Sunni Views on the Caliphate
The Majority of Sunnis today are the Ash'arites. They, as well as the Mu'tazilites, believe that the institution of Imamate/Caliphate is necessary, and it is incumbent (wajib) on men to appoint a caliph. The Mu'tazilites hold that it is incumbent according to reason; the Ash'arites believe it is incumbent according to tradition.
an-Nasaf; writes in his al-Aqai'id, "The Muslims cannot do without an Imam who shall occupy himself with the enforcing of their decisions, and in implementing their hudud (penal code) and guarding their frontiers, and equipping their armies, and receiving their alms, and putting down robberies and thieving and highwayman, and maintaining the Friday and 'id prayers, and removing quarrels that fall between people, and receiving evidence bearing on legal claims, and marrying minors who have no guardians and dividing booty."
[at-Taftazani: Sharh 'Aqa'idi'n-Nasafi, p.185]
"The Sunnites want an earthly ruler.... while the Shi'ites look for one who can establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and bring an end to all the evils of the world."
[Miller,W.M.: tr. of al-Babu 'l-hadi 'ashar, notes]
Appointing a Caliph
Accordingly, the Sunnis recognize four principles for appointing a caliph.
a) Ijma'; that is, consensus of men of power and position on a certain point. The agreement of all the followers of the Prophet is not necessary, nor is it essential to secure the consent of all the persons of power and position in the ummah.
b) Nomination by the previous caliph.
c) Shura; that is, selection by a committee.
d) Military power; that is, if anyone acquires power by military force he will become a caliph.
The author of Sharhu 'l-maqasid has explained that when an Imam dies and a person possessing the requisite qualifications claims that office (without the oath of allegiance-bay'ah-having been taken for him and without his having been nominated to succeed), his claim to caliphate will be recognized provided his power subdues the people; and apparently the same will be the case when the new caliph happens to be ignorant or immoral. And similarly when a caliph has thus established himself by superior force but is afterwards subdued by another person, he will be deposed and the conqueror will be recognized as Imam or caliph.
[at-Taftazani: Sharhu 'l-maqasidi' t-talibi'n, (vol. 2, p. 272). See also al-Hafiz 'Ali' Muhammad and Amiru 'd-Din: Fulku 'n-najat fi 'l-imamah wa 's-salat, vol. 1 p. 203.]
Qualifications of a Caliph
The Sunnis consider ten conditions necessary for a caliph:-
1. that he be Muslim;
2. that he be of age, (i.e.,of puberty);
3. that he be male
4. that he be of sound mind;
5. that he be courageous;
6. that he be free, not a slave;
7. that he be accessible and not be concealed or hidden;
8. that he be able to conduct battles and beware of warlike tactics;
9. that he be just-'adil;
10. that he be able to judge and pass verdicts on points of laws and religion, that is, he be a mujtahid.
[at-Taftazani, op. cit.]
They hold that infallibility ('ismah) is not necessary for caliphate. The words of Abu Bakr which he spoke from the pulpit before the Companions of the Prophet, are cited in support of that view: "O people! " he said, "I have been made ruler over you although I am no better than you; so, if I perform my duties well, help me; and if I go wrong, you should set me right. You should know that Satan comes to me now and then. So if I am angry, keep aloof from me."
[as-Suyuti, Tarikhu 'l-Khulafa', p.71.]
at-Taftazani says in Sharh Aqai'idi 'n-Nasafi "An Imam is not to be deposed from Imamate on account of immorality or tyranny."