within a century, thus giving rise to new dynasties, most notably, after Amir Timur, the Mongol/Turkic Mughal dynasty in India.

The First Interregnum

This was the first interregnum in the khilāfa which according to as-Suyūṭī lasted for a couple of days with the institution of a descendant of Bani al-‘Abbās in Cairo, but according to most others lasted a great deal longer, arguably until the establishment of the claim of the Osmanlı to the khilāfa with the surrender of the Cairo incumbent to them and his resignation of the office to them.

The Osmanlı 

Here an important principle was established: the requirement of the khalīfa being of Quraysh had lapsed, there being no effective candidate; the Cairo branch produced only titular khalīfas with no effective power. Thus a small clan who passionately believed in the dīn and who were dedicated to da‘wa and jihad came to inherit the khilāfa. Their first period of expansion was completed with the capture of Constantinople in 1453 CE.

Ṭarīqas, Guilds and Futuwwa

The backbone of the Osmanlı dawla was the relationship to tasawwuf driven by a deeply sincere attachment to the dīn. This resulted in the establishment of a symbiosis in which the ṭarīqas were guardians of the commercial life of the dawla through their relationship with the guilds, and guardians of the upbringing of the young through the establishment of futuwwa organisations.

Columbus and the New World’s Gold and Silver

Outside of the dawla, things were developing that would impinge on the Osmanlıs. At the fall of Granada, the last Muslim outpost in Andalus, in 1492, Christopher Columbus came with a proposal to Ferdinand and Isabella, a proposal designed to circumvent the Osmanlı dawla, which straddled Europe’s trade routes to the Far East, the wealth of China and India. He would sail West in order to get to the East. He was not destined to achieve that, but the discovery of what they called the New World was to release new supplies of gold and silver to currency-starved Europe that would lift it out of the poverty it had fallen into, and, with the new tools of banking and leverage, would translate that very substantial ‘real’ wealth into fantastic sums of ‘virtual’ wealth that are today still multiplying to an unimaginable extent.

Vasco da Gama and Trade to the East

Almost at the same time, and driven by similar motives, Vasco da Gama would sail East, but the long way, around the Cape of Good Hope. When he did that, the Venetian stock market would collapse because they knew that their traditional caravan trade route, the Silk Road, was now redundant when compared to the speed and capacity of the great ships of Spain and Portugal. And similarly, the Osmanlı dawla was deprived of the income from the trade that had crossed their domains, something that would affect their latter centuries substantially.

Commerce Driven by Finance leads the Expansion of the West

So we see the world of business and banking making surprising entrances here. With all the ups and downs of succeeding years, we see businessmen backed by stock-markets going out and conquering the world in British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese ships, and one British company, the East India Company, conquering India for itself and then relinquishing it to the Crown.

Sulaymān al-Qānūnī

A decisive point in the history of the khalīfas is reached with the sultanate of Sulaymān al-Qānūnī during whose reign matters occur that are decisive for us right down to today. 

The Siege of Vienna 1529

First, there is the failure of the siege of Vienna, which is led against the great European power of the time, the Hapsburgs whose incumbent is the Holy Roman Emperor. This begins a series of reverses and defeats that continue over the coming centuries. Both the sulṭān and emperor claim the title of Caesar.

Qānūn law

Second, the institution of Qānūn lawgiving by Sulaymān himself, while in itself defensible will lead almost inexorably to the codification of the sharī‘a in later times, a step that led to its abolition. 

Awqāf an-Nuqūd – Cash Awqāf

Third, the Shaykh al-Islam who endorses this also issues a fatwa, that is hotly disputed by the progenitor of the Kadızadeli movement and others, on the validity of awqāf that consist only of cash – Awqāf an-nuqūd. This charitable activity burgeons and is very popular among philanthropists, and yet the trustees of these awqaf charge interest on the loans, a practice endorsed by qāḍīs in legal judgements. Even if there was a sharī‘a justification for this, and I do not know one, nevertheless it still prepares the ground for the otherwise puzzling embrace of banking and outright usurious loans from European banks in the later period that begins with Sulṭān Maḥmūd II. 

The Kadızadeli Controversy

Fourth, there is an outbreak of mutual animosity between the ‘ulamā’ in the Kadızadeli epoch which is the forerunner of the later Wahhabī outbreak whose effects still divide Muslims today. 

