Parts 33

The different importance of the ranks of the sword and the pen

January 10, 2020

Both “the sword” and “the pen” are instruments for the ruler to use in his affairs. However, at the beginning of the dynasty, so long as its people are occupied in establishing power, the need for “the sword” is greater than that for “the pen.” In that situation, “the pen” is merely a servant and agent of the ruler’s authority, whereas “the sword” contributes active assistance.

The same is the case at the end of the dynasty when its group feeling weakens, and its people decrease in number under the influence of senility. 543

The dynasty then needs military support for protection and defense. In these two situations, the sword has the advantage over the pen.

At that time, the military have the higher rank. They enjoy more benefits and more splendid fiefs.

In mid-term of the dynasty, the ruler can to some degree dispense with “the sword.” His power is firmly established. His only remaining desire is to obtain the fruits of royal authority, such as collecting taxes, holding (property), excelling other dynasties, and enforcing the law.

“The pen” is helpful for (all) that. Therefore, the need for using it increases. The swords stay unused in their scabbards, unless something happens and they are called upon to repair a breach. For (purposes) other than that, (swords) are not needed. In this situation, the men of the pen have more authority. They occupy a higher rank.

They enjoy more benefits and greater wealth and have a closer and more frequent and intimate contact with the ruler. At such times, (the pen) is the instrument the ruler uses to obtain the fruits of his royal authority. He uses it to supervise and administer his realm and to display its (excellent) condition. At such a time, the wazirs and the military can be dispensed with. They are kept away from the intimate circle of the ruler and have to beware of his moods.

It is in this sense that Abu Muslim wrote the following reply to al-Mansur when he ordered him to come (to him)= “And now= We remember the following admonition of the Persians= ‘The most fear-ridden thing there is, is the wazirs when the mob has calmed down.’ " 544

34. The characteristic emblems of royal and government authority

The ruler has emblems and arrangements that are the necessary result of pomp and ostentation. They are restricted to him, and by their use he is distinguished from his subjects, his intimates, and all other leaders in his dynasty.

The “outt” (alah) One of the emblems of royal authority is the “outfit” (alah), that is, the display of banners and flags and the beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets and horns.

Aristotle’s Book on Politics mentions that its real significance is to frighten the enemy in war. 54 6

Frightful sounds do have the psychological effect of causing terror. Indeed, as everyone knows from his own (experience), this is an emotional 547 element that plays a role on battlefields.

Listening to music and sounds causes pleasure and emotion in the soul. The spiritual temper of man is thereby affected by a kind of drunkenness, which causes him to make light of difficulties and to be willing to die in the very condition in which he finds himself.

This state of affairs exists even in dumb animals. Camels are influenced by the driver’s call, and horses are influenced by whistling and shouting, as everyone knows. The effect is greater when the sounds are harmonious ones, as in the instance of music. 548

The non-Arabs take musical instruments, drums or trumpets, onto the battlefield with them. Singers with instruments surround the cavalcade of the ruler and sing. Thus, they move the souls of brave men emotionally and cause them to be willing to die.

In the wars of the Arabs (in northwestern Africa), we have seen persons in front of the cavalcade sing poetical songs and make music. The minds of heroes were stirred by the contents of the songs. They hurried to the battleground, and everybody went forth eagerly to meet his rival. The same was the case with the Zanatah, one of the nations of the Maghrib.

A poet went in advance of the battle lines and sang. His music was such as to move firmly anchored mountains and to cause men who would otherwise not think of it, to seek death. That music is called tazugait 549 by (the Zanatah).

The origin of it all is the cheerfulness created in the soul (through music). It leads to bravery, just as drunkenness leads to (bravery), as the result of the cheerfulness which it produces.

The great number of flags, their manifold colors, and their length, are intended to cause fright, nothing more. (Fright) produces greater aggressiveness in the soul. Psychological conditions and reactions are strange.

The various rulers and dynasties differ in their use of such emblems. Someof them use a great many, others few, according to the extent and importance of the given dynasty.

Flags have been the insignia of war since the creation of the world. 551 The nations have always displayed them on battlefields and during raids. This was also the case in the time of the Prophet and that of the caliphs who succeeded him.

The Muslims, however, refrained from beating drums and blowing trumpets