ca·​liph | \ˈkā-ləf, ˈka-ləf\
variants: or less commonly calif

Definition of caliph 

: a successor of Muhammad as temporal (see temporal entry 1 sense 1c) and spiritual head of Islam used as a title

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from caliph

caliphal \ -​lə-​fəl \ adjective

Examples of caliph in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The original Byzantine church was destroyed by the Persians in A.D. 614. Rebuilt shortly thereafter, the Egyptian caliph al-Hakim destroyed the church in 1009 and had the tomb hacked down to bedrock. Joe Yudin, Town & Country, "How to Plan a Trip to Israel," 5 Oct. 2016 But Hussein was the head of the Hashemite clan, keeper of Islam’s holy places and a man with good claim to the title of caliph, leader of Muslims. Anthony Sattin, WSJ, "‘Behind the Lawrence Legend’ Review: Picking Sides in the Middle East," 6 Apr. 2018 Some make her the daughter of Muatamid bin Abbad, a wine-drinking caliph descended from the Prophet. The Economist, "Muslims consider Queen Elizabeth’s ties to the Prophet Muhammad," 5 Apr. 2018 One of the rules for choosing a caliph is that he must be descended from the lineage of the prophet. Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times, "What New York Attack Suspect’s Words May Say About ISIS Ties," 2 Nov. 2017 It can be written or recorded as audio or video, but the pledge is supposed to be to addressed to an individual, in this case the caliph of the Islamic State, and not to the organization overall. Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times, "What New York Attack Suspect’s Words May Say About ISIS Ties," 2 Nov. 2017 Abu Haitham al-Obaidi, a prominent ISIS official in Hawija , has allegedly declared himself caliph. Simon Mabon, Fortune, "We’re Not Safe From ISIS Even If Its Leader Is Dead," 15 July 2017 ISIS was rumored to have executed anyone who publicly acknowledged that the caliph was dead — the kind of suicide spiral at the end of such cults. Andrew Doran, National Review, "Bulletin from Mosul — the Mission Is Still Far from Accomplished," 14 July 2017 The caliphate may have lost its caliph; this week brought a new flurry of speculation about the fate of the group’s chieftain, Abu Bakr Baghdadi. Nabih Bulos,, "The 'caliphate' is all but lost, yet Islamic State's threat remains potent," 14 July 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'caliph.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of caliph

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for caliph

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about caliph

Statistics for caliph

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for caliph

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for caliph


variants: or calif \ ˈkā-​ləf \

Kids Definition of caliph

: an important Muslim political and religious leader

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on caliph

What made you want to look up caliph? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


obstinately defiant of authority

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Autumn Words of the Day 2018

  • a-top-down-image-of-road-through-an-autumn-forest
  • Which is a synonym of fugacious?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!