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The Mughal Caliphate

This is a guest post by Raziq

Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, Al-Muhajiroun and the Muslim Brotherhood claim that Muslims were ruled by a single political leadership which started from the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century and lasted until the last days of the Ottoman Empire in 1924. According to Islamists, this political leadership looked after the interests of all Muslims worldwide. The central aim of Islamist groups today is to recreate this leadership by uniting the 52 or so Muslim-majority countries in the world into a single state ruled by a single ruler (Caliph). They refer to this totalitarian system as the Khilafah (or the caliphate).

A basic study of Muslim history tells us that various Muslim empires existed in various parts of the world at the same time. In the 10th century, for example, there were three different Muslim empires in the world; the Umayyads in Spain, the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Fatimids in Egypt. Each of these Empires had their own Caliphs and they were independent of each other. Again in the 17th century, three different Muslim empires existed; the Ottomans in Central Asia, the Safavids in Persia and the Mughals in the Indian sub-continent. As well as these empires many parts of the Muslim world were not ruled by any of these empires at all, i.e. South East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of central Asia.

The Mughals considered themselves even more worthy Caliphs than the Ottomans because they were descendants of Tamerlane (Timur). In the 15th century Tamerlane had defeated the Ottoman army and imprisoned their Sultan Bayezid in a cage. He later had him tortured, beaten and starved to death. However Islamists groups have totally ignored the Mughal claim to the caliphate. Furthermore, many of these empires were often at war with one another, the Ottomans and Safavids fought many wars and eventually agreed on a border.

India was conquered by the first Mughal Emperor Babur in 1526 but the Mughal claim to the Caliphate began with the Emperor Akbar in 1556:

The Mughal Emperors, from the reign of Akbar onwards, called their domains ‘Dar ul Khilafat’ (the abode of caliphate). In Akbar’s reign gold coins were minted that bore the inscription ‘the great Sultan, the exalted khilafah’ (The Mughal Emperors, catalogue of Indian Gold Coins in the British Museum, by S. Lane-Poole, p.159).

In official correspondence with the Ottomans, the Mughals made clear their claim to be the true Caliphate:

In the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan … his minister wrote a letter to a Turkish ambassador. In the letter he describes Shah Jahan as ‘his exalted majesty, who occupies the dignity of caliphate, the khaqan of the world, the shahinshah of the Sultans of the whole earth, the shadow of god’ (Dastur ul-Insha, Abdi Sari Effendi, National Bibliothek, Vienna, pg 161).

Most of the Mughal emperors saw themselves as Caliphs of India:

Mughal Emperor Shah Alam 11 (1759-1806) is also called ‘Khalifah and Shadow of God’ by his biographer. (Shah Alam Nameh, p.16 – Calcutta, 1912)

So the Islamist assertion of there only being one caliphate which united all Muslims across the world under a single ruler is utterly false. It is a misrepresentation of history inspired by the Arab nationalist movements of the 1930s and 40s. The aim of constructing such a myth is to inspire confidence in their insane totalitarian project which attempts to apply medieval political paradigms to a modern globalised world. Let’s hope they don’t intend on replacing SUVs with diesel driven camels.