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The Islamic Caliphate: Historical Context, Theology and The Resurrection in the Latter-Days: The Ahmadiyya Caliphate

Updated on October 14, 2016
Ahmadi-Muslims gather unto their Khalifa tul Masih or The Successor of The Messiah
Ahmadi-Muslims gather unto their Khalifa tul Masih or The Successor of The Messiah


This blog addresses the concept of Caliphate or Khilafat in Islam. Khalifa or Caliph basically means successor. The thinking around the Islamic Caliphate has a historical perspective in terms of the vast empire that followed the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). However, there is also a religious and theological perspective on Khilafat such as the Rashideen (divinely guided) Khilafat that followed the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the persons of Abu Bakr (ra), Umar (ra), Uthman (ra) and Ali (ra). These persons held the title of Khalifa tul Rasool or Successor of the Messenger.

Caliphate has also generated interest in the west especially after ISIS’s arrival on the scene and their claim to be resurrecting the Caliphate and terming its leader as Khalifa. The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam (of which I am a part as an Ahmadi-Muslim) claims that its leaders are true Khalifas of Islam—their title is Khalifa tul Masih or Successor of the Messiah. Ahmadi-Muslims believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (1835-1908) was the Messiah foretold by Muhammad (pbuh) as the symbolic Second Coming of Jesus Christ (more on this later in the blog). The renewed interest in Khilafat in the modern era is due to a prophecy of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which I will cover later in the blog.

Lastly, I will also respond to some allegations, misconceptions and distortions by anti-Ahmadiyya activists around the theology of Khilafat and the writings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh).

Mohd Ali Johar of Khilafat Movement Did His Level Best to Resurrect the Caliphate But to No Avail

Caliphate in the Quran and Hadith

The Quranic source on Khilafat is verse 24:56 also known as Ayatul Istakhlaaf as given below:

“Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely make them Successors (Khalifas) in the earth, as He made Successors those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them; and that He will surely give them in exchange security after their fear: They will worship Me, and they will not associate anything with Me. Then whoso is ungrateful after that, they will be the rebellious.”

The verse speaks of a promise to Muslims who believe and do good works to make them successors just as successors existed before them. The purpose stated here is the establishment of religion. Government or rule over earth are not explicit here nor necessary outcomes of the succession mentioned. Another key point is that Khalifas or successors have existed before in time when this verse was revealed—meaning that Khilafat is not a uniquely Islamic concept in the historical sense but existed with earlier religions too and is also prophecized to exist again in the future.

Further, let us review a couple of key hadiths (sayings of Muhammad) in this regard.

“Prophethood will remain among you for as long as Allah wills it to be. Then Allah will raise it when He wills. Then there will be the Khilafah upon the Prophetic methodology. And it will last for as long as Allah wills. Then there will be biting kingship, and it will remain for as long as Allah wills. Then there will be tyrannical kingship and it will remain for as long as Allah wills. Then there will be a khilafah upon the Prophetic methodology. Then he (the Prophet) was silent." (ref: Musnad ahmad ibn hanbal)

In this prophecy, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) outlines the progression of Muslim leadership which after his own prophethood will be followed by Khilafat modeled on prophethood and then will fall into kingships and tyrants till it will finally return to Khilafat again modeled on prophethood.

The orthodox interpretation of 24:56 tends to be a promise of being awarded rulers on earth just as those before (the Israelites) were given this promise. However, as I have pointed out earlier no such promise is explicitly or implicitly given in the verse which speaks directly of the promise of establishing religion. Further, the orthodox interpretation of the hadith-prophecy given above takes the return to Khilafat at the end to be modeled on the caliphate that followed prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh) and does not have to be initiated by a prophet or messiah in this day and age.

This interpretation has led to anxiety in the orthodox clergy on how to form the Caliphate in an atmosphere of divisiveness and conflict. Some attempts have been made establish a Caliphate such as the failed Khilafat Movement. ISIS also claims to have formed the expected Caliphate. However, ISIS’s claim can be rejected simply on the basis of not meeting even a basic sense of morality, decency and regard for human life.

All Human Attempts to Resurrect The Caliphate in the Latter Days Have Failed, The Ottomon Seat of the Caliphate Was Shut Down As The Ahmadiyya Caliphate Emerged

The Messiah Ahmad (as) and the current Khalifa (5th successor)

The Messianic Context of The Latter Days Caliphate (Ahmadiyya)

The Ahmadiyya interpretation takes a different view—we believe that since the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has foretold of the coming of a prophet/messiah in the latter-days as ‘Jesus Son of Mary’ (which Ahmadi-Muslims take to be symbolic) then this Caliphate will ensue in this particular messianic context at the hands of the Messiah. Essentially, a Caliphate does not require the status of temporal leadership and government on earth (no such essence is given in the Quran verse 24:56). Essentially, it is a system of continuity and succession of the mission and teachings of the prophet. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) has written in his book Al-Wasiyyat (The Will) that Allah will manifest for his movement in the same way that Abu Bakr (ra) was manifest as a Caliph after Muhammad to put down attacks of opponents who look to capitalize on destroying a prophet’s movement given the demoralization among the prophet’s followers upon his demise.

There is a Hadith that says: “There has never been a prophethood that was not followed by a Caliphate” (Mashyakhat Ibn Tahman). This further reinforces the argument that Caliphate is not restricted to one particular prophet but has followed all prophets, some with temporal leadership such as the Caliphates of prophets Muhammad and Moses, and those without temporal authority such as the Caliphates (successors) of Prophets Jesus and Ahmad. The Caliph after Jesus can be understood to be St. Peter as asserted by Catholics to be the first pope or St. James as asserted by others.

The messianic context that prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gave us for the latter-days, in fact, helps to unravel and settle this dispute of how the Caliphate will re-appear. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has clearly termed the Messiah in his following as ‘Jesus Son of Mary’ and thus the Caliphate for the latter-days would follow the messianic context and model. The early successors of Jesus did not have any government or temporal authority and was propagated as a purely spiritual order the likeness of which can be found in the Ahmadiyya Caliphate. More on this likeness later.

And, the fact remains that so far, no Caliphate has emerged or engaged a trajectory on conscientious and moral grounds conforming to the true teachings of religion and Islam, working for peace, justice and service to humanity like the Ahmadiyya Caliphate has.

"There was never a prophethood that wasn't followed by a Caliphate" ( Prophet Muhammad)

The True Caliphate Can Only Be Established by a Prophet or Messiah As An Act of God And Can Be Judged By Its Achievements And Works

Mirza Bashiruddin Mehmud (ra), The Second Khalifa led the main Ahmadiyya Movement after The Split

Allegations on Ahmadiyya Caliphate

Now I will turn to answering some allegations that are made from a theological standpoint against the concept of the Islam-Ahmadiyya Caliphate. A large body of material on these theological differences is propagated by what is known as the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement. This group split from the main Ahmadiyya movement in 1915 owing to a couple of theological differences one of them being that succession in the following of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad will not be in the form of a Caliphate. Some orthodox Muslims leverage these materials and repeat allegations.

Leadership of The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement that Rejected the System of Caliphate and Split Away

Allegations of Contradictions in the Writings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) on Khilafat

The Lahore Group alleges that the concept Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) draws from verse 24:56 in his book Shahadatal Quran (Testimony of Quran) is that Muslims are generally mistaken in their thinking that Caliphate in Islam ended after the first four Caliphs. He asserts that successors would have continued to appear in the form of saints and holy figures as spiritual blessing and inspirational rejuvenation of the faith. To think otherwise would be to regard Islam as a dead religion. Below is an excerpt to this affect from Shahadatal Quran:

“Now it should be remembered that although there are many verses of this kind (24:56) in the Holy Quran, giving the glad tidings of an ever-lasting khilafat in this Umma (followers), and Hadith is full of reports about this as well, for the moment this much will suffice for those who accept proven facts like a great treasure. There could be no worse misgiving about Islam than to consider it to be a dead religion and to believe its blessings to be limited only to the first generation.”

Now, the book Al-Wasiyyat (The Will) was written by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) in 1906 close to his demise. As I stated earlier, in this book he clearly states that Allah will manifest for his movement in the same way that he manifest Abu Bakr (ra) as the first Caliph to put down attacks of opponents who feel emboldened at the death of the prophet. Here is an excerpt from that book:

“Thus He (Allah) manifests two kinds of Power. (1) First He shows the Hand of His Power at the hands of His Prophets. (2) Second, when with the death of a Prophet, difficulties and problems arise and the enemy feels stronger and thinks that things are in disarray and is convinced that now this Jama‘at (congregation) will become extinct and even members of the Jama‘at, too, are in a quandary and their backs are broken, and some of the unfortunate ones choose paths that lead to apostasy, then it is that God for the second time shows His Mighty Power and supports and takes care of the shaken Jama‘at. Thus one who remains steadfast till the end witnesses this miracle of God. This is what happened at the time of Hadrat Abu Bakr Siddiq(ra), when the demise of the Holy Prophet was considered untimely and many an ignorant Bedouin turned apostate. The companions of the Holy Prophet were stricken with grief and became like those who lose their senses. Then Allah raised Abu Bakr Siddiq(ra) and showed for the second time the manifestation of His Power and saved Islam, just when it was about to fall, and fulfilled the promise which was spelled out in the verse (24:56): , that is, after the fear We shall firmly re-establish them.”

Now this excerpt leaves little argument that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) in verse 24:56 saw the manifestation a Caliphate in his following which will protect his community from enemies and continue the propagation of his divine mission. Some allege this causes a contradiction with the passages from Shahadtal Quran which are apparently alluding to saints and holy figures as Khalifas.

