Parts 30

The Caliph's title of 'Commander of the Faithful'

January 13, 2020

This was created in the period of the first four caliphs. This is because the men around Muhammad and all the other early Muslims called Abu Bakr, when he received the oath of allegiance, “representative” (khalifah, caliph) of the Messenger of God. This form (of address) was used until he died.

Then, the oath of allegiance was rendered to ‘Umar who was appointed by (Abu Bakr), and people called ‘Umar “Representative of the Representative of the Messenger of God.” However, they considered the title somewhat cumbersome. It was long and had a succession of genitives.

With successive caliphs, that (style) would become longer and longer and end up as a tongue twister, and (the title) would no longer be distinct and recognizable because of the great number of dependent genitives. Therefore, they tried to replace the title by some other one appropriate to a (caliph).

The leaders of (military) missions used to be called “amirs,” a fail (formation) connected with imarah (commandership). Before becoming Muslims, people used to call the Prophet “Amir of Mecca” and “Amir of the Hijaz.” The men around Muhammad also used to call Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas “Commander (amir) of the Muslims,” because he commanded the army at al-Qadisiyah. (The army there) at that time was the largest agglomeration of Muslims (that existed). Now, it so happened that one of the men around Muhammad addressed ‘Umar as “Commander of the Faithful” (amir al-mu’minin). People liked (this form of address) and approved it. Thus, they called ‘Umar by (this title). It is said that the first to call him by this title was ‘Abdallah b. Jahsh. 392 According to others, it was ‘Amr b. al-‘As and alMughirah b. Shu’bah. Again, according to others, it was a messenger [?] 393 who brought (the news) of victory from a (military) mission. He entered Medina and asked for ‘Umar with the words, “Where is the Commander of the Faithful?” The men around (‘Umar) heard this and liked it. They said= “Indeed, you give him the right title. He is truly the Commander of the Faithful.” Thus, they called ‘Umar (Commander of the Faithful), and this became his title among the people. The caliphs who succeeded him inherited the title as a characteristic which no other person shared with them. This was the case with all the Umayyads. The Shi’ah used the title of Imam for ‘Ali, ascribing to him the “imamate,” which is a related expression for caliphate.

They called him Imam,) in order to display the novel theory that ‘Ali was more entitled to lead the prayer (imamah) than Abu Bakr. They restricted the title (of Imam) to (‘Ali) and to those after him whom they considered his successors to the caliphate. All these men were called Imam as long as their propaganda for them was clandestine. But when they eventually seized power (openly), they changed the title of their successors to that of Commander of the Faithful. This was done by the ‘Abbasid Shi’ah. They had always called their leaders Imam down to Ibrahim, for whom they came out into the open and unfurled the banner of war. When (Ibrahim) died, his brother as-Saffah was called Commander of the Faithful. The same was the case with the extremist Shi’ah in Ifriqiyah. They always called their leaders, who were descendants of Ismail, Imam, until ‘Ubaydallah al-Mahdi came to power. They continued to call him, and also his son and successor Abul-Qasim, Imam. But when their power was secure, their successors were called Commander of the Faithful. The same was the case with theIdrisids in the Maghrib. They called Idris, and also his son and successor Idris the Younger, Imam. This is (Shi’ah) procedure.

The caliphs inherited the title of Commander of the Faithful from each other. It became a characteristic of the ruler of the Hijaz, Syria, and the ‘Iraq, the regions that were the home of the Arabs and the center of the Muslim dynasty and the base 394 of Islam and Muslim conquest. Therefore, (it was no longer distinctive) when the (‘Abbasid) dynasty reached its flowering and prime, (and) another style of address gained currency, one that served to distinguish them from each other, in as much as the title of Commander of the Faithful was one they all had. The ‘Abbasids took surnames such as as-Saffah, al-Mansur, al-Mahdi, al-Hadi, ar-Rashid, and so on, and thus created a sort of cover to guard their proper names against abuse by the tongues of the common people and protect them against profanation. (They continued with that custom) down to the end of the dynasty. The ‘Ubaydid(- Fatimids) in Ifriqiyah and Egypt followed their example. The Umayyads refrained from that (for a long time). The earlier Umayyads in the East had done so, in keeping with their austerity and simplicity. Arab manners and aspirations had not yet been abandoned in their time, and (the Umayyads) had not yet exchanged Bedouin characteristics for those of sedentary culture. The Umayyads in Spain also refrained from such titles, because they followed the tradition of their ancestors. Moreover, they were conscious of their inferior position, since they did not control the caliphate which the ‘Abbasids had appropriated, and had no power over 395 the Hijaz, the base of the Arabs and Islam, and were remote from the seat of the caliphate around which the group feeling (of the Arabs) centered. By being rulers of a remote region, they merely protected themselves against the persecution of the ‘Abbasids. Finally, however, at the beginning of the fourth [tenth] century, the (Umayyad) ‘Abd-arRahman the Last 396 (III) an-Nasir (b. Muhammad) b. alamir ‘Abdallah b. Muhammad b. ‘Abd-ar-Rahman II, appeared on the scene. It became known how greatly the liberty of the caliphate in the East had been curtailed and how the clients of the ‘Abbasids had taken control of the dynasty and had achieved complete power to depose, replace, kill, or blind the caliphs. ‘Abd- ar-Rahman III, therefore, adopted the ways of the caliphs in the East and in Ifriqiyah= He had himself called Commander of the Faithful and assumed the surname of an-Nasir-li-din-Allah. This custom, which he had been the first to practice, was followed and became an established one. His ancestors and the early (Umayyads) had not had it.

This situation prevailed down to the time when Arab group feeling was completely destroyed and the caliphate lost its identity. Non-Arab clients gained power over the ‘Abbasids; followers (of their own making) gained power over the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids) in Cairo; the Sinhajah gained power over the realm of Ifriqiyah; the Zanitah gained power over the Maghrib; and the reyes de taifas in Spain gained power over the Umayyads. (Each of) these (groups) took over part of (the caliphate). The Muslim empire dissolved. The rulers in the West and the East adopted different titles. Formerly, they had all been called by the name of Sultan. The non-Arab rulers in the East were distinguished by the caliphs with special honorific surnames indicating their subservience and obedience and their good status as officials. (Such surnames included) Sharaf-ad-dawlah, ‘Adud-ad- dawlah, Rukn-ad-dawlah, Mu’izz-ad-dawlah, Nasir-ad-dawlah, Nizam-al-mulk, Bahi’-al-mulk, Dhakhirat-al-mulk, and so on. 396a The ‘Ubaydid (-Fatimids) used also to distinguish the Sinhajah amirs in that manner. When these men gained control over the caliphs, they were satisfied to keep these surnames and did not adopt caliphal titles out of deference to the institution and in order to avoid anyusurpation of its peculiar characteristics, as is customary among those who gain power and control (over an existing institution), as we have stated before. 397 However, later on, the non-Arabs in the East strengthened their grip on royal authority and became more and more prominent in state and government. The group feeling of the caliphate vanished and dissolved completely. At that time, these non- Arabs were inclined to adopt titles that were characteristic of royal authority, such as an-Nasir and al-Mansur. This was in addition to the titles they had previously held and which indicated that they were no longer clients and followers through the fact that they were simply combinations with din (religion), such as Salah-ad-din, Asad-ad-din, and Nur-ad-din. 39 7a

The reyes de taifas in Spain, who had a powerful grip on (the caliphate) by virtue of the fact that they shared in its tribal group feeling, divided up and distributed among themselves the caliphal titles. They had themselves called an- Nasir, al-Mansur, al-Mu’tamid, al-Muzaffar, and so on. Ibn Sharaf criticized them for this in these verses: What makes me feel humble in Spain Is the use of the names Mu’tasim and Mu’tadid there. Royal surnames not in their proper place: Like a cat that by blowing itself up imitates the lion. 398 The Sinhajah restricted themselves to the display titles that the ‘Ubaydid(- Fatimid) caliphs had given them, such as Nasir-ad-dawlah, Sayf ad-dawlah, 399 and Mu’izz-ad-dawlah. They kept to this (even) when they exchanged the ‘Ubaydid(- Fatimid) propaganda for that of the ‘Abbasids. Later on, as the distance between them and the caliphate grew, they forgot the period of (the caliphate). They forgot these titles and restricted themselves to the name of Sultan. The same was the case with the Maghrawah rulers in the Maghrib. The only title they adopted was that of Sultan, in accordance with Bedouin custom and desert austerity. At the time when the name of the caliphate had become extinct and its influence non-existent, the Lamtunah (Almoravid) ruler Yusuf b. Tashfin made his appearance among the Berber tribes in the Maghrib. He became the ruler of both shores. He was a good and conservative man who, consequently, in order to comply with all the formalities of his religion, wished to submit to the caliphal authority. He addressed himself to the ‘Abbasid al-Mustazhir and sent to him two shaykhs from Sevilla as his ambassadors, ‘Abdallah b. al-‘Arabi and (‘Abdallah’s) son, Judge Abu Bakr. 4 00 They were to transmit the oath of allegiance to (al-Mustazhir) and were to ask him to appoint and invest Ibn Tashfin as ruler over the Maghrib. They returned with the caliphal appointment of Ibn Tashfin as ruler over the Maghrib and with (permission to) use the caliphal style in dress and flag. In (the document, the caliph) addressed (Ibn TashfIn) as “Commander of the Muslims,” 401 in order to honor and distinguish him. Ibn Tashfin, therefore, took that as his title. Others say that he had been called “Commander of the Muslims” before that, out of deference to the high rank of the caliphate, because he and his people, the Almoravids, practiced Islam and followed the Sunnah.

The Mahdi (of the Almohads) followed upon the (Almoravids). He made propaganda for the truth. He adopted the tenets of the Ash’arites and criticized the Maghribis for having deviated from them by returning to the ancestral tradition of rejecting allegorical interpretation of explicit statements of the religious law, a rejection that leads to (anthropomorphism), 402 as is known from the Ash’arite school. He called his followers Almohads (champions of the strict oneness of God), displaying (by the choice of that name) his disapproval (of anthropomorphism). Hefollowed the opinion of the ‘Alids with regard to “the Infallible Imam” 403 who must exist in every age and whose existence preserves the order of the world. (Al- Mahdi) was at first called Imam, in accordance with the afore-mentioned Shi’ah practice with regard to the title of their caliphs. The word al-ma’sum (infallible) was linked (with Imam) to indicate his tenet concerning the infallibility of the Imam. In the opinion of his followers, he was above the title of Commander of the Faithful. (To avoid this title) was in accordance with the tenets of the old Shi’ah, and (he also avoided it), because to use it meant sharing it with the foolish young descendants of the caliphs who were alive in the East and the West at that time. ‘Abd-al-Mu’min, who was appointed successor to (the Mahdi), did adopt the title of Commander of the Faithful. His successors, the caliphs of the Banu ‘Abd-al-Mu’min, followed his example, and so did their successors, the Hafsids in Ifriqiyah.404 They appropriated it exclusively as their own, since their shaykh, the Mahdi, had made (religious) propaganda (justifying the use of) that (title) and since the power belonged to him and to his friends (clients) who succeeded him and to nobody else, because Qurashite group feeling had completely ceased to exist. Thus, (the use of the title) came to be their custom.

When governmental (authority) in the Maghrib lapsed and the Zanatah took power, their first rulers continued the ways of desert life and simplicity and followed the Lamtunah (Almoravids) in using the title of Commander of the Muslims, out of deference to the high rank of the caliphate. They rendered obedience, first to the caliphate of the Banu ‘Abdal-Mu’min, and afterwards to that of the Hafsids. The later (Zanatah) rulers aspired to the title of Commander of the Faithful, and are using it at this time to comply fully with royal aspirations and the ways and characteristics of royal authority.


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