Book Discussion Series 2

Recalling The Caliphate - Decolonization And World Order

Salman Sayyid


Prof. Salman Sayyid’s Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonization and World Order offers a series of reflections about how to achieve de­colonization in the Muslim world and establish a polity for Muslims whi­ch would end their subordinate status under colonization. For Sayyid, decolonization has political and intellectual aspects and only an enga­gement with both of those dimensions can challenge Western colonia­lity and initiate an authentic Muslim way of life. Sayyid urges his readers to reject what he calls the “Westernese” (the language colonial powers forces everyone to speak) and its constitutive ideas (i.e. secularism, li­beralism and democracy). The author explores what kind of a political arrangement can secure Muslims’ independence and contribute to a multi-cultural, pluralistic world. After evaluating several possible alter­natives, Sayyid defends establishment of an Islamicate great power that would provide a home to Muslims and defend their interests in the world. As the book progresses towards its end, Say­yid tackles the issue of how to determine whether a polity Muslims establish would be an Isla­mic power. Sayyid believes that at a certain point in time ummah determines what Islam is and therefore Ummah’s judgment will ultimately decide what kind of interpretations of Islam should prevail in the Caliphate. All in all, Recalling the Caliphate offers stimulating ideas that deepen the debate about how to secure an authentic Muslim existence under conditions of colonialism

By Dr. Ömer Taşgetiren

Caliphate - The history of an Idea

Hugh Kennedy


The Caliphate (2016) by Professor Hugh Kennedy, renow­ned Arabist at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, begins with a reminder to the reader about the power of history in the Muslim tradition. A close reading of this tradition, especially of its primary sources, purportedly shows respect for its protagonist and creators. Kennedy provides an overview for the experience of the caliphate from Abu Bakr to the present. Three questions dominate the discussion of the topic in the pages of the book: ‘how was a caliph to be cho­sen?’, ‘what should the caliph do and how extensive should his powers be?’ and ‘what was the evidence on which these issu­es could be decided and how should it be interpreted?’ In the holy Qur’an, Kennedy notes, only Adam and David received the dignity of being caliphs of God. The appearance of caliph or khalifa to denote the position of deputy can also be found during Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) lifetime when one would be appointed in Medina Munawarah while he left the town. Two rival definitions of caliph, deputy of God versus the successor of the Messenger of God (SAW), exist with sweeping implications for the political authority he could exert over Muslims. Professor Kennedy settles this debate in his book citing the work of Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds that the early idea of caliph meant deputy of God. Throughout the book, however, caliphs seem to be chosen through shura (con­sultation) by Muslims, however, circumscribed by a number, hereditary claims, nass (designation) by an incumbent ruler or simply ‘hard military power’.

Abd al-Malik’s caliphal reign is noted for its military power and also his introduction of Arabic as the language of government replacing Greek and Persian; Islamic coinage demonstrating the ruler’s sikka (right to mint coins) and the construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Ru­diments of an Islamic state-building seem to be evident in these efforts. The rise of the Abbasids witnessed the assertion of rightful rule that of the Hashimiya and members of the ‘Family of the Prophet’ while not Alids, coupled with the military force of the Khurasanis. Another novel contri­bution to the caliphate tradition is the adoption of laqab (a caliph title) such as Mansur (Victori­ous) or Mahdi (God-guided). The jihad and the annual hajj led by the caliph reaching their height in the ‘golden prime’ of Harun al-Rashid’s reign demonstrated his credentials as the military and pious leader of Muslims. The founding of Baghdad as Madinat al-Salam (the City of Peace) by the Abbasid Mansur was yet another addition to the caliphate tradition.

Since the term caliph became synonymous with political authority, a tradition was created, as Professor Kennedy rightly observes, shaped by the twists and turns of the last fourteen hundred years. However, not all claims are rendered legitimate by the very virtue of invoking any of this tradition’s historic symbols such as the qalansuwa, the black robe or the former Abbasid capital of Raqqa by a pretender to its political authority.

By Dr. Mohammed Moussa