Imam Ghazali and why the Imamah/Caliphate is an Obligation upon all Muslims

My last post [1] critiquing the arguments of those who express rancour against the Islamic concept of a Caliphate (Khilafah) has, predictably, faced some critique of its own. While I heavily welcome critique of my arguments – in order to sharpen, clarify or scrap them (if they’re wrong) – I was much bemused to see that no counter-arguments have yet been raised about the arguments I used, instead a critic who rejected the necessity of a Caliphate, argued that the belief in a Caliphate is simply the opinion of myself – Abdullah – a layman, not an Islamic scholar, and so in the best tradition of ad hominem, *my opinion therefore holds no weight* they argued.

I wonder if they will next claim that my call to Tawheed, Salah, Hajj and fasting as obligations in Islam are also just *my opinion* too which therefore *holds no weight* too? Or perhaps will they claim that Islam itself is purely an invention I came up with?(!)

The critic in question, decided to post sayings of a current Muslim scholar which they interpreted to be against the Islamic obligation of appointing a Caliphate. Then they disingenuously portrayed the entire discussion around the obligation of a Caliphate to be a mere contest between myself and the modern scholar they so exulted in (!), exclaiming as they did, that my qualifications and therefore ‘my opinion’ could not stand up to the qualifications of a scholar they rallied around.

How strange! I wasn’t aware that my advocating the obligation of the Caliphate/Imamate is *my opinion* that I invented, nor even an matter of difference of opinion for that matter! Furthermore, I am not aware of anywhere or anytime where I demanded people to believe me based purely on my authority.

The reality is, however, that it is not me vs their scholar, but they and their scholar vs the Sahabah, and 1,300 years of classical Islamic scholarship across all schools of thought.

Muslims undeniably live currently in a post-colonial time, where our lands were divided by colonial powers, the government system and ruling party/dynasty was planted, approved and propped up by colonial powers. Many Muslims have grown up into this circumstance, and are (through no fault of their own) educated since their dotage through education systems that were created after colonialism, teaching them how to live in the status quo created for them. This means that Muslims today (like the people at the dawn of the advent of the Prophet Muhammed [saaw]) simply can’t imagine themselves living under any other system, nor what that system would look like.

Inevitably, out of all this, there are going to arise Muslim scholars who are products of this milieu, whether in the West or the Muslim world, who will hold beliefs reflective of the status quo. It doesn’t mean that these scholars are *bad*, only that they hold views that are affected by the predominant ideology and political climate and Westernised culture.

Thankfully, we still have preserved in black and white, revelation from God (the Quran), the recordings of the traditions of Prophet Muhammed (saaw) and of the companions of the Prophet, along with thousands of written material by the classical Islamic scholars (who argubly have a much better grasp on Islam coming from a highly developed Islamic civilisation prior to colonialism). All this material is still preserved with us to read and learn our Deen from. This is one of the great aspects of Islam that make it untouchable and unalterable and (unlike what happened to preservation of revelation in previous religions), for all times and places.

Simple da’ees [pl. du’at] (inviters to Islam) – such as myself – cannot invite people to Islam based upon they’re authority, nor can they claim any authority to invite people to adopt a specific opinion on any matter outside the agreed fundamentals of Islam. Da’ees have one job, to invite people to the truth by use of persuasion using facts and evidence in order to make the person being invited think for themselves (i.e. base their belief on evidence).

So in answer to those who cite a modern day scholar in order to justify the status quo, we should remind them by bringing classical scholars and put the question to them: Who has more qualifications, your scholar, or virtually every single Islamic Scholar for 1300 years? Since qualification is the basis of your argument, will you now accept your scholar to be mistaken on this issue, and defer to the vast consensus of Muslim scholarship that came before?

Let’s be more specific, and start with one (for now), the much revered Imam Ghazali, believed by many to be a reviver of the Deen, who spoke at great length about the obligation of Imamate [Caliphate]. Let’s hear what he has to say.

I will quote in depth in order for people to see I haven’t taken a single word out of context [some of you will probably recognise some of the arguments are similar to the ones I use from past posts I’ve written]:

Iqtisad fil Iqtiqad (‘Moderation in Belief’) – Imam al Ghazali


First Issue: On Showing that appointing an Imam is obligatory

We should not think that this obligation derives from the intellect. We have explained that obligations derive from revelation, except when ‘obligatory’ is interpreted to designate an act, such that this is benefit in performing it or harm in refraining from it. According to this interpretation, IT CANNOT BE DENIED THAT APPOINTING AN IMAM IS OBLIGATORY, since it leads to benefit and prevents harm in this worldly life.

