The Arabic word “khalifa” means successor. The term “caliph” is simply an anglicized version of khalifa. The commonly used English words ‘Caliph’ and ‘Caliphate’ are both taken and transformed from the Arabic terms ‘khalifa’ and ‘khilafat’. The term ‘caliph’ is in English use since 1393, and ‘caliphate’ since 1614. The terms khilafat and caliphate, though derived from khalifa and caliph respectively, have different connotations. “Khilafat” refers to the Islamic institution of spiritual successorship, whereas “caliphate” implies a politico-religious Muslim state governed by a caliph. The institution of Khilafah is frequently referred to as “Imamate” which is derived from the word Imam to denote, amongst other things, that the Khalifa is the Imam and leads the prayers as a part of his responsibilities. This is a position of extreme importance because the Imam is in effect the best manifestation of the Ummah and represents them before Allah the Almighty. We understand from the below hadith that believers are guaranteed great security and protection when planted firmly behind the Imam and remaining obedient to his command, “Verily the Imam is a shield…” The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) further impresses this point in the following hadith, “The Imam is like a shelter for whose safety the Muslims should fight and where they should seek protection…” one of the objectives of a prophet’s arrival is not limited to him coming to a people, delivering his message to them and passing away. The Divine Will has determined that every prophet brings about a change and a revolution in the world. In order to accomplish this task, which, in view of the necessity of material conditions and means, a sustained continuous effort and an enduring organization becomes manifest. Because man’s life is limited Allah’s custom is to cause the prophet to accomplish only the “sowing of the seed.” In order for the seed to grow to full maturity and yield fruit, Allah perfects the prophet’s mission by setting up, after his death, competent men one after the other as his successors. These successors are called Khalifas in Islamic terminology. The word Khalifa means one coming after or one succeeding another. We may sum up the concept of the Divine Institution of Khilafat, which we love very much, by saying, “…Khilafat is …the spiritual and …social means of maintaining the presence of Prophethood on the earth as well as preserving and fostering the unity of the believers in attaining the ultimate goal of Islam”.
“Khalīfatul Masīh” Successor of the Messiah, sometimes simply referred to as Khalifah (the word is generally Latinised as Caliph whence the word Caliphate is derived) is the elected spiritual leader of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is the successor of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah (as). Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (Ahmadiyyat) – the prophesized Renaissance of Islam. Before his passing, the Promised Messiah (as) established a system of Khilafat, literally “successorship.” The Promised Messiah (as) explained that this Khilafat was a Divine institution, whereby the Community was to be cared for by a Divinely appointed individual. The success of the Community, and consequently that of man, would now arise only from obedience to this Khilafat. “Khilafat Day” (Yaum-e-Khilafat) is celebrated annually on May 27 by members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in remembrance of the significance of the system of spiritual divine leadership within the community known as Khilafat. The current Khalifa is Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the 5th successor of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as). On May 27, 1908 Hadhrat Hakim Maulana Noor-ud-Din (aba) was elected as the Khalifatul Masih the first by the members of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at under divine guidance, after the sad demise of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Holy Promised Messiah and Mahdi. On this day, special meetings are held in Ahmadiyya mosques and centres throughout the world. In such meetings lectures are delivered on various topics related to Khilafat signifying its importance and blessings, and the responsibilities of Ahmadis towards this institution. Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya is the direct fulfilment of the prophecies of the Holy Qura’an, the Holy Prophet Muhammad [peace be on Him] and the Promised Messiah [as]. The Holy Qura’an in the Surah Al-Noor, verse 56 states: “Allah had promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely make them Successors in the earth, as He made Successors from among those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them; and that He will surely give them in exchange security and peace after their fear: They will worship Me, and they will not associate anything with Me. Then whoso is ungrateful after that, they will be the rebellious.” (24:56) The Holy prophet Muhammad peace be upon Him prophesied, “Prophet hood shall remain among you as long as Allah wills. He will bring about its end and follow it with Khilafat on the precepts of prophet hood for as long as He shall will and then bring about its end. A tyrannical monarchy will then follow and will follow thereafter-monarchical despotism to last (as long as) Allah shall will, to end upon His decree. There will then emerge Khilafat on precept of prophet hood. The holy prophet said no more.” [Musnad Ahmad and Mishkat].
