From a preeminent scholar of Islamic history, the authoritative history of caliphates from their beginnings in the 7th century to the modern day
In Caliphate, Islamic historian Hugh Kennedy dissects the idea of the caliphate and its history, and explores how it became used and abused today. Contrary to popular belief, there is no one enduring definition of a caliph; rather, the idea of the caliph has been the subject of constant debate and transformation over time. Kennedy offers a grand history of the caliphate since the beginning of Islam to its modern incarnations. Originating in the tumultuous years following the death of the Mohammad in 632, the caliphate, a politico-religious system, flourished in the great days of the Umayyads of Damascus and the Abbasids of Baghdad. From the seventh-century Orthodox caliphs to the nineteenth-century Ottomans, Kennedy explores the tolerant rule of Umar, recounts the traumatic murder of the caliph Uthman, dubbed a tyrant by many, and revels in the flourishing arts of the golden eras of Abbasid Baghdad and Moorish Andalucía. Kennedy also examines the modern fate of the caliphate, unraveling the British political schemes to spur dissent against the Ottomans and the ominous efforts of Islamists, including ISIS, to reinvent the history of the caliphate for their own malevolent political ends.
In exploring and explaining the great variety of caliphs who have ruled throughout the ages, Kennedy challenges the very narrow views of the caliphate propagated by extremist groups today. An authoritative new account of the dynasties of Arab leaders throughout the Islamic Golden Age, Caliphate traces the history-and misappropriations-of one of the world's most potent political ideas.
Kennedy (The Great Arab Conquests), a medieval historian and professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of London, follows the threads of the centuries-long debate within the wider Islamic community over how to establish a secular system of governance capable of enforcing divine law. With no blueprint in the Qur'an and little thought given during the Prophet Muhammad's life as to what would come after, early Muslims struggled to decide how rulers should be chosen, what their roles should be, and how laws should be adjudicated and applied. The various caliphates were no more nefarious or violent than any other type of government, and Kennedy's engrossing and entertaining introduction highlights their impressive diversity. Many caliphs were great patrons of the arts and intellectual pursuits. For example, Abbasid Baghdad was "the first society in the history of the world in which a man or a woman could make a living as an author." Fatimid caliph Ha kim, on the other hand, "made decrees and new laws entirely on his own initiative, neither taking advice nor supporting them with traditions and precedents." The Ottoman title of caliph "was never more than a vague honorific," and its final abolition in 1924 changed little in the Muslim world, but Kennedy clearly shows the continuing power of this idea to incite controversy.