What Is a Muslim Caliphate?

A Muslim caliphate is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious leader who also acts as political leader of the state. The caliphate is ruled by a caliph who oversees the affairs of the people and government in accordance with Islamic laws and principles.

The caliphate was established centuries after the death of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, by Muhammad's disciples in order to continue the political system Islam established. Sunni Muslims believe that the first caliph was Abu Bakr Siddiq. Shi'a Muslims, on the other hand, argue that the first true caliph was Ali Ibn Abi Talib, but admit that he acknowledged Abu Bakr Siddiq as his predecessor. After the first four caliphs, the caliphate took the form of a monarchy.

After the caliphate became a monarchy, advocates expanded their dominion and created other caliphates including the Ummayad caliphate, the Sokoto caliphate, and the Ottoman Empire. The last caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, was abolished in 1924 by the first Turkish president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. However, the leader of the Islamic State Group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in June 2014; many believed this declaration to be nothing more than part of a terrorist attempt to take over these countries.