From ancient times, every prophet has had a Khalifa to succeed him. As an example, Moses had Joshua as his Khalifa; Jesus had Peter as his Khalifa; and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) had Hadhrat Abu Bakr as his Khalifa. When the Prophet MuhammedSAW died (632 C.E.), Hadhrat Abu Bakr succeeded to his spiritual, political, and administrative functions as successor of the messenger of God (khalifa rasul Allah). Bernard Lewis, the preeminent historian of Islam, observes: “Abu Bakr was given the title of Khalifa or ‘Deputy’ (of the prophet) … and his election marks the inauguration of the great historic institution of the Caliphate. His electors can have no idea of later functions and development of the office. At the time, they made no attempt to delimit his duties or powers. The sole condition of his appointment was the maintenance of the heritage of the Prophet.” Bernard Lewis captured the essence of the institution of khilafat in the last sentence by re-stating the phrase “on the precept of prophethood” from the hadith. The first four Khalifas, Abu Bakr (ra), Umar (ra), Uthman (ra), and Ali (ra), were close associates of the Holy Prophet (saw) known for their high integrity and great devotion. The qualification rightly-guided (the rashedun) has been historically applied to them to distinguish them from the kings-caliphs who followed them. The period of the reign (632-661) the rightly-guided Khalifas constituted what later generations of Muslims would often remember as a golden age of pure Islam. Muslims would often define themselves and their theology according to the way they assessed the glorious, though turbulent and short-lived, events of that formative period. After the assassination of Hadhrat Ali (ra) (661 C.E.), the last of the rightly-guided Khalifas, the question of the right to khilafat resulted in a major split in Islam into Sunni and Shia branches. Muawiyah declared himself the khalifa of the ummah and of the Muslim empire and thereby laid down the foundations of a long line of dynastic monarchy – quite in accordance with the prognostications made by the Prophet. After the end of the rightly-guided Khilafat, the title of khalifa was borne by the fourteen Umayyad kings of Damascus (661-750) and subsequently by the thirty-eight Abbasid monarchs of Baghdad (750-1258). After the fall of the Umayyad dynasty, the title was also assumed by the Spanish branch of the family who ruled in Spain at Córdoba (755–1031) and by the Fa’imid rulers of Egypt (909–1171). Thus there existed multiple contemporaneous caliphs from the 7th to 12th centuries. The last titular Abbasid caliph of Cairo was captured in 1517 by the Ottoman sultan Selim I. The Ottoman sultans then claimed the title of khalifa and brandished it for four centuries until it was abolished in 1924 by the Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, the founder of Turkish Republic. It is not uncommon for many scholars to state that the caliphate came to an end in 1924. But, as a matter of fact, it had reached its nadir long time ago. What came to an end in 1924 was a vestigial and vacuous title misappropriated by a decadent monarchy, which, even in its imperial heyday, never represented the Muslim ummah and nor had it exercised any positive influence over them since the 13th century.
