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. Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 15:44
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    What do you mean by "the title was claimed by Hejaz"? Who was the specific leader who proclaimed himself Caliph? Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 12:47
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    @FelixGoldberg I mean by the King Hussein bin Ali, who was at that time the ruler of Hejaz en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 14:44
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    Is this a history question or a question about religion?
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 20:48
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    What would be the objective to claiming the title? What benefit would there be?
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 11:02

8 Answers 8


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"?
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 8:47
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    @MarkC.Wallace means living while being hided from public to not be killed like his 11 fathers: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fourteen_Infallibles Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 10:27
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    Can you also provide the Sunni viewpoint? Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 18:01
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    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
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 14:34
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    @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
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 20:10

One thing worth consideration is the very nature of the title Caliph. In practical terms, throughout history many have claimed the title, but few were widely believed to be a rightful Caliph.

This is not at all dissimilar to the Western Schism, when in the late 1300s there were three Catholic Popes. This has happened within Sunni Islam too. In the early 900s the remnants of the Ummayad dynasty seated in Cordobora; then Muslim Spain, claimed to be Caliph - at the same time as the Abassid dynasty was claiming the title given their control of the Levant.

So firstly, we have to realise that Caliph was never a concrete thing, it was fluid and could be interpreted as ecumenical or political.

Secondly, even the most obvious Caliphs; the Ottomans, claimed the title for centuries but never actually got around to putting this in writing until it became politically useful. In the 1700s territorial disputes with Russia allowed them to claim they were, as Caliph, the rightful protector of Muslims living in Russian lands.

It should be no surprise then that the Ottomans only became widely regarded as rightful Caliphs after they had became the Middle East and Muslim world's undisputed superpower. By this time other claimants had either died (in Spain) or been consumed (in the Levant) into the Ottoman empire.

Fast forward to the cold war and the character of the Middle East had changed. There was neither a Muslim superpower, nor the conditions for a theocratic system to emerge. The new zeitgeist was influenced by progressive and secular ideologies: American liberalism, Soviet socialism, Turkish Kemalism. Furthermore attempts to unify the Arab world failed.

You mention 1926. This was only a few years after the Ottoman empire fell, and Kemalism replaced Ottoman tradition. Widespread feeling was that the Ottomans had failed to adapt to the rapid technological and social changes in Europe, and had become the "Sick man of Europe". Alternatively the issue was that their failures were because of theological shortcomings. Either way, the old ways were no longer relevant and change was essential.

Egypt and Syria formed a United Arab Republic between 1958-71. In response Iraq and Jordan joined together and created the Arab Federation, as they were both Hashemite Kingdoms. But this lasted a mere six months. Libya's Ghadafi managed to create the Federation of Arab Republics, lasting 1972-7 between Libya, Egypt, Syria. And there have been many more unsuccessful initiatives during this era to unite Arab countries.

But this situation wouldn't last. The Middle East's Republics and Kingdoms became increasing corrupt and ineffective, and this provoked reactionary ideas. Islamist ideas, like those of Sayyid Qutb, started to take root after his execution in 1966. The Iranian revolution in 1979 would solidify the importance of religious politics in the Middle East. Since then the region has become more and more theocratic.

However, the region has also become more divided as nations attempt to prove themselves dominant, and sectarianism is out of control. Now there are many major powers, each having little hope of uniting the others; Egypt, Turkey, Saudi, Iran. Even minor powers behave with fierce independence, like Qatar.

Politically and religiously the Middle East has drifted apart. The bottom line is this: a Caliph would be agreed upon after political consensus; and nobody has been able to unite the Middle East politically since the Ottomans. Even with a Middle East more theocratic now than it has been for decades, without someone able to enforce unity no claimant Caliph will be taken seriously.


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.


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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    "it would be strange if some elected president would have proclaimed himself as Caliph, wouldn't it?" Considering the election of the third Caliph, maybe not. The Ayatollah gets voted in too, after all. It's a debatable point I think.
    – user17846
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 9:59
  • @inappropriateCode First of all, the ayatollah has nothing to do with a hereditary monarchy. Next, many monarchs in history were elected (Rzeczpospolita is an obvious example), but to become a monarch one needs to create a monarchy first. And although it's technically possible to convert an existing republic into a monarchy, I can't remember any recent precedent, except few poor African countries.
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 14:51
  • I think these days there are plenty of examples of defacto monarchies. Most obviously North Korea. Iraq, Syria, Libya were - it was clear the president's sons were being groomed for leadership, and there's little doubt they in turn would groom their sons to be their successors. This is all under the pretence of a democratic republic. The main point being, if the third Caliph was elected then this sets a precedent for future Caliphs to also be elected. So I don't think in either case a republican model necessarily prevents monarchy or Islamism.
    – user17846
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 15:11
  • @inappropriateCode It does in the sense that Kim Jong Un is not a monarch de jure (and, I believe, he doesn't want to be). It's impossible to have a caliphate and a republic (de jure) at the same time.
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 15:48
  • Again, I'd dispute the latter point. Although the likes of the Umayyads and Ottomans were hereditary, Uthman was not a direct blood relative of the prophet; he married his daughters. If hereditary rule was the point then they would have elected Mohammad's cousin Ali instead. But they didn't, so the point is that the example stands, and many Islamists will reject monarchy as haram; implying their Caliph would be elected somehow. Like Iran's Supreme leader existing in the Islamic Republic of Iran. After all, Mohammad never answered the question of who his successor should be either.
    – user17846
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 16:54

