Caliphate, Featured, Ruling

Conditions of the Caliph: Why only a Muslim Caliph?

The Khilafah (Caliphate) is an ideological Islamic State where the Islamic ‘aqeeda (belief) is the basis of the state, its institutions, systems and societal relationships. There is no separation between religion and politics in Islam as we find in the west. The Khilafah’s strength depends directly on the strength of the ideology within the state. This means those in ruling positions must be people who will work to protect, implement and propagate the deen of Islam, so the state becomes a beacon of high values, and a leading nation in the world. Only someone who believes in the ideology of the state i.e. Islam could do this, which means those in ruling positions must be Muslim.

The Islamic State is no different to any ideological state within the world today. America or Western Europe for example would never accept a Muslim or Communist as President or Prime Minister. The fact that former US President Barack Obama had to repeatedly deny he is a secret Muslim is clear evidence of this. Muhammad Asad says, “One cannot escape the fact that no non-Muslim citizen – however great his personal integrity and his loyalty to the state – could, on psychological grounds, ever be supposed to work wholeheartedly for the ideological objectives of Islam; nor, in fairness, could such a demand be made of him. On the other hand, no ideological organization (whether based on religious or other doctrines) can afford to entrust the direction of its affairs to persons not professing its ideology. Is it, for instance, conceivable that a non-Communist could be given a political key position – not to speak of supreme leadership of the state – in Soviet Russia? Obviously not, and logically so: for as long as communism supplies the ideological basis of the state, only persons who identify themselves unreservedly with its aims can be relied upon to translate those aims into terms of administrative policy.”[1]

The Khaleefah being Muslim is a rukn (pillar) of the bay’ah contract

Al-Mawardi in his famous book Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah ‘The laws of governance’, did not explicitly list being Muslim as a condition for the Khaleefah[2], because it was already understood by his target audience who were scholars, statesmen and rulers of the Islamic State. Even those ulema who mentioned the condition of being Muslim explicitly, such as Imam Ghazali, who says in Mustazhari that “the key conditions of the Imamate are correctness of belief and soundness of religion”,[3] didn’t see any need to expand on this point with sharia evidence, because it was an undisputed fact, known from Islam by necessity that the Imam must be Muslim.

With the dominance of secularism and non-Islamic systems in the Muslim world today, this condition requires more in-depth discussion, and so some of the sharia evidences regarding the Khaleefah being Muslim will now be presented.

The detailed sharia evidence for the Khaleefah being Muslim is from the Holy Quran.

Allah (Most High) says,

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَطِيعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا۟ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ

“Oh you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.”[4]

Who are “those in authority” (أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ)?

The mufassireen (interpreters of the Qur’an) differed on the meaning of “those in authority” (أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ) and who they referred to, but they were unanimous that “those in authority” were Muslim. Abdul-Qadeem Zallum says, “The phrase (أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ) has always been mentioned in connection with the Muslims, it has not been mentioned in any other context other than to indicate that the people concerned are Muslims. This proves that they must be Muslims. Since the Khaleefah is the person in authority and it is he who appoints people in positions of authority such as his mu’awinoon (assistants), wulah (governors) and ‘ummal (agents), he himself must, therefore, be Muslim.”[5]

The reason “those in authority” are Muslim is because of the next phrase “from among you” (مِنكُمْ), where the second-person masculine plural pronoun كُمْrefers to the beginning of the verse “Oh you who believe” (يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟). Abdul-Qadeem Zallum says, “from among you” (مِنكُمْ) in the verse, clearly indicates that those in authority must be Muslims.”[6]

Although in origin verses which start with “Oh you who believe” are not addressed specifically to Muslims but include non-Muslims as well, in this case there is a restriction only to Muslims, because of other Qur’anic verses which prohibit the obeying of disbelievers[7] such as فَلَا تُطِعِ ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ “So do not obey the disbelievers.”[8]

Taqiuddin an-Nabhani says, “It is not right to say that Allah Ta’ala made some verdicts specially for the believers like the prayers, so they are addressed by it alone, so any address issued with ياأيُّها الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا “O you who believe” is to be considered specifically for the Muslims, and what came as common, like the trade and usury, is common for the Muslims and the non-Muslims; it is not right to say this, because the objective of what is issued with “Oh you who believe” is reminding them of their belief and not that it is especially for them.”[9] He also says[10], “…except when a text came to specialize it for the Muslims, either explicitly like:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِۦ وَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ

“Oh you who believe! Have taqwa of Allah with the taqwa due to Him and do not die except as Muslims[11]

The word ٱلْأَمْرِ (authority or leadership) in this verse is unrestricted (mutlaq), and applies to all positions of authority (الأمراء) within the Islamic State. Since the Khaleefah is an Ameer (أمير) it applies to him as well. The circumstances of revelation (asbab an-nuzul) of this verse also illustrate this. Ibn ‘Abbas narrates:

‏{‏أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ‏}‏‏.‏ قَالَ نَزَلَتْ فِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ حُذَافَةَ بْنِ قَيْسِ بْنِ عَدِيٍّ، إِذْ بَعَثَهُ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي سَرِيَّةٍ

The Verse: “obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.” was revealed in connection with Abdullah bin Hudhafa bin Qais bin ‘Adi’ when the Prophet ﷺ appointed him as the commander of a Sariyya (army detachment).”[12]

Are “those in authority” (أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ) rulers or scholars?

