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MONARCHY. Islam’s expansion faced the ummah (community) with the issue of mulk (royal authority). This term was already used, sometimes pejoratively, under the Umayyads (661-750), who were criticized for betraying an ideal. Qur’an 2.247-249 cites the Hebrew prophet emphasizing that God alone made and unmade (3.26) kings, whom he endowed with knowledge and power, not wealth. Their dyah (“sign”) was the Ark, a sakinah, and Moses’ and Aaron’s relics. Shl’i traditions mention the imams’ sakinah (the divine radiance), legitimating hereditary charisma.



God’s throne overspreads heaven and earth (2.256; 25.6o). The Last Day will mark mulk’s return to God (22.55). His law, share ah, preexists any earthly law. Man’s purpose is the exemplification and execution of shari’ah, and the purpose of the ddr al-Islam (Muslim lands) is the elimination of the ddr al-harb (non-Muslim lands). Except in Shi’i doctrine, the Prophet died without nominating sucessors in his secular, leadership role. Those closest to him solved the dilemma by reference to Arab practice. By ijma` (consensus) they selected the venerable among his companions, his first four deputies (khulafd’; “rightly guided”), because they were best versed in the law revealed to the Prophet. Qur’an 4.62, however, while primarily enjoining obedience to God and the messenger, affords some scope for flexibility by adding, “and those in charge among you.”

The aim of such great jurists as al-Maturidi (d. 944), Baqillani (d. 1013), Baghdadi (d. 1037), al-Mawardi (d. 1058), Juwayni (d. 1085), al-Ghazali (d. I111), and Ibn Taymiyah (d. 1328) was adherence to revelation, maintaining Muslim piety, and, never more than in the paramount matter of leadership of the community, matching Muslim theory with practice. Mu’tazili rationalizations needed refuting, but, beginning in the ninth century, the Sunni jurists had first to combat two extremes: Shi’i doctrine that only the descendants of the Prophet’s son-inlaw ‘Ali were rightful leaders of the community and, notably after the occultation of the Twelfth Imam in 873, that in effect secular rulers were only tolerable under the aegis of the fuqaha’ (those qualified to interpret the law); and the Khariji doctrine that, if sound of body and mind, any Muslim might be elected caliph. Given that opposition to God’s law and the consensus of the Prophet’s people, “who can never agree on error,” was heresy, the Sunni jurists’ watchwords were maslahah (commonweal for Muslims to fulfil God’s purpose), ittifaq al-ahwa’ (unanimous agreement on what is desirable), and on the negative side, mafsadah (what causes corruption), and especially, fitnah (economic and social disruption).

In a situation lacking dichotomy between spiritual and temporal authority, the jurists’ problem was soon compounded by the rise of more than one caliphate, the ‘Abbasid (749-1258) in Baghdad rivaled by others in Spain and Egypt. Although for reasons where theology and law were intertwined, the jurists sought the caliph’s warrant, from 821 onward, provincial amirs assumed and made hereditary local sovereignty as malik or sultan, and in 945, the Shi`i Buyids captured the caliph’s capital, Baghdad. They demonstrated pre-Islamic Iranian kisrdwi or khosroan influence by reviving Sassanian royal titles.

Such changes defied the Shi`i theory of nass (imams by prophetic designation) as well as the Sunni bay’ah (mutually agreed “bargain” between ruler and ruled). Al-Farabi (d. 950), philosopher rather than jurist, anticipated developments by stipulating that a king should be skilled and powerful enough to be in fact philosopher-king, whether he were honored or not, rich or poor. Ibn Khaldun (d. 14o6) described the inqilab (transformation) of the caliphate to mulk as “natural,” but decadent, implying Arab Muslims’ loss of `asabiyah (strong common feeling). Ruzbihan Khunji (d. 1521) accepted kings as world managers provided that they protected shari`ah and enabled the people to be dutiful Muslims.

