Historical evolution of Sunni theory of caliphate. Naira Sahakyan

The death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D. was the first historical crisis faced by the Muslim Community (Ummah). After prophet’s death the issue of authority had emerged, which became one of the main reasons for the fragmentation of the Islamic Ummah.

In this article I’ve examined the evolution of the theory of caliphate from the Sunni perspective starting from the establishment of “khilafa” (caliphate) institute to the declaration of “Islamic state” group as caliphate in 2014. My research shows that the ideal caliphate is considered the period of “khulafa ar-rashidun” (the first four caliphs). The establishment of Umayyad caliphate and hereditary transfer of power violated the system of election of caliph through shura (consultation). The caliph was the only one who held the absolute power during the period of Umayyad caliphate and the first period of Abbasid caliphate. Although, during the second period of Abbasid caliphate the institute of caliph was maintained, the real power belonged to the sultans/emirs. During the Ottoman period its emperors tried to represent Ottoman Empire as a caliphate and themselves as caliphs. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1924 became the impetus for the emergence of many movements aimed at restoring the caliphate.

In 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of terrorist organization called “Islamic state”, declared its organization a caliphate and himself the first caliph of the “caliphate”.

The study of evolution of Sunni theory of caliphate allows us to see the changes of this institute depending on various historical situations. During this evolution periods the caliph’s requirements were different. For instance, belonging to the tribe Qureysh was one of the important requirements during the period of first four caliphs but already in the Ottoman period the role of caliph as defender of religion was emphasized.

FULL ARTICLE (PDF, in Armenian)

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