Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Blog > Notes on the word “Caliph”

Notes on the word “Caliph”

Posted by Satya Khan on October 20, 2008

While discussing this article with the Seven Pillars Review editorial team, there was some concern about the concept of the spiritual authority, or caliph, given the modern political climate. For those with a background in Islam or Sufism, the terms are unthreatening and familiar, but we worried that there might be some misunderstanding about the background and subtle connotations of these terms as used in Shelton’s piece.

For me personally, the spiritual authority in a chivalric context is not one whose rule must be followed absolutely, as a cruel dictator. It is the one who embodies my ideals such that I seek to become them more. In chivalry it is the inspiration behind the desire to give up one’s own self-interest and serve a higher purpose, such as the knights do.

I followed up with Mahmoud Shelton and asked for his take on these terms, and here is his response:


According to traditional knowledge, the human being is a little world, a microcosm, and so has a special correspondence with the larger world.  Each human being has a center, a spiritual core, a repository of heavenly light and knowledge. In the same way, the larger world has a living center, a “representative of God,” and that is the literal meaning of “caliph.” Now, for the individual whose soul is ruled by justice, action proceeds from spiritual knowledge, and in this way chivalry appears. Orders of knighthood needed a center in the world to complete the correspondence with the world of the soul. Of course, how many people today are directed by their spiritual core? And how far are we from justice in the larger world?


What are your thoughts on the word “caliph” in today’s world, and what are your interpretations of the meaning behind it within the context of spiritual chivalry? I’d love to hear your thoughts – please add your comment below.

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20 October 2008

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