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DIWAN. A term of uncertain derivation, used throughout Islamic history to cover a number of institutions and practices, diwan can most inclusively be defined as a collection of a homogeneous body of written materials or an administrative office that produces such a collection.

In the sense of a written body of materials, diwan was, and to a lesser extent still is, used in the literary sphere to denote a collection of poetry (or, sometimes, prose). In the bureaucratic world, it denotes an archival register. In either case, there seems to be at least an indirect association with the Persianate cultural ethos that permeated urban populations and especially scribal milieus since the early caliphate in the Middle Eastern heart land of Islamic civilization. One etymology of the term derives it from the Persian div (“spirits of evil and of darkness”), supposedly describing bureaucrats. As the differences grew between popular cultural practices and a literature that cultivated the studied emulation of classical Islamic forms, diwan was used more specifically with respect to collections of poetry. The distinction is relatively sharp in Ottoman literature, where a twofold division between divan poetry and folk poetry is commonly maintained. One can also find the connotation of refinement and urbanity in the use of diwan for a comfortable seat in some Middle Eastern and European languages.

The most common usage of the term, however, has been with respect to certain offices that administered important governmental functions, presumably by extension of the meaning of “account registers” that were called diwan since Caliph `Umar ibn al-Khattab (r. 634-644).

Although the central administrations of different Islamic states were often called simply diwan, various branches of the government were known as more specifically designated diwans. In the capacity of central government, a diwan (also given such loftier titles as divan-i a’la or divan-? humayun) would often be headed by the vizier or grand vizier. By a further leap of meaning, the term (usually with the spelling of dewan in English) was also used to denote a vizier on the Indian subcontinent since the time of the Mughal Empire. The East India Company, for instance, was appointed diwan of the Province of Bengal.

In terms of the branches of government, there was naturally a great diversity among different states over time and space, and ad hoc arrangements led to the creation or abolition of specific diwans even under one government. Still, a remarkable continuity can be observed in certain structural features where by a three fold division was quite characteristic: a diwan of the chancellery (often known as diwan al-rasa’il or diwan al-insha’); a diwan of finances (amwal); and a diwan of the military (jaysh). Separate diwans were commonly set up with specific responsibilities to administer pious foundations, fiefs, various taxes, alms, customs (hence, arguably, the word for customs in some European languages: douane, dogana, etc.), and so forth. Subbranches of these offices or other administrative bureaus could also be given titles constructed with divan. Provincial administrations might also have their own local central diwdn and divisions into further divans that might parallel those at the center. All these might be subjected to inspection by diwans of control (zimam). Finally, various Islamic governments instituted diwans of mazalim, which functioned like a court of appeals or complaints and dealt with allegations of abuse of authority and miscarriage of justice. In the sense of tribunal or bureau, diwan survives in the usages of some modern states, but it has been increasingly out of fashion since the nineteenth century along with a good deal of other non-Western modes and terms of governance.

The functioning of the Ottoman divan-i humayun is very well documented. The procedures and hierarchies that governed its functioning and related ceremonies were codified in writing under Mehmed II (r. 1444-1446, 1451-1481). Since the decisions of the divan, recorded and kept in muhimme registers, are extant from around the mid-sixteenth century, its order of business can be studied in particular detail after that point. The Ottoman diwan would meet every day until sometime before the end of the sixteenth century, when meetings were reduced to only four days a week. It would include, in addition to the viziers, heads of the chancellery and treasury departments and the two top experts in shari’ah (the divine law). Since Mehmed II, the Ottoman sultans did not participate in the meetings of the diwan but might follow the proceedings from behind a grilled window, just as the ‘Abbasid caliphs followed from behind a curtain. In addition to functioning as some form of cabinet and state council, the Ottoman divan held hearings on all kinds of cases brought before it by any subject or foreigner with legitimate business. The complaint of a monkey-player whose monkey was killed by the grand vizier’s men might be heard on the same day as preparations for war were discussed or Istanbul’s firewood shortage was considered.

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

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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