The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat is convinced of the legitimacy of the succession of the rightly-guided caliphs after the passing of the Messengersa of Allah. This succession has its legitimacy in the Holy Quran itself.
Allah proclaims in the Holy Quran:
اِنَّاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنَاۤ اِلَیۡکُمۡ رَسُوۡلًا ۬ۙ شَاہِدًا عَلَیۡکُمۡ کَمَاۤ اَرۡسَلۡنَاۤ اِلٰی فِرۡعَوۡنَ رَسُوۡلًا
“Verily, We have sent to you a Messenger, who is a witness over you, even as We sent a Messenger to Pharaoh” (Surah al-Muzzammil, Ch.73: V.16)
In this verse, the use of the word kama (even as) establishes a correlation of likeness and similitude between Mosesas and the Messengersa of Allah. The same use of the word kama is also found in the following verse, which is known as ayat al-istikhlaf, i.e., the verse of the appointment of a successor:
وَعَدَ اللّٰہُ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا مِنۡکُمۡ وَعَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ لَیَسۡتَخۡلِفَنَّہُمۡ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ کَمَا اسۡتَخۡلَفَ الَّذِیۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِہِمۡ ۪ وَلَیُمَکِّنَنَّ لَہُمۡ دِیۡنَہُمُ الَّذِی ارۡتَضٰی لَہُمۡ وَلَیُبَدِّلَنَّہُمۡ مِّنۡۢ بَعۡدِ خَوۡفِہِمۡ اَمۡنًا ؕ یَعۡبُدُوۡنَنِیۡ لَا یُشۡرِکُوۡنَ بِیۡ شَیۡئًا ؕ وَمَنۡ کَفَرَ بَعۡدَ ذٰلِکَ فَاُولٰٓئِکَ ہُمُ الۡفٰسِقُوۡنَ
“Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will, surely, make them Successors in the earth, as He made Successors (from among) those who were before them; and that He will, surely, establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them; and that He will, surely, give them in exchange security (and peace) after their fear; They will worship Me, (and) they will not associate anything with Me. Then whoso disbelieves after that, they will be the rebellious.” (Surah an-Nur, Ch.24: V.56)
Now here also, by using the word kama, a correlation of likeness and similitude is established between the caliphs appointed earlier and the caliphs whom Allah promises to appoint among the Muslims. It is evident from the aforementioned verse that this correlation is made between the caliphs of Mosesas and the caliphs of the Messengersa of Allah.
The caliphs of Mosesas, however, were prophets. That is why the Messengersa of Allah said:
كَانَتْ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ تَسُوسُهُمُ الأَنْبِيَاءُ، كُلَّمَا هَلَكَ نَبِيٌّ خَلَفَهُ نَبِيٌّ، وَإِنَّهُ لاَ نَبِيَّ بَعْدِي، وَسَيَكُونُ خُلَفَاءُ فَيَكْثُرُونَ. قَالُوا فَمَا تَأْمُرُنَا قَالَ فُوا بِبَيْعَةِ الأَوَّلِ فَالأَوَّلِ، أَعْطُوهُمْ حَقَّهُمْ، فَإِنَّ اللّٰھَ سَائِلُهُمْ عَمَّا اسْتَرْعَاهُمْ
“The affairs of the Children of Israel were managed by their prophets. Every time a prophet died, another followed him, but there will be no prophet after me. Instead, there will be caliphs, and there will be many of them.” [Those in presence] asked, “What do you command us to do?” He said, “Fulfil your oath of allegiance to the first, then to those who come after him, and fulfil the duties required of you, for Allah will question them about the duties imposed on them.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
This means that just as the successors after Mosesas led the affairs of the believers of that time, people would also come after the Messengersa of Allah to lead the affairs of those believers, except that they would not be prophets, but caliphs. The example and conduct of these rightly guided caliphs would have to be followed, just as the example and conduct of the Prophetsa. Accordingly, The Messengersa of Allah said:
أُوصِيكُمْ بِتَقْوَى اللّٰہِ وَالسَّمْعِ وَالطَّاعَةِ وَإِنْ عَبْدٌ حَبَشِيٌّ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ يَعِشْ مِنْكُمْ يَرَى اخْتِلاَفًا كَثِيرًا وَإِيَّاكُمْ وَمُحْدَثَاتِ الأُمُورِ فَإِنَّهَا ضَلاَلَةٌ فَمَنْ أَدْرَكَ ذَلِكَ مِنْكُمْ فَعَلَيْهِ بِسُنَّتِي وَسُنَّةِ الْخُلَفَاءِ الرَّاشِدِينَ الْمَهْدِيِّينَ عَضُّوا عَلَيْهَا بِالنَّوَاجِذِ
“I advise you to fear Allah, listen, and obey, even if an Abyssinian slave is put in charge of you. Whoever lives after me will see many conflicts. You must adhere to my sunnah and the sunnah of the righteous, guided successors. Hold firmly to it as if biting with your molars.” (Sunan at-Tirmidhi)
At the same time, however, the Prophetsa prophesied that this rightly guided caliphate would last only thirty years after him:
عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ جُمْهَانَ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي سَفِينَة، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللّٰہِ صلّى اللّٰہُ عليه وسلّم: الْخِلاَفَةُ فِي أُمَّتِي ثَلاَثُونَ سَنَةً ثُمَّ مُلْكٌ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ” ثُمَّ قَالَ لِي سَفِينَةُ أَمْسِكْ خِلاَفَةَ أَبِي بَكْرٍ وَخِلاَفَةَ عُمَرَ وَخِلاَفَةَ عُثْمَانَ . ثُمَّ قَالَ لِي أَمْسِكْ خِلاَفَةَ عَلِيٍّ . قَالَ فَوَجَدْنَاهَا ثَلاَثِينَ سَنَةً . قَالَ سَعِيدٌ فَقُلْتُ لَهُ إِنَّ بَنِي أُمَيَّةَ يَزْعُمُونَ أَنَّ الْخِلاَفَةَ فِيهِمْ . قَالَ كَذَبُوا بَنُو الزَّرْقَاءِ بَلْ هُمْ مُلُوكٌ مِنْ شَرِّ الْمُلُوكِ
It is reported from Sa‘id ibn Jumhan: “Safinahra told me that the Messengersa of Allah said, ‘The Caliphate will exist in my ummah for 30 years, after which there will be monarchy.’ Then Safinahra said to me, ‘Count the caliphate of Abu Bakrra,’ then he said, ‘Count the caliphate of ‘Umarra and the caliphate of ‘Uthmanra.’ Then he said to me, ‘Count the caliphate of ‘Alira.’ He said, ‘So we have found that these add up to 30 years.’ I said to him, the Ummayads claim the caliphate to be among them. He replied, ‘The Ummayads are lying, rather they are a monarchy from among one of the worst monarchies.’” (Sunan at-Tirmidhi)
However, according to the prophecy of the Holy Prophetsa, one hundred years after him, and then every hundred years, there would be appointed from the Ummah those who would renew the faith as reformers (mujaddidun):
إِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَبْعَثُ لِهَذِهِ الأُمَّةِ عَلَى رَأْسِ كُلِّ مِائَةِ سَنَةٍ مَنْ يُجَدِّدُ لَهَا دِينَهَا
“Allah will raise up for this ummah, at the head of every century, those who will revive its religion for it.” (Sunan Abi Dawud)
These reformers, who were to be from within the ummah (to work in lieu of the rightly guided caliphs), were to appear until the time the rightly-guided caliphate was to be established through the Messiah and Mahdi; those whose sunnah would have to be followed.
Another tradition of the Holy Prophetsa further sheds light on this:
تَكُونُ النُّبُوَّةُ فِيكُمْ ما شاءَ اللّٰهُ أنْ تَكُونَ، ثُمَّ يَرْفَعُها إذا شَاءَ أنْ يَرْفَعَها، ثُمَّ تَكُونُ خِلافَةٌ عَلى مِنهاجِ النُّبُوَّةِ، فَتَكُونُ ما شاءَ اللّٰهُ أنْ تَكُونَ، ثُمَّ يَرْفَعُها إذا شاءَ اللّٰهُ أنْ يَرْفَعَها، ثُمَّ تَكُونُ مُلْكًا عاضًّا، فَيَكُونُ ما شاءَ اللّٰهُ أنْ يَكُونَ، ثُمَّ يَرْفَعُها إذا شَاءَ أنْ يَرْفَعَها، ثُمَّ تَكُونُ مُلْكًا جَبْرِيَّةً، فَتَكُونُ ما شاءَ اللّٰهُ أنْ تَكُونَ، ثُمَّ يَرْفَعُها إذا شاءَ أنْ يَرْفَعَها، ثُمَّ تَكُونُ خِلافَةً عَلى مِنهاجِ نُبُوَّةٍ ثُمَّ سَكَتَ
“Prophethood will remain in you for as long as Allah decides for it to remain and then Allah will remove it when He decides to remove it. After prophethood, there will be a Khilafat on the path of prophethood and it will exist for as long as Allah decides for it to exist, then He will remove it when He decides to remove it. Then there will be a kingdom in which people will face trials and tribulations and it will continue to exist for as long as Allah decides for it to exist. Then He will remove it when He decides to remove it. After this, there will be an oppressive kingdom and it will continue to exist for as long as God decides for it to exist. Then He will remove it when He decides to remove it. Then there will once again be a Khilafat on the path of prophethood.” Thereafter he remained silent. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal & Mishkat, Kitab al-Riqaq, Bab al-Andhar wal-Tahdhir)
The Promised Messiahas also claimed to be a caliph and a reformer himself and used these terms interchangeably. Moreover, he claimed, under divine inspiration, to be the Seal of the Caliphs (khatam al-khulafa). It helps a great deal to look at the Promised Messiah’sas interpretation of the term “seal” in the context of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa as the Seal of the Prophets. Firstly, the Messengersa of Allah as the Seal of the Prophets was the best of the prophets, and secondly that from his appearance onwards no prophet could appear on earth, unless he is his shadow (zill) and reflection (buruz).
If one applies this interpretation of the concept of “seal” to the Promised Messiahas as the Seal of the Caliphs, then on the one hand, he was the best among the caliphs (whereby caliphs would include the reformers); and, on the other hand, no caliph could appear thenceforth but as his shadow and reflection.
Hence, as clearly understood from the ahadith quoted above, Khilafat was and is destined to be an institution just as prophethood; only then would it remain on the precepts of Prophethood (‘ala minhaj an-nubuwwah) according to the blessed words of none else but the Holy Prophetsa.