The Caliphate in Tafsir al-Qurtubi

When your Lord said to the angels,

‘I am putting a khalif on the earth,’

they said, ‘Why put on it

one who will cause great corruption on it and shed blood

when we glorify You with praise

and proclaim Your purity?’

He said, ‘I know what you do not know.’ [2:30]

 

‘I am putting a khalif on the earth,’

“Putting” in this context means creating, as aṭ-Ṭabarī said. The earth means Makka. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “The earth was smoothed out from Makka,” which is why it is called the Mother of Cities. Khalīfa (khalif) has the form of an active participle, meaning “the one who replaced the angels before him on the earth”, or other than the angels, according to what has been reported. It is possible that it is in the passive mode, in which case it means one who is sent as a representative.

This āyat is sound evidence for having a leader and a khalif who is obeyed so that he will be the focus for the cohesion of society, and the rulings of the khalifate will [be] carried out. None of the Imāms of the Community disagree about the obligatory nature of having such a leader, except for what is related from al-Aṣamm [1] (lit. the Deaf), who lived up to the meaning of his name and was indeed deaf to the Sharī‘a, and those who take his position who say that the khalifate is permitted rather than mandatory if the Community undertakes all their obligations on their own without the need for a ruler to enforce them.

The Companions agreed to make Abū Bakr khalif after the disagreement which took place between the Muhājirūn and the Anṣār. If it had been a definite obligation that the ruler had to be from Quraysh, there would have been no point in the argument and the debate which took place. When Abū Bakr died, he delegated the task of being khalif to ‘Umar and no one said that it was not mandatory. Its obligatory nature indicates that it is one of the pillars of the dīn which support the Muslims. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

[Tafsir al-Qurtubi: Classical Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, translated by Aisha Bewley, Dar al-Taqwa, London, 2003, p. 203]

[1] al-Aṣamm was a well-known Mutazilite

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