The Concept of Khilāfah in Islam

By Mufti Intizāmullāh Shihābī & Mufti Zayn-ul-‘Ābidīn Mirthī[1]

Translated by Mufti Abdullah Moolla

In Islām, khilāfah refers to the divine government which bears the responsibility of granting success to the creation in this world and the hereafter. It is established upon the law of Allāh Ta’ālā. It sweeps away the rubbish of oppression and inequity, thereby cleansing every corner of the earth and makes it the envy of Jannah through the glittering and sweet smelling flowers of justice and equity.

The head of this divine government is called the khalīfah because he is the deputy of Allāh Ta’ālā on the earth, and this is precisely the meaning of khalīfah. In the Noble Qur’ān, khilāfah of the earth is described as a great bounty. This is given to the pious and obedient servants of Allāh Ta’ālā who have the ability to fulfill its responsibilities.

هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَكُمْ خَلَائِفَ فِي الْأَرْضِ

He is the One who has made you successors on the earth[2]

وَاذكُرُواْ إِذْ جَعَلَكُمْ خُلَفَاء مِن بَعْدِ قَوْمِ نُوحٍ

And remember when He made you successors after the people of Nūh[3]

يَا دَاوُودُ إِنَّا جَعَلْنَاكَ خَلِيفَةً فِي الْأَرْضِ

O Dāwūd, We have made you a vicegerent on earth[4]

وَلَقَدْ كَتَبْنَا فِي الزَّبُورِ مِن بَعْدِ الذِّكْرِ أَنَّ الْأَرْضَ يَرِثُهَا عِبَادِيَ الصَّالِحُونَ

And We have written in the Zabūr after the advice that the land will be inherited by My righteous slaves[5]

After the migration to Madīnah Munawwarah, the Muslims were surrounded by enemies. On the one side, the Makkans were sharpening their weapons in order to go to Madīnah Munawwarah to attack the Muslims. On the other side, the Jews and the hypocrites of Madīnah Munawwarah were laying new traps in order to catch the Muslims. In this extreme state of worry, Allāh Ta’ālā granted them consolation:

وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُم فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَى لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُم مِّن بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا

Allāh has promised those of you who believe and do good deeds that He will certainly make them (His) vicegerents in the land, as He made those before them, and will certainly establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them, and will certainly give them peace in place of fear in which they were before.[6]

This promise of Allāh Ta’ālā was subsequently fulfilled very soon. Ten years after migration, the oppressed, downtrodden and ill equipped Muslims planted the flag of the government of Allāh over the entire Arabian Peninsula. On one side they were a threat to the power of Kisrā (Chosroes) and on the other they were attacking the power of Qaysar (Caesar).

The first khalīfah of this new era of the Islāmic Khilāfah was Muhammad Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The second khalīfah who acquired the honour of being the first khalīfah of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam is Sayyiduna Abū Bakr Siddīq raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu. However, the word khalīfah in Islāmic history is generally used in the meaning of the khalīfah (successor) of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam, thus Sayyiduna Abū Bakr Siddīq raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu is regarded as the first khalīfah.

The Position of Khilāfah

Majority of the Muslims are unanimous that it is compulsory (wājib) upon the ummah to appoint a khalīfah. However, there is a difference of opinion regarding the form of compulsion. One group states that it is compulsory from the perspective of the sharī’ah. These are the proofs:

  1. Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

من مات وليس في عنقه بيعة مات ميتة جاهلية

He who dies while his neck is free from the yoke of (pledging allegiance to the khalīfah of the time) has died a death of ignorance.[7]

2. After the demise of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam, all the Sahābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum unanimously understood it to be necessary to appoint a khalīfah. In fact, they deemed it to be so important that they fulfilled this duty even before the burial of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam.

3. Whatever the sharī’ah has made compulsory upon the Muslims, such as enforcing the boundaries and punishments laid down by the sharī’ah, etc., cannot be done without a khalīfah. It is an accepted rule that everything a compulsory action entails also becomes compulsory.

The second group says that it is compulsory based on logical reasoning, not in terms of the sharī’ah. This is because every group needs a power which can and will execute its laws. He should solve the arguments amongst the individuals of the ummah and assume the responsibility for establishing peace and safety. It is for this reason that a ruler is required for the sake of the needs of the society.

