The Caliphate is the name of the Muslim government that ruled the Islamic Empire during the Middle Ages. For a long period of time, the Caliphate controlled Western Asia, North Africa, and parts of Europe. Its culture and trade influenced much of the civilized world spreading the religion of Islam and introducing advances in science, education, and technology.
Who was the leader of the Caliphate?
The Caliphate was led by a ruler called the "caliph", which means "successor." The caliph was considered the successor to the Prophet Muhammad and was both the religious and political leader of the Muslim world.
The Caliphate began after the death of Muhammad in 632 CE. The first successor to Muhammad was Caliph Abu Bakr. Today, historians call the first Caliphate the Rashidun Caliphate.
The First Four Caliphs
The Rashidun Caliphate consisted of the First Four Caliphs of the Islamic Empire. Rashidun means "rightly guided." These first four caliphs were called "rightly guided" because they were all companions of the Prophet Muhammad and learned the ways of Islam directly from Muhammad.
The Rashidun Caliphate lasted for 30 years from 632 CE to 661 CE. The First Four Caliphs included Abu Bakr, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Umayyad (661-750 CE) - Under the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate, the Islamic Empire expanded rapidly to include much of northern Africa, western India, and Spain. At its peak, it was one of the largest empires in the history of the world.
Abbasid (750-1258 CE, 1261-1517 CE) - The Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads and established the Abbasid Caliphate in 750 CE. The early rule of the Abbasids was a time of scientific and artistic achievement. It is sometimes referred to as the Islamic Golden Age. In 1258, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, Baghdad, was sacked by the Mongols and the caliph was killed. After this, the Abbasids moved to Cairo, Egypt and reestablished the Caliphate. However, from this point forward the Caliphate had little political power.
Ottoman (1517-1924) - Historians generally cite the beginning of the Ottoman Caliphate as 1517 CE when the Ottoman Empire took control of Cairo, Egypt. The Ottomans continued to maintain their claim as the Islamic Caliphate until 1924 when the Caliphate was abolished by Mustafa Ataturk, the first President of Turkey.
Fall of the Caliphate
Historians differ on when the Islamic Caliphate came to an end. Many put the end of the Caliphate at 1258 CE, when the Mongols defeated the Abbasids at Baghdad. Others put the end at 1924 when the country of Turkey was established.
Shia and Sunni Muslims
One of the major divisions in the Islam religion is between Shia and Sunni Muslims. This division began very early in the history of Islam with the selection of the first Caliph. The Shia believed that the Caliph should be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, while the Sunni thought that the Caliph should be elected.
Interesting Facts about the Caliphate of the Islamic Empire
During the Abbasid Caliphate there were other Caliphs who also laid claim to the Caliphate including the Fatimid Caliphate, the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba, and the Almohad Caliphate.
The position of caliph became hereditary during the Umayyad Caliphate, making it the first Islamic dynasty.
The term "caliph" is the English version of the Arabic word "khalifah."
One of the responsibilities of the Caliph was to protect the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.