The Battle of Vienna 1683

The Kadızadeli controversy contributed to a division of the political will of the dawla. That was one factor which led, at the later battle of Vienna in 1683, to a numerically larger Muslim force being defeated with disastrous consequences, among which was later Osmanlı obsession with the superiority of Europe, science, banking, and technological progress, an obsession which was to lead to the embrace of usurious loans and ultimately bankruptcy. Among the most fateful of consequences is that the attack comes almost 40 years after the peace of Westphalia, which is the beginning of the breakup of the Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire into states, later nation-states. In its love for Europe, the later Osmanlı dawla will embrace the very ideas which will break it up into small divided nation states whose terrible heritage we witness across the world today particularly in Muslim countries.

Sulṭān ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd II

Later history is however enlivened by the appearance of Sulṭān ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd II who heroically works to pull the dawla back from the brink. He confronts all the issues of the age: the debt he inherits which he strives manfully to pay off, the obsession with constitutional democracy which he is forced to accede to and upon which he closes the door, the machinations to give the Jews Palestine as their homeland which he refuses, and the concept of the nation-state which he wilfully resists attempting to restore the concept of a global ummah. He was removed in 1909 and replaced by titular khalīfas before the abolition of first the sulṭānate in 1922 and then the khilāfa in 1924, something which is not the province of any man to do since khilāfa is a fundamental of the dīn which may not be abolished.


Let us try to find some patterns in this history.

Khilāfah has only ever emerged or continued effectively from a people with a strong ‘aṣabiyya.

History has a warp and weft. The warp of the history we have examined in this course comprises five elements: power, knowledge, wealth, worship and justice.


In an age that equates power with politicians, people quite naturally hold it in disrespect. However, since socially it is vital for the maintenance of a society and its governance, its oversight of justice and enforcement of justice is indispensable, and in the dīn it is fundamental for the enactment of everything that is farḍ kifāya, then the exercise of power is a necessity. Moreover it is more than just a necessary evil, for the reward for the just exercise of power is immense and men who act with a view to the ākhirah naturally gravitate towards it. However, there will always be those who inherit power or who seize it who are only interested in self-aggrandisement or frivolity. At key moments, such as the Tatār invasions, the caliphal seat was occupied by someone with only the most frivolous of intentions, with disastrous consequences.


Power is based on numerical strength of a people. The more numerous the people, the greater the power if they are linked by a strong ‘aṣabiyya. It is inextricably linked to military force, which derives from numerical strength since ordinarily only one out of every eight in any people is a fighting man. Islam was taken to the world by the ‘aṣabiyya and military strength of the Arabs that overcame the two empires, the Roman and Persian, which had become multi-racial commonwealths with little natural ‘aṣabiyya. The first Abbasid epoch consisted in the assimilation of those peoples, with sometimes revolts from subsidiary groups with their unassimilated ‘aṣabiyyas such as the Amāzigh (Berbers).

The later phase of the Abbasids is characterised by the meeting with the Turks who constitute a massive source of new ‘aṣabiyya which only achieves its fullest expression in the Osmanlı dawla.

The trappings of power

Among the essentials of power is that in order for it to be respected, which is vital for it in its fulfilment of its duties, it must not only be powerful but be seen to be powerful. Therefore, it must engage with symbolic expressions of authority and strategies of power such as architecture, coinage, language, scholarship and even military force. This is historically recognisable in the administrative, lingual and monetary reforms of ‘Abd al-Malik, as well as in the later manifestations of authority in the dawlas of the ‘Abbasids in the east, the Andalusian Umayyads in the west and the Isma’ili Fatimids of Northern Africa. All of these dynasties built palace cities, minted cold coins, patronised scholarship and, at the height of their power, possessed great military force in terms of both symbolism and outright force. As we can see today, manifestations of authority through language (English), coinage (the Dollar), architecture (the wall in Palestine), scholarship (science and academia) and military force (the US Army and nuclear bombs in various states) still remain an essential aspect of power being seen as such.

Four positions vis-à-vis power

People take four positions on the issue of power. 

The best man thesis

The first is the issue of the ‘best man’, whose archetypal expression is shi‘ism.  Here it is vital to differentiate between the Ahl al-Bayt themselves and the shi‘ah, their sectarian partisans who more often than not cause them disaster. There is little doubt that many of the Ahl al-Bayt were the best men and that they themselves knew that and saw themselves as most suited to power in the very early epoch of Islam. However, when they became convinced later, as al-Ḥasan had, that political power was not their destiny, they retreated from the political realm.

The optimal man thesis

The second is the ‘optimal man politically’ and this is the read criteria for the khalīfa – the best man for the job – and had been the practice of the Muslims since Abū Bakr î until turned into a merely dynastic inheritance.