Both these opinions are correct in their places and it is also possible to reconcile them. The reality is that both the intellect and the sharī’ah are in agreement upon the need for appointing a khalīfah. The intellect demands that there be an independent ruler who will overlook the system of the nation and command them. The sharī’ah requires a fine example of high calibre to lead in religious affairs, and the fountainhead of his strength is the strength of the ummah, not his personal rank and grandeur.

Ibn Khaldūn raḥimahullāh has also mentioned a third group in his Muqaddimah. This group states that it is not necessary to appoint a khalīfah in terms of the sharī’ah or in terms of logical reasoning. Asam from the Mu’tazilah as well as some of the Khawārij are included within this group. They are of the view that it is necessary for the laws of Allāh Ta’ālā to be practiced within the ummah, but when these laws are adopted as customary and there is peace and safety in the country or land, then the need for a ruler or khalīfah does not remain. The consensus of the ummah is in conflict with the position of this third group. After the rightly guided khulafā’, weaknesses in ethics and character ensued as a result of being affected by government and rulership. These people adopted their stance as a result of being affected by this [weakness].

The crux of this discussion is that the scholars are unanimous [in their agreement] that it is necessary for the Muslims to appoint a khalīfah or ruler (also called imām), so that the organization of the ummah can be collective and its status as a group or nation can remain. Similarly, they should not fall prey to differing views and evil actions and thereby face completely destruction.[8]

RELATED: A Response to Supposed “Islamic” Objections Against Khilafah

The Conditions of Khilāfah

The intellectuals of every country and nation of the world accept the principle that the king of the country and leader of the nation should be a person who is sane, mature, free, masculine, brave, intelligent, influential and authoritative. Islām has added the following conditions to the ones that are necessary from a logical point of view:

It is necessary that the khalīfah of the Muslims be:

  1. A Muslim.
  2. Knowledgeable⁠—so that he can understand the connotations of the Noble Qur’ān (which is the constitution of the Islāmic government) and he can solve its details in the light of the Sunnah of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
  3. Just⁠—so that he can be the best example for those upon whom it is necessary to have this quality.
  4. Qurayshī, i.e., he should be from the Quraysh tribe.

All the scholars of the ummah are unanimous upon the first three conditions but there is a difference of opinion regarding the fourth. Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

الائمة من قريش

The imāms are from the Quraysh

Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam also said:

قدموا قريشا ولا تقدموها . بيهقى وطبرانى

Place the Quraysh first and do not go before them

In the light of these aḥādīth and others like them, there is debate regarding the condition of (the khalīfah) being from the Quraysh. Those who reject this condition say:

1. Allāh Ta’ālā sent His messenger as a standard bearer for the equality of man, and He wiped out all the man-made marks of class and family. So, how is it possible that he ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam confined khilāfah to the Quraysh and kept up these non Islāmic characteristics and signs?

2. Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

اسمعوا واطيعوا وإن ولى عليكم عبد حبشى ذو زبيبة

“Listen and obey, even if an Abyssinian with a lowly figure is made your leader.”

Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu said:

لو كان سالم مولى حذيفة حيا لوليته

“If Sālim, the freed slave of Hudhayfah were alive, I would have made him the governor of the time.”

From these statements we come to know that neither Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam nor Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu regarded the condition of being from the Quraysh to be necessary.

It is a resolute law of the universe that the world is perpetually in the cradle of change.

وَتِلْكَ الأيَّامُ نُدَاوِلُهَا بَيْنَ النَّاسِ

Such days We rotate among the people[9]

The Quraysh are not excluded from this law. So, how can it be possible that the sharī’ah has restricted the khilāfah to the Quraysh in every era whether or not they possess the ability to fulfill its responsibility? Why should this heavy responsibility be placed on their necks?

3. The first ḥadīth is not a command or prescription of the sharī’ah. It is a prophecy of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam regarding khilāfah. The second ḥadīth clarifies the link of the ruling of khilāfah.

Qādī Abū Bakr Bāqillānī⁠ raḥimahullāh—the imām of the Ashā’irah⁠—and Allāmah Ibn Khaldūn raḥimahullāh are of this view.

