On BBC News 24 this morning, Peter Sissons asked Sir Iqbal Sacranie (leader of the Moslem Council of Britain) if the lack of a figurehead, equivalent to the Pope for Catholics, made it more difficult for leaders of the Moslem faith to state authoritatively that extremist views were heretical. Sir Iqbal replied that he was referring to a Caliph. Interestingly, one of Al-Qaeda's most fundamental ambitions is restoration of a Caliphate encompassing all Moslems and Moslem nations.
Whilst there can be no doubt that what Mr Sacranie means by a Caliph is different to what Osama bin-Laden means, this highlights the paucity of vocabulary within Islam to describe the relationship between the religion, its leaders, its followers and their governments. A Caliph is fundamentally different to a Pope, because a Caliph exercises absolute temporal as well as spiritual powers over followers of the faith. But there is no title available in the Moslem lexicon to descrbe a supreme spiritual leader distnct from the temporal leadership.