There are seven contractual conditions that must be fulfilled before someone can become a Caliph of the Muslims. One of these is maturity i.e. above the age of puberty. The evidence for this is from the sunnah.
Abu Dawud narrated from ‘Ali Ibnu Abi Talib that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Accountability is lifted off three people: The sleeping person until he awakes, the boy until he reaches maturity and the deranged until he regains his mind.”
Therefore the person for whom the pen is raised is not responsible for himself, and he is not liable under Sharia. It is therefore unlawful for him to become a Caliph or hold any post of authority for he is not responsible for his own actions let alone others.
Evidence is also derived from the fact that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ rejected the Bay’ah of the child.
Al-Bukhari narrated from ‘Abi Aqeel, Zahra ibn Ma’abed from his grandfather ‘Abdullah Ibnu Hisham (who was a child at the time of the Prophet ﷺ) His mother Zainab bint Humair took him to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Take his Bay’ah’. The Prophet ﷺ said: “He is still a little boy”, so he stroked his head and prayed for him.
Therefore, if the Bay’ah of the little boy is invalid and he cannot give Bay’ah to a Caliph, he evidently cannot be Caliph himself.
Once someone has reached puberty they have fulfilled the maturity condition. There is however another contractual condition which is capability to rule. There are physical capabilities which Mawardi discusses in his book Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah. This discusses whether certain physical disabilities such as blindness, deafness or loss of limb can prevent someone being a Caliph or not. The other capabilities are spiritual and intellectual which are discussed in Nabhani’s book Shakhsiyya Islamiyyah volume 2. These are qualities that give someone a ruling mentality in which they can fulfil the heavy burden of governing and which cannot be achieved at such a young age.
How is a ruling mentality achieved?
Allah سبحانه وتعالى in His infinite wisdom has endowed people with different qualities. Some of these attributes are qadar and others are shaped through experience. Abu Dharr, a senior sahabi who brought his entire tribe to Islam was refused a ruling position because he didn’t have the strength of personality to rule.
Muslim narrated from Abu Dharr who said, “I said: O Messenger of Allah, will you not appoint me as a governor/ruler?” He ﷺ struck my shoulder with his hand then said: “O Abu Dharr, you are weak and it is a trust (amanah). On the Day of Judgement it will be a disgrace and regret except for the one who took it by its right and fulfilled his duty in it.”
A ruling mentality requires political experience in looking after peoples affairs even if the person is not in power. This experience will be achieved through political actions. Outside of office it means accounting the government individually or as part of a political party within the Majlis ul-Ummah (Ummah’s Council). Within office it means holding a government position such as a governor (Wali), department head or Wazir (Delegated Assistant).
This experience can be accelerated through tests and trials (fitna). Allah سبحانه وتعالى tests the believers not of our hatred but out of mercy to elevate their position and wipe off sins.
Ahmad reported via Mus’ab b. Sa’d from his father who said: I said: “O Messenger of Allah ﷺ which people are tested most?” He ﷺ said: “The Prophets come first, then the righteous, then the next best, then the next best of people. A man will be tested on account of his adherence to the Deen. If he is strong in his commitment, he will be more sorely tested, and if there is some weakness in his commitment the test will be lightened for him. A man will continue to be tested until he walks upon the face of the earth with no sin on him.”
Al-Azhari said: “The Arabic word fitnah includes meanings of testing and trial. The root is taken from the phrase fatantu al-fiddah wa’l-dhahab (I tested the quality of gold and silver), meaning I melted the metals to separate the bad from the good…” (Tahdheeb al-Lughah, 14/196).
During tests and trials someone has to continually think about their situation and how to resolve it. This continual linking of solutions to political problems under pressure, develops quick thinking in someone and can turn them in to strong statesmen earlier than usual.
We can see this in the army. In peacetime rising through the ranks to senior positions takes time and an officer may only achieve a rank such as a Lt. Colonel in their late thirties. However, during WWII military experience was achieved quickly and due to officers being killed it was possible to achieve the rank of Lt. Colonel much earlier as happened with Geoffrey Keyes who was a Lt. Colonel at the age of 24.
Having said this even in times of fitna political experience which gives someone an intellectual capability to rule the entire Muslim ummah will not be achieved in a teenager.
Why did we have teenage Caliphs in the past?
During the Rightly Guided Caliphate all the Caliphs were selected freely by those who represented the opinion of the Muslims. They were given the Bay’ah (Pledge of Allegiance) on the basis of meritocracy and each of them had huge political experience. Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali had all held the position of Wazir (Delegated Assistant) which is the highest government position after the Caliph. When we look to their ages we see they were all elder statesman (excluding Hasan who became Caliph during the civil war).
If we compare this to when the Bay’ah was misapplied and became confined to ruling dynasties as happened after Muawiyah we find a stark contrast in the ages of the Caliphs. This is a characteristic of hereditary rule where the ruler is chosen not on meritocracy but by position in the family. This is why we find instances of very young Caliphs in certain periods of the Caliphate.
Dangers to the Caliphate of very young Caliphs
During the Abbasid Caliphate Al-Muqtadir who was only 13 at the time was given Bay’ah and became the Caliph in 908CE and ruled until 932CE. Since he didn’t have the capability to rule he relied heavily on his Wazirs (Delegated Assistants) of which there were thirteen. The Wazir is the most powerful government position after the Caliph and has similar powers to the Caliph in the task he is assigned. Too many Wazirs can lead to power struggles and infighting which will destabilise and weaken the government. It’s no coincidence that in 909 the Fatimids in Egypt declared independence from Al-Muqtadir in Baghdad and appointed their own Caliph (not legitimate) in Cairo. In 929 still under the reign of Al-Muqtadir, Abd-ar-Rahman III declared himself as Caliph (not legitimate) and Al-Andalus also became independent from the Caliphate.
In a future Caliphate there will be constitutional processes in place on how to elect the next Caliph which will prevent the Bay’ah being misapplied as it was previously. Therefore the Caliph will likely be an elder statesman in their forties or fifties when they come to office. This is not to say we will specify a minimum age limit as the US constitution does where someone must be 35 years old before they can be President or Vice President of the United States. This cannot be done because the Sharia has only restricted the minimum age to puberty. However, as discussed the contractual condition of capability to rule will not be reached by a teenager.
The scenario below attempts to illustrate how a young Muslim in the Caliphate could become the Caliph.
Abdullah joins an Islamic political party in his youth. He is an activist of the party through his schooling and university. After completing university he pursues a full time career as an army officer in the Caliphate’s army. He rises up the ranks and then decides on pursuing a full time political career. His political party put him forward as a candidate for the 5-yearly Majlis elections. He campaigns and wins his seat. He then becomes a member of the Majlis ul-wiliyah and makes a strong impression on his constituency and the Majlis. In the elections for his second term he gains enough votes for a seat on the Majlis ul-ummah in the Caliphate’s capital. His work on some on the Majlis committees impresses the Caliph’s Assistants (Mu’awinoon) who recommend his appointment to a government position. He works his way through various government posts finally becoming Director-General of Foreign Affairs which is a cabinet position. From there he becomes a Delegated Assistant and when the Caliph unexpectedly dies he is shortlisted by the Majlis ul-Ummah for candidacy to the post of Caliph. His previous political and military experience wins over the Ummah who believe he can successfully manage their affairs and be the commander in chief of the armed forces. He gains the majority of votes during the election and becomes the Caliph.