On the Concept of Khilafah and the Reality of Political Power

At a time of political turmoil in the Muslim world, Sayyidi Habib Umar bin Hafiz (may Allah protect him and benefit us by him) expounds on some of the meanings of khilafah and clarifies the reality of political power. 

There are two types of khilafah. The first is the outward khilafah which relates to political power, which is not noble and honourable in itself. Anyone may attain political power, whether they be pious or corrupt, whether they be a believer or a disbeliever, whether they be a Prophet or a wretched person.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Had this material world (dunya) weighed even the wing of a gnat in Allah’s estimation, He would not have given a disbeliever a glass of water from it to drink.”1

The second type is the khilafah of prophet-hood, which is a noble and lofty thing. It relates to understanding the speech of Allah, to our connection with Him, to attaining a pure heart and attaining His pleasure. It is the preserve of the Prophets and their followers, the pious people in every time and place. No disbeliever or corrupt person may come close to it, nor someone with arrogance or pride in their heart. It began with two people on the face of the earth: Adam and Hawa’ (Eve) and it continues to this day. If there were only two of us on the earth and we obeyed Allah’s commands in a state of truthfulness and sincerity we would be the khulafa’ of Allah on the earth, without anyone calling us a president or a minister or a leader. This is the khilafah we should seek. Many Muslims have no desire to attain it, although it is the greatest form of khilafah.

Sayyiduna `Ali combined the inward and the outward khilafah, and after him Sayyiduna al-Hasan, until he relinquished power. At this point the inward khilafah, which cannot be affected by evil, became separated from the outward khilafah, which is subject to oppression and misguidance. Those who possess the inward khilafah will intercede for others on the Day of Judgement, whereas those who possessed the outward khilafah will await judgement. If they were just, they will be saved and if they were oppressive, they will be destroyed. Shaykh al-Sha`rawi said that one of the wisdoms behind the existence of oppressive rulers is that they cause people to hate oppression.

If we study history we find that more often than not political power over the centuries has been in the hands of disbelievers and corrupt people. Many of the Messengers were sent to their people while political power was in the hands of disbelievers. Sayyiduna Nuh spent 950 years amongst his people as the khalifah of Allah while political power was in the hands of disbelievers.

The inward khilafah was in the hands of Sayyiduna Musa and the outward khilafah was in the hands of Fir`aun. Musa said to his people: seek Allah’s assistance and be patient, for the earth belongs to Allah, and He bequeaths it to whomever He wishes from among His slaves – whether they be believers or disbelievers. However, the end is only for the people of taqwa.2 So be someone who possesses taqwa and do not concern yourself with the outward khilafah. The tyrants may threaten you and try to kill you, but the people of the inward khilafah seek Allah’s assistance and rely on Him alone.

Look at the life of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, the master of the people of khilafah, and the imam of all people. For forty years before receiving revelation he was not in a position of leadership or power. He was, however, presiding over the inward khilafah and was known as al-Amin, ‘the Trustworthy One.’ People trusted him and consulted him in their affairs. After receiving revelation he spent thirteen years in Makkah, during which time power was in the hands of people like Abu Jahl. Outwardly he was under their rule but inwardly he was the greatest khalifah of Allah on the earth. In al-Madinah he was confronted by hostility from the Jews, the Hypocrites and the polytheists. It was only after eight years that he finally entered Makkah at the age of sixty-one. He only ruled over Makkah for two years before his death. This did not, however, detract from his khilafah. He is the greatest khalifah and every other khalifah from the time of Adam to `Isa will be under his banner.

