This article is taken from “An interview with Fethullah Gülen for the Muslim World Journal” The Muslim World Journal, Volume 95 – Number 3- July 2005. page 456-457
Q: After the abolishment of the Caliphate (Khilafah) in Turkey, many new movements to restore this institution arose, especially in India. Thinking of the fast development in our world, do you think that the Caliphate could be re-established? Or is the Caliphate an unattainable utopia? What are your thoughts?
Fethullah Gulen: When the institution of the Caliphate was abolished there were many views articulated either for this or against it. A contemporary Turkish sociologist, Ziya Gokalp, and those following his line of thought had the following approach: “The institution of the Khilafah which draws its power from the Turkish Grand National assembly has an honorable place among Muslims. If there is no such institution, the world of Islam will be similar to a rosary which has no center (imamah); all the beads would fall off.” Thinkers like Seyyid Bey believed that, “Khilafah (the Caliphate) has a wise purpose and it is the issue of the nation itself and it follows the requirements of the time. When the Prophet died, he did not mention anything about Khilafah (the succession) to his Companions. In fact, even in the Qur’an there is no verse to this effect.” Seyyid emphasizes the importance of consultation and obedience to the rulers, as mentioned in the Qur’an. These two aspects are related to administration and politics. He believes that with the caliphate of Ali, the fourth caliph in Islamic history, in the thirtieth year of the Islamic calendar, the caliphate came to an end. In this regard, he mentions the opinions of scholars of Islamic law and Islamic thought. He speaks of the historicity of Khilafah, in one sense, and suggests that one should benefit from this experience and understand the goal and the aim of Khilafah. According to Seyyid, the rulers who came after the first four caliphs were not real caliphs; in appearance they were caliphs, but in quality they did not follow the previous caliphs. With this opinion, he supported the abolishment of Khilafah as found in the following statement of Turkish parliament: “The caliph has been deposed. The institution of Khilafah is abolished since the meaning and the context of this institution has been absorbed into the government and the republic.”
Long before these scholars, Ibn Khaldun, in his Muqaddimah presented the following thought: “With regard to Khilafah there are three different views. The first is that Khilafah is a divine institution and necessary. Secondly, Khilafh is based on needs. Thirdly, as some Kharijites defended, there is no need for the Caliphate”.
Today, those who believe that there is no need for a Caliphate say this because of the establishment of nation states and the development of ideas of independence. For these reasons, some people believe that the Khilafah has lost its effectiveness. There are some people who believe in the dynamics of Khilafah since it is a means of unity among Muslims and facilitates cooperation between Muslim nations through exchanging their skills and opportunities. The possibility of rallying the masses can easily coalesce around the religious term, Caliphate/Khilafah.
Having said this, I would say that the revival of the Caliphate would be very difficult and making Muslims accept such a revived Khilafah would be impossible. The perception of the modern world regarding the revival of Khilafah must be considered. I think it would be very beneficial for one to look at the concept of Khilafah and the revivalist Khilafah movements in the light of the thoughts mentioned above.