Shaykh ‘Uthmān Dan Fodio on the Obligation of Appointing a Caliph (Imām)

I say, and tawfīq is from Allah: Be it known that there is consensus on the point that it is the duty of the Muslims to appoint an Imām according to the law. With regard to the words of the versifier [1]:

‘It is an obligation to appoint a just Imām. Know that this is by divine precept, not the judgement of human reasoning.’

[Commenting on this] ‘Abd al-Salām ibn Ibrāhīm al-Laqqānī said in his Itḥāf [2]: ‘That is, to appoint and install an Imām. This law is addressed to the whole community (umma) as from the death of the Prophet (عليه الصلاة و السلام) until the Day of Resurrection; but when the influential men (ahl al-all wa al-‘aqd) perform this task, it suffices for all, no matter whether it be in times of civil strife or otherwise. This is according to the Sunnis, and, when [the term] Imamate is used unrestrictedly, it means the Caliphate, which is an overall leadership embracing all religious and temporal affairs – [undertaken] on behalf of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم).’

Expounding the meaning of ‘by divine precept’ Al- Laqqāni said: ‘It means that the obligation of appointing an Imām over the community (umma) is based on divine law, according to the Sunnis, // for a number of reasons, the chief of which is the ijmā of the Companions (رضي الله عنهم) who so emphasised it that they considered it the most important of duties and were distracted by it from burying the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). A similar [situation has occurred] following the death of every Imām up to the present day. However, their disagreement on who is suitable for the office of Caliph does not detract from their agreement on the obligation of appointing one. Thus none of them said that there was no need for an Imām.’

Al-Subki said: ‘According to the Consensus of the Companions (رضي الله عنهم) after the death of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), men should appoint an Imām who will look after their interests. They gave this precedence over all other obligations and people have been abiding by this over the ages. Even if the appointed Imām is not the most suitable, nevertheless the mere act of appointing him is sufficient to discharge the [religious] obligation.’

[1] i.e. Shaykh Ibrāhīm al-Laqqānī (d. 1041 H), Jawharat al-Tawḥīd

[2] Shaykh ‘Abd al-Salām ibn Ibrāhīm al-Laqqānī (d. 1078 H), Itḥāf al-Murīd Shar Jawharat al-Tawḥīd

[Shaykh ‘Uthmān Dan Fodio, بيان وجوب الهجرة على العباد وبيان وجوب نصب الإمام وإقامة الجهاد (Bayān Wujūb al-Hijrah ‘ala al-‘Ibād wa Bayān Wujūb Nasb al-Imām wa Iqāmat al-Jihād), English translation by Fathi Hasan El Masri, Khartoum: Oxford: Khartoum University Press; Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 61]

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