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

Examples of caliph in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Its territorial expansion led jihadi groups in more than ten countries to pledge allegiance to the new caliph. Nelly Lahoud, Foreign Affairs, 13 Aug. 2021 In addition to their roles as calligraphers, Aisha’s family also safeguards a legendary and dangerous book belonging to the caliph. Jamie Lang, Variety, 17 May 2024 By the mid-tenth century, the caliph reigned only in name with local warlords, predominantly Turkic, holding most of the power. Mohammed Ayoob, Foreign Affairs, 3 Apr. 2016 The persistence of some sort of Ottoman caliph would have had more immediate implications for modern Turkey. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 6 Mar. 2024 In the end, the Ottomans were defeated in World War I, and Turkey’s new government, led by Mustafa Kemal, abolished the institution of caliph in 1924. Mohammed Ayoob, Foreign Affairs, 3 Apr. 2016 The caliph — not wholly unlike the pontiff in Rome for Catholics — was the leading, unifying temporal authority of the Muslim world. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 6 Mar. 2024 Iznogoud — France In Ancient Baghdad, its good-natured but idiotic caliph has no idea that his Machiavellian Grand Vizier Iznogoud spends his days scheming the perfect murder in order to usurp the throne. Ernesto Lechner, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Feb. 2024 The mighty Ayyubid Sultan Saladin, a devout Sunni who took control of Egypt after the death of the last Fatimid caliph in 1171, waged war against the Syrian Nizaris, twice escaping assassins but ceasing his attacks soon thereafter. Nicholas Liu, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 Oct. 2023

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 19 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


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

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