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MAJLIS. An Arabic term that seems to have been used in pre-Islamic Arabia to indicate either a tribal council or council of tribes, majlis, after the advent of Islam and the foundation of the caliphate, denoted the audience chamber of the caliph and, later on, that of one of the sultans. It also referred to a gathering of a select group of people in the presence of a leading notable, a religious dignitary, or a well-known poet.

In modern times, majlis has been primarily used as the name of an institution set up to deal with matters pertaining to the public interest or domain. Hence, in the first half of the nineteenth century, majlis was virtually restricted to governmental institutions and organs, formally known as diwdns. These new institutions were established during the age of reform, particularly as a result of the Tanzimat movement associated with a number of Ottoman sultans, ministers, and officials. [See Diwan; Tanzimat.] It was perhaps the Egyptian Ibralinn Pasha (d. 1848), Muhammad ‘Al-i’s son, who popularized the use of the term after his occupation of Syria between 1831 and 1840. He thus set up a central council in Damascus (majlis al-shurd) and other local councils in every city and town. The central and local councils dealt with civil, financial, and administrative matters, although ultimate authority was reserved for the military governor of the country.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, majlis entered the vocabulary of modern Islam in order to denote a particular type of institution. Its most outstanding characteristic was the fact that it signified an organization which had clearly defined aims and equally precise internal regulations. Moreover, it often referred to institutions that had official functions in society and served a common purpose. This type of institution, governed by procedural rules and set up for the benefit of the community, came into being as part of the belief in the necessity of an orderly system of government. In Egypt, for example, Khedive Ismd’il (r. 18631879) set up in 1866 a consultative chamber of deputies (majlis shurd al-nuwwdb) and introduced a system of indirect elections. In 1876 the sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-190g) promulgated a new constitution which stipulated the creation of an elected chamber of deputies (meclis-i meb’usan) and an appointed senate (meths-i a’ydn).

In the twentieth century, the term majlis has gained widespread currency in all Islamic countries. Used in various combinations, it refers to a variety of official, private, and social institutions. Thus, a board of directors of a commercial company is generally called in Arabic majlis al-iddrah. However, its most frequent use is reserved for parliamentary institutions endowed with legislative authority or deliberative functions, as in the cases of Turkey, Iran, and most Arab countries.

A new type of majlis began to emerge, particularly in the Arab world, following the proliferation of coups d’dtat between 1949 and 1970. Once in power, the military officers would invariably set up a new institutionmajlis giyddat al-thawrah (Revolutionary Command Council)-and invest it with ultimate authority.


Gilsenan, Michael. Recognizing Islam. New York and London, 1982. Articulate anthropological insights on majlis as a reception room. Hudson, Michael. Arab Politics: The Search For Legitimacy. New Haven, 1977. Analytic study of institution building in the Arab context.

Kedourie, Elie. Politics in the Middle East, New York and Oxford, 1992. Provocative diagnosis of parliamentary life in a number of Islamic countries.

Ma’oz, Moshe. Ottoman Reform in Syria and Palestine, i8go-r86r. London and New York, 1968. Accurate descriptive sections on the role of majlis (meclis) in Ottoman Syria.


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

  • writerPosted On: July 31, 2014
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