As mentioned previously, the mufassireen differed on the meaning of (أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ) and who they referred to, but they were unanimous that the (أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ) were Muslim. Some of the sahaba like Abu Hurairah said they are the rulers (الأمراء) and others like Ibn Abbas and Mujahid, said they are the people of jurisprudence and knowledge (أهل الفقه والعلم).[13]

The strongest opinion is that the (أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ) are the officials of the state because obedience is only to the Imam, and who he appoints to run the affairs of the people. Obedience to the scholars is not obliged unless the officials of the state were also scholars. The scholars are themselves obliged to obey the Imam. Sahl ibn Abdullah Al-Tustari (818-896CE) mentions:

 وَإِذَا نَهَى السُّلْطَانُ الْعَالِمَ أَنْ يُفْتِيَ فَلَيْسَ لَهُ أَنْ يُفْتِيَ

“If the sultan forbade the scholar to give fatwas, then he is not allowed to give fatwas.”[14]

Al-Shawkani (1759–1834CE) says,

وأُولِي الأمْرِ: هُمُ الأئِمَّةُ والسَّلاطِينُ والقُضاةُ وكُلُّ مَن كانَتْ لَهُ وِلايَةٌ شَرْعِيَّةٌ لا وِلايَةٌ طاغُوتِيَّةٌ،

“those in authority” (أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ): “They are the Ameers and Sultans and Judges, and any who have a legitimate mandate (sharia wiliyah) not a tyrannical mandate (taghoot wiliyah).”[15]

We can combine both opinions here because the Khaleefahs, governors and army commanders in the time of the sahaba, were not only Ameers but they were mujtahideen (scholars) as well. This continued during the Umayyad Khilafah. Nāfiʿ said concerning the Ummayad Khaleefah Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan, “I have seen Madinah, and there is no youth with more zeal, fiqh, devotion and knowledge of the Book of Allah than ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān.”[16]

Al-Mawardi, from the Shafi’i school stipulates mujtahid as one of the mandatory conditions for the Khaleefah, although it was generally accepted that the Khaleefah could rely on other scholars and adopt their opinions, if he was lacking in this area. Imam Ghazali mentions in Mustazhari, in defense of the young Abbasid Khaleefah Al-Mustazhir (r.1094-1118), who was 16 when he took office, “Why can he not fulfill the aim of knowledge through the best men of his time, just as the aims of power and competence can be fulfilled through others? Most of the problems of the Imamate are jurisprudential and conjectural and may be solved by following the prevailing opinion.”[17]

The second evidence for the Khaleefah being Muslim is again from the Holy Qur’an. Allah (Most High) says:

وَلَن يَجْعَلَ ٱللَّهُ لِلْكَـٰفِرِينَ عَلَى ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ سَبِيلًا

“And Allah will never allow the disbelievers any way (of authority) over the believers.”[18]

Abdul-Qadeem Zallum says, “Ruling is the strongest way (sabeel) for the ruler over the ruled, hence the term لَن (never) which means the categorical prohibition of the non-Muslim (Kafir) from taking a post of authority over the Muslims, be it the Khilafah or any other post of authority.”[19]

Many of the mufassireen including Ali ibn Abi Talib and Ibn Abbas, interpreted this verse as being related to the Day of Judgment. Abdur-Razzaq recorded that Yasi’ Al-Kindi said, “A man came to Ali bin Abi Talib and said, ‘What about this ayah, And Allah will never give the disbelievers any way over the believers?’ Ali said, ‘Come closer, come closer. Allah will judge between you on the Day of Resurrection, and He will not grant victory for the disbelievers over the believers.’”[20] Ibn Jurayj recorded that ‘Ata’’ Al-Khurasani said that Ibn Abbas said, “And Allah will never give the disbelievers any way over the believers, will occur on the Day of Resurrection.”[21]

This reason they interpreted it for the Day of Judgment, is because if we apply the verse to the temporal life (dunya), then the pronounced meaning (mantuq) contradicts the reality. Muslims have lived under the authority of the disbelievers during many periods throughout Islamic history. Muslims were still living under the authority of the mushrikeen of Quraysh in Makkah, while the Prophet ﷺ was ruling the Islamic State in Madinah. During the Crusades, after the fall of Spain, under the colonial occupation of Britain and France, and today in the west, Muslims lived and continue to live under the authority of the disbelievers.

If we look to the mafhum[22] (implied meaning) of the verse however, then we can apply it to the dunya by deriving a command (amr) that it is prohibited for a disbeliever to rule over a believer, and hence the ruler must be a Muslim.