Those who state that being from the Quraysh is a condition (for khilāfah) argue the following:

  1. Undoubtedly Islām is the standard bearer of equality amongst man. However, it does not mean that every person is equal to the next in every respect and that there is no type of difference in rank and status. In terms of the rights of man, there is equality amongst them. For example, in commands, prohibitions and the limits set down by the sharī’ah, etc., and in terms of differences of qualities, Islām accepts the differences in rank. For example, the higher rank of the scholars over the masses and men over women is proven from the clear text of the Noble Qur’ān.
  2. The family link of the Quraysh to Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam is a source of pride for them. Together with having honour for dīn, they are honoured in terms of lineage. Undoubtedly, the progress of the dīn of Muḥammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam is their progress. Therefore, if the khilāfah is given to them, they will be able to fulfill the duties of being the vicegerents of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam in the best way.
  3. The Noble Qur’ān was revealed in the dialect of the Quraysh. Most of the laws of Islām are in accordance with the habits of the Quraysh. Therefore, they are the best ones who would be able to understand the sharī’ah of Muḥammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam. By practicing upon it, they would be the best example for others.
  4. When a difference of opinion arose regarding khilāfah in Saqīfah Banī Sā’idah and the anṣār explained that they had the most right, then Sayyiduna Abū Bakr raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu narrated this ḥadīth (“The imāms are from the Quraysh“) and extracted the ruling accordingly therefrom. Everyone yielded before the ḥadīth of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Therefore, we learn that the ṣaḥābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum accepted this ḥadīth as a command and did not classify it as a prophecy.
  5. The condition of being from the Quraysh is accepted with the other conditions. It is not sufficient on its own. Therefore, under the divine law of “Such days We rotate among the people” there is no overextension here.
  6. The ḥadīth regarding obedience to an Abyssinian slave does not deal with choosing the khalīfah. What it demonstrates is what the modus operandi should be if someone unworthy seizes the khilāfah. The statement regarding Sālim the freed slave of Hudhayfah is that of a sahābī, i.e., Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu. Therefore, it cannot stand as proof. Most of the great scholars like Qādī Iyād raḥimahullāh, Allāmah Nawawī raḥimahullāh, Ḥāfiz Ibn Hajar raḥimahullāh and Ḥāfiz Jalāl ud Dīn Suyūtī raḥimahullāh have supported the condition that the khalīfah should be from the Quraysh. It is also the view of Shāh Waliyyullāh raḥimahullāh.[10]

The reality is that the condition of being from the Quraysh is not a condition of determination or validation. It is a condition that establishes the most worthy. What this means is that if the ummah chooses a khalīfah based on consultation, and a person of the Quraysh and one who is not of the Quraysh are equal, then the person of the Quraysh will be given preference. Take the imāmah[11] in ṣalāh for example. The jurists have explained that if two people are equal in all the requirements but one is more honourable in terms of lineage, then he will be given preference, and he will be made the imām. So, if lineage is considered in relation to the smaller form of imāmah,[12] then what is the problem of it being considered with regard to the greater form of imāmah?[13] However, since it is a condition which establishes who is most worthy and not a condition of validation, thus even if it is overlooked, it will not create any deficiency in the establishment of khilāfah. Just as in the case of ṣalāh, if it is overlooked, the validity of the ṣalāh will not be affected. In this case, there would be no need for the interpretation or specification of the ḥadīth regarding the imām being from the Quraysh, nor would there be a need for any other explanation for the narration from Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam regarding Sayyiduna Zayd Ibn Ḥārithah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu or the statement of Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu regarding Sālim, the freed slave of Ḥudhayfah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, both of which discuss khilāfah.[14]

Method of Selection

The person in whom these conditions of khilāfah are found can be the khalīfah when the general Muslims select him or he is selected by the representatives of the Muslims referred to as the Ahl ul Ḥalli wal ‘Aqd. The term Ahl ul Ḥalli wal ‘Aqd refers to those who are the leaders, generals of the army and guides of the ummah that have the qualities of knowledge, practice, understanding, deep thought and concern for the ummah. In addition to this, they are people to whom the Muslims refer their general matters.

One group [of scholars] are of the view that if the khalīfah selects a certain person or names a few people from among whom one should be selected, then he will also become the khalīfah, just as was the case when Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu and Sayyiduna Uthmān raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu were selected.

However, the research scholars do not accept this form for the ruler of the time. Their proofs are as follows:

  1. The Noble Qur’ān has explained the method to be adopted in communal matters:

وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ

And whose affairs are (settled) with mutual consultation between them[15]

The most important matter in the communal life of Muslims is the matter of choosing the khalīfah. If this clear principle is abandoned here, then of what use is it?