Finally the time came for the promised revival of Islam. The second spiritual advent of the Holy Prophet(saw) took place in the person of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian(as). He claimed to be the Imam of the age, the Promised Mahdi, and the awaited Messiah – a prophet of God, but in full subordination to the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad(saw). He initiated the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at in 1889. His main objective and the purpose of his advent was to revive the pure teachings of Islam, to revive faith in one God and to unify the whole of mankind by bringing them all under the banner of the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw), who is the final messenger of God for the whole of mankind with a perfect and everlasting message for all times. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded in 1889 by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who claimed under divine instruction to fulfil the major prophecies contained in Islamic and other sacred texts regarding a world reformer who would unite humanity. He announced to Christians awaiting the second coming of Jesus, Muslims anticipating the Mahdi, Hindus expecting Krishna and Buddhists searching for Buddha, that he was the promised Prophet for them all, commissioned by God to rejuvenate true faith and lead a spiritual struggle against evil. He also reaffirmed that Islam was the final law for humanity revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (saw), and that true essence of Islam had become lost through the centuries which needed reviving in these times. This is why the Ahmadi Muslims also see themselves as leading the renaissance of Islam.
Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam AhmadAS, the Messiah and Mahdi, likened khilafat to the second manifestation of God’s power – the advent of prophets being the first manifestation. He drew a parallel and proffered the archetypical Khilafat of Hadhrat Abu Bakr as the second manifestation. He quoted the Quranic verse 24:56 and made a prophetic statement: “The second manifestation cannot come till I go. But when I go, God will send a second manifestation for you which will remain with you forever.” This second manifestation unequivocally refers to the Ahmadiyya Khilafat. After the death of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam AhmadAS in 1908, a large number of leading members of the Ahmadiyya community convened and unanimously decided that Hadhrat Nurud DinRZ should be his first Khalifa. The Khulfas of Ahmadiyya have been men of piety and probity, of simplicity and austerity, dedicated to Islam, and engaged in serving the faith and transforming the faithful. After a hiatus of 1300 years, the divinely-guided Ahmadiyya Khilafat in Islam re-emerged in accordance with the prophecies of the Holy Prophet and of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam AhmadAS. This was one of the most significant events in the history of Islam whose full impact is yet to be seen. The Ahmadiyya Khilafat categorically rejects militancy in every form and wages an intellectual jihad of the pen. When faced with bitter persecution, it practices patience and perseverance. When subjected to invidious intolerance, it preaches peace and tolerance. It champions the cause of the dispossessed and works towards uplifting the downtrodden. The Ahmadiyya Khilafat has conquered no land and possesses no earthly dominion, but it wields its influence over the hearts and minds of millions by winning over one man and one woman at a time. It is a force for good in the world, and exemplifies, once again, an institution grounded in the precepts of prophethood.
It is the practice of God Almighty, and since He created man on this earth, He has been demonstrating this practice, that He helps His messengers and grants them ascendancy. He has said, “kataballaho la’aghlebanna ana wa rosolee” Allah has decreed: Most surely I will prevail, I and My Messengers. Verily, Allah is Powerful, Mighty. (58:22) Here prevail means as it is the intention of messengers and prophets that God’s word must be established on earth and no one should be able to fight it, thus God manifests their truth with His mighty signs. The truth which they want to disseminate in the world, He sows its seeds with their hands. But He does not accomplish it through them. Rather He causes them to die at a time when there is the fear of their collapse. Thus He gives his enemies to laugh, jeer, ridicule and scorn. When they have done this, then He shows His hand of might and brings about grounds with which the goals there were a little unfinished reach their zenith. Thus He manifests two kinds of power: He shows His hand of might through the prophets. Secondly at the time of the demise of the prophet when difficulties mount and the enemy is in full might and thinks that they (the followers of the prophet) are in a disarray and is sure that now this community will be destroyed. Even some within the community become hesitant and their backs are broken and some unfortunates among them even apostatize, then God manifests His strong hand of might and sustains the collapsing community. Thus he who shows patience till the end, watches this divine miracle. The Promised Missiah (as) said; “You should therefore, neither grieve over what I have told you (that the hour of my demise is nigh) nor should you be heart-broken for it is mandatory that you see God’s second manifestation. The coming of that manifestation is a lot better for you because it is eternal whose succession will not terminate till the end of days. When I go, Allah will send to you the second manifestation and it will stay with you forever. “ (Al-Wassiyat, pp. 6-7)