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"Caliph" redirects here. For the ship, see USS Caliph (SP-272).

A caliphate (Arabic: خِلافةkhilāfa) is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph (Arabic: خَليفةkhalīfah About this sound pronunciation )—a person considered a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community. The Rashidun caliphs, who directly succeeded Muhammad as leaders of the Muslim community, were chosen through shura, a process of community consultation that some consider an early form of Islamic democracy. During the history of Islam after the Rashidun period, many Muslim states, almost all of them hereditary monarchies, have claimed to be caliphates.

The Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that, as a head of state, a Caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives (in practice, however, this devolved into a hereditary monarchic system soon after the beginning of Islam). Followers of Shia Islam, however, believe a Caliph should be an Imam chosen by God from the Ahl al-Bayt (the "Family of the House", Muhammad's direct descendants). In 2014, the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant declared itself a Caliphate; nonetheless, its authority remains unrecognised by any country.


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