2. To pledge allegiance to a second khalīfah during the life of [an already existing] one is in reality pledging allegiance to two leaders during the same era, which is baseless in the sharī’ah. Subsequently, when Sayyiduna Abdullāh Ibn Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā was urged to pledge allegiance to Yazīd, he clearly rejected and said:

لا ابايع لاميرين

I will not pledge allegiance to two leaders in one era[16]

3. It is incorrect to claim that Sayyiduna Umar Al-Fārūq raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu and Sayyiduna Uthmān raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu were selected by a naming process. The leader, Sayyiduna Abū Bakr Siddīq raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu felt it appropriate to decide on the matter of khilāfah towards the end of his life in order to save the initial stages of the nurturing of the ummah from arguments based on differences. However, he did not decide on the matter based on his personal opinion. He discussed the matter with the senior ṣaḥābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum separately. He removed the doubts of anyone who had any. Then, for general consultation, he presented the name of Sayyiduna Umar Al-Fārūq raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum to the general Muslims. When all of them accepted, he then appointed him the ‘khalīfah-to-be’ and advised him in the best way. It is clear that this method of selection can in no way be called a ‘naming’ or ‘nomination.’

Similarly, Sayyiduna Umar Al-Fārūq raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu did not nominate anyone to be the ruler. He named six senior ṣaḥābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum (who were the finest embodiments of the conditions of khilāfah) from among whom one was to be chosen. Who were these? They held the status of the central group of the Muslims. They were the ones who were given the responsibility by Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam to make others adopt the teachings of the Noble Qur’ān. They are:

وَالسَّابِقُونَ الأَوَّلُونَ مِنَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ وَالأَنصَارِ

The first and foremost of the emigrants (muhājirīn) and the supporters (anṣār)[17]

The Noble Qur’ān announces regarding them:

رَّضِيَ اللّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُواْ عَنْهُ

Allāh is pleased with them and they are pleased with Allāh[18]

Thus, can the Muslims have any doubt or misgiving regarding accepting the decision of the group whose decision is liked and announced by the Noble Qur’ān? Was their decision not the decision of the group of Muslims? In addition, it is also a historic reality that when this group of ṣaḥābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum handed the responsibility over to Sayyiduna Abdur Raḥmān Ibn Awf raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, then continuously for three nights, without sleep, he consulted with the influential ones among the muhājirīn and anṣār. Then, in accordance to the general opinion of the ummah, he announced that Sayyiduna Uthmān raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu had been selected.

The Shī’ah Perspective

The Shī’ah perspective on khilāfah and leadership is different. The Imāmiyyah sect are of the view that khilāfah is not from amongst the general needs that should be left to the opinion of the ummah. They believe that it is in fact a fundamental aspect of religion and the foundation of dīn; that it was the obligatory duty of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam to solve such an important matter in light of divine revelation before leaving this world. Consequently, they claim that he ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam did this and appointed Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu as his khalīfah and leader, and after him Sayyiduna Hasan raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu was appointed by Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, and thereafter Sayyiduna Husayn raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu was appointed by Sayyiduna Hasan raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu. In this way they believe that, one after the other, 12 imāms from the progeny of Sayyidatuna Fātimah radiyallāhu anhā were the khulafā’ or imāms, based on clear instruction. The Imāmiyyah allege that Shaykhayn[19] were usurpers because they did not act in accordance with the command of Allāh Ta’ālā and Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam and that they seized the khilāfah from Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu.

The Zaydiyyah say that Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam did specify the khilāfah of Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu after him, but this appointment was not by name but in terms of characteristics. The ṣaḥābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum fell short in relating these characteristics in their circumstances and places and rather than giving it to Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, they gave it to others. They do not speak ill of Shaykhayn, but they take Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu to be more virtuous than them. In addition, they opine the permissibility of their khilāfah in the presence of the one who is the most virtuous. According to them, the conditions for being the leader are the same as mentioned previously. However, instead of ‘being from the Quraysh,’ they insert the condition that the khalīfah must be from the progeny of Sayyidatuna Fāṭimah raḍiyallāhu anhā. Another condition introduced by them is that it is necessary for the khalīfah or imām to lay claim to the khilāfah.

