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Hugh Kennedy answers ten questions on The Caliphate

What is the caliphate? Who can become caliph? Has there ever been a woman caliph? Hugh Kennedy, author of the Pelican introduction to The Caliphate, answers your questions 

What does the word caliph mean? 
It means either deputy, that is the deputy of God on earth, or successor, the successor of Prophet Muhammad.


Who can become caliph? 
In general, it can be any adult, male Muslim who is sound of mind and body but many, including ideologues of Islamic State, argue that he has to be a member of Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet.

Has there ever been a woman caliph?

How should the caliph be chosen?
A tricky one this, and much disputed through the ages. Some say he should be elected by the Muslim community, others that he should be chosen by God through hereditary succession.

OK, so who should be the electors?
Another difficult one. There are no clear guidelines on this. In 644 Uthman, the third caliph was elected by a council of 6 senior Muslims and this has remained an ideal, but some argue that a single elector is enough.


Do Sunnis and Shi’is have different ideas about caliphate? 
Absolutely. For the Shi’a the caliph must be a direct descendant of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali. 

What are the most famous dynasties of caliphs?
The Umayyads of Damacus (661-750), the Abbasids of Baghdad (750-1258) and the Fatimids of Cairo (69-1171).

Is the present ISIS caliphate legitimate?
There is nothing illegitimate about it from a traditional Sunni perspective but such a caliph must win the support of a large proportion of the Muslim community to be accepted. The Shi’ites cannot accept the ISIS caliphate.

Can the universal caliphate be revived?
In theory perhaps but the Muslim community is now much too widespread and diverse for this to happen. And the Shi’a could never accept a caliph supported by most Sunnis.


Read the first chapter of The Caliphate for free here


The Caliphate

Hugh Kennedy

What is a caliphate?
What is the history of the idea?
How is the term used and abused today?

In the first modern account of a subject of critical importance today, acclaimed historian Hugh Kennedy answers these questions by chronicling the rich history of the caliphate, from the death of Muhammad to the present. At its height, the caliphate stretched from Spain to the borders of China and was the most powerful political entity in western Eurasia. In an era when Paris and London boasted a few thousand inhabitants, Baghdad and Cairo were sophisticated centres of trade and culture, and the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates were distinguished by major advances in science, medicine and architecture. By ending with the recent re-emergence of caliphal ideology within fundamentalist Islam, The Caliphate underscores why it is crucial that we know about this form of Islamic government to understand the political ideas of the so-called Islamic State and other Islamist groups in the twenty first century.

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