- CALIPH, in Arabic khalīfa, means successor, deputy, or representative. It is generally considered to be an abbreviation of khalīfat rasūl Allāh, "successor of the Messenger of God," but recent research suggests that originally the title may have been "khalīfat Allah," "Deputy of God." The term khalīfa seems to be related to koranic usage (Sura 2:28; 38:25, etc., referring to certain biblical figures in their relationship to God). It soon became one of the standard titles of the rulers of the Islamic state that grew up following the death of the Prophet Muhammad (632 C.E.), alongside Amīr al-Mu'minīn ("commander of the faithful") and Imām ("leader," scil. in prayer). All three were regular titles of those who claimed overlordship of the entire Islamic world, from the first caliph, Abu Bakr (632–34), and his immediate successors, through the umayyads (661–750) and the abbasids (750–1258), though from as early as the middle of the 10th century few caliphs held much real political power outside baghdad . In 1258 the mongols who conquered Baghdad killed the last Abbasid caliph and the office in effect died. However, the mamluks , who ruled Egypt, found an Abbasid prince to whom they gave the title of caliph, and descendants of the Abbasids continued to hold the title, as minor officials of the Mamluk court, granting an illusory legitimacy to their patrons, until 1517, when the Ottomans conquered Egypt and put an end to the Mamluk regime there. Reflecting the decline of the Abbasids in the 10th century, other rulers began to challenge them politically and in other ways, claiming also the title of caliph, first the Shi'i Fatimids who ruled North Africa (from 909) and Egypt (from 969), deposed by Saladin in 1171; then the Umayyads of Córdoba in Islamic Spain, from 929 to 1031 (with a shadowy continuation thereafter till near the end of the 11th century). Later the title became even more devalued and was commonly found among the titulature of very minor rulers, and even in that of rulers whose territories had never formed part of the historic lands of the original caliphs. It is also found among the titular language of the Ottomans, though at first without any special significance. But following the end of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a secular Turkish state after World War I, the institution of caliph was formally abolished, in order to prevent its use as a universalizing ideology for Islamic unity. Nonetheless, it has continued now and again to surface as just that among a variety of Islamic revivalist movements, in the Arab world, in India, and even in the modern west. At first just a political title, "caliph" came to have religious-political content too, but the decline of the political strength of the caliphate drained its political significance and left it with largely religious meaning (in this sense fairly comparable with the historical development of the title of pope). Theorists of the caliphate from the 10th century onwards, when the institution was already in decline, laid down qualifications for the holder of the title, including religious learning, moral rectitude, absence of physical blemishes, and above all descent from the tribe of Quraysh (that of the Prophet Muhammad). Succession to the title was, with that qualification, in theory elective, but in practice most caliphs were either nominated by their predecessors or installed (and as often deposed) by the soldiery. Mention of the name of the reigning caliph in the Friday sermon ("khutba") in the mosque and on coins signaled (often no more than formal) recognition of his suzerainty. Until the time of the Abbasids, caliphs, as rulers, helped to create the basic lines of the practical relationship of Jews (and Christians) to Islam and the Islamic state. Early caliphs imposed restrictions on them and granted them freedoms in line with koranic pronouncements; in general caliphal relations with Jews (and Christians) followed an up-and-down pattern, though with a greater tendency to tolerance than what we find in medieval Christian Europe. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah (tr. F. Rosenthal), 1 (1958), 385–481; P. Crone and M. Hinds, God's Caliph, Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam (1986); D.J. Wasserstein, The Caliphate in the West. An Islamic Political Institution in the Iberian Peninsula (1993). (David J. Wasserstein (2nd ed.)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.