Al-Istikhlāf Verse | 24: 55

Al-Istikhlāf Verse

The Verse of Istikhlāf, ((Arabic: آیة الإستخلاف)or the Verse of Succession, or the Verse of Caliphate, is the verse of Quran 24: 55, in which God promises the faithful to make them successors on the earth and spread the right religion.

The verse was revealed in response to Muslims who were fearful of unsafety and attacks by unbelievers, and thus, they were asking the Prophet (s) when they could finally have peace.

In this verse, God gives righteous believers the good tidings of being successors of the righteous rule, to propagate and spread the right religion, and to finally give them peace.

Quranic exegetes have interpreted "succession" in the verse as succession of earlier prophets, Children of Israel, and past nations.

They count the Prophet of Islam (s) and his companions, his household, and all righteous believers to be the Successors of the promised reign.

In Shiite collections of hadiths, Imam Alī (a), Imams of the Shia, and Imam al-Mahdi (a) and his companions are said to successors of the reign.

وَعَدَ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَىٰ لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُم مِّن بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا ۚ يَعْبُدُونَنِي لَا يُشْرِكُونَ بِي شَيْئًا ۚ وَمَن كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

"Allah has promised those of you who have faith and do righteous deeds that He will surely make them successors in the earth, just as He made those who were before them successors,

and He will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them,

and that He will surely change their state to security after their fear, while they worship Me, not ascribing any partners to Me.

Whoever is ungrateful after that—it is they who are the transgressors."

— Quran 24:55

Occasion of the Revelation

The verse 55 of Sūrah al-Nūr is known as the Verse of Istikhlāf or Succession.

It follows verses in which obedience of, and submission to, the orders of God and His Prophet (s) are recommended, and this verse suggests that the final outcome of such obedience is a global government.

As to the occasion of the revelation of the verse, it is said that when the Prophet of Islam (s) and Muslims migrated to Medina and were given refuge by Ansars (Helpers),

all unbelievers drew swords against them, and thus, they had to carry their swords with them even at nights. The situation was hard for them to tolerate.

Some Muslims wondered how long such conditions would last, and whether there was going to be a time when peace prevails and they would fear no one but God.

It was then that this verse was revealed, giving them the good tidings of a time of peace.

Contents of the Verse

In this verse, 3 good tidings are given to Muslims who had both faith and righteous actions:

 => Establishment of the rule of the righteous on the earth

=> Unpreventable spread and establishment of the right religion which they favour

=> Termination of all grounds of fear and unsafety, arising from hypocrites and unbelievers.

Having given these 3 good tidings, the Quran calls Muslims to worship Him and prohibits them from polytheism, since polytheism and disobedience are instances of ungratefulness towards God's blessings and refusal of God's servitude.

The Meaning of Istikhlāf

There are 3 views by exegetes as to whom Muslims are going to succeed:

=> Succession of earlier prophets:

some people take succession in this verse to be succession of prophets such as Adam (a), Moses (a), David (a), and Solomon (a).

They appeal to certain Quranic verses as evidence for this claim, including the verse of Quran 2:30 concerning Adam's succession:

"When your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed I am going to set a viceroy [or successor] on the earth,’"

and verse of Quran 38:26 addressed to David:

"‘O David! Indeed, We have made you a vicegerent [or successor] on the earth."

=> Succession of the Children of Israel:

some people take succession to be that of the Children of Israel who had established a righteous government after the collapse of the Pharaoh.

=> Succession of past nations:

having rejected the Children of Israel view, Allāma Tabataba'i takes previous successors to be believers from past nations,

unbelievers and hypocrites among whom were destroyed by God, and believers among whom were saved by Him, such as the people of Noah (a), Hud (a), Salih (a), and Shuaib (a).

His evidence for this interpretation are verses of Quran 14:13-14 according to which,

"Thereat their Lord revealed to them: ‘We will surely destroy the wrongdoers, and surely We will settle you in the land after them."

The Instance of the Promised Reign

There are 4 views suggested by Quranic exegetes as to whom the divine promise refers to:

=> The Prophet (s) and his companions:

some people believe that the verse refers to the Prophet of Islam (s) and his companions who defeated their enemies and established a government and inherited the earth.

=> Rashidun caliphs:

many Sunni exegetes take the instance of the promised government to be the caliphate of Rashidun Caliphs.

=> The Prophet (s) and Ahl al-Bayt (a):

in his Majma al-bayān, al-Tabrisī appeals to hadiths from Zayn al-Abidin (a) and Ja’far al-Sādiq (a) to take the verse to refer to the Prophet (s) and Ahl al-Bayt (a) to whom God gives the good tidings of a government and safety after the uprising of Imam al-Mahdi (a).

=> People who have faith and righteous actions:

Allāma Tabataba'i rejects the identification of personal instances for the verse, maintaining that it refers to some, and not all, of people within the Islamic nation:

He thinks that there is no reason to restrict the verse to the Prophet (s) or his companions or Ahl al-Bayt (a). The verse, he suggests, might encompass everyone with faith and righteous actions.

Having enumerated the features of a community desired by the verse, Allāma Tabataba'i cites certain hadiths so as to show that such a community can only be established in the period of the Promised al-Mahdi.

The Promised Reign in Shiite Hadiths

In Shiite collections of hadiths, there are numerous hadiths in which particular instances are determined for the promised reign,

- including Imam Alī (a), Imams of the Shia, and Imam al-Mahdi (a) and his companions.

=> Imam Alī (a):

in these hadiths, Quranic verses are cited to show that Divine Caliphate holds for Adam (a) and David (a), and then Imam Alī (a) is said to be an instance of the Verse of Istikhlāf and a successor of prophets.

=> Imams of the Shia: in numerous hadiths, Imams of the Shia are referred to when asked whom the verse means.

=> Imam al-Mahdi (a) and his companions:

according to many Shiite hadiths, the most prominent instance of the righteous reign is said to be the reign of Imam al-Mahdi (a) after his Appearance.

- In these hadiths, the righteous referred to in the verse are said to be Imam al-Mahdi (a) and his companions.