There are many other sects among the Shī’ah that have different thoughts regarding the matter of khilāfah.[20] The Shī’ah take their imāms to be sinless (ma’sūm) like the anbiyā’. They hold the belief that an imām cannot commit a minor or major sin.

RELATED: Shi‘ism: A Persisting Enemy of Islam and Muslims

Method of Appointment

All that has been written regarding the conditions and the method of selection will be worthy of practice when the system of the sharī’ah together with its collective soul is present in the Muslims. The ummah is free to choose its leader when the question of who to choose as their khalīfah comes before them. However, it is the misfortune of the Muslims that this system of sharī’ah did not remain after the rightly guided khulafā’. What will be the form of establishing the khilāfah after the system of the sharī’ah fell into disarray? This is a separate subject. The Islāmic sharī’ah has also clarified this in detail. This is the reason why, after the demise of Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu⁠—when the Umayyad government was established⁠—the ṣaḥābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum did not have the slightest worry about what path of action to adopt.

There are two forms of establishing the khilāfah after the system of the sharīʿah falls into disarray. Complete control and Islām, i.e., if a Muslim takes control of the position of khilāfah through his power and following; and his government is established, then it will be compulsory upon every Muslim to accept him as the khalīfah and to fulfill the conditions of obedience. Now, no matter how much right or virtue another person has, it will not be permissible for him to reject the khilāfah and open up the doors of corruption and trouble among the Muslims. The expediency of this ruling is totally clear. Even now, if it is made necessary to consider all the conditions, then every person with whom there are four others can assert himself to be better than the others and lay claim to the khilāfah. Then the system of the sharī’ah will break down. Who will make the decision regarding who is the most virtuous and who is worthy or unworthy? The making of this decision will necessitate that the tongue comes into the field of the sword, the fire of trouble and corruption will be ignited and rivers of blood will flow. Peace and safety in the country will be destroyed, and the unity of the Muslims will be shattered.

عن عبادة بن الصامت قال بايعنا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم على السمع والطاعة في منشطنا ومكرهنا وعسرنا ويسرنا وأثرة علينا وان لا ننازع الامر أهله إلا أن تروا كفرا بواحا عندكم فيه من الله برهان . متفق عليه

Sayyiduna Ubādah Ibn as Sāmit raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu narrates, “We pledged allegiance at the hands of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam to listen and obey, whether the conditions are pleasing or displeasing, in difficult or prosperous circumstances and that we shall not dispute the ruler except if you see clear and open disbelief and there is a proof (for this) from the book of Allāh.”[21]

The ḥadīth about obedience to the Abyssinian slave quoted above deals with the same issue.[22]

If this appointed khalīfah and leader does not come onto the lowest level of religiousness and he commits open sins and crimes, then too it will not be permissible to oppose him. However, his wrong will be taken to be so and if he commands the disobedience of Allāh, then one should reject carrying out the command.

خيار ائمتكم الذين تحبونهم ويحبونكم وتصلون عليهم ويصلون عليكم وشرار ائمتكم الذين تبغضونهم ويبغضونكم وتلعينهم ويلعنونكم قال قلنا يا رسول الله أفلا ننابذهم عند ذلك قال لا ما أقاموا فيكم الصلوة الا من ولى عليه وال فرآه يأتى شيأ من معصية الله فليكره ما يأتى من معصية الله ولا ينزعن يدا من طاعة . مسلم

The best of your leaders is the one whom you love and he has love for you. You make du’ā’ of mercy for him and he makes du’ā’ of mercy for you. The worst of your leaders is the one whom you take as an enemy and he takes you as an enemy. You curse him and he curses you. The companions asked, “O Rasūl of Allāh, should we not fight such leaders?” He ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “No, as long as he establishes ṣalāh amongst you, you should obey him. Yes, the one who witnesses some impermissible action being done by the leader, he should take it to be so but he is not beyond obedience to him.”[23]

Khalīfah and Shūrā

At this point, another discussion arises. Is it necessary for the khalīfah or imām chosen by the Muslims to consult with the Ahl ul Ḥalli wal ‘Aqd in the matters of khilāfah? If it is necessary, then is it necessary in every matter or only in important matters? Then, after taking their views, is it necessary to act in accordance with them or does the khalīfah have a choice with regard to implementing their views? The basis of this discussion is the verse of the Noble Qur’ān:

وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللّهِ

Consult them in the matter and, once you have taken a decision, place your trust in Allāh.[24]

From this verse it is clear that it is necessary for the khalīfah to take the views of the Ahl ul Ḥalli wal ‘Aqd. Ḥasan al-Basrī raḥimahullāh and Sufyān al-Thawrī raḥimahullāh say that Allāh Ta’ālā gave the command of consultation to His messenger ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam so that others may follow him in it and so that this Sunnah would endure within his ummah. It also becomes clear that this consultation is necessary in important matters, not in minor issues. This is because the verse itself was revealed regarding the battle of Uḥud.

The third part of the discussion is that after consultation, is it necessary for the khalīfah to practice on the view of the members of the consultation committee (whether it be by majority or consensus)? The scholars have two views regarding this:

  1. The first view is that after consulting about important matters, the khalīfah is not bound to the view of the Ahl ul Ḥalli wal ‘Aqd. The status of the action is only consultation and the khalīfah has a choice to either accept their counsel or to not to accept it.
  2. The second view is that after taking the views from the Ahl ul Ḥalli wal ‘Aqd, the khalīfah will be bound to act in accordance with it, and it is not permissible for him to avoid doing so.

In reality, this difference of opinion is based on specifying the meaning of ‘Azm. Those who hold the first view say that the meaning is ‘firmness in intention’ and ‘contentment of one’s nature.’ In this case, the verse will mean: ‘first consult, and after consultation, make an intention on that upon which the nature is firm, then place your reliance in Allāh and do it.’ Support for this meaning is found in the explanation of some of the mufassirīn mentioned below:

فاذا عزمت اى عقيب المشاورة على شيئ واطمأنت به نفسك فتوكل على الله في امضاء أمرك على ما هو أرشد وأصلح فان ما هو أصلح لك لا يعلمه إلا الله لا أنت ولا من تشاور . روح البيان ٤/١١٦

After consultation, when you make a firm intention to do something and your heart is firm upon it, then place your reliance on Allāh in adopting the best and most suitable path. This is because Allāh alone knows what is best for you. You do not know, nor does the consultant.[25]


اى فاذا عقدت قلبك على أمر بعد الاستشارة فاجعل تفويضك فيه الى الله تعالى فانه العالم بالاصلح لك والارشد لامرك لا يعلمه من أشار عليك وفي هذه الآية دليل على المشاورة وتخسير الرأى وتنقيحه والفكر فيه . البحر المحيط ٣/٩٩

After consultation, when you set your heart firm on something, then consign the matter to Allāh. This is because Allāh alone knows what is best for you and what is most suitable, not your consultant. This verse is proof for the necessity of consultation, firmness of opinion, enquiry as well as pondering and thinking over it.[26]

Those who take this view state that the objective of consultation carried out by the khalīfah should be that the different angles regarding the issue are presented before him, and then he should adopt a plan of action while having conviction and contentment in it. The plan of action of the rightly guided khulafā’ also adds weight to this view. Some of them are mentioned hereunder:

  1. When the fitnah of turning renegade arose, Sayyiduna Abū Bakr raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu consulted with his companions. Most of the ṣaḥābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum were of the view that the issue should not be taken up immediately with those who had stopped giving zakāt. They said that the matter should be settled by adopting softness, and this was also the view of Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu. However, Sayyiduna Abū Bakr raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu vehemently rejected this view and extinguished the fire of this fitnah with the water of the sword.
  2. Similarly, in order to bring the fitnah of the Sabā’iyyah under control, in 34 A.H, Sayyiduna Uthmān raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu called an important consultative meeting. In it, almost everyone was of the view that severe action be taken against those who were involved in the fitnah. However, Sayyiduna Uthmān raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu refused to act in accordance with this, and he gave preference to a policy of softness and forgiveness.

Those who hold the second view state that ‘Azm is not something separate from shūrā, but the intention to act upon the shūrā is ‘Azm and that it refers to the intention to see the task to completion.

The great commentator of the Noble Qur’ān, Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Kathīr raḥimahullāh writes:

عن على قال سئل صلى الله عليه وسلم عن العزم قال مشاورة اهل الرائ ثم اتباعهم . ابن كثير ٢/١٣١

It is narrated from Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu that Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam was asked about the meaning of ‘Azm. He replied: [It is] to consult with people of sound judgement and to then act accordingly.