The rejectionists

The third is the ignorant pietist and literalist rejection of the people of power, most often expressed by the khawārij. Nevertheless because of the unavoidable need for power, the khawārij have historically even ended up with dynasties of their own and have been used as dynamic force by dynastic groups seeking to establish their own royal authority as in the case of the family of Sa‘ūd.

Those who sit out the fighting

The fourth position, when Muslims fight each other over power, is that a group sit out the fighting refusing to kill other Muslims. This group has bequeathed us the ‘ulamā’ class and then later the Ṣūfīs. 

1. Knowledge

We are interested in knowledge in this context with respect to its relationship to power. A large number of significant khalīfas were noted ‘ulamā’, most obviously al-Khulafā ar-Rāshidūn including al-Ḥasan and Mu‘āwiya, ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz, and al-Manṣūr and al-Ma’mūn of Bani al-‘Abbās, and in later times, many of the kings and sulṭāns, for example Sulṭān Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn al-Ayyūbī. The connection with power is not accidental, for knowledge itself leads to power and needs power to put it into effect. For the ‘ulamā’ who are not themselves people of power, the relationship with power was and remains critical.

The ulamā class in the early epoch became organised in the madhhabs, which have been seen as informal guilds of law. 

Abū Ḥanīfah

With the emergence of the dynasty of Bani al-‘Abbās, whatever the relation between them and Abū Ḥanīfah, his main pupils Abū Yūsuf and Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan accept posts as official ‘ulamā’ of the dynasty setting the madhhab itself on a characteristic relationship to power. 

Mālik ibn Anas

Imām Mālik maintains a respectful distance from power, refuses to have the Muwaṭṭa’ become the official book of the dynasty and yet maintains the tradition of the ‘ulamā’ speaking truth to power. In the West his followers will become the official madhhab of al-Andalus.


Imām ash-Shāfi‘ī is a classic intellectual and scholar and his madhhab thus has little relation to power, and has historically had little impact on power, except, for example, during the Ayyūbid kingdoms.

Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal

Imām Aḥmad is both the successor to ash-Shāfi‘ī and Mālik. His personal integrity makes him stand against the abuse of power in his time in the imposition of the false ‘aqīda of the mu‘tazila on the Muslims, but the edifice of the hadith science is so impenetrable that it can have little impact on life or on power.

The Madrasa

Later during Seljuq times, the madrasa as we know it today was invented specifically to stem the tide of shi‘a propaganda and in response to the earlier innovation of the Azhar as a shi‘a university and propaganda locus. The madrasa was to have unanticipated consequences in that in denoting curriculum subjects as ‘Islamic’ other subjects became almost ‘un-Islamic’, something the Osmanlıs tried to address by widening the curriculum. More importantly it sits in the uncomfortable area where power and knowledge collaborate.


The Ahl al-Bayt, in withdrawing from the struggle for power, retreat in among the ulamā class but, being the ‘best’ and concerned with the production of the best in men and women through tarbiyah, they produce, at a critical moment in history, the ṭarīqa, an organisation for deepening knowledge of the self, cultivating the noble qualities of character and leading its people to a genuine knowledge of tawḥīd. The critical exponent of this is Shaykh Abdalqadir al-Jilani who was a Ḥasanī sharīf, Ḥanbalī faqīh and a muḥaddith. However, the work of the ṭarīqas that are based on the Book and the Sunna is of course complicated by derivative and imitative pseudo-ṭarīqas and ghulāt extremist Ṣūfīs very often tainted with shi‘ism that produce the Safavid dawla and contribute greatly to many of the later troubles in the Osmanlı dawla, such as the unnecessary Kadızadeli controversy and the equally unnecessary modern Wahhabi-Ṣūfī dialectic. It is striking that all the protagonists in this controversy are engaged in taṣawwuf, even Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb whose two most prized ijāzas trace themselves back through Ibn Taymiyya and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī.

2. Worship

Political power ultimately exists in order to make possible the worship of Allah on the earth. Thus military power is exercised in order to remove the political powers that prevent the worship of Allah, such as the Roman and Persian empires even if they claim to have religions.

The Muslims

The sulṭān must see that there are mosques in which the Muslims may pray, mu’adhdhins to announce the time of the ṣalāh, and imams to lead the ṣalāh.

