Must the Khalifa be from Quraysh?

There is a difference of opinion amongst scholars regarding whether the Khalifah has to be from the lineage of the Quraysh. Both are valid opinions and proponents of both sides have put forward detailed evidences to support their respective views.
Those who take Qurayshi lineage to be a mandatory condition for the Khalifah rely primarily on a number of authentic ahadith, such as the below:

إن هذا الأمر في قريش

“Verily this matter is within Quraysh…”

لاَ يَزَالُ هَذَا الأَمْرُ فِي قُرَيْشٍ مَا بَقِيَ مِنَ النَّاسِ اثْنَانِ

“This matter would still be within Quraysh even if only two of them remained.”

Those who do not hold the opinion that Qurayshi lineage is mandatory for the Khalifah primarily rely on the fact that these ahadith are informative, not imperative. According to them, these texts do not contain a decisive command which establish the obligation of the Khalifah being from the Quraysh.

However, in this post, I will, insha Allah, elaborate on one of the arguments that Sheikh Taqi Uddin an-Nabhani (RA) presents in his book The Ruling System in Islam to support his view that it is not mandatory for the Khalif to be from the Quraysh. He does present a number of arguments but I will discuss only one as it requires some explanation.

Sheikh Taqiuddin an Nabhani (RA) writes:

“…the word Quraysh is a name and not a description. In Shari’ah terminology it is known as a title. And the meaning derived from the title is never considered, because the title has no meaning (Mafhoom) at all. Therefore, the mention of Quraysh does not mean that the position of ruling cannot belong to other than Quraysh. So when Allah’s Messenger (saw) said:

“Verily this matter is within Quraysh…” and his saying:

“This matter would still be within Quraysh…” he (saw) did not mean that it is wrong for it (the ruling) to be in other than Quraysh. He (saw) meant that it is within Quraysh and, as well, it is valid to be in the hands of others who are not from Quraysh. Thus specifying the people of Quraysh as rulers does not necessarily mean that others are not valid to rule. Therefore, it is a condition of preference and not a contractual condition.”

To understand this point we need to first understand a few points on Usool ul Fiqh. Usooli scholars classify textual implications (al-dalalat) in a number of ways. One way of classifying them is by dividing them into mantuq and mafhum.

Mantuq is what is directly understood from the uttered words of the text, e.g. we understand the obligation of fasting in Ramadan directly from the below ayah:

“…So those of you who witness the month must fast in it…” [Baqarah:185]

Mafhum refers to the implied meaning of the text that is not directly indicated by its wording, but is arrived at by inference, e.g. the ayah below literally prohibits saying “uff” to parents but it also implies prohibition of anything greater than saying “uff” such as verbal of physical abuse:

“Do not say to them ‘Uff’” [Isra: 23]

The mafhum is further divided into two sub-categories:

1. Mafhum al-Muwafaqah

2. Mafhum al-Mukhalafah

Mafhum al-Muwafaqah is an implied meaning that is in harmony with the pronounced meaning (dalalat al-mantuq). For example, the implied prohibition of abusing one’s parents derived from the verse from Surah Isra quoted above is in harmony with the mantuq that prohibits saying “uff” because both the mantuq and the mafhum in this case are conveying prohibitions.

Mafhum al-Mukhalafah is an implied meaning that diverges from the pronounced meaning (dalalat al-mantuq). For example, Sh Taqi writes in his book on Usool ul Fiqh, Islamic Personality volume 3:

“…the Messenger (saw) said, “Delaying (to pay back) the debt payment by al waajid (he who is able to pay); allows his honor and his penalty” [Abu Daawood]. Al waajid is the rich, his procrastination is his delay, allowing his honor is requesting him to pay, and his penalty is imprisoning him, so the connotation of incompatibility [mafhum al-mukhalafah] in it is that these things are not allowed to do to other than the rich. So the messenger (SAW) meant by this Hadeeth that the honor and the penalty of other than the rich are not allowed.”

In contrast to mafhum al-muwafaqah, mafhum al-mukhalafah establishes the opposite ruling to the dalalat al mantuq, i.e., in the example above, the mantuq establishes permissibility of certain actions against the rich person who delays debt repayments, but the mafhum al-mukhalafah establishes prohibition of those same actions against the poor person.

Scholars lay down certain stringent conditions for mafhum al-mukhalafah before a ruling can be taken from it e.g. a ruling cannot be derived from mafhum al-mukhalafah that is negated by the Qur’an or Sunnah. Without going into these conditions in detail, let us only look at those that will help us understand the issue at hand.

