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The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in 1924 by a reform from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and then the title was claimed by Hejaz. Soon, however, the kingdom was annexed by the neighbor Nejd, the two of them later to form Saudi Arabia.

In a summit in 1926 in Cairo, there was a question of revival of the Caliphate, but no one was interested.

My question is, then, why is the title never again reclaimed by any Muslim state?

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Gamal Abdel Nasser's United Arab Republic in the 1950's was a de facto attempt to form a secular Caliphate. – Pieter Geerkens Mar 14 '14 at 15:44
What do you mean by "the title was claimed by Hejaz"? Who was the specific leader who proclaimed himself Caliph? – Felix Goldberg Mar 18 '14 at 12:47
How about this - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldwide_Caliphate ? – Felix Goldberg Mar 18 '14 at 12:48
@FelixGoldberg I mean by the King Hussein bin Ali, who was at that time the ruler of Hejaz en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – vonPetrushev Mar 18 '14 at 14:44
Is this a history question or a question about religion? – Mark C. Wallace Feb 21 at 20:48
up vote 5 down vote accepted

According to Shia Muslims the only current legitimate Caliph selected by Allah is Imam Mahdi (a.s.) but he is now at occultation. So because Muslims recognize him as Caliph so no Shia Muslims claim this title. Shia Muslims believe according to different verses of Quran only Allah has the right to select his own Caliph on earth. Because Caliph means deputy and representative of Allah in earth and only Allah can select his own representative.

And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed, I will make upon the earth a Caliph." They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?" Allah said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know." http://tanzil.net/#2:30

In this verse God says "I" select Caliph.

Also other verses say God selects Caliph.

Shia Muslims believe during occultation times Wali Faqih undertakes the duties of Caliph. The current Wali Faqih of Shia Muslims is Imam Khamenei.

Reference and more study:

Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist

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What is "occultation"? – Mark C. Wallace Mar 19 '14 at 8:47
@MarkC.Wallace means living while being hided from public to not be killed like his 11 fathers: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fourteen_Infallibles – Battle of Karbala Mar 19 '14 at 10:27
Can you also provide the Sunni viewpoint? – vonPetrushev Mar 20 '14 at 18:01
This is a good answer buit I also wonder why none of the Sunni state leaders did that, since they don't face the same religious restriction. – DVK May 9 '14 at 14:34
@vonPetrushev I don't think this is useful as an "accepted" or canonical answer. It's like, hypothetically there were no Papacy, and the answer were to be "There is no Papacy because according to Protestantism there should't be any Pope" – user69715 Feb 24 at 20:10

As Shia's POV was already discussed in previous answer, let's think of Sunnis.

First of all, many Sunni states are republics (let's not go into the dispute about how really democratic they are). And it would be strange if some elected president would have proclaimed himself as Caliph, wouldn't it?

Next, Caliph, by definition, is the leader of all Muslim world. So if someone proclaims himself as Caliph then he actually pretends for the supreme power, and has to get ready for the fight against all other Muslim states (at the very least). So no one dares to do this so far, but ISIL.

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I have two theories as to why the caliphate was not reclaimed (as of yet). Before stating those i would like to point out that the abolishing of the caliphate by Ataturk has nothing to do with why it is still not reinstated. With that said:

  1. The word caliph actually means successor of Mohammad. This would pose multiple problems to an ideology already plagued by them in the form of divisions, sects misinterpretations and so on. Furthermore, religious radical fundamentalists being the heads of most Islamic states, it is hard to see how a claim to such a title could peacefully pass unchallenged.

  2. Islam has no (human) authority (like for instance a pope), who can be burdened with unanswered questions pertaining to its doctrines and regulations. This is also one of the biggest problems with Islam. Namely, why can't Muslims decide who is the "good type" of Muslim and who is not? Who can say? And yet all have the right to claim righteousness.

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How is #2 different from other religions? The pope has very little authority outside his own (very large) Christian sect, after all. – Alex P Mar 18 '14 at 10:32
@AlexP One way Christianity is different is that the 1st major split occurred 1000 years after its founding- it wasn't even clear it was a split at first. Thats a long time for 'good christian' to be defined when all agreed on theology. Islam split very early didn't it? Emphasis on those points. While the Pope doesn't have authority outside the Catholic Church; other forms of Christianity also have similar hierarchies that can serve as interpreting bodies and can make binding authoritative statements on morality. Even some Protestants have a Hierarchy (Church of England). – shiningcartoonist Feb 24 at 15:06
@shiningcartoonist how do you define major split? Do the Gnostics count? What about the split whether it should allow converted non-Jews or not? What about the Oriental Orthodox Church? Admittedly I do not know how hierarchically those various sects are. – user45891 Feb 26 at 16:05
@user45891 well I wasn't so much counting the gnostics because they themselves are really ill defined and differed themselves between one location to another. They also weren't always limited to a specific time frame in which they broke away. The Oriental Church split due to disagreements about Christ's Will/Nature but the persistence of the split was more that the Muslims conquered those regions before a resolution could officiated. After a while it seems they stopped trying to find ways to overcome the disagreement. – shiningcartoonist Feb 26 at 21:08
@user45891 (cont.) you could argue thats an earlier major split, but it seems it was more regionally confined whereas the 1054 split cleaved Christendom basically in two- that and in my opinion they had plenty of opportunities to fix it and just didn't. All the Orthodox Churches had basically the same structure as their Roman Catholic counterparts (except Patriarch isn't exactly equal to Pope..) – shiningcartoonist Feb 26 at 21:10

I think that since the beginning of Arab nationalization there has been no push to really have a pan-Arab leadership which is a requirement of having a Caliph. Different attempts by Nasser, Bin Laden and DaISH are routinely discredited and degraded by the West which leads to legitimacy crises for these recent attempts to have a Caliph.

Further, the rules regarding selecting a Caliph are murky and seem to require a consensus of Muslims. Orchestrating a pan-national election for to achieve said consensus would be difficult to attempt and after the assumption of the title of Caliph by Muawiyya and the splitting of Islam into Shia and Sunni, no one has really tried to see if a consensus could even be possible.

All in all, blame poor organization and the Shia-Sunni split with some issues due to Western interference.

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I think there are two main reasons:

1. Inertia

Don't underestimate inertia, especially when you're talking about establishing a position with such a worldwide implication as the Caliph. For example, it's relatively a simple matter for a 19th-century Ottoman Sultan to say that he is the Caliph, given that for the previous hundreds of years all Ottoman Sultans are caliphs. Or, for As-Saffah, he could argued that he had conquered the Umayyads, who were previously the caliphs, so he should be caliph as well. Almost all universally accepted caliphs could claim some kind of continuity that made them the successor of the previous ones.

In contrast, there hasn't really be a caliph since the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate. Someone wishing to claim to be caliph today will have much harder challenge to convince everyone else that he is the caliph.

2. Nationalism

Since mid (or early?) 20th century, Muslims have become nation-states, with their own independence, government, head of state, constitution, etc. This wasn't the case during the old caliphates. A caliph is not only a spiritual leader but also the supreme political leader of the entire Muslim community. How would it work with nation states? Imagine you have a candidate for caliph, can you imagine that Muslim nations, such Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia would all be willing to amend their constitutions, cede their sovereignty, to declare allegiance to this caliph? Who would be eligible to be Caliph and how would he be elected? These questions are hard to answer today.

As an additional note, since many readers here likely have Western or European background, let me ask you this question: Why hasn't been any Holy Roman Emperor since 1806? I think the answer would likely be similar.

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