The term caliphate is used to describe a political-religious state within the Muslim community, which includes all of the lands and peoples under its jurisdiction, in the centuries that followed the death of the prophet, Muhammad, in the year 632 A.D. The caliphate was ruled by a "caliph," which in Arabic translates to "the successor." This caliph held a temporal and sometimes a degree of spiritual authority over the empire of the Caliphate. It was during this time that the Caliphate rapidly grew through various methods of conquest; in its first two centuries, the Caliphate had already conquered Spain, North Africa and most of Southwest Asia. Struggles for dynasties within all of these territories is what brought the eventual decline of the caliphate, but it was the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258, that finally made the caliphate cease to exist altogether.
The early versions of the caliphate were initially led by Muhammad's disciples, and it was their intention to create a continuation of the leaders and religious system the prophet was responsible for establishing. When Muhammad was still alive, the land was considered an aristocratic-constitutional republic. Those that were placed in positions of power, as caliphs, were expected to govern according to religious and constitutional law, also known as Sharia, as they were considered the representatives of not only the people, but of Islam as well. When it was first in effect, this type of governing rule much resembled an elective monarchy and had elements of a direct democracy.
The dynasty's that ruled the caliphate in order of succession, after the Rashidan period, included the Umayyad, the Abbasid, the Fatimid (which, ironically, was not recognized outside the Fatamid domain) and finally, the last dynasty, the Ottoman Dynasty.
Other spellings for caliphate include "Khilafat," Khilafa," "Hilafet" and "Khalifa." All represent variations due to Islamic, Arabic and Turkish pronunciations.