Caliphate or Khilafat is a spiritual institution that succeeds prophethood. It provides unity, progress, righteousness and security to the followers of a Prophet. The Caliph or ‘Khalifa’ is a Prophet’s spiritual heir, his vicegerent and subordinate. He derives his authority from his Master-Prophet and as such becomes the central authority for his followers.
In Chapter 24, verse 56 of the Holy Qur’an, it says :
Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will, surely, make them Successors in the earth, as He made Successors from among those who were before them.
The above verse alludes to the fact that successors will be made in the earth just as successors were made by God from among people who were before them which, includes the concept of the establishment of Khilafat after the advent of previous Prophets.
The death of the Holy Prophet of Islam(sa), was followed by the spiritual institution of Khilafat. The first successor or Khalifa after the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) was Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique(ra), a companion of the Prophet(sa). On the death of Hazrat Abu Bakr(ra), Hazrat Umar Farooq(ra) succeeded as the Khalifa of the Prophet(sa), then Hazrat Usman Ghani(ra) and then Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib(ra); this also tells us that there can only be one Khalifa at any one time. All of these Khulafaa (plural of Khalifa) were known as the Rightly Guided Khulafaa or the Khulafaa al-Rashideen.
When the Promised Messiah, Hazhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) (the holy founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) passed away, Khilafat was established once again. This is known as the Khilafat of Ahmadiyyat or Khilafat al-Ahmadiyya.
The Khalifa of the Promised Messiah(as) is known as Khalifa-tul-Masih, or Khalifa of the Messiah. The first Khalifa of the Promised Messiah(as) was Hazrat Hakeem Maulvi Nooruddin(ra), at whose demise Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad(ra) became Khalifa. The third Khalifa was Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad(rh) and the fourth successor was Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(rh). The fifth successor and the present Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (May God be his Helper).
According to Islamic teachings, the office of Khilafat can, under no circumstances, be inherited from one’s father or relatives. It is a holy trust, given only to a pious follower of a Prophet. Whilst people are involved in process of selecting the Khalifa Muslims firmly believe that it is Allah who appoints the Khalifa. According to Islam people who are entrusted with selecting the next Khalifa are guided by Allah during the selection process; the end result is that the most able and righteous person is selected for the position of Khalifa.
At the time of the demise of the Holy Prophet(sa), his closest and most revered companion (Hazrat Abu Bakr(ra)) was chosen by the people as Khalifa. It is expedient to note that at this incident an important precedent was established:
At the time of the death of the Prophet(sa), a group of Muslims known as the Ansar (the ‘Helpers’ consisting of mostly early converts and those who fought in the early defensive battles alongside the Prophet(sa)) gathered in a hall near Madinah known as Saqifah Banu Sa’idah and had chosen Sa’d bin ‘Ubada as successor to the Prophet and intended to establish him as the Khalifa as he was partisan to the Ansar, without consulting the Muhajirin (emigrants) amongst whom were some of the closest companions of the Prophet(saw).
As soon as Abu Bakr(ra) and Umar(ra) heard of this, he and Umar(ra), with some others immediately made their way to the Hall of Banu Sa’idah where they had intended to establish Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah as Khalifa. Abu Bakr(ra) proceeded extempore, explaining that although they (the Ansar) were deserving and meritorious in their service for Islam, the Arabs would only accept the authority of those who were from the tribe of the Prophet(sa) – the Qur’aish. Abu Bakr(ra) then held out Umar’s(ra) hand and that of Abu Ubada bin Abdullah and stated that they should accept either of the two as the Khalifa.
At this, the Ansar retorted that “there should be one ruler from us and one from you” and a hue and cry emerged with voices of disagreement – fearing a dissension, Umar(ra) immediately told Abu Bakr(ra) to hold out his hand and he pledged his allegiance to him – on seeing this the emigrants followed and so did the Ansar. This established the precedent that there can only be one Khalifa at any one time and the office of Khilafat cannot be shared or delegated.
(Sahih al-Bukhari; Vol.8, Book 82 (Punishment of Disbelievers at War with Allah and His Apostle), Hadith No. 817)
More recently, at the time of the demise of the Promised Messiah(as) (The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community), his closest and most revered companion was chosen to lead the community as the Khalifa. At the time of the death of the first Khalifa of Ahmadiyyat (Hazhrat Hakim Maulvi Nooruddin(ra)), the second Khalifa, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad(ra) was elected who established certain guidelines for the appointment of the new Khalifa in which it was stated that the election of the Khalifa is to be assigned to an electoral college. The Ahmadiyya Electoral College was established by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih II(ra), the second successor to the Promised Messiah and Mahdi(as).
During the lifetime of the Khalifa, the College remains dormant and plays no role. Upon the demise of the Caliph it becomes an active and independent body which elects the next Khalifa. During the election process names are proposed and seconded by members. They then vote for the proposed names by a show of hands.