Caliphate, Ruling

6. CALIPHATE CONTENTIONS: Establishing the caliphate isn’t an obligation for me personally

This article has been reproduced from Prophetic Politics.

Discussion of the Personal Obligation Denial argument – or summed up as “it’s not an obligation for me because (I’m not capable/ it’s something that the scholars and people of influence have to do as an obligation of sufficiency/Allah will establish it/ it’s not actually an obligation to begin with)”

As for the last argument – that the caliphate is not obligatory to begin with, if we have to go over that again then please refer to earlier contentions here that deal with this question comprehensively (but here is one sample quote for those in a hurry:

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

The focus here are the other common arguments used by those who promote the “personal obligation denial” point of view – which generally accepts that ruling by Islam and establishing the caliphate is a good thing, and concede its obligatory, but not on a personal basis.

Common Argument A

“The caliphate is not an obligation for me, because Allah will establish it” or “Allah won’t ask me about the Caliphate”

Yes, Allah will establish the caliphate. The correct way to understand this point is that Allah will not hold someone accountable for establishing the caliphate but will hold them accountable for their efforts to fulfil the obligation of establishing the caliphate. This is like how no-one is accountable for other people accepting Islam but are certainly accountable for their efforts in spreading in Islam.


It’s that simple.

Common Argument B

“I am not capable of establishing it – and Allah tells us in the Quran that no soul is burdened with more than it can bear”

This is basically a subset of argument A – and the response is the same.

As the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – said in one narration:

مَا نَهَيْتُكُمْ عَنْهُ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ وَمَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِهِ فَافْعَلُوا مِنْهُ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ 

What I have prohibited for you, avoid it. What I have commanded you, do it as much as you can.

Accountability with Allah is linked to one’s capacity, and the effort to do as much as they can do, and this holds true in the work to establish the caliphate which is a political change requiring political effort:

مَنْ رَأَى مِنْكُمْ مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُغَيِّرْهُ بِيَدِهِ فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الْإِيمَانِ

Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand. If he is unable to do so, then with his tongue. If he is unable to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest level of faith.

The caliphate is a well-known, proven obligation – so each Muslim has to do what is within their capability to fulfil that obligation. If they have no idea or capacity to do anything – then at least to pray for it, and if they are able, to call others to it and to hold those who can establish it to account for their lack of action in doing so.

And of course, if they are in fact capable of establishing the caliphate themselves – then the actual responsibility for change falls upon their neck, and neither prayer nor talking about it would be sufficient for such a person.

So in summary – lack of capability isn’t a valid argument for lack of effort. If someone feels they are not capable due to lack of knowledge – but recognise its an obligation – then they should do what they are capable of (praying) and set about learning whatever they feel they need to know to able to propagate and discuss the issue with others (just like if someone didn’t know how to pray – the obligation doesn’t just fall from them, they have to learn how to pray while in the interim doing what they can).

Common Argument C –

“It’s an obligation of sufficiency, and the ones who are capable are the people of power and not the common person. Therefore, as a common person I’m not accountable”

This argument has some basis in that the obligation to establish the Caliphate is indeed an obligation of sufficiency – meaning that if it is established then the obligation is fulfilled for all. The converse is that – if it is not established then the obligation falls upon everyone and the sin is upon all the Muslims.

It should be noted though that some scholars such as Imam al-Mawardi stated that the obligation fell upon two groups of people – those who fulfilled the criteria to be the caliph, and those who were the people who had the influence and power to select the caliph from among the valid candidates. He then stated that if neither of those fulfilled their obligation, then the sin was upon their necks only and no one else was accountable.

However – this understanding is inaccurate. Though the obligation is more pressing upon the shoulders of those who have influence and can make the change, when any obligation of sufficiency is left unfulfilled it falls upon the totality of the Muslims aware of it, and each of them must try to the best of their ability to fulfil that obligation according to the limits of their capability. Refer to common argument B.

Conclusion: ignoring that ruling by Islam and having a united Muslim polity is an obligation upon the Muslim ummah (which is the central meaning of the caliphate) and denying one’s own responsibility to help bring that about (while considering the limits of their capability) is a mistake and incorrect understanding. Lack of capability is not a valid excuse for lack of effort, and waiting for others to fulfil the obligation on all our behalf is negligent of our responsibilities to Allah and His Messenger.

Dr. Reza Pankhurst is the author of The Inevitable Caliphate (Oxford University Press, 2012) and The Untold History of the Liberation Party (C Hurst & Co, 2016)