In his unpublished work, Mawlānā Ḥifz ur Raḥmān Sewhārwī raḥimahullāh has collected the following proofs for this view. With gratitude to Mawlānā, we present them here.

  1. In Majma’ uz Zawā’id: Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu narrates from Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam that he asked the latter, “O Rasūl of Allāh, if something is not found in the Qur’ān and Sunnah, then what should we do?” Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam replied, “Consult with the understanding worshippers of Allāh and do not execute the view of a specific person.”
  2.  In the Mustadrak of Al-Hākim: It is narrated from Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu that he said, “If I had to appoint someone as the khalīfah without consultation, then I would appoint Ibn Umm Abd.” i.e., Sayyiduna Abdullāh Ibn Mas’ūd raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu. (However, it is known that he did not do this.)
  3. It is stated in the Tabaqāt of Ibn Sa’d that some Sahābah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhum asked Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, “What should we do regarding that which we do not find in the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His messenger ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam?” Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu replied, “Practice on that which most of the people of sound judgement incline.”
  4. Hāfiz Ibn Hajar raḥimahullāh writes in his commentary of Ṣaḥīḥ al Bukhārī regarding ‘When Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam decided on a matter’ that the objective of Imām Bukhārī raḥimahullāh here is to show that after consultation, when Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam decided firmly on a matter, then it is not correct for anyone to give another view contrary to it.

This second view is closer to the majority view of Islām. However, it should be clear that the present method of voting in democratic organizations where, by means of canvassing, every type of moral and material effect is placed on the opinion of the opposing party; and where it is necessary to back leaders even if their claims are totally baseless. This can never be on the level of Islāmic shūrā. Islām has stipulated a number of etiquettes for shūrā for the members of the shūrā. It is a primary condition to adhere to these etiquettes. Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

المستشار مؤتمن

Someone who is consulted is in a position of trust.

(I.e., if he does not give correct counsel, then he has betrayed this trust.)

من اشار على أخيه بامر يعلم ان الرشد في غيره فقد خانه . أبو داؤد

The person who gives counsel to his brother knowing that the right way is in something else, then he has betrayed his brother.[27]

Therefore, whatever decision is made in opposition to this foundational condition of Islāmic shūrā, no matter how many of the members of the shūrā back it, it will be baseless in light of the sharīʿah. In addition, according to every group of scholars, it will not be worthy to be practiced upon.

Khilāfah Rāshidah

If the Islāmic government is truly a divine government⁠—the laws of Islām are practiced; the punishments are executed; the principles of dīn are propagated; the knowledge of the sharī’ah is spread; disputes are settled; peace and safety are established according to the Sunnah of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam; its system is based on shūrā and its leader has the all-encompassing (attributes) of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam; he is a mujtahid mutlaq in terms of teaching; he is a complete saint in terms of advising; a just judge in court and a brave warrior in the battlefield⁠—then he is a true representative of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam in terms of possessing all the perfections in knowledge and practice of religion and government. Such a khilāfah is referred to as khilāfah rāshidah or khilāfah ‘alā minhāj an nubuwwah.

By looking at the way of life and the achievements during their khilāfah, it becomes as clear as looking into a mirror that the era of the rightly guided khulafā’ (Sayyiduna Abū Bakr raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, Sayyiduna Umar raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, Sayyiduna Uthmān raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu and Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) was the era of the khilāfah rāshidah.

Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

الخلافة بعدي ثلاثون عاما ثم ملك بعد ذلك

“After me, khilāfah will be for thirty years, then there will be kingdom.”

Khilāfah in this Hadīth refers to the khilāfah of the perfect level, i.e. khilāfah rāshidah. In essence, the khilāfah rāshidah is the completion and termination of the stage of nubuwwah.

Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:

كانت بنو اسرائيل تسوسهم الانبياء كلما هلك نبى خلفه نبى وأنه لا نبى بعدي وسيكون خلفاء . متفق عليه

“The Banī Isrā’īl were governed by their messengers. When a messenger passed away, another took his place. The reality is that there will be no messenger after me. However, there will be khulafā’.”[28]

It is for this reason that the Sunnah of the rightly guided khulafā’ has been stipulated as an example to be followed by the ummah, like with the Sunnah of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The ummah has also been commanded to follow the rightly guided khulafā’.

