• Written by Ken Chitwood, Journalist-fellow, University of Southern California's Center for Religion and Civic Culture / Lecturer, Concordia College New York, University of Florida

Just days after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi[1] on Oct. 27, the Islamic State named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi[2] as the new “caliph.”

In 2014, IS conquered vast swaths of Iraq and Syria[3] and declared itself to be the “caliphate.”

Defined and applied in different ways over the centuries, the fundamental idea behind the caliphate is the just ordering of society[4] according to the will of God.

The Islamic State’s caliphate was never widely recognized among the global Muslim community and no longer has significant territory. But the Islamic State still uses the history of the caliphate to push their claims.

As a scholar of global Islam[5], every time I teach my “Introduction to Islam” class, questions about the caliphate come up, in part because of IS’s claims.

Caliph conundrums

The leader of a caliphate is called the caliph, meaning deputy or representative. All caliphs are believed to be the successor to Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was not a caliph; according to the Quran[6] he was the last and greatest of the prophets.

That means no one can replace Muhammad as the messenger of God. The caliph, for example, is not always seen as holding special spiritual authority. But he is meant to preside over the caliphate in the absence of Muhammad.

The debate over who was the rightful representative of the prophet began immediately after his death. While the majority supported Abu Bakr[7] – one of the prophet’s closest companions – a minority opted for his young son-in-law and cousin, Ali.

Abu Bakr’s supporters would come to be known as Sunni Muslims[8], who believe that Muhammad did not leave instructions regarding his successor. Those who felt Ali was appointed by the prophet to be the political and spiritual leader of the fledgling Muslim community became known as Shiite Muslims.

Abu Bakr was the first caliph and Ali the fourth.

The second and third caliphs were Umar and Uthman[9]. Under Umar, the caliphate expanded to include many regions of the world such as the lands of the former Byzantine and Sassanian empires in Asia Minor, Persia and Central Asia. Uthman is credited with compiling the Quran.

That al-Baghdadi adopted the name of the first caliph was no coincidence. Together, Sunni Muslims call the first four caliphs the Rashidun, or the “Rightly Guided Caliphs,”[10] because they were close companions or relations of Muhammad. They are also believed to be extraordinarily pious. This period lasted about 30 years.

The complex history of the caliphate

After rebels assassinated Uthman in A.D. 656, Ali was elected caliph. However, a civil war soon broke out between Ali and Muʿawiya ibn Abi Sufyan. The civil war ended in Sufyan’s victory and the formation of the Umayyad caliphate in A.D. 661.

The Umayyad dynasty lasted 89 years[11].

The Abbasid dynasty descended from Muhammad’s uncle, Abbas ibn Abdul-Muttalib, and succeeded the Umayyads.

These two caliphates oversaw the continuing expansion of the empire. Under them architecture, the arts and sciences flourished[12].

For example, the “Dome of the Rock,” a shrine in the Old City of Jerusalem, was built under an Umayyad caliph as a monument[13] to the rising supremacy of their empire.

The Grand Library of Baghdad, also known as the “House of Wisdom,” was supported by Abbasid patronage. The “House of Wisdom” is credited with being a center of translation, scientific study and academic exchange. This period of flourishing, from the eighth to the 14th century, is often referred to as the “Islamic Golden Age[14].”

What is a caliph? The Islamic State tries to boost its legitimacy by hijacking a historic institution Dome of The Rock, in Jerusalem. Ray in Manila, CC BY[15][16]

Both before and after the fall of the Abbasids in A.D. 1258, a succession of various empires made overlapping and competing claims[17] to the caliphate. These included the Mamluks of Cairo and the Umayyads in Cordóba, Spain.

In 1517, the Turkish Ottomans amassed enough land and power throughout Asia Minor, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Eastern Europe to claim the title “caliphate.” Ottoman sultans, however, were not universally recognized as caliphs. Many Muslims believe[18] that the caliphate effectively ended after the Mongol conquest of Abbasid Baghdad in A.D. 1258.

Nonetheless, the Ottomans effectively held on to that title until 1924, when the Turkish nationalist and secularist Kemal Ataturk abolished the caliphate[19].

Resurrecting the caliphate?

The idea of the caliphate, which the Islamic State has forcefully promoted, recalls a time and a place when Islamic states flourished politically, economically and socially. It also summons up a spiritual vision of a supposedly more devout and dedicated Muslim community than exists today.

Other modern-day Islamists have called for a resurrection of the caliphate,[20] or at least its ideals, as a way to recapture the vibrancy of the past. However, only violent extremist groups such as al-Qaida or the Islamic State have tried to make it a tangible reality.

Killing al-Baghdadi has not quashed the Islamic State’s version of the caliphate. The idea lives on and continues to motivate[21] its members in enclaves across the globe. It is worth mentioning that the name of their new caliph is an honorific title for a member of Prophet Muhammad’s family – “al-Qurashi.” This prophetic lineage is one more way IS is trying to resurrect the history of the caliphate for its destructive purposes.

