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All praises and thanks are due and belongs to Allah and may His peace and blessings be upon the final and leader of the Prophets and Messengers; Prophet Muhammad, his family and all companions.


Four phrases have routinely been used to describe the position of leadership in Islam. These are Khalifah, Imam, Sultan, and Amir. The usage of any one of these names may depend on the domain of his leadership and authority. However, it is generally accepted that the great Imamate in Islam refers to the overall leader or ruler of the entire Muslim community. In this sense, he could be called the caliph or the great imam.


The imam (ruler) or caliph was appointed to lead the Islamic state by one of three methods:


1-He was chosen and elected by the decision makers (ahl al-hall wa’l-‘aqd). For example, Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq became caliph when the decision makers elected him, then the Sahaabah unanimously agreed with that and swore allegiance to him, and accepted him as caliph.


Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (may Allaah be pleased with him) became caliph in a similar manner، when ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allaah be pleased with him) delegated the appointment of the caliph to come after him to a shoora council of six of the senior Sahaabah, who were to elect one of their number. ‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn ‘Awf consulted the Muhaajireen and Ansaar, and when he saw that the people were all inclined towards ‘Uthmaan, he swore allegiance to him first, then the rest of the six swore allegiance to him, followed by the Muhaajireen and Ansaar, so he was elected as caliph by the decision makers.


Ali ibn Abi Taalib (may Allaah be pleased with him) became caliph in a similar manner، when he was elected by most of the decision makers.


2-Appointment to the position by the previous caliph، when one caliph passes on the position to a particular person who is to succeed him after he dies. For example, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab became caliph when the position was passed on to him by Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq (may Allaah be pleased with him).


3-By means of force and prevailing over others. When a man becomes caliph by prevailing over the people by the sword, and he establishes his authority and takes full control, then it becomes obligatory to obey him and he becomes the leader of the Muslims. Examples of that include some of the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid caliphs, and those who came after them. This method is contrary to Shari'ah, because it is seized by force. But because great interests are served by having a ruler who rules the ummah, and because a great deal of mischief may result from chaos and loss of security in the land, the one who seizes authority by means of the sword should be obeyed if he seizes power by force but he rules in accordance with the laws of Allaah.


Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:


If a man rebels and seizes power، the people must obey him, even if he seizes power by force and without their consent, because he has seized power.


The reason for that is that if his rule is contested, it will lead to a great deal of evil, and this is what happened during the Umayyad period when some of them seized power by means of force and gained the title of caliph, and people obeyed them in obedience to the command of Allaah. End quote.

Sharh al-‘Aqeedah al-Safaareeniyyah (p. 688).


Source:  taken from with few modifications.


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