In the past the greatest Muslim confederations were led by a caliph, a leader of all Muslims. The word “caliph” is the English form of the Arabic term kalifa, which means successor. The ruling institution of the caliphs is called the caliphate.
The original caliphate was created in AD 632 after the death of Islam’s founder, Muhammad; hence the office of “successor” to Muhammad. If a revived caliphate surfaced today, it could boast of 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide—providing all Muslims unite under one leader to circumvent Islamic nationalism and ethnicity.
The present Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Party of Liberation, is working to restore the caliphate. Started in Jerusalem by an Arab judge in 1953, this movement teaches Muslims to stop being slaves to men and become slaves of Allah—peacefully.
“Its activists aim to persuade Muslim political and military leaders that reestablishing the Caliphate is their Islamic duty” (James Brandon, The Christian Science Monitor , May 10, 2006). The movement is a quiet one because many Islamic governments view a caliphate as a threat to their own power.
Stephen Ulph, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation says, “The Caliphate is a rallying point between the radicals and the more moderate Islamists. The idea of a government based on the Caliphate has a historical pedigree and Islamic legitimacy that Western systems of government by their very nature do not have” (ibid.).
Understandably, modern Islam shows no outward desire for restoring the caliphate. It is too involved with the more sectarian-religious form of Islam as practiced in the individual Islamic nations. Modern media, in addressing sectarian Muslims today, tend to report on the current Islamic models as if they have always existed.
However, the modern Islamic models are quite different from the caliphate system. The caliphate was a more decentralized system which accounted for its longevity, while variations of modern Islam are, over the past century, more centrally controlled. History indicates that a decentralized caliphate would wield greater power over more people than any present Islamic state.
One of the latest and greatest examples is the Ottoman Caliphate (Empire). It lasted some 634 years (1290-1924). Another decentralized Caliphate was the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258), centered in Baghdad, Iraq. It was generally peaceful and stable for over 500 years.
During that time, Islamic art flourished, the main elements of Sharia law were developed and important schools of philosophy and religious thought were established. It was then that exclusive Arab hold on Islam was finally broken and all Moslems came to be seen as equals.
Although some modern Muslims strongly desire a revival of a caliphate not limited by national borders, no one can guarantee it would remain decentralized. It is possible that a caliph could come into power as a peaceful leader and then become more regionally militant, which would fit the description of the aggressive end-time “king of the South” prophesied in Daniel 11:40 Daniel 11:40And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
American King James Version×.
Of course, there is no ironclad way to determine how the king of the South will surface. Yet it is clear that over the past 50 years many Arabic leaders, claiming to act under the banner of Islam, have attempted to galvanize Muslims under their leadership. Saddam Hussein considered himself a successor of the ancient Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Others have viewed themselves as great Middle Eastern leaders, including Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi.
It is also a historical fact that the caliphate has fared far better in keeping Islam united than any other type of Muslim leadership over the past 1,000 years. It is hard to argue against a caliphate that lasted 500 years. The key to the far-reaching influence of the caliphate lay in decentralized power, allowing all professing Muslims, irrespective of race or nationality, to enter the fold.
The modern movement for restoring the caliphate over Islam is presently growing quietly throughout the Middle East. If it should succeed it could possibly decentralize control over Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia—at least 1.5 billion Islamic followers. That would change dramatically the scope of Islamic power and influence in the world today.
Of course, not all possibilities become realities. Yet the roots of major shifts in power in the past were often visible long before they become realities. To understand how the prophesied conflict between the king of the South and the king of the North could affect your life, request, read online or download our free booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy .