The Role and Responsibilities of a Caliph in Islam

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Islam is very organised and everything is coordinated. In an ideal Islamic country, the overall political and spiritual leader is the caliph and this explains why there have been so many caliphs in the history of Islam. However, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Muslims have not had a global caliph and many Muslims do not know the role and responsibilities of a caliph. This piece is going to shed more light on this important topic.

The word caliph stems from the Arabic word ‘Khalifa’ which means successor. Successor in this context refers to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The major role of a caliph is to ensure the spread of Islam and to also make sure at all times that the rulings of Islam are maintained. In other words, the caliph is the ultimate custodian of Islam on earth. Unlike Western societies where there is a separation of the religious institution and the state, a caliph is a spiritual, military, and political leader, all rolled into one. To summarise, the caliph is seen as the supreme leader in an Islamic state.

As hinted earlier, the main role of the caliph is to protect, defend and uphold Islam while ensuring that the proper conditions are not just established but also maintained for Muslims to be able to live while practicing their faith to the best in preparation for the Hereafter.

The responsibilities of a caliph are all-encompassing. In Islam, balance is also ensured when it comes to power so that a caliph does not end up becoming a tyrant or despot. As long as the caliph is meeting all the responsibilities as outlined in Islam, then the people have to obey the laws and respect the authority of the caliph. However, if it so happens that the caliph becomes ineffective, cruel, unfair, or starts ruling against the rules of Islam, then there has to be a removal from office by the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Assembly).

It is the responsibility of the caliph to also ensure that everyone in the domain is protected from all forms of internal and external aggression. As the overall military leader and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the caliph must always be ready to defend the ummah or lead military exercises if need be.

The responsibility of maintaining a stable economy for the benefit of all also falls under the office of caliph. A caliph cannot be implementing policies that will spread poverty and widespread suffering or refuse to do zakat (charity). The caliph is the custodian of the resources of the ummah and it is his job to ensure responsible and equitable use of these resources. There must be no evil like corruption, nepotism, or fraud associated with the caliph.

As the leader of the Muslims, the caliph must adhere to all rules of accountability. Whenever things become very challenging, a caliph can always turn to the ulama (scholars) for help and guidance but most importantly, he can always turn to Allah (SWT) for the ultimate assistance. May Allah (SWT) ease the affairs of the ummah, aameen.

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