Ahl al-Kitāb

The sulṭān must see to the protection of the people of the dhimma contract and that they are also free to practise their religions and are not oppressed, in return for their payment of the jizya and the kharāj tax on agriculture, the former which is in lieu of military service and the latter which stands in for the payment of the zakāh both of which go to the bayt al-māl to spend as the sulṭān sees fit.

3. Wealth

The importance of this topic for our study is how power stands in relation to wealth. We assume the understanding that wealth is in and of itself an excellence and is desirable, notwithstanding the merit of the poor who are patient and who do without the world. Power however, must govern wealth and if, as is the case in our day, wealth comes to govern power then the world is in great peril. Power has a specific special relation to wealth:


As successors of the Messenger of Allah @ many of the khalifas have displayed some fragment of his munificent generosity @. That Sunna is vitally important and is the one that places everything else in the section on wealth in the correct perspective. It was one of the essential measures against which Muslim historians checked the stature of a khalifa. Al-Manṣūr was held in some ridicule, in spite of his eminence and his in other respects gigantic stature, because of his niggardliness. ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān was not also known for largesse. On the opposite end of the scale, some of the gifts given to poets in particular reads like absurd prodigality rather than royal munificence. Thus, a middle path is needed, but not always attained. By his munificence the khalifa demonstrates the essential nature of wealth: it is a dynamic process and not something to be held on to; it is a verb not a noun.

Then the sulṭān must govern wealth in the following ways.


It is the duty of the sulṭān to take zakāh from the wealthy and to see that it gets to the eight categories who may legitimately receive it. This is the most important pillar of governance after the establishment of the ṣalāh.

The Mint

The sulṭān must mint coins and ensure the purity of the dawla’s currency. This is a fundamental duty without which there can be no justice in trade, for the currency acts like the fulcrum in the scales which, if it is skewed then all transactions are skewed.


The sulṭān must see that the Muslims have markets in which to trade without rent or imposition of taxes on their trade. Such taxes – called maks – are ḥarām. The People of the Book must however pay 10% on their trade when they use the markets.


The sulṭān or the qāḍī must see that the market is supervised in order to prevent malpractices such as usury,1 false weights and measures taking place. 


Land is one of the most significant sources of wealth and, in some cases, of the revenue of the dawla. That divides into four:

Muslim land

This has no tax upon it other than zakāh of crops.

Non-Muslim land

This must produce the kharāj which goes to the bayt al-māl.

Grants (iqṭā‘)

These are lands belonging to the dawla which the sulṭān grants significant figures in return for a share of their income accruing to the dawla.


This is property which is itself, or its income, dedicated to some worthy end, its deeds are registered with the qāḍī including those who are responsible for its management and who benefits from it.

4. Justice

An important duty of the sulṭān is to establish justice. Ordinarily this duty devolves on the qāḍī but the presence of the sulṭān as the one who insists on enforcing the judgements of the qāḍī is also vital. There are three significant areas:


The sulṭān and qāḍī are responsible for guarding the limits as they relate to: 

1. The taking of life and injury and regulating the retaliation and compensatory payments which people may exercise in such cases

2. Adultery and its necessary consequence: the vitiation of the lineage

3. Theft and misappropriation of wealth

4. Drunkenness

5. Reneging on the dīn 

Civil cases

The qāḍī must sit between people in the civil and commercial disputes they have and seek to resolve them by the sharī‘a and by arbitration. Again the power of the sulṭān in enforcing his judgements is indispensable.


As noted before, a fundamental duty of the qāḍī as the representative of the amir is monitoring the commercial life of the dawla to make sure it is free of malpractice.

The Current Age

In the defeatist mentality that overcame later Muslim generations, an unthinking admiration for European forms took hold and, lacking a knowledge of European history, Muslims failed to see that the structures they admired were actually the result of the breakup of a social order:

The nation-state

The state was born at the Peace of Westphalia in 1645 and the nation-state in the French Revolution. Although the state was created to address the prior fragmentation of Christendom in the endless Catholic-Protestant wars, it was only to further that fragmentation and lead, after the French Revolution, to two disastrous world wars and to the subsequent descent into nihilism that was the 20th century with its genocides and a cold war, that was anything but cold for millions of people in the southern hemisphere. 

Similarly, having imbibed the concept of the nation-state, the Muslim ummah has descended into a vortex of chaos, civil strife, and impotence that is unparalleled, resulting, for example, in the deaths of untold millions of Muslims in the breakup of the Osmanlı dawla in the Balkans, particularly in Thrace.


Misunderstanding democracy and believing its rhetoric, the Muslims failed to see that it was just that: rhetoric, in this case concealing the advance of an oligarchy, that of finance.


