The last Caliph, Abdülmecid II.
(from the Arabic
or khilāfa) refers to the firstsystem of government established in Islam, and represented thepolitical unity of the Muslim Ummah (nation). In theory it isconstitutional republic (
Constitution of Medina), meaning thatthe head of state (the Caliph) and other officials are representatives of the people who must govern according to Islamic law; which limits thegovernment's power over citizens. It was initially led by Muhammad'sdisciples as a continuation of the political system the prophetestablished, known as the 'rashidun caliphates'. It represented thepolitical unity, not the theological unity of Muslims as theology ormazhab was a personal matter. It was the world's first major welfarestate.
A "caliphate" is also a state which implements such agovernmental system.Sunni Islam dictates that the head of state, the caliph, should beselected by Shura - elected by Muslims or their representatives.
Followers of Shia Islam believe the caliph should be an imam descended in a line from the Ahl al-Bayt. After theRashidun period until 1924, caliphates, sometimes two at a single time, real and illusory, were ruled by dynasties.The first dynasty was the Umayyad. This was followed by the Abbasid, the Fatimid, and finally the OttomanDynasty.The caliphate was
"the core political concept of Sunni Islam, by the consensus of the Muslim majority in the earlycenturies."
The caliph was often known as
) "Commander of the Believers". Muhammadestablished his capital in Medina, and after he died it remained the capital for the Rashidun period. At times inMuslim history there have been rival claimant caliphs in different parts of the Islamic world, and divisions betweenthe Shi'a and Sunni communities.According to Sunni Muslims, the first caliph to be called
was Abu Bakr Siddique, followed byUmar ibn al-Khattāb, the second of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. Uthman ibn Affan and Ali ibn Abi Talib alsowere called by the same title, while the Shi'a consider Ali to have been the first truly legitimate caliph, although theyconcede that Ali accepted his predecessors, because he eventually sanctioned Abu-Bakr.
The rulers preceding these first four did not receive this title by consensus, and as it was turned into a monarchythereafter.After the first four caliphs, the Caliphate was claimed by dynasties such as the Umayyads, the Abbasids, and theOttomans, and for relatively short periods by other, competing dynasties in al-Andalus, North Africa, and Egypt.Mustafa Kemal Atatürk officially abolished the last Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, and founded the Republic of Turkey, in 1924. The Kings of Morocco still label themselves with the title
for the Moroccans, butlay no claim to the Caliphate.Some Muslim countries, like Indonesia and Malaysia were never subject to the authority of a Caliphate, with theexception of Aceh, which briefly acknowledged Ottoman suzerainty.
Consequently these countries had their own,local, sultans or rulers who did not fully accept the authority of the Caliph.