Editor's note

This publication was scheduled for release before the news of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. In light of this news, we felt it even more important to release this paper to contrast the way the concept of the Caliphate lives in the Islamic tradition and many Muslim minds with the image in the Western imagination evoked by the brutality of ISIS.

Author Acknowledgments

I am indebted to a number of scholars and friends who painstakingly read earlier drafts of this essay and gave invaluable suggestions, even though I remain solely responsible for all the opinions and any lingering errors in it. These include Zara Khan, Jonathan Brown, Omar Anchassi, Mohammed El-Sayed Bushra, Carl Sharif El-Tobgui, and Mobeen Vaid, among others. Each of these went above and beyond to provide numerous line-by-line suggestions, corrections, and references. My heartfelt gratitude goes also to the leadership of Yaqeen who encouraged me to write on this challenging topic, and to the numerous students in various places from North America to nearly every Muslim country to whom I have taught this material in various formats, and whose questions, insights, and aspirations have been its real inspiration.

Who Wants the Caliphate?

Dreams, pasts, and futures

The flowing blood

An absolutist theocracy or a tolerant Islamic union?

The past: History and normative tradition

The five historical models of the caliphate

The theory of the caliphate

Caliphate is not kingship

The loss

Did the Prophet ﷺ establish a state?

Longing for the caliphate

The present: Failing states

The secular theology of the modern state

Looking ahead

Notes