A mostly nonpolemical survey of the history of caliphates since the death of Muhammad in 632.
British scholar Kennedy (Arabic/SOAS, Univ. of London; The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In, 2007, etc.) concisely defines the caliphate as it has evolved through the ages from one Islamic court to the next, including the Ottoman ascendancy as protector of the Muslim people and today’s Islamic State group, which “looks back to caliphal examples and a romantic view of early Islamic warfare.” The title of “caliph” was essentially a spiritual designation, either as a “deputy” for Muhammad or for Allah himself; over the centuries, there has been considerable tension regarding the role. The first four caliphs after Muhammad’s death were considered Orthodox: the leader (always a man) should come from the powerful merchant tribe the Quraysh, the prophet’s own extended clan. However, should the successor be Muhammad’s close associate Abu Bakr or a hereditary successor, his cousin and son-in-law, Ali? The reign of Ali (Shiite), especially, would be identified with “the interests of the deprived and excluded in Muslim society, those who felt that their rights had been ignored or trampled on by dominant elites” (Sunnis). From the founding four, Kennedy delves chapter by chapter into the successful rule of, among others, the Umayyads, who helped to spread the Arabic language and wondrous architecture; the cultured Abbasids, who held together a multicultural Muslim world that lasted until the defeat by the Mongols in 1258; and the splinter Shiite caliphs—e.g., the Fatimids in Tunisia and Egypt. In the last chapter, the author touches on the misappropriations of the current caliphate established by the Islamic State group in 2014.
Enlisting significant Arab-language scholarship, Kennedy provides a carefully calibrated, timely chronicle for nonacademic readers.