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The concept of Islamic caliphate can be properly understood in three different ways, and distorted by deliberately confusing the three ways:
- The historical caliphs and their examples as rulers, documented to a somewhat lesser extent than the sira or life of Muhammad. The Sunni and Shia views of the examples of these rulers differ drastically and are variously interpreted by contemporaries in early Muslim philosophy. The modern Shia version of this view has been in large part implemented with political compromises in the constitution of Iran.
- The fiqh and shariah (jurisprudence of law) that came from this period and were applied by the Ottoman Empire. These came to reflect the social norms of that Empire rather than al-urf or "custom" of each Muslim society, as had been the originally stated intent. None of the classical jurists of Islam sought to found a taqlid or "blind imitation" of their precedent, but this was found to be useful by caliphs and ulema (jurists), and is still to the present day. To these a re-establishment of "Islamic caliphate" means essentially a re-establishment of the Ottoman Empire and its continued evolution from where it ended in 1918, with perhaps more local autonomy. This view is usually associated with the Wahabist movement originating with Sunni power figures in Saudi Arabia, and nominally embodied in such regimes as the Afghanistan Taliban and such non-state actors as Al Qaeda.
- The various understandings developed in modern Islamic philosophy, all of which focus to some degree on the more abstract notion of khalifa or "stewardship" expressed directly in the Qur'an and in traditional Muslim practices, e.g. haram and hima and zakat. These views have inspired new conceptions of Islamic economics and a more general Islamization of knowledge that build on these norms to a new conception of a "caliphate" that would be quite compatible with some notions of modern secular democracy, e.g. the Green Parties, where feminism and non-violent methods are seen as paths to achieving reforms. The Hizb-ut-Tahrir is considered by some, e.g. Olivier Roy, to be one such group. Others follow the views of Seyyed Hossein Nasr or Ismail Al-Faruqi, which have been very influential in Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan especially in human rights movements and peace movements in the nations.