Taqiuddin an-Nabhani says, “The existence of the authority of the disbelievers over the believers has surely happened. It happened in Makkah while the Messenger was there. Since the Muslims were under the authority of the disbelievers, and it has existed after the Messenger ﷺ like in Andalusia, where Muslims were under the authority of the disbelievers, and it also exists nowadays, the negation of an authority of the disbelievers over the believers that came in the particle “لَن” “never”, which denotes an eternal negation, is impossible because it has certainly happened. So it is inevitable that it is a negation of a verdict that can be negated, and that is the negation of the permissibility, which means it is forbidden for the disbelievers to have an authority over the believers. This is what the Shari’ah requires because of the truthfulness of the report.”[23]

The reason many mufassireen didn’t look to the mafhum of this verse, is because Muslims having a non-Muslim ruler was never a reality for them, and not even in the minds of the ulema. There was, therefore, no need to look for additional evidence above and beyond what was already established from other ayaat, such as the first one we discussed commanding obedience to “those in authority among you”.

To conclude the Khaleefah must be a Muslim. If the Khaleefah becomes an apostate (murtad), then this breaks a pillar (rukn) of the contract, and the bay’ah becomes void (batil), and the ummah are relieved of their obedience to him. In the first instance this must be proven by the Mahkamat Al-Mazaalim (Court of Unjust Acts), if it was present in the Khilafah, as this is the highest court within the state. If it was a clear-cut decisive issue, or the Mazalim court was abolished, then the “right of revolution” will come in to play. This is something that exists as a final safeguard against the loss of the Islamic system, and in fact exists in all political systems. The American revolution being a stark example of this.

Narrated by Junada bin Abi Umaiya: We entered upon ‘Ubada bin As-Samit while he was sick. We said, “May Allah make you healthy. Will you tell us a Hadith you heard from the Prophet ﷺ and by which Allah may make you benefit?” He said, “The Prophet ﷺ called us and we gave him the bay’ah for Islam, and among the conditions on which he took the bay’ah from us, was that we were to listen and obey both at the time when we were active and at the time when we were tired, and at our difficult time and at our ease and to be obedient to the ruler and give him his right even if he did not give us our right, and not to fight against him unless we noticed him having open Kufr (كُفْرًا بَوَاحًا) for which we would have a proof with us from Allah.”[24]


[1] Muhammad Asad, ‘The Principles of State and Government in Islam,’ Dar al-Andalus Ltd, Gibraltar, 1985, p.41

[2] Abu l-Hasan al-Mawardi, The Laws of Islamic Governance, translation of Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyah, Ta Ha Publishers, p.12

[3] Imam Ghazali, ‘Al-Mustazhari,’ translated by Richard J. McCarthy, Twayne Publishers, 1980, p.276

[4] Holy Qur’an, Surah An-Nisaa, ayah 59

[5] Abdul-Qadeem Zallum, ‘The Ruling System in Islam,’ translation of Nizam ul-Hukm fil Islam, Khilafah Publications, Fifth Edition, p.56

[6] Ibid, p.118

[7] The disobeying of disbelievers here should not be misunderstood to mean its permitted for Muslims to disobey the law or their bosses at work etc. Other sharia evidences apply here such as يا أَيُّهَا الَّذينَ آمَنوا أَوفوا بِالعُقودِ “O you who believe! Fulfil your contracts.” (Al-Maaida, 5:2). Extracting sharia rules from the texts (ijtihad) is a legal subject which must be performed without emotions or other factors clouding the judgement.

[8] Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Furqan, verse 52

[9] Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘The Islamic Personality,’ translation of Ash-Shaksiyya Al-Islamiyya, Vol.3, p.41

[10] Ibid, p.44

[11] Holy Qur’an, Surah al-‘Imran, ayah 102

[12] Sahih al-Bukhari 4584,

[13] Al-Tabari,

[14] Al-Qurtubi, ‘Al-Jami’Al-Ahkam Al-Qur’an,’

[15] Muḥammad al-Shawkānī , ‘Fath ul-Qadeer,’

[16] Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, ‘History of the Umayyad Khaleefahs,’ translated by T.S.Andersson, Ta Ha Publishers, p.30

[17] Imam Ghazali, ‘Al-Mustazhari,’ p.279

[18] Holy Qu’ran, Surah Al-Nisaa’ ayah 141

[19] Abdul-Qadeem Zallum, ‘The Ruling System in Islam,’ Op.cit., p.55

[20] Tafseer Ibn Kathir,—

[21] Ibid

[22] The principle used here is called: Dalaalat ul-Iqtidaa’ (Indication of requirement/necessity). This is where there is a requirement to change the meaning of a text of the Qur’an or Sunnah so its meaning makes sense. Muhammad Hussein Abdullah says, “Dalaalat ul-Iqtidaa’ is the Dalaalah (indication) of the Lafzh upon a matter that its meaning does not stand up except by its Taqdeer (determination). This necessary Taqdeer (determination) could be dictated by the Shar’a or it could be dictated (i.e. made necessary) by the ‘Aql, either due to the Daroorah (necessity) of the Sidq (truthfulness) of the Mutakallim (source of speech/information) or due to the correctness (Sihhah) of the occurrence of the Lafzh (wording) through it.” ‘Al-Waadih Fee Usool ul-Fiqh,’ p.453

[23] Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘The Islamic Personality,’ Vol.3, Op.cit., p.286

[24] Sahih Bukhari 7055, 7056,

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