Deducing from this ḥadīth (“after me, khilāfat will be for thirty years“), most of the scholars have made apparent the view that the chain of khilāfah rāshidah came to an end after the four rightly guided khulafā’. However, Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Kathīr raḥimahullāh holds a different view in Al Bidāyah wan Nihāyah. He writes that the meaning of this ḥadīth is that the continuous and enduring era of khilāfah rāshidah will be thirty years. After this, on account of (other forms of) government, this continuity will break. However, there will still be khulafā’ rāshidūn now and then. It does not mean that it will never exist again. In support of this view, Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Kathīr raḥimahullāh quotes the following ḥadīth of Sayyiduna Jābir Ibn Samurah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, narrated in the ṣiḥāḥ books with various chains:

لا تزال هذه الامة مستقيما امرها ظاهرة على عدوها حتى يمضى اثنا عشرة خليفة كلهم من قريش

The government of this ummah will remain established and enduring and they will be dominant over their enemy until there are twelve khulafā’ among them who are all from the Quraysh.

After quoting this ḥadīth, he quotes the following text of the Tawrāt for further corroboration:

‘Allāh Ta’ālā gave glad tidings of Sayyiduna Ismā’īl (‘alayhi as-salām) to Sayyiduna Ibrāhīm (‘alayhi as-salām). He also said that He will let the progeny of Ismā’īl prosper and He will create twelve leaders from among them.’

He then quotes his teacher Hāfiz Ibn Taymiyyah:

‘These leaders are the same khulafā’ about whom glad tidings were given in the Hadīth of Jābir Ibn Samurah raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu. They will emerge at different times according to the need of the ummah. It should remain clear that the twelve imāms of the Shī’ah can never be meant by these twelve because besides Sayyiduna Alī raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu and Sayyiduna Ḥasan raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu, none of (their imāms) were able to become a person of authority and rank.’[29]

May Allāh Ta’ālā bless us all with the correct understanding of this matter, and may He save us from falling into deviation. Āmīn.

RELATED: Is Wanting a Return of the Caliphate Misplaced Idealism?


  1. Adapted & Translated from: Tārīkh e Millat part 2 
  2. Sūrah Fātir (Originator) 35:39 
  3. Sūrah al A’rāf (the Heights) 7:69 
  4. Sūrah Sād 38:26] 
  5. Sūrah al Anbiyā’ (the Prophets) 21:105 
  6. Sūrah an Nūr (the Light) 24:55 
  7. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 
  8. As Siyāsah ash Shar’iyyah, Abdul Wahhāb Khallāf 
  9. Sūrah Āl ‘Imrān (The Progeny of ʿImrān) 3:140 
  10. Dā’iratul Maʿārif vol.3, Chapter on Khilāfah, Hujjat ullāh al Bālighah and Muqaddamah Ibn Khaldūn p.166 
  11. Leadership position 
  12. Smaller form of imāmah refers to leading the salāh 
  13. Greater form of imāmah refers to being the khalīfah 
  14. From the works of Mawlānā Āshiq Ilāhī Mīrthī raḥimahullāh 
  15. Sūrah Ash Shūra (the Consultation) 42:38 
  16. Fath ul Bārī 
  17. Sūrah at Taubah (Repentance) 9:100 
  18. Sūrah at Taubah (Repentance) 9:100 
  19. Shaykhayn, i.e. the two masters. Referring to Sayyiduna Abū Bakr Siddīq raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu and Sayyiduna Umar Al-Fārūq raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu 
  20. For details see Muqaddamah Ibn Khaladūn, Section on the stance of the Shī’ah regarding the ruling of imāmah and Dā’iratul Maʿārif, Bustānī, vol.7, discussion on khalīfah 
  21. Sahīh al Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim 
  22. Fath al Bārī vol.13 p.104 
  23. Sahīh Muslim 
  24. Sūrah Āl Imrān (the Progeny of Imrān) 3:159 
  25. Rūḥ al Bayān vol.4 p.116 
  26. Al Baḥr Al Muḥīṭ vol.3 p.99 
  27. Sunan Abī Dāwūd 
  28. Sahīh al Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim 
  29. Al Bidāyah wan Nihāyah vol.7 p.48 

Follow Mufti Abdullah on Twitter: @MuftiAMoolla


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