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Caliphate: The History of an Idea


ISIS uses the promise of being an Islamic caliphate to recruit Muslims to its ranks. The caliphate dissolved with the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century. However, dreams of an Islamic caliphate have been harbored by various Muslims across the world. ISIS today portrays a specific image of the caliphate and deems it as being “Islamic” (in the sense that it should be affirmed by all Muslims the world over).

This book traces the idea of a caliph through history up to contemporary times. It begins with the first four caliphs after the death of Muhammad and the caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty, devoting a chapter to each. The next three chapters (over a third of the book) cover the Abbasid caliphs. The next chapter discusses how three medieval Muslim thinkers viewed the caliphate, followed by a chapter on the Shia’s view. This is followed by a chapter apiece on the Umayyad and Almohad caliphs in Muslim Spain. The Mumluks and Ottomas are covered in a single chapter (a mere twenty pages). The last chapter (only ten pages) covers the caliphate from the early twentieth century to contemporary times.

While the early history is interesting, the same insight and depth is not afforded to the last two chapters. As these chapters are chronologically closer to us, readers may be more interested in the later chapters as they more directly relate to current events. The book explores three main overarching questions: how should the caliph be chosen, what should be his powers, and how did the various caliphs use (or abuse) their powers? In the end, this is more of a historical narrative than one on current affairs. Readers may be struck by the vast diversity in how the Muslim communities addressed the issues this book explores.

Reviewed By:
Hugh Kennedy
Page Count:
336 pages
At A Tulsa Library:
Basic Books
Publish Date:
January 2017

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Page Count

336 pages

Check This Out At A Tulsa Library

Publication Date


Kindle ASIN





Basic Books


January 2017



Book Author

Hugh Kennedy

“Caliphate: The History of an Idea”

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