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
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 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). Commented Feb 24, 2016 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
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 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. Commented Feb 26, 2016 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..) Commented Feb 26, 2016 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.


Because it is more trouble than it is worth.

The Fall of Ottoman Empire coincides with Colonial domination of many Muslim lands in Asia and North Africa.

When the Colonial powers left, the nations evolved more along the lines of nation states rather than a theocratic Empire.

All the nations have different languages, different cultures, different laws and different sects.

If let's suppose everyone was to agree that office of Caliph must be established following questions must be answered:

  1. How will the Caliph be elected?
  2. Who will be the electors?
  3. What will be his powers?
  4. What would be nature of fealty sworn to the Caliph? Would it be in a fashion that would be in breach of national sovereignty for everyone involved? Or would that be more like British Commonwealth with nominal fealty from the dominions?
  5. Who will pay?
  6. Which sect will be allowed to be Caliph? Sunni or Shia? If Sunni, then which Madhab? And in that Madhab which sub-sect? As for Shias, who has a better claim? Ismailis? Or Athna-Asharis? Where is Imam Mahdi?

None of these questions are going to have pleasant answers so no one wants to ask those answers. It is impossible to get all the Muslim countries of different cultures, races, languages, sects to agree on them. In the Olden days, Caliph's sovereignty was enforced by arms or just kept around as a nominal figurehead by more powerful Kingdoms and Empires. No one is going to accept the rule of a foreign Caliph or even to give fealty to them.

And of course, the decision has to be collective, the whole Ummah must agree. One cannot simply claim to be the Caliph, they must be given bayah or fealty by the Muslim Ummah.

Then there's the factor of nationalism in all the Islamic countries. I don't see how a Turk would accept an Arab Caliph or an Arab would accept a Pakistani Caliph or a Pakistani would accept an Iranian Caliph.

There are however Pan-Islamists who want Muslim states to cooperate in a manner similar to EU in our times or merge into a super-state and revive the Caliphate, which is as impractical as it was in the early 19th century when the ideology became popular.

Then there are radicals and extremists who believe in armed struggle against all Islamic states and force them into accepting their Caliph like ISIS.

The bottomline is, Qui Bono? Nobody. Only practical advantage is that a Caliph might be able to help in denouncing the extremists, but then again, Extremists would simply denounce the Caliph as "False Caliph" or "Murtid/Apostate" as they do with their governments and their national Armies. There's no benefit and there are a lot of issues that are better left alone.


(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)

if we want to revive the Caliphate it is first goal is to destroy the occupation of Palestine not to destroy the Muslims States!!!!

And we are not living the same period of the leaders who fought against each other during their periods.

but the real question is: Are the Muslims ready for becoming the next Sunni Islamic Caliphate?? If Yes, that means we have to face lots of invading countries of non-muslims and they will do lots of shitty things to ruin the lives of the muslims with backstabbers from within the Caliphate territory from the same types of Ataturk.

If No, we are doing a big sin as Muslims that doesn't please Allah. which means too much will be tossed into Hell of afterlife.

I am personally related to the Sunni Islamic Caliphate. and to the Caliphate that was named Saladin 2.

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    This would benefit from an edit to make it more focused and less conversational (and opinionated).
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 9:21
  • I would love to say the next: Al Khemini don't Deserve the Word Caliphate. Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 14:18
  • Not really an answer. And for Caliphate to be restored, there needn't be any war nor is Palestine's liberation necessary. All the Muslim nations have to do is come to an accord at OIC or something. Also, Salah ud din was not a Caliph, he served the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad. As for your comment about Khomeini, Shia and Sunni Caliphates have always been separate. Furthermore Ataturk did what was best for his country. I'd like to finish with the fact that it is not an answer, rather your thoughts and views.
    – NSNoob
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 11:58

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