Caliphate, Ruling

3. CALIPHATE CONTENTIONS: There is nothing in the Sunna to suggest that establishing a Khilafah is an obligation upon the Muslims.

This article has been reproduced from Dr. Reza Pankhurst’s facebook page.

Contention 3: There is nothing in the Sunna to suggest that establishing a Khilafah is an obligation upon the Muslims.

  1. There are several narrations in the Sunna which indicate the obligation of both establishing an Imam, and of obeying an Imam
  2. Any narration which talks about the necessity to obey the Imam of the Muslims is also a proof of the necessity to establish such an Imam if it is absent
  3. These narrations link the obligation to the phrase “death of jahiliyya” – which is also an indication that not having an Imam would be a sin upon that person
  4. Any claim otherwise highlights an ignorance of the meaning of the texts found in the Sunna, and the understanding of normative Islam and the ulama throughout the ages

Full Response:

There are a number of narrations to be found in the books of hadith around the obligation of both establishing the Imam and obedience to the Imam of the Muslims; it suffices to mention two below: – the first (version from Sahih Muslim)

مَنْ خَلعَ يَدًا مِنْ طَاعَةٍ، لقِىَ اللهَ يَوْمَ القِيَامَةِ لا حُجَّةَ لهُ. وَمَنْ مَاتَ وَليْسَ فِى عُنُقِهِ بَيْعَةٌ، مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِليَّةً

“Whoever removes his hand from obedience (to the ruler) will meet Allah with no proof for himself, and whoever dies without the pledge of allegiance (to the ruler) upon his neck dies a death of jahiliyya”

And the second found in Hakim:

من خرج من الجماعة قيد شبر فقد خلع ربقة الإسلام من عنقه حتى يراجعه من مات و ليس عليه إمام جماعة فإن موتته موتة جاهلية

“Whoever removes himself from the Jama’at (the unified Muslim Ummah) by a handspan then he has taken Islam from his neck until he returns, Whoever dies and does not have a leader of the Jama’at over him then his death is a death of jahiliyya”

There are several other variants of these and other similar narrations using the same phrase “death of jahiliyya”, such as the narration in Muslim which talks about whosoever removes himself from obedience (to the Imam) and separates himself from the jama’at and then dies, they die a death of jahiliyya.

The first point to note is that the order to obey an Imam is also an order to establish an Imam – as noted in contention 2 and repeated here:

Sa’ad al-din al-Taftazani mentions it in his Sharh al-Maqasid where he states: “‘and whoever dies without knowing his Imam, dies the death of jahiliyya’ – and this is because the obligation to obey (those in authority) and to know (the Imam) requires that Imam to be established.”

وقوله ﷺ: «من مات ولم يعرف إمامه مات ميتة جاهلية.» فإن وجوب الطاعة والمعرفة يقتضي وجوب الحصول

Qadi Iyad explains the death of jahiliyya in this case referring to being analogous to dying in the time before an Imam was established – the society of jahiliyya before Islam – and therefore living under anarchy or chaos.

” من خرج من الطاعة وفارق الجماعة فمات مات ميتة جاهلية ” بكسر الميم، أى على هيئة ما مات عليه أهل الجاهلية، من كونهم فوضى لا يدينون لإمام

Imam al-Nawawi and others concur with this statement – highlighting that the scholars understood these ahadith in the political context, and that the Imam and jama’ah in the narrations were referring to the political leader of the Muslim community.

The phrase “death of Jahiliyya” is also an indication that the action being done is prohibited – so when it mentioned that whoever dies without the bay’a upon their death being associated with a death of jahiliyya – this is an indication that it is an obligation to have that bay’a established upon their neck.

Ibn Hajr states in fath-ul-Bari that the intention behind the phrase “death of jahiliyya” is to describe the state of the death being similar to the death of the people of ignorance – i.e. upon dalaal/ misguidance and not having an Imam to obey since they were unaware of that (the issue of political leadership), and it does not mean that they die as disbelievers rather they die sinful.

وَالْمُرَادُ بِالْمِيتَةِ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ وَهِيَ بِكَسْرِ الْمِيمِ حَالَةُ الْمَوْتِ كَمَوْتِ أَهْلِ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ عَلَى ضَلَالٍ وَلَيْسَ لَهُ إِمَامٌ مُطَاعٌ لِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا لَا يَعْرِفُونَ ذَلِكَ وَلَيْسَ الْمُرَادُ أَنَّهُ يَمُوتُ كَافِرًا بَلْ يَمُوتُ عَاصِيًا

And so the narrations using this phrase indicate clearly that this is an issue of sin and reward.

There is a difference here between the existence of the pledge of allegiance, and the giving of the pledge of allegiance. Giving the bay’a is not an individual obligation – as long as some give the bay’a the obligation is removed from the rest – however the narration is talking about existence of the bay’a upon the neck – meaning the existence of the political leader of the Muslims, the Khalifa/ Imam/ Sultan (the term is unimportant) – and hence the establishment of that bay’a is an obligation.

In summary – the narrations from the sunna confirm that establishing and obeying an Imam is an obligation – and therefore the contention is rejected as being outside of the understanding of normative Islam.