Khalifah and the Modern Sovereign: Revisiting a Qur’anic Ideal from within the Palestinian Condition

Khaled Furani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Palestinian political condition raises questions of the nation-state and, by extension, the sovereignty paradigm underpinning it. Propelled by these quandaries, this article revisits revelatory language to interrogate the conceptual grammar of modern politics. Mining the land’s religious patrimony, I evoke the Qur’anic notion of khalifah to join recent efforts at illuminating sovereignty’s delirium and deleterious consequences. Largely ignored in critiques of sovereignty, yet pivotal in the sovereignty paradigm as famously formulated by Hobbes and Rousseau, is the undergirding principle of indivisibility. Qur’anic articulations of khalifah help us see the ways this principle impedes an ethics of fragility attentive to life’s existential vulnerabilities. Aiming to recover these ethics, I explore khalifah’s implications for a renewed political imagination, one that untethers political (and personal) fulfillment from claims of sovereignty and safeguards human plurality. Perhaps, just such a sensibility may demarcate an exit from Israeli and Palestinian struggles for sovereignty, among other quagmires facing polities and the planet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-506
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Religion
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2022


FundersFunder number
Insaniyyat’s Haifa Reading Group
University of Chicago
Birzeit University
University of Oxford
Tel Aviv University


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