The pre-Islamic Iranian din and dawlah (twinning of kingship and religion in mutual interdependence) as invoked, and crystalized in the Seljuk compromise with the caliphate. Under the Buyids, the jurist al-Mawardi said a restrained caliphate might function provided the restraining force upheld shari`ah. New rulers’ other primary duties related to taxes and defending Islamic territory. Al-Ghazali was less concerned with the sultancaliph relationship than with preservation of the religious life. Order, avoidance of fitnah, was vital.

When the Mongol Hiilegii Khan ended the `Abbasid caliphate, the symbol of authority from the Prophet’s kinsmen and companions disappeared, though the Muzaffarid Mubariz al-Din Muhammad (1313-1357) in Fars and certain North African aspirants to kingship sought legitimation from an `Abbasid descendant in Cairo. The legal implications and Islam’s exposure to unbelievers’ infiltrations consequent on this not being lost on religious teachers around him, Il-Khanid caliph Ghazan’s conversion to Islam in 1295 appears to have initiated an attempt to fill the void. He was assiduously apostrophized by his minister and apologist, Rashid alDin, as Padshah-i Islam, and proof of the intention seems evident in the adoption of the `Abbasid black banner.

For the Shi`ah the dilemma might have seemed resolved when, challenged by Sunni Ottoman and Mughal neighbors, the Safavids (1501-1722) made Shiism the religion of Iran, though both the shah and his Ottoman enemy styled themselves to each other as sovereign of Islam. Because Twelver Shiism claimed Safavid descent from the seventh imam, Musa al-Kazim (d. 799), it might seem to have combined imamate and mulk. In effect, it caused tension between the `ulama’ and king.

An Afghan Sunni leader’s defeat of the Safavids and their subsequent final removal by their erstwhile liberator, Nadir Shah, left Iran still officially ShIT By 1979 a monarch had allowed his version of kisrdwiyah seriously to distort the delicate balance between the divine and mundane which Islam requires to be kept, at least as nearly as possible, in equilibrium. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini replaced the shah in the Iranian Revolution. Enthusiastic followers called the ayatollah “imam,” but he instituted what he termed, and depersonalized as, vilayat-1 faqih (guardianship of the jurisprudent): one sufficiently knowledgeable in shari `ah to be viable as curator of maslahah until the awaited Hidden Imam’s return. Kingship banished, a fresh experiment in application of the ideal began: according to pure Islamic theory, not so much a political-social experiment as an attempt to retrieve from mafsadah God’s purpose for man.

In Saudi Arabia, Ibn Sa’ud took the title of king in 1924. Foreign oil agreements, obviating dependence on local finance, consolidated his position. Morocco’s old dynasty became a constitutional monarchy in 1962. Faced by modern Muslims’ repurification concerns, these kingdoms’ survival, owing much to their creators’ abilities, largely depends on their heirs’ capacity. Represented as “Western” innovations, these monarchies might, whatever their credentials, look beholden to forces threatening Islam.

[See also Authority and Legitimation; Caliph; Islamic State.]


Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-. Ghazali’s Book of Counsel for Kings. Translation of Nasihat al-Muluk by F. R. C. Bagely. Oxford, 1964. Maxims for “kings” on ideal government.

Gibb, H. A. R. Studies on the Civilization of Islam. Edited by Stanford J. Shaw and William R. Polk. London, 1962. Valuable discussion of Islamic legal and historical problems, based on extensive research.

Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Translated from the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal. New York, 1958. See especially chapter 3.

Lambton, Ann K. S. State and Government in Medieval Islam. Oxford, 1981. Useful, comprehensive introductory survey.

Levy, Reuben. The Social Structure of Islam. Cambridge, 1957. A picture of state and society under the `Abbasid caliphs.

Nizam al-Mulk. Siyasatnamah. Translated by Hubert Darke. London, 196o. Admonitions for secular rulers-the Seljuks-cerning how to rule according to both Islamic and what purport to be ancient Iranian principles, a key to practical as well as ideal statecraft. Rosenthal, E. I. J. Political Thought in Medieval Islam. Cambridge, 1958. Essential and detailed study.

Rosenthal, E. I. J. Islam in the Modern National State. Cambridge, 1965. Survey of Islamic political thought in the context of secularizing movements and ideas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


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

  • writerPosted On: August 14, 2014
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