ca·​liph ˈkā-ləf How to pronounce caliph (audio)
variants or less commonly calif
: a successor of Muhammad as temporal (see temporal entry 1 sense 1c) and spiritual head of Islam
used as a title
caliphal adjective

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Dressed all in black and wearing a Rolex, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi slowly climbed the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al Nuri in Mosul and declared himself caliph of the Islamic State. Andrew Bernard, Washington Examiner, 11 Mar. 2021 Barkat Mukarram Jah was born on Oct. 6, 1933, in Nice, France, to Azam Jah, the nizam’s eldest son, and Princess Durrushehvar, the caliph’s daughter. Alex Traub,, 8 Feb. 2023 The death of al-Qurayshi marks the second ISIS leader to be killed this year after the previous caliph died during a U.S. raid in February. Justin Klawans, The Week, 30 Nov. 2022 In a message from ISIS's media affiliate al-Furqan obtained by CNN, it was announced that Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who had served as the caliph of ISIS since March, had been killed in battle. Justin Klawans, The Week, 30 Nov. 2022 Khan said the global Ahmadiyya community’s current leader and caliph, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, is in Zion to inaugurate the new mosque this weekend — a momentous occasion for U.S. Ahmadis. Deepa Bharath, ajc, 1 Oct. 2022 The country’s ruler, the Albanian commander Muhammad Ali, ended Mamluk rule, secured near independence from the Ottoman caliph, and embarked on modernizing the country in an attempt to catch up with the West. Ursula Lindsey, The New York Review of Books, 27 Apr. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'caliph.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English caliphe, from Middle French calife, from Arabic khalīfa successor

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of caliph was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near caliph

Cite this Entry

“Caliph.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


variants also calif
: an important Muslim political and religious leader
used as a title

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