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Those who are qualified to act on behalf of the Muslim community in electing a caliph are known as ahl al-hall wa-al-`aqd (less frequently, ahl al-`aqd wa-al-hall. In medieval political theory, their main function was contractual, namely, to offer the office of caliphate to the most qualified person and, upon his acceptance, to administer to him an oath of allegiance (bay`ah). They were also entrusted with deposing him should he fall short in fulfilling his duties. They must be Muslim, of age, just, free, and capable of exercising ijtihad (interpretation of religious sources). The implication of the last requirement is that ahl alhall wa-al-`aqd are jurists of the highest caliber, whose consensus is binding.

In the absence of any revealed text stipulating the number of ahl al-hall wa-al-`aqd, scholars were in disagreement concerning this issue. Some argued that they must be sufficient in number to represent all regions of the Islamic empire. The prevailing opinion, however, seems to have been that one person suffices; this reflects the historical reality in which a caliph normally designated his successor. Since the caliph appointed by ahl al-hall wa-al-`aqd must enjoy the same qualifications required of the members of the appointing body, the caliph himself was deemed a most qualified member, who might alone designate a successor. This is perhaps why some Muslim political theorists, such as the eleventh century Shafi’i jurist al-Mawardi, maintain that the bay’ah of ahl al-hall wa-al-`aqd is a subsidiary process, resorted to when the preceding caliph fails to appoint an heir.

Theory diverged from practice in at least one respect. In later times, military commanders played the role of ahl al-hall wa-al-`aqd, although they did not fulfill the qualifications of theory. Most notably, they were not deemed mujtahids (interpreters of the law), and thus they were not empowered to form a consensus on behalf of the Muslim community. Their assumption of this role was finally justified on the basis of public interest (maslahah), mainly in terms of the doctrine that however objectionable the appointments of military commanders may be, they are preferable to a situation wherein the community is left without leaders.

In modern political thought the title ahl al-hall wa-al`aqd has gained particular significance. The title is now intimately connected with an expanded meaning of the concept of shurd, a term that previously meant consultation among the oligarchs on political matters, including the appointment of a caliph. In nineteenth- and particularly twentieth-century political thought, the ahl al-hall, through the medium of shurd, speak for the full community. Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi (d. 1889), a Tunisian reformer, equates ahl al-hall with a European-style parliament, and Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1935) entrusts them with powers to elect and depose rulers by virtue of their influential status in the community and of their mutual consultation. Their decisions, though they may be at variance with those of the ruler, are binding upon him because ahl al-hall are the deputies of the community and express its will. For Rashid Rida the ruler thus becomes subservient to ahl al-hall, who express through their consultation the will of the community on matters of public law and policy. More recent political thinkers deem the ruler a servant of the people, elected by a process of consultation whose medium is ahl al-hall. No rule, they argue, can be legitimate unless it is based on this process.


Fadl Allah, Mahdi. Al-Shura: Tabi at al-Hakimiyah ft al-Islam.Beirut, 1984.

Kerr, Malcolm H. Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muhammad `Abduh and Rashid Ridd.BerkeleyandLos Angeles, 1966, pp. 34-36, 159-165, 183.

Lambton,AnnK.S.Stateand Government in Medieval Islam.New YorkandOxford, 1981. Summarizes the theories of various medieval scholars on the subject. See pages 18, 73, 89, 105, 111-114, 139, 141, 184, 311.

Mawardi, Abfi al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-. Al-Ahkam alSultaniyah. Edited by M. Engri.Bonn, 1853. French translation by Ldon Ostrorog, Le droit du Califat.Paris, 1925. Well-known classical work on constitutional theory. See pages 6-7, 21-22.

Shaltut, Mahmud. Min Tawjihdt al-Islam.CairoandBeirut, 1983, pp. 471ff.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/ahl-al-hall-wa-al-aqd/

  • writerPosted On: October 7, 2012
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