The Holy Quran Promises Collective Khilafat Rather Than Individual Khilafat
The first criticism of Khilafat is that the relevant verse in the Holy Quran uses plural nouns e.g. “Allah has promised to those among you who believe” is plural, “That He will surely make them successors” is also plural and so are the rest of the, prepositions used in the verse, indicating that Khilafat is a collective institution rather than an office for an individual.
This misconception arises out of ignorance about the Quranic usage and actual illustrations of God’s practice in the past which show that quite often promises uttered for a nation are accomplished through individuals. For instance:
And remember when Moses said to his people. O my people, Call to mind Allah’s favour upon you when He raised prophets among you and made you kings, and gave you what He gave not to any other among the peoples. (Ch. 5: 21).
Here the address is made to the people as a whole who are reminded of the blessings of having been made kings and prophets, yet it is known that not all the people had been so exalted and there had always been a large populace of ordinary working people. It proves therefore that promises made in a collective sense are deemed fulfilled through individual beneficiaries. This conforms with the interpretation of the Holy Prophet and his companions, may Allah be pleased with them, as well. The Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is reported to have said:
“I urge you to fear Allah and to listen and obey your leader even though he may be a negro slave” (Masnad Ahmad bin Hanbal: Vol. IV).
Thus, the person who is exhorted to be followed here is described as an individual leader or Emir. At the time of Abu Bakr’s ascension to Khilafat there was an argument between the two factions of the community‑Ansar and Muhajireen‑and it was suggested that each one should have their own Emir. This was strongly resisted by Omar and other dignitaries amongst the companions who reasoned that a sheath was never big enough for two swords. Omar is also reported to have reminded the people of a saying of the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, forbidding the appointment of two Emirs at one and the same time. As a result, Abu Bakr was elected Khalifa to the Holy Prophet as an individual and this was held to be conforming strictly to the letter and spirit of the Quranic verse on Khilafat. In addition, the verse itself provides support for this interpretation where it says: “He will surely make them successors have the earth as He made successors from among those before them . . . “ That is to say, if in olden times a corporate body was given the responsibilities of Khilafat, one should expect the same pattern emerging now, but if it were individuals who succeeded as Khalifas in the past, the same system would continue henceforth. The words “As he made successors” have therefore removed all doubts about the authenticity of individual Khilafat and banished the idea of having a corporate body as Khalifa for good. In another place, the Holy Quran states:
“And consult with them on all important matters, but when you have made up your mind then place your trust in Allah” (Al‑Imran).
That is to say, consultation with individuals or bodies thereof is necessary but once the Prophet has made up his mind, he should proceed with implementation of this decision, placing his absolute trust in Allah. The Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is reported to have said that this verse was a blessing for his people so that anyone who complied with it would meet with success but whosoever disregarded it would perish. It means therefore that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, did not regard this verse as applicable to himself alone but applied it to his successors as individuals, as indeed the word ‘SHAVIR’ indicates. A similar wording was applied in regard to the collection of Zakat or poor tax : God addressed the Holy Prophet saying “Take Zakat from their Wealth”. Upon the death of the Holy Prophet, some people refused to pay this tax saying that the instruction to collect it had been given to the Holy Prophet and as he was no longer alive, the instruction had lapsed. But Abu Bakr, the first Khalifa, refuted this interpretation and ascribed the injunction relating to the collection of Zakat as applicable to the successors of the Holy Prophet as well.
In addition, we have proof in God’s Own doing for the establishment of individual Khilafat instead of a corporate entity. If He had intended a corporate body to succeed the Holy Prophet, He would have allowed this to happen, but what we witness is the fact that despite tendencies to the contrary, an individual was chosen as Khalifa.
At the same time, it should be borne in mind that the addressing of the Khilafat’s promise to the people collectively and the usage of plural nouns in the verse has significant meanings. Firstly, it was intended to convey the fact that Khilafat would not be confined to one or two individuals but would extend to a considerable number of individuals from amongst the followers and the institution would continue in operation up to the last day. Secondly, it was intended that the believers should realise that the office of Khilafat was not an individual’s hereditary right but was to be bestowed upon a deserving individual through popular election latently supported by Allah’s hand.