The History of an Idea


By Hugh Kennedy

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From a preeminent scholar of Islamic history, the authoritative history of caliphates from their beginnings in the 7th century to the modern day

In Caliphate, Islamic historian Hugh Kennedy dissects the idea of the caliphate and its history, and explores how it became used and abused today. Contrary to popular belief, there is no one enduring definition of a caliph; rather, the idea of the caliph has been the subject of constant debate and transformation over time. Kennedy offers a grand history of the caliphate since the beginning of Islam to its modern incarnations. Originating in the tumultuous years following the death of the Mohammad in 632, the caliphate, a politico-religious system, flourished in the great days of the Umayyads of Damascus and the Abbasids of Baghdad. From the seventh-century Orthodox caliphs to the nineteenth-century Ottomans, Kennedy explores the tolerant rule of Umar, recounts the traumatic murder of the caliph Uthman, dubbed a tyrant by many, and revels in the flourishing arts of the golden eras of Abbasid Baghdad and Moorish Andalucí Kennedy also examines the modern fate of the caliphate, unraveling the British political schemes to spur dissent against the Ottomans and the ominous efforts of Islamists, including ISIS, to reinvent the history of the caliphate for their own malevolent political ends.

In exploring and explaining the great variety of caliphs who have ruled throughout the ages, Kennedy challenges the very narrow views of the caliphate propagated by extremist groups today. An authoritative new account of the dynasties of Arab leaders throughout the Islamic Golden Age, Caliphate traces the history-and misappropriations-of one of the world’s most potent political ideas.
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  • "The doctrine of the caliphate still animates the imagination of Muslim theologians, politicians and ideologues, as Hugh Kennedy shows powerfully in Caliphate."
    Wall Street Journal
  • "Hugh Kennedy demonstrates in Caliphate: The History of an Idea, his readable but scholarly account, [the caliphate] was present throughout centuries of Muslim history, in a variety of guises."
    New York Review of Books
  • "[A] sweeping, yet deeply researched, history of popular and scholarly efforts-from the mid-seventh century to the present day....extraordinarily important..."
  • "British historian Hugh Kennedy takes it upon himself to recover the caliphate's meaning, and he succeeds with welcome doses of erudition, accuracy and, when necessary, empathy."
    Washington Post
  • "An engaging portrait of a fascinating, multifaceted history."
    Times Literary Supplement
  • "[An] engrossing and entertaining introduction... Kennedy clearly shows the continuing power of this idea to incite controversy."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Enlisting significant Arab-language scholarship, Kennedy provides a carefully calibrated, timely chronicle for nonacademic readers."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • Wickedly delightful and addictively delicious, Kaylie Smith’s PHANTASMA is the decadent feast that every romantasy lover dreams of. Dark magic, fraught danger, exhilarating trials and a simmering-hot romance abound within its pages. Even long after closing the book, readers will be haunted by the tenacity of headstrong Ophelia and her sinfully gorgeous Phantom. And there’s a cat!
    Sophie Kim, author of The God and the Gumiho

On Sale
Oct 11, 2016
Page Count
336 pages
Basic Books

Hugh Kennedy

About the Author

Hugh Kennedy is a professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of London. The author of many books, including The Courts of the Caliphs and The Great Arab Conquests, Kennedy lives in London and Scotland, Great Britain.

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