HOWEVER, we [also] present a conclusive legal demonstration that it is obligatory. We will not rely solely on the consensus of the Muslim community; rather we bring attention to the basis of this consensus. Hence we say: Well-ordered religious affairs are decidedly a purpose of the man with the revelation (may God bless him and grant him peace). This is an unquestionable premise about which no dispute is imaginable. We add to it another premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can only be achieved through an imam who is obeyed. The correctness of the proposition that the appointment of an imam is obligatory follows from these two premises.

If it is said that the last premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through an imam, is not conceded, then we say: “its demonstration is that well-ordered religious affairs cam be achieved only through well-ordered worldly affairs and well-ordered worldly affairs can be achieved only through an imam who is obeyed.” These two premises; which one is the subject of dispute?

It might be said: “Why do you say that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through well-ordered worldly affairs?” On the contrary, it can be achieved only by the destruction of worldly affairs, for religious affairs and worldly affairs are opposites, and hence to be occupied with making one of them flourish is the ruin of the other”

We say: This is the argument of someone who does not understand what we intend here by ‘worldly affairs’. For it is an ambiguous term that may be used to designate indulgence in luxury and pleasure and being excessive beyond what is needed and necessary, or it may be used to designate all that is required prior to one’s death. One of the designations is opposed to religion and the other is its very condition. It is in this way that the one who does not distinguish between the meanings of ambiguous terms errs.

We thus say: Well-ordered religious affairs are achieved through knowledge and worship. These cannot be achieved without the health of the body, the maintenance of life, the fulfillment of needs – such as those for clothing, shelter and food – and security from the onset of calamities. How true this is: “When a man wakes up safe among his family, with a healthy body, and in possession of his daily sustenance, it is as if the while world is made available to him”. A man does not achieve security in life, body, wealth, home and sustenance under all circumstances but [only] under some. Religious affairs cannot flourish unless security is achieved in these important and necessary matters. Otherwise, if one spends all his time being occupied with protecting himself against the swords of oppressors, and with winning his sustenance from exploiters, when would he find time for working and seeking knowledge, which are his means for achieving happiness in the hereafter? Therefore well-ordered worldly affairs – I mean the fulfillment of needs- are a condition for well-ordered religious affairs.

As for the second premise, which is that worldly affairs and security can be maintained only through an imam that is obeyed, it is confirmed by observing periods of social upheavals when the sultans and imams die. If these periods are prolonged and not quickly terminated by the appointment of another sultan who is obeyed, the killing would continue and the sword would dominate, famine would spread, livestock would diminish, and industry would collapse; and whoever wins would plunder; and no one who manages to stay alive would have time to worship or seek knowledge; and the majority would die under the shadows of the swords. For this reason it has been said that religion and sultan are twins, and also that religion is a foundation and the sultan is a guard: that which has no foundation collapses and that which has no guard is lost.

In sum, no rational person doubts that if mankind, given their different classes, diverse desires, and disparate opinions, are left to their own devices without decrees that they obey and that unify their factions, they would all end in ruin. This is an epidemic that has no remedy other than a strong sultan who is obeyed and who unifies disparate opinions. This shows that a sultan is necessary for achieving well-ordered worldly affairs, and well-ordered religious affairs are necessary for achieving happiness in the hereafter, which is decidedly the purpose of all the prophets. Therefore, the obligation of appointing an imam is among the essential requirements of the law [sharia] – a requirement that by no means can be ignored.

Second Issue: On Showing who among mankind may be appointed an imam

…the purpose is to unify the diverse opinions under one person who is obeyed…the goal is to have someone whose decree is obeyed and who unifies diverse opinions, prevents people from warring and fighting, motivates them to seek what is good for them in this worldly life and the hereafter…

[Imam Ghazali then talks about the validity of an Imamate under an Imam who may lack adequate Islamic knowledge [scholarship]. Regarding the Caliph/Imam Ghazali said:]

It might be said: “if you are forgiving regarding the quality of knowledge, then it becomes incumbent upon you to be forgiving regarding the quality of justice, and other qualities”
We say: This leniency is not a matter of choice; but necessities render prohibitions permissible. For instance, we know that eating dead animals is prohibited, but to die [of hunger] is much worse. I wish I knew how someone who does not accept this [principle] could judge that the Imamate in our time is invalid insofar as its conditions are not fulfilled, while he is unable to replace the imam with someone who seeks it, for even he cannot find someone who fulfills its conditions. Which of his states is better, to say that the judges are dismissed, appointments are invalid, marriages are annulled, all the decrees of the governors everywhere in the world are unenforceable, and all of mankind are engaged in what is unlawful; or to say that, based on the current state and necessity, the Imamate is valid and the decrees and appointments enforceable?