Sh Abdul Wahhab Khallaf (RA) explains in his book ‘Ilm Usool ul Fiqh the different types of mafhum al mukhalafah, the ones which the scholars agree are valid, the ones that they agree are invalid, and the ones where there is a difference of opinion.

He writes that mafhum al mukhalafah are of five types in accordance with the manner in which the mantuq of the text is qualified:

1. Mafhum al wasf (Implication of the attribute)

2. Mafhum al ghayah (Implication of the extent)

3. Mafhum al shart (Implication of the condition)

4. Mafhum al ‘adad (Implication of the stated number)

5. Mafhum al laqab (Implication of the title/name)

Explaining each of the above is beyond the scope of this article, but we have already seen an example of mafhum al wasf before, which is the hadith quoted above regarding the rich person delaying debt repayment. The ruling in the text is related to the person being rich. And the “rich” here is an attribute (sifah). Likewise, mafhum al mukhalafah can be derived from the extent, condition, number, or a name/title that qualifies a text. This should suffice for our purposes as long as we have a basic understanding of the fact that a text can be qualified by one of the five types of qualifications mentioned above. However, a bit of elaboration is required for the fifth type, mafhum al laqab, which is of the most relevance to us.

Sh Khallaf says that the scholars agree that mafhum al mukhalafah derived from the laqab cannot be used to derive a ruling. Laqab is a noun (ism) or a proper noun. Explaining this point, Sh Taqi gives the below examples:

“The example “Zaid is standing up” does not denote the banishment of the standing up of other than Zaid, and the example “there is Zakaat in the sheep” does not denote the banishment of the Zakaat in other than the sheep.”

In the above examples, “Zayd” is a proper noun and “sheep” is a generic noun. Therefore, as agreed upon by all scholars, mafhum al-mukhalafah cannot be taken from these nouns, which means that we may not conclude from the above sentences that no one else apart from Zayd is standing, nor that no other animals apart from sheep have zakat due on them.

This principle has very significant implications on the understanding derived from the ahadith that are used as evidence to prove that only the Quraysh are eligible to be the Khalifah. As Sh Taqi mentions, the term “Quraysh” is a title (laqab). Therefore, mafhum al mukhalafah cannot be used in this instance to derive a ruling. So the ahadith on leadership belonging to the “Quraysh” does not negate the validity of leadership for other than the Quraysh. Hence, the requirement of Qurayshi lineage cannot be established as a necessary condition for the Khalifah from these ahadith.

Furthermore, Sh Khallaf mentions that while the scholars agree that it is valid to derive mafhum al mukhalafah from the qualifications of sifah (attribute), ghayah (extent), shart (condition) and ‘adad (number), they disagree on whether this can be applied to revealed texts (Qur’an and Sunnah). He says that the majority of Usooli scholars accept the applicability of mafhum al mukhalafah from the above-mentioned four kinds of qualifications to revealed texts but the Hanafi scholars disagree and holds that mafhum al mukhalafah can only be applied to non-revealed texts such as, sayings of men, expressions of authors, the technical/conventional usage of language by jurists etc.

In fact, Hanafis have a different way of classifying textual implications (al dalalat) altogether to what I’ve been describing so far regarding the mantuq and the mafhum. While there are overlaps between Hanafi classifications and other schools, mafhum al mukhalafah is not part of the four categories of textual implications that Hanafis use.

Therefore, scholars restricting the validity of mafhum al mukhalafah to non-revealed texts would have further reasons not to take the mentioned ahadith as establishing prohibition for the non-Quraysh from being the Khalifah.

Given the above, we can see how the issue of the Khalifah being from the Quraysh is not as straight forward as some make it out to be. As I mentioned above both are valid opinions and the difference of opinion on this issue is an acceptable difference within Islam.

The question now arises how then would those who hold Qurayshi lineage to be a mandatory condition accept a non-Qurayshi as a Khalifah if the situation so arises. I think the answer to that lies in the fact that regardless of which position one holds, one needs to accept the fact that this issue is one where there is a valid difference of opinion. And, as we know, one of the conditions of enjoining good and forbidding evil is that there be no valid difference of opinion on the issue. A non-Qurayshi becoming a Khalifah is not necessarily a munkar that needs to be changed with the hands, the tongue or the heart. Therefore, we did not see our scholars rise up in arms when the Khilafah transferred to other than the Quraysh in the past. Scholarly debate about the issue can continue, but it cannot be a cause of political division amongst the Ummah.


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