Under Maḥmūd II and the Tanzimat, Muslims embarked on an engagement with usury-finance and banking that ultimately stripped Muslim lands of their wealth entirely and bankrupted the khilāfa.2


The ‘ulamā’, who had already failed to safeguard the rule of the dīn over wealth and its modalities, signally failed to confront banking and usury while engaged in much futile emulation of Europe. Thus, Muḥammad ‘Abduh et al started a dialogue with shi‘ism which would produce the exact equivalent of the modern secular condition in which two contending parties, originally Catholics and Protestants but today Republicans and Democrats or Socialists and Conservatives, can do little but tolerate each other and dialogue is confined to meaningless platitudes. Significantly while engaging in this dialogue with shi‘ism and in striving to re-open the doors of ijtihād, Muḥammad ‘Abduh was issuing fatwas endorsing banking. 

Thus, in this vacuum the real impetus of the search for knowledge was directed towards technology, science and economics, mistakenly taking them as zones of, and the means to, real power rather than the subsidiaries of finance and usury which they had become. In this situation then, some branches of the ‘ulamā’ turned to a literalist religiosity that escaped into a fictionalised golden and ‘pure’ Islamic past, while others engaged with the superficial rhetoric of the age and attempted to revive ijtihād, believing the propaganda that they had fallen behind with the mythic closure of the gates of ijtihād. Thus, they involved themselves with knowledge not for its own sake, which is the sacred trust of people of knowledge in every age and culture, but as a means to power.

Centre and Periphery

Among the tensions that drove the history we have looked at, sometimes fatally, are the tensions between centre and periphery and between natural local identities and central caliphal authority. Muslim society did not always resolve them, although the Osmanlı made a valiant attempt, often with great success. The problem is that a completely centrally driven state is both oppressive and unwieldy, but a devolved caliphal dawla that granted autonomy to sulṭānates and local dynasties deprived the khilāfa of revenue and power and left it incapable of meeting external challenges such as the Crusades and the disastrous Tatār invasion and extermination of millions.

The Future 

‘Aṣabiyya and Imagined Communities

Whereas in the primal situation ‘aṣabiyya is a force that arises from kinship and lineage and is immeasurably amplified by passionate attachment to dīn in the best cases, or to ideologies in the worst cases as the 20th century demonstrated, other factors contribute to it and sometimes substitute for kinship and lineage almost entirely, for example, race, language and, in the modern age, nationalism. Whereas other nationalisms have been based on fictions close enough to reality to have serious effects, for example the idea of a shared race, religion, culture or all of them together, the American people have very little binding them together as a people in terms of kinship, but nevertheless the imaginary idea of being ‘American’ appears to exert a powerful binding force akin to ‘aṣabiyya. Indeed, it can itself be seen to be the template for a new kind of modern identity. In an increasingly globalised world in which once colonised countries in turn have begun colonising their former masters’ countries, often inadvertently through immigration for economic ends or as refugees, the face of the world today is increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-confessional, and it is the American template that is being offered as a working model for the world’s peoples. There are, however, so many serious flaws in the model and, with the coming collapse of the US itself and of its fundamental basis, the dollar, the world will need to look deeper for a way forward, and the Muslims must look more deeply into this model’s failings and also the reason for the collapse of the khilāfa. The naïve attempt to establish a ‘pure Islamic state’, whether a nation-state containing only Muslims as in the case of Pakistan or a world-state as in some of the khilāfa models in circulation today, must be seen for the aberration that it is, simply re-clothing the failed nation-state model in ‘Islamic’ dress; the Islamic dawla has always been multi-confessional even when governance was in Muslim hands. If the imaginary national identity of ‘America’ is such a motivating factor, what comparison is there with the supra-national identity of the ‘Umma’?

That brings us to the end of today’s lecture which is the last in the module on the History of the Khalifas. Thank you for your attention. Assalamu alaykum.

1 وقال ابن عباس أيضا: من كان مقيماً على الربا لا ينزع عنه فحق على إمام المسلمين أن يستثيبه، فإن نزع وإلا ضرب عنقه.

“If someone persists in usury and does not desist, it is the duty of the leader of the muslims to ask him to repent. If he does not desist, he strikes off his head.” Related by Ibn ‘Abbās (in Al-Jāmi‘ li-aḥkām al-Qur’ān by al-Qurṭubī, translated by Aisha Bewley, Dar al-Taqwa, London 2003)

2See Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi in The Return of the Khalifate.