Imam Ghazali lived under the Abassid Caliphate of Al Muqtadi, which was recognised by the Seljuk Turkish Sutlan Malik Shah. Ghazali lived in a time when the Abbasid Caliph was weak and under the influence of the Seljuks. The Ummah had fractured into different regions – although the Abbasid/Seljuk realm was the largest faction. Even then, Imam Ghazali’s points were unequivocal:

1) Imamate is an obligation, without the Imam, the affairs of religion are not well-ordered, the Ummah descends into a state of chaos and anarchy
Ordering the affairs of religion is the purpose of the Prophets

2) The Ummah can only become united under an Imam (and not before). The Imam is the METHOD for unity, not something that comes about after it

3) The governors of the different regions lose their legitimacy without being appointed and backed by the Imam

4)The Imamate is so important, that even if an Imam rises who doesn’t fit all the requirements of Imam personally (e.g. he is not an Islamic scholar), but his Imamate rules by Islam, then his Imamate is still to be recognised. It’s better than the alternative (anarchy, factions fighting each other, collapse of the Islamic civilisation).

Despite this, there are those who for reasons best known to themselves and Allah (swt) want to negate the idea of the obligation of a Caliphate, because they claim they want to destroy any ideas that can be ‘used by terrorists’. If that is so, then they’re logic is in the same tradition as the arguments used by the New Atheists, who say that belief if God, allows terrorists to hide behind the idea and justify themselves. Likewise Islamophobes say the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed (saaw) and the Quran also provide cover for terrorists!

As Muslims, we should reject terrorism completely, which is a methodology used by criminals from all ideologies (including Secular Liberalism) and religions – but we should not do ghuluw and reject Islamic beliefs and aspects of Islam that has nothing to do with terrorism. As the saying goes in English, that’s throwing the baby out with the bath water!

However, some people are oddly claiming that belief in a Caliphate is somehow a ‘betrayal of the Prophet Muhammed’ (saaw)?!

To that, I think Imam Ghazali has the best response from the same chapter above):

If it is established that merit is known only through revelation, and that revelation is known only though what the Prophet relates, then those who were most aware of what the Prophet related regarding comparative merit were the companions who were close to the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) in all his states. And they agreed to place Abu Bakr firstly Abu Bakr then appointed Umarl after thay they agreed to appoint Uthman; and after that they agreed to appoint Ali (may God be pleased with them all). NO ONE SHOULD THINK THEY BETRAYED THE RELIGION OF GOD FOR ANY PURPOSE. Hence, their consensus is the best evidence for their merit. The followers of the Sunna based their belief regarding this order of merit on this consensus. Then they searched for reports [from the Prophet] and they found texts that gave them knowledge of how the Prophet’s companions, who were the people of the consensus, came to establish order. These are the conditions of the Imamate that we wanted to discuss briefly. And God is more knowledgeable of what is right.

As to those who deny the obligation upon Muslims to appoint an Imamate/Caliphate because they are used to the status quo, I think Imam Ghazali said it best when he said in the same chapter above:

This is the resolution of this issue, and it, without further elaboration is sufficient for the one who is attentive. However, he who does not understand the true nature of a thing and its cause and, instead, has an established belief due to a prolonged exposure to it is by nature repelled by its opposite. For to wean the weak-minded from something familiar is a very difficult matter, which even the prophets were unable to achieve. How then could others?

For those rejecting the idea of a Caliphate and associating it with ‘extremism’, is Imam Ghazali an extremist too?

Ironically, the only group of people in Muslim history who ever denied the necessity and obligation of a Caliphate, were reported to be the Khawarij of Najd, who fought against Imam Ali (ra) and were famously refuted by him, when he challenged them to put a Quran on a throne to see if it could rule without the political authority and military force of an Imam. In the end, rejecting the necessity of a Caliphate, is a Khawarij opinion.



[1] Why Do Some People from Muslim Backgrounds Hate the Islamic Belief of the Necessity of a Caliphate (Khilafah)?

Categories: ARTICLES, Response to Secular Reformation & Modernism, Revival Thought (Al Nahda), Uncategorized, WRITINGS

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