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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » caliphs and caliphates

   
Author Topic: caliphs and caliphates
babooher
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I have been in the process of world building where the main government is a theocracy in a fantasy world. I hate calling it the empire because the evil empire seems cliche, but I want an evil empire. This empire is ruled by a being who has lived for over 300 years and so there is evidence of his divinity. I want/need for the emperor to rule over the entire planet, but I didn't like losing cultures. While reading an article, I came across the term caliphate which I had to look up and saw that it was the dominion of a caliph (really helpful) so I looked up caliph. There I discovered that a caliph is a successor of Muhammad as temporal and spiritual head of Islam.

I like the word caliph. It feels right and I want to use it as a kind of governor for this divine being, but I don't want the empire to represent Islam. It doesn't.

So, do you all think caliph is too specific to Islam to be used without drawing direct comparisons, or am I being a wimp.


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Robert Nowall
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Well, near as I can determine, the literal translation of the Arabic word is "successor," which (in English) carries no immediate religious connotations. I would think, though, that your "ruler," if having lived and / or ruled for over three hundred years, might not be a "successor" to anyone.
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babooher
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Actually, the ruler wouldn't be the caliph, his governors would.
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Ethereon
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In OSC's series about Bean in the post-bugger-war world Alai becomes Caliph, spiritual and political ruler/uniter of the muslim world, the Caliphate. In those books it was portrayed as very specific to Islam and there would definitely be no one above the Caliph in the power structure except Allah.

I think if you made an evil empire and called it a Caliphate it could be seen as a negative comment on Islam even though that's not what you're trying to do.

[This message has been edited by Ethereon (edited July 01, 2010).]


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Meredith
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How about the Persian/Hellenistic word "satrap", which more literally means governor and has no special religious associations.
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mfreivald
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Whether it is respectfully used or not, the word caliph or caliphate would be an unequivocal reference to the Muslim world, and any attempt to use it for a non-Muslim context would be, in my humble opinion, a big error.

Empire, in my mind, isn't trope, it's reality, and using a different term puts you at risk of receiving the wrath of the smeerp police. (God bless 'em--we need them most of the time.) However, in this case, different cultures often have unique names for their emperor-like leader, so I personally would thumb my nose at the smeerp police and make something up if emperor bothered me.

The only problem I might have with Meredith's suggestion of "satrap" is that it's likely I would look it up (which can happen almost automatically with some electronic books), and it would immediately place me on ancient earth rather than in your world.


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sjsampson
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Robin Hobb used "satrap" in her Liveship Traders series. I didn't have a problem with it.
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mfreivald
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It occurs to me, since you are emphasizing a theocracy, there is another reason you might avoid the term emperor. During the Roman Empire, the emperor was considered to have a divine aspect to it. When Christianity came in, any Divine Right of Emperor or King would have been a pagan heresy, and although the Reformation revived it somewhat, the perception of a divine nature of these leaders has fallen off. "Emperor" simply doesn't resonate with the religious connotations that "caliphate" does. Emperor Napoleon, for example, doesn't make me think in terms of a religious figure. I still favor a smeerp.
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mfreivald
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Regardless of my caveat, I'm not against satrap (or emperor, and even caliph might be done effectively in deft hands). Every choice has its caveats and trade-offs.
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babooher
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mfreivald, I actually already was worried about a papacy vibe to the theocracy and was trying to escape it with caliphate.

Meredith, satrap might work, thank you. While caliph just sounds better to me, the political/social consequences seem daunting.

As for smeerp police, screw 'em. I've got a license in letters and I'm not afraid to use it.


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mfreivald
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quote:
As for smeerp police, screw 'em. I've got a license in letters and I'm not afraid to use it.

Be careful. I hear they're armed with bogers and ratats.


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Robert Nowall
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Should'a mentioned---was going to mention when the sites went down for a few days---that the use of Arabic terms in works published (originally) in the West can lead to unforseen consequences. The title of Asimov's Foundation was translated into the Arabic phrase "al-Qaida," "the base"---and I think we all know the emotional connotations of that phrase. (Reports were that it made the book a bestseller in Egypt...)

I recommend an examination of Frank Herbert's Dune for its use of Arabic words...


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Pyre Dynasty
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Yeah, I'd say avoid the word Caliph, it would be just like using Pope. It has a very specific meaning.
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babooher
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Yeah, Dune is always in my mind when I write. If you've read it and write fantasy or sci-fi, you can't help but be influenced.

I've actually done some research and I think I have decided not to use Caliph. I've found something that resonates equally well, and shall proceed with it.


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