Khilafah: An Obligation from Allah

“The Imams (of the four madhabs: Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shaf’i, Ahmad) – may Allah have mercy on them – all agreed that the Imamah (Khilafah) is an obligation, and that the Muslims must appoint an imam (Khalifah) who implements the rites of the Deen and gives the oppressed justice against the oppressors, and they agreed that it is not permitted for there be over the Muslims, at any one time, two imams, in agreement or discord…” (The Jurisprudence of the Four Madhhabs [al-Fiqh ‘ala al-Madhahib al-Arba’a], 5:416.)

That’s Imam al-Juzayri [d. 1360AH] speaking. A scholar of the 14th century AH and an authority of comparative fiqh. Here he mentions what is the agreed upon position of all the Islamic jurisprudential schools of thought regarding the Khilafah, the same position from the time of the Companions (ra) till his time.

Leading classical authorities from all schools of thought saw the issue of Khilafah as absolutely critical, referring to it as being, “from the necessities of the shari’a that simply cannot be left” (al-Ghazali, al-Iqtisad fi al-I’tiqad, 199), “from the greatest interests of the Muslims and greatest pillars of the deen” (al-Amidi, Ghayat al-Muram, 366), “a pillar from the pillars of the deen” (al-Qurtubi, al-Jami’ li Ahkam al-Qur’an, 1:265), “one of the greatest obligations of the deen” (Ibn Taymiyya, al-Siyasah al-Shar’iyyah, 129), and “the most important of obligations” (al-Haskafi, Radd al-Muhtar, 1: 548).

In other words, not only is the Khilafah an obligation, it is one of the most important obligations; a pillar of Islam which simply cannot be left because without it Islam, quite simply, cannot be implemented comprehensively.

However, a certain modernist view begs to differ. It claims that a millennia of scholarship got it wrong and only now have its proponents succeeded in correctly reading the Qur’an and Hadith on the matter (as with so many other matters). An extraordinary claim, which one might be excused for rejecting off the cuff. Given the seriousness of the matter, however, let us deal with the argument on its merits.

Dr. Javed Ghamidi, one such proponent, argues that far from being an obligation Khilafah is not even a “religious term”.

A point of first principles is in order here.

Any term can have any one or more of three types of meanings: linguistic [lughawi], conventional [istilahi] and legal [shari’]. Legal, here, is a reference to the Islamic law, the Sharia, and hence it is presumably this last class to which Dr. Ghamidi alludes by his category of “religious term”. We may refer to it, more precisely, as a shari’ term or, more loosely, as an Islamic term.

Linguistic meanings are coined by the people who originate or develop a language, such as the classical Arabs or Greeks. Conventional meanings are coined by people of a certain discipline who conventionally give certain terms specific meanings, such as the fuqaha or muhaditheen or quantum physicists for that matter. These terms are then used with those meanings in their disciplines, whilst they may have different meanings in another discipline. For instance, the word “sunnah” refers to a non-obligatory act in fiqh whereas in hadith it refers to any act, saying or tacit approval of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.

Shari’ meanings are coined only by Allah or His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم since they return to the Sharia which is based on revelation. Dr. Ghamidi agrees with this but, astonishingly, does not accept that the Qur’an or Hadith use the word ‘Khilafah’ in any meaning beyond its linguistic meaning of “succession”. In fact, the word in clearly used in multiple ahadith in a specific meaning, a specific type of succession unknown to pre-Islamic Arabia, and not simply succession in a generic sense. For instance, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said,

«كانت بنو إسرائيل تسوسهم الأنبياء، كلما هلك نبي خلفه نبي، وإنه لا نبي بعدي، وستكون خلفاء فتكثر»، قالوا: فما تأمرنا؟ قال: «فوا ببيعة الأول، فالأول، وأعطوهم حقهم، فإن الله سائلهم عما استرعاهم»

“The prophets ruled over the children of Israel. Whenever a prophet died another succeeded him, but there will be no prophet after me. There will be khulafaa’ and they will number many. They (companions) asked, “What then do you order us?” He said, “Fulfil the bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to them one after the other and give them their due right. Indeed Allah will ask them about what He entrusted them with.” (Muslim, 1842)

Here the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم refers explicitly to those who would succeed him in ruling over the Muslims as khulafaa (sing. khalifah). This is not a reference simply to “successors” but to successors who come to power in a specific way (bay’ah) and who rule in a specific way (by comprehensive implementation of Islam). Indeed, their entire role as rulers is specified by sharia rules and principles which is what makes the concept new for its time and unique for all times. Had the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم simply wanted to refer to rulers he would have used the word hukaam (sing. hakim) which is the straightforward word in Arabic for rulers.

