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100 years ago: Abolition of the Caliphate

08 March 2024

March 7th, 1924.

THE vote by which the Angora Parliament abolished the Caliphate may furnish a historic date of outstanding interest. From the death of the Prophet in 632 to the present day, Islam has never been without a man invested with his relics and claiming to be his Caliph — the word means no more than successor. But while the Caliphate thus presents an unbroken life of fourteen centuries, its nature and function are not so clear. Under the Abbasids, in their blaze of glory at Bagdad, the Caliph was Allah’s vicegerent in Islam. All authority must be derived through him. When he fled from his mayors of the palace and became a shadow in Egypt, that pretension was maintained and was assumed by the Turkish Sultan Selim, when in 1517 he took the Caliphate from the hands of Mutawakkil, the last Abbasid. Mr Ameer Ali, however, tells us that the Caliph is no more than an accepted representative of Islam who is charged to preserve the atmosphere of the Holy Places uncontaminated and to give security to the Pilgrimage. For that end he must have temporal power at his disposal, but he need not be a king. The strength of the Indian agitation which saved Mustapha Kemal was that Turkey must be free and strong enough to provide that power. What will the Indian Moslem say on learning that its creation is set on abolishing the Caliphate and on laicising the Sword of Islam? Or is it possible that the Ghazi is minded presently to declare the President of the Turkish Republic seised of the Caliphate?

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