How can people venerate political power when this is the example of the Master of the Prophets ﷺ? Leave the rulers to their corruption and their oppression. We do not condone their oppression or follow them in committing evil. We advise them if they are ready to accept sincere advice. Meanwhile we are in a position of khilafah, the pure khilafah mentioned by Allah: Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely grant them inheritance of power (khilafah) on the earth as He granted it to those before them; that He will make their religion firm, the religion which He has chosen for them; and He will replace their fear with security. They worship Me and do not associate partners with Me.3 We are allowed to make the call to prayer, to pray, to openly teach these lessons which are broadcast to the East and the West. We do not deserve any of this. It is only through the blessings of Muhammad and his steadfastness. Makkah was only opened to him in the final years of his life, but he opened up the whole world ﷺ. We used to teach and study in a state of fear but Allah promises: He will replace their fear with security.4 The years passed and the regime changed and now we find ourselves in a state of ease and safety.

They offer you political power and status but we have found something pure and lofty so why do they want us to enter into something filthy? When Imam al-Husayn, the son of Shaykh Abu Bakr bin Salim was offered political power he said: “Had it had been fitting to give authority to animals we would not be content for it to be given to our horses.” This is the perspective of the pious people on political power.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “You will greedily seek positions of leadership and it will be a cause of regret on the Day of Judgement.”5

We fear that anyone who seeks power and then attains it will be left to it (without Allah’s assistance) and then be destroyed. So if you have a position of responsibility have taqwa of Allah and rule by the Sacred Law of Allah and fear Allah in the way you treat people. If you heed this advice we hope you will be saved. If not, you have chosen your own fate. Sayyiduna `Umar would say: “I wish to leave power with the bare minimum – with nothing for me or against me.” He was not proud of his position. He also said: “It is enough that one descendant of al-Khattab be asked about his position. Do not make `Abdullah bin `Umar the Khalifah after me.” This was his understanding of the outer khilafah and the responsibility it entails.

The hadith inform us that the inward and outward khilafah will not be combined until the end of time. Prior to this there will be a period in which people heart’s and states with Allah are rectified which prepares the way for the coming of al-Mahdi. The foundation of his rule will be pure hearts. Without the presence of these hearts he will not be able to achieve anything. Someone once asked Sayyiduna `Ali why problems had arisen during his rule, whereas there had been stability during the time of Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and Sayyiduna `Umar. He replied that it was because Abu Bakr and `Umar ruled over people like me, whereas I am ruling over people like you.”

It is possible for any individual to reach the highest of ranks whatever situation they are in and whatever government they are under. Why miss out on these opportunities? We say we want to rule, we want power. Let your Lord rule. The hadith states: “If you seek it you will be left to it, but if you are sought to rule, you will be assisted in it.”6 Even when the people attempt to put al-Mahdi in power, he will refuse until they force him to do so. Even though he is worthy of assuming power, he does not desire it and does not attempt to gain people’s votes. Rather he is sought out and placed in power and then he receives Allah’s assistance.

Merely speaking about this issue has taken a long time, which tells you how much harm is done by entering into these struggles. So much time is lost and so much blood is spilt. So do not get involved with struggles that lead to harm and bloodshed.

May Allah unite the Muslims and remove these tribulations. May He not allow their enemies to take advantage of them by giving them weapons and then watching them kill each other. May Allah awaken the hearts of this Ummah. Let them not place their trust in anyone in the East or West. Let their trust be in You. If this is the case then everything in the East and the West will be made subservient to them.

Allah has decreed that power be in the hands of disbelievers and corrupt people. This is the way of Allah in the past and you will find no change in the way of Allah.7 We, however, have the opportunity to establish the rule of Allah and the Law of Allah in our homes, in our dealings with our families and friends and our neighbours. We shall shortly meet Allah and we shall return to Him. Nothing on the face of the earth will benefit us other than that which we have performed truly for Allah.

Extracts from a Rawhah lesson in Imam Abu Talib al-Makki’s book, Qut al-Qulub in Dar al- Mustafa on 21st Ramadan 1434 / 30th July 2013.

1 Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and al-Hakim

2 Al-A`raf, 7:128

3 Al-Nur, 24:55

4 Here Habīb Umar is referring to the years of socialist rule in South Yemen, during which time the regime attempted to eradicate Islam from society. Scholars were persecuted and religious institutions were forcibly closed.

5 Narrated by al-Bukhari

6 Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim

7 Al-Fath, 48:23