Similarly, in outlining the periods of rule to come on the Muslim Ummah, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم also explicitly refers to the Khilafah, saying,

«تكون النبوة فيكم ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة، فتكون ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها إذا شاء الله أن يرفعها، ثم تكون ملكا عاضا، فيكون ما شاء الله أن يكون، ثم يرفعها إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون ملكا جبرية، فتكون ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج نبوة»

“Prophethood will last among you for as long as Allah wills, then Allah will take it away. There will then be a rightly-guided Khilafah on the way of prophethood. It will remain for as long as Allah wills, then Allah will take it away. There will then be a biting rule which will remain for as long as Allah wills, then He will lift it when He wills. There will then be tyrannical rule, and it will last for as long as Allah wishes, then He will lift it when He wills. Then there will be a Khilafah Rashidah according on the way of prophethood.” (Ahmad, 18406)

Notable here is the fact that all the periods referred to are periods of rule, one type thereof or another. Yet only some of these, to the exclusion of others, is referred to as Khilafah. Hence, Khilafah is not just a reference to any ruling or government. It is a reference to the sought form of rule in Islam – the only valid form of rule in Islam given it is the only form sanctioned by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.

Thus, the word “Khilafah” in reference to Islamic rule is from the coinage of the lawgiver himself, not from any scholar and hence is a shari’ or Islamic term.

Even if one were to accept the argument of Dr. Ghamidi that khilafah is merely “a term of political science and sociology of the Muslims like fiqh, kalam and hadith”, the question arises: why not accept, adopt and use the term for Islamic government, just as you accept, adopt and use terms like fiqh and hadith? Why treat it differently to terms? Why the need to prove that it is not a religious term?

As for the Sharia rule that there can only be one Khalifah for all Muslims, the ahadith are explicit. The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said,

»إذا بويع لخليفتين، فاقتلوا الآخر منهما«

“If the oath of allegiance has been taken for two khalifahs, kill the later of them.” (Muslim, 1853)

He also said,

«من أتاكم وأمركم جميع على رجل واحد، يريد أن يشق عصاكم، أو يفرق جماعتكم، فاقتلوه»

“Whosoever comes to you while your affair is united under one man, intending to sow discord among you or dissolve your unity, kill him.” (Muslim, 1852)

Dr. Ghamidi claims that the first hadith is not sound, even though it is in Sahih Muslim, every hadith of which is rigorously authenticated [sahih] by consensus of the hadith scholars.

More creatively, he re-interprets these ahadith as speaking to Muslims within one state separately to those who live in another such that each state must have one ruler. Evidently, the text of the ahadith are general [‘aam] and make no such qualification. Further, there were no such multiple states at the time these statements were made for such an interpretation to even be possible. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was speaking to the Sahaba and through them to all Muslims.

To maintain this untenable interpretation, Dr. Ghamidi goes to the extent of distorting references. He references Abu Bakr (ra) cautioning people, “that a state can only have one ruler,” yet the report he cites from al-Bayhaqi’s Sunan al-Kubra (no. 16550) makes no mention of any “state”. Rather it quotes Abu Bakr as saying, “It is not permitted that the Muslims have two leaders…” (Italics emphasis mine) [la yahillu an yakuna lil-muslimeena ameeran], which is precisely our argument.

It is well established in Usul al-Fiqh that the definitive article of genus [lam al-jins], like the one used in “the Muslims” here, is a particle of generality, benefiting reference to every particular referent falling under the word. That is, the Muslims means all Muslims. Muslims as a whole can only have one ruler to lead them. That ruler is the Khalifah. Otherwise, there will be division, disunity and discord, a matter whose poignant reality today suffices from its expression in words.

Dr. Ghamidi agrees that multiple rulers will lead to severe difference, disorder and lack of discipline. Yet, surprisingly, he has no problem with the more than 50 states that divide the Muslim world into impotent entities!

The truth is that behind the intellectual gymnastics displayed by the likes of Dr. Ghamidi and other modernist “reformers” are the effects of power. Modern, secular liberal power. Theirs is a reading of the Islamic texts through the lens of secular liberalism and the modern world order. They read Islam through current realities, instead of understanding Islam independently and applying it to current realities. That is why their conclusions are those which facilitate, intentionally or otherwise, the maintenance of the status quo.

The concept of the Khilafah radically challenges the global status quo and its oppressive structures. It seeks the unity of the Muslim world and a return of Islam to global leadership. The views of Ghamidi et al. do the precise opposite: they seek to maintain the status quo by conferring on it Islamic legitimacy. And they continue to miserably fail because the Ummah sees the modern secular order for what it really is: a system of oppression whereby an elite minority exploits everyone else and it knows that the Khilafah, apart from being a divine obligation, is the sole means of liberation from this oppression, not only for it but for humanity as a whole.

Written for the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by

Umar Ali of Pakistan is a Muslim activist,

Writer and student of Arabic and Islamic Studies