In reality, there is no contradiction and both references, one in a general sense of appearance of saints and the other speaking of a certain Order of The Caliphate that follows prophets are acceptable meanings of verse 24:56. In order to elaborate this point we can review two prophecies of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which would then also appear to be in apparent contradiction but, in fact, are not. These are merely ploys and tactics of opponents to forge apparent contradictions.

Now, above I gave a hadith by prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that Caliphate on the model of prophethood will continue until Allah wills and then Caliphs will be replaced by kings. In another Hadith he gives a prophecy that the Caliphate in his following will only last 30 years. This has led most orthodox Muslims to believe that Hazrat Ali(ra) was the last true Caliph roughly 30 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad. Yet, there are other significant hadith-narratives that speak of that there will be twelve Caliphs apparently beyond the 30 year period. Orthodox Muslims themselves have expressed this apparent contradiction. Is there a contradiction? No.

Similar to the narratives in Shahdatul Quran and Al-Wassiyat, these narratives can also be reconciled and understood to mean that there will be a certain Order of Caliphate and yet a Caliph can also be understood to be a pious saint such as the concept of mujjadids in Islam who is seen as an inspiring renewer of faith.

Did the early Muslims not deserve a longer-running Order of Caliphate?

Verse 24:56 states that the promise of Caliphate is being made to those who are righteous and do good works. The Ahmadiyya Caliphs have always implored Ahmadi-Muslims to maintain high moral standards, pray for forgiveness and remain engaged in good works so that we remain connected to the blessings of the Caliphate. There are those, especially the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, who allege that in this statement is the implication that the early Muslims known honored as Salafs, Tabin and Tabi-tabin did not meet the moral standard and thus Caliphate was lifted from them.

Firstly, the Ahmadiyya Caliphs have never made a statement that the Order of the Caliphate ended in the early Muslims because of their moral condition and it is blatantly unfair to put words into someone’s mouth like that by way of insinuation and apparent implication.

Secondly, anyone who makes such an allegation is no less than accusing Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who himself is quoted as saying that Caliphate will not remain past thirty years before it resumes in the latter-days.

How do we then reconcile this point? We can reconcile it in the same way as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) spoke of twelve Caliphs which may be the twelve mujjadids (renewers) and how Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) spoke of succession in a broader sense in Shahadatul Quran. Also I will elaborate on this in the next section.

The Roman Catholic Papacy Claims To Be An Unbroken 2,000-year Chain of Khalifas of Jesus Christ (as)

Longevity of Ahmadiyya Caliphate of Latter Days vs First Islamic Caliphate

Continuing the theme from the previous section, another allegation often totted is that why the first order of Caliphate in Islam lasted only thirty years whereas the second order of the Ahmadiyya Caliphate has already surpassed 110 years and is believed to last up until the Day of Judgement.

Again, both timelines are given by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In the hadith-prophecy posted above, as it progresses through the timeline, it ends at Caliphate re-establishing modeled on prophethood. He then said no more which can be taken as that this state of the Order of the Caliphate will then persist from that point on. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) has also said in Al-Wasiyyat that this manifestation to come after him will last until the Day of Judgement.

As the prophecy says it is the will of Allah and only Allah know best. I will, however, offer a possible rationale for this. Drawing on the parallel in the Mosaic and Mohammadan prophetic dispensations, the early Muslims and Jews had to fight mortal enemies on the battle ground. Eventually, they were victorious and their enemies were no longer able to target them for destruction. However, the circumstances of the Messiahs in the Mosaic and Mohammadan dispensation were different. They were met with severe opposition and persecution of the orthodoxy of their own religion. The propagation of their movements spanned hundreds of years while still under persecution and thus may have required an Order of Caliphate to address these circumstances as well as a sign of their prophethood.

The succession of Jesus Christ (as) in the form of a papacy is still extant for over 2,000 years. We don’t believe it to be a true Caliphate today since it enjoins, in our view, an erroneous doctrine of the divinity of Christ, but nevertheless the chain of successors still exists today.

The Ahmadiyya Caliphate does not suffer a lapse of doctrine as such since it bears the religion of Islam. If it is the true Islamic Order of the Caliphate in the latter-days as foretold by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and affirmed by The Messiah Ahmad (as), then it could well continue with its order for a very long time to come and well up to the Day of Judgement.

In the end, it should be said that the Order of the Caliphate, the initial one in the immediate following of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the latter one, both are his Caliphates and bear the religion that dispensed at his hands. In reality, there is no contest nor conflict between the two except in the minds of those who seek to sow discord and raise unsubstantiated allegations. Both are truly one and can be judged by the quality of its achievements.

Disclaimer: The contents of this hub do not officially represent The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam or The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The official website of The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam or The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is


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