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From the Arabic root amara (“to command”) amir is traditionally defined as military commander, leader, governor, or prince. Although the word amir is not found in the Qur’an (its root appears once as ulu’alamr (those in authority) in surah 4.59, 83), it does have Islamic origins. Although different shades of the meaning of amir can be gleaned from the rich prophetic traditions, all converge on the importance of leadership in Islam, both to an individual and on a social level. More importantly, many of these hadiths draw a direct link between leadering (amara) and consulting (shawara), suggesting that those who are sought for consultation should be in a position of leadership. This link falls in tandem with the linguistic usage of amir, for it is a synonym of mushawar (“the consulted one”). This conceptual relationship was evidenced particularly in the early period of Islam.

Historically, amir was used as a title for the caliphs first by the second rightly guided caliph `Umar ibn al-Khattab, as “Amir al-Mu’minin,” (“Commander of the Faithful”). This title did not imply a separation of Islamic affiliation from political leadership. In fact, Islamic religious piety was the principal prerequisite for the leader of the Islamic ummah (community). Both the Umayyad and ‛Abbāsid caliphs followed suit in styling themselves with this title, as did their successors and some of their dynastic opponents (e.g., `Alids and Fatimids) who also laid claim to the caliphate.

The title of amir, on the other hand, was bestowed on an `amil (delegate) appointed with the approval of the caliph, as well as on those who excelled in the military, such as commanders of armies (and occasionally of divisions of an army), and governors who were initially the conquering generals. The amir’s governance was generally restricted to a province, and his bay’ah (allegiance) was to the ruling caliph. His authority was substantially enhanced as a result of the increased bureaucratic complexities introduced initially by the seventh-century Umayyad dynasty and further developed by the ‛Abbāsids.

Consequently, the duties of the amirate were expanded to incorporate affairs outside the military, allowing amirs to distinguish themselves in both their administrative and financial duties. These included organizing the army, conducting expeditions, concluding agreements, appointing officials to various posts (e.g., `arifs who kept registers of their units, qadis [judges], the police, the postmaster), distributing pay, levying or abolishing taxes, leading prayer, and building mosques and other public works. This full ruling power caused many amirs to amass such wealth and power that some established dynasties, thereby reducing their relations with the caliph to receiving his `ahd (decree of appointment) and reciting his name in the Friday khutbah (sermon). The military rule of the Seljuks, the Ayyubids, and the Mamluks illustrates the military orientation of the amir throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries.

In modern times, the title amir denotes membership in the ruling families of the many monarchies governing Muslim countries (e.g.,Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries). The function of the amirate has basically been reduced to that of executive, and the title has come to mean prince.


Bukhari, Muhammad ibn Isma’il al-. The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari. 9 vols. Translated by M. M. Khan. 3d rev.ed.Chicago, 1979. The premier authoritative Sunni compilation of hadith.

Duri, `Abd al-`Aziz al-. “Amir.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 1, pp. 438-439.Leiden, 1960-. Treats the concept in the context of classical and medieval Islam.

Al-munjid ft al-lughah wa-al-a’lam. 28th ed.Beirut, 1986.

Zabidi, Muhammad Murtada al-. Taj al-`arcs min jawahir al-gamus. to vols.Cairo, 1889.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/amir/

  • writerPosted On: October 9, 2012
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