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day.[22] ]


  1. ^ death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (
  2. ^ Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi (
  3. ^ IS conquered vast swaths of Iraq and Syria (
  4. ^ just ordering of society (
  5. ^ a scholar of global Islam (
  6. ^ according to the Quran (
  7. ^ While the majority supported Abu Bakr (
  8. ^ Sunni Muslims (
  9. ^ The second and third caliphs were Umar and Uthman (
  10. ^ the Rashidun, or the “Rightly Guided Caliphs,” (
  11. ^ The Umayyad dynasty lasted 89 years (
  12. ^ Under them architecture, the arts and sciences flourished (
  13. ^ a monument (
  14. ^ “Islamic Golden Age (
  15. ^ Ray in Manila (
  16. ^ CC BY (
  17. ^ made overlapping and competing claims (
  18. ^ Many Muslims believe (
  19. ^ abolished the caliphate (
  20. ^ resurrection of the caliphate, (
  21. ^ lives on and continues to motivate (
  22. ^ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. (

Authors: Ken Chitwood, Journalist-fellow, University of Southern California's Center for Religion and Civic Culture / Lecturer, Concordia College New York, University of Florida

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

TED CLINE ... Country Music Done Right

Country Music Done Right When Ted Cline uses the phrase “Country Music Done Right” to describe his engaging vibe, the Kansas City area-based singer/songwriter isn’t simply being crafty or clev...

News Company - avatar News Company

LAMONT DOZIER, JR. “Why Can’t We Be Lovers”/”I’m Gonna Take My Time”

When it comes to enduring musical legacies, it’s always inspiring when the melodic, grooving evergreen apples drop so close to the tree. The son and namesake of legendary singer, songwriter and re...

News Company - avatar News Company

DAWGGONEDAVIS ft. Chago G Williams (Rap Master, Producer)

“Darkest Hour” Just a little over two years since Rebecca “DawgGoneDavis” first took the world (and the World & Euro Indie charts) by storm with her quirky and infectious debut single “Mi...

News Company - avatar News Company

Stephen Wrench “Burning Bridges”

When the true colors of people you thought were nice and kind become the latest casualties of your Facebook friends list, the gloves just have to come off. As Stephen Wrench so powerfully and bl...

News Company - avatar News Company

Indulgent Fool Gasoline Tequila

Indulgent Fool,” the latest release from Gasoline Tequila, uses the emotive language of guitar to tell a story about sensuality and courtship. Any given night, in any given room, can define an arti...

News Company - avatar News Company

Chelsey Green and The Green Project release fresh new EP, ReEnvisioned

Chelsey Green and The Green Project. Their fresh new EP, ReEnvisioned, is a dynamic and empowering collection that in only four tracks showcases their passions for contemporary and traditional jazz...

News Company - avatar News Company

Fresh Prince of Bel Air's original "Aunt Viv" Janet Hubert announces new animation project

‘JG and the BC Kids’ Starts Preproduction with Toonz Media Group, Elijah Rock Productions and Ericka Nicole Malone Entertainment to Inspire Children to Embrace Themselves and Others  ...

News Company - avatar News Company

ANGELA PREDHOMME - It’s just So Good To Be Free

There’s something powerful and inspiring about an independent artist who pursues her passion and finds widespread success on her own terms, rather than following the generally accepted mainstream ...

News Company - avatar News Company

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pure Mission Entertainment’s Willie J releases “In The Morning”

“In the Morning” To borrow from a well-known spiritual cliché, sometimes the musical muse works in mysterious ways. When Willie J joined forces in 2019 with Atlanta producer Cool Kid Diddy and...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Metropolitan Business News


In 2019, just as his multi-faceted career was taking off, Thorn Castillo heard Robert Downey Jr. offer a sage bit of advice during an interview on photographer/director Sam Jones’ acclaimed multi-...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Research Highlights Opportunities for Sports Betting

Revenue Stream for Sports’ Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategies New Rochelle, NY, June 1, 2020— Twenty-four states have now legalized sports betting, with more states considering legalization la...

Len Stein - avatar Len Stein

How to make overseas transfers easier?

Mainstream banks can charge as much as $20 just to process a basic international money transfer. Fortunately, today people are not doomed to handling personal finances only through mainstream gl...

News Company - avatar News Company

The flourishing international market of fragrance and perfume

There is something special and unique about the art of fragrance. This is a big world and there are quite literally a lot of smells around at any given time. In fact, as one of the five human senses i...

News Company - avatar News Company

Impact of good marketing on sales

Sales and marketing are brothers as they go hand and in hand. The job of both of these departments is to generate revenue so that an organization can make money. A company that does not generate rev...

News Company - avatar News Company

7 effective tips for increasing sales in retail

It seems that retailers have drawn a difficult lot in the 21st century: competition from online retail is growing steadily. After all, Internet retailers can sell your products at significantly lowe...

News Company - avatar News Company



Are you planning to go on a trip? Possibly, you do not know what things are most necessary on a trip. In this article, we will guide you through some important tips. These tips help you to...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Baggage Regulations to Help Aussie Parents Travel with Infants

Travelling around the globe has never been easy, especially when infants tag along for the trip. One of the main issues that parents often have to deal with is the need to bring extra item...

News Company - avatar News Company

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt