Parts 32

The ranks and titles of royal and governmental authority

January 11, 2020

By himself, the ruler is weak. He carries a heavy load and needs help from others for his necessities and much more to:

  • exercise political leadership
  • defend his subjects
  • restrain the people in order to prevent mutual hostility and attacks upon property.

This includes:

  • improving the safety of the roads
  • letting the people act in their own best interests
  • supervising such general matters involving their livelihood and mutual dealings as foodstuffs and weights and measures, in order to prevent cheating. 435
    • He must look after the mint, in order to protect the currency used by the people in their mutual dealings, against fraud. 436

Political leadership requires an extraordinary measure of psychology. 437 A noble sage has said=

It is better that such help be sought from persons close to the ruler through common descent, common upbringing, or old attachment to the dynasty. This makes such persons and the ruler work together in the same spirit.

God said= “Give me my brother Aaron as helper (wazir) from my family. Give me strength through him and let him participate in my business.” 438

The person from whom the ruler seeks help may help him with the sword, or with the pen, or with advice and knowledge, or by keeping the people from crowding upon him and diverting him from the supervision of their affairs.

The ruler may also entrust the supervision of the whole realm to him and rely upon his competence and ability for the task. Therefore, the help the ruler seeks may be given by one man, or it may be distributed among several individuals.

Each of the different (instruments) through which help may be given has many different subdivisions. “The pen” has such subdivisions, for instance, as “the pen of letters and correspondence,” “the pen of diplomas 439 and fiefs,” and “the pen of bookkeeping,” which means the offices of chief of tax collections and allowances and of minister of the army.

“The sword” includes such subdivisions, for instance, as the offices of chief of military operations, chief of police, chief of the postal service, 440 and administration of the border regions.

Governmental positions in Islam fell under the caliphate, because the caliphate was both religious and worldly. 441 The religious laws govern all governmental positions and apply to each one of them in all its aspects, because the religious law governs all the actions of human beings.

Jurists 442 therefore, are concerned with the rank of ruler or sultan and with the conditions under which it is assumed, whetherby gaining control over the caliphate 443 -this is what is meant by sultan- 444 or by the caliph delegating (power) -that is what they mean by wazir, as will be mentioned.

They are also concerned with) the extent of (the ruler’s) jurisdiction over legal, financial, and other political matters, which may be either absolute or circumscribed. Furthermore, (they are concerned with the causes) that necessitate (the ruler’s) removal, should (such causes) present themselves, and with other things connected with the ruler or sultan.

Jurists are likewise concerned with all the positions under the ruler and sultan, such as the wazirate, the tax collector’s office, and the administrative functions. 445 Jurists must concern themselves with all these things, because, as we have mentioned before, in Islam the caliphate is an institution of the Muslim religious law, and as such determines the position of the ruler or sultan.

However, when we discuss royal and governmental positions, it will be as something required by the nature of civilization and human existence. It will not be under the aspect of particular religious laws.

This, one knows, is not our intention in this book. There is no need to go into details with regard to the religious laws governing these positions. The subject is fully treated in the books on administration (al-Ahkam as-sultaniyah), such as the work (of that title) by Judge Abul-Hasan al-Mawardi and the works of other distinguished jurists. Those who want to know the details should look them up there. If we discuss the caliphal positions and treat them individually, it is only in order to make the distinction between them and the governmental (sultan) positions clear, and not in order to make a thorough study of their legal status. This is not the purpose of our book. Thus, we shall discuss those matters only as the necessary result of the nature of civilization in human existence.

God gives success.

The wazirate

The wazirate is the mother of governmental functions and royal ranks.

Wizarah is derived either from mu’azarah “help,” or from wizr “load,” as if the wazir were helping the person whom he supports to carry his burdens and charges. Thus, its meaning comes down to “help.” 446

The ruler’s conditions and activities are restricted to four fields:

  1. Protecting the community, such as the supervision of soldiers, armaments, war operations, etc.

The person in charge is the wazir, as the term was customarily used in the old dynasties in the East.

  1. Communicating with persons far away from the ruler and issuing his commands remotely.

The secretary (katib) does this.

  1. Tax collection, expenditures and finance.

The chief of tax and financial matters is in charge of this.

  1. Keeping petitioners away from the ruler for his protection

The ruler’s activities do not extend beyond these four fields. Each royal and governmental function belongs to one of them. The most important is the second one that assists him in directing his control. This requires constant contact with the ruler and participation in all his governmental activities.

Each field has a lower rank, such as:

  • The military leadership of a border region
  • The administration of some special tax, or
  • The supervision of some particular matter, such as surveillance (hisbah) of foodstuffs, or supervision of the mint. 449

This was the way during the pre-Islamic period. When Islam appeared, power was vested in the caliph. This removed those forms of royal authority and all its functions, except for some advisory and consultative functions that were natural.

The Prophet used to ask the men around him for advice and to consult them on both general and special matters. In addition, he discussed other very special affairs with Abu Bakr and so the latter was called Mu-hammad’s “wazir.”

The same (as that between Muhammad and Abu Bakr) existed between

This same relationship existed between:

  • Umar and Abu Bakr, and between ‘Ali and ‘Umar, and ‘Uthmin and ‘Umar.

No specific ranks existed among the early Muslims in the fields of tax collection, expenditures, and bookkeeping.

  • The Muslims were illiterate Arabs who did not know how to write and keep books.
  • For bookkeeping they employed Jews, Christians, or certain non-Arab clients versed in it.

Bookkeeping was little known among them.

  • Their nobles did not know it well, because illiteracy was their distinctive characteristic.

Likewise, no specific rank existed among the early Muslims in the field of official correspondence and the transmission in writing of orders to be executed.

  • They were illiterate, and everyone could be trusted to keep a statement secret and to forward it safely to its destination.

Also, there were no political matters that would have required the use of (confidential secretaries), because the caliphate was a religious matter and had nothing to do with power politics.

Furthermore, secretarial skill had not yet become a craft, its best (products or representatives) recommended to the caliph. Every individual was capable of explaining what he wanted in the most eloquent manner. The only thing lacking was the (technical ability to) write.

For this, the caliph always appointed someone who knew how to write well, to do such writing as there was occasion for.

Keeping petitioners away from the gates (of the caliph’s court) was something that the religious law forbade (the caliphs) to do, and they did not do it.

However, when the caliphate changed to royal authority and when royal forms and titles made their appearance, the first thing the dynasty did was to bar the masses from access (to the ruler). The rulers feared that their lives were in danger from attacks by rebels and others, such as had happened to ‘Umar, to ‘Ali, to Mu’awiyah, to ‘Amr b. al-‘As, and to others. Furthermore, were the people given free access (to the ruler), they would crowd upon him and divert him from state affairs.

Therefore, the ruler appointed some person to take care of this for him and called him “doorkeeper” ((utjib). Abd-al-Malik said to a doorkeeper whom he was appointing= “I have given you the office of doorkeeper. You can turn away anyone except:

  • the muezzin, because he is the missionary of God
  • the person in charge of the mails, for he always brings something important
  • the person in charge of food, lest it spoil 450


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