The word caliph (Arab delivery ḫalīf in and Persan) is a romanisation of Arabic khalîfa (ḫalīfa (T), rear RTL خَلِيفَة,), literally “successor” (implied of the prophet), term derived from the verb khalafa (ḫalafa, rear RTL خَلَفَ) meaning “to succeed”. i.e. vicars or successors, title carried by the successors of Mahomet after its death in 632 until the abolition of this function by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1924. The caliphs joined together the Temporal power with the Spiritual power. The carrier of the title has as a role to keep the unit of the Islâm and any Moslem owes him obedience: it is leading Oumma , the community of the Moslems. The authority of a caliph extends on a Califat. It carries also the title of Commandeur of the believers.
With died of Mahomet in 632, Islâm is without chief: the first caliph will be Abou Bakr (or Abubéker) which continues the conquest of the Arabic Péninsule. His death in 634, its Prime Minister Umar succeeds to him. This one conquers the Palestine, the Mésopotamie, the Egypt and the Perse; in 644, he is stabbed by a former Perse slave. Before dying, it indicates a committee of six people who will have to choose among them the third caliph. It will be Uthman (644 - 656). The fourth caliph is Ali (656 - 661). Then the dynasties will come from the Omeyyades which will choose Damas as capital then Abbassides which carry their seat to Baghdad. Those will see their authority disputed and the proclamation of competitor caliphs (Fatimide S with the Cairo, Omeyyades with Cordoue) so that about the year 1000, the Muslim world is divided into three independent caliphates.
Three principal caliphates are distinguished:
- that of the East, whose seat was with Médine until the death of Ali, then to Damas under the family of Omeyyades, and to Baghdad under that of the Abbasids; it lasted 626 years (632 - 1258); single caliphate at its beginnings, certain territories were freed thereafter from its authority while being constituted like competitor caliphates;
- that of Egypt or the Fatimides, which was founded in 909 by Ubayd Allah Al-Mahdi, descendant of Fatima, girl of the prophet, and who was reversed in 1171 by Saladin.
- that of Cordoue, resulting from an emirate founded with Cordoue in 756 by Abdérame, from the family of Omeyyades, and dismembered in 1031;
The caliphs were initially elected but, as of the end of the 1st century of the Hégire, Muawiya Ier (or Moavian, Muawiyya), the first caliph Omeyyade, abolishes the election and made the caliphate hereditary in his family. They lost any temporal power since the creation of Emir-Al-Omrah (935). There were however caliphs until in 1516; in this year, the Othoman sultan Selim Ier was made yield the caliphate by the last Abbasid, Al-Mutawakkil III. Selim Ier made transport the relics of Mahomet and the first four caliphs to Istanbul like symbols of its position califale.
The authority califale was starting from this date ensured by the Othoman Dynastie until Kemal Atatürk abolishes the caliphate in 1924, 2 years after having abolished the sultanate.
The 101ème and last caliph were Abdülmecit II.
Many Moslems, in particular the Moslems of the the Indies, wanted to see the Chérif Hussein taking the function of caliph. He became famous after the Arab Révolte which he launched against the Turks in 1916 - 1918.
The Egyptian king, Fouad Ier and the Saoudi king Ibn Séoud also thought of taking again the caliphate.
Nowadays, the Moslems favorable to a possible return of the caliphate are inspired sometimes by the example of the Papauté to ask for the return of an Islamic central authority.
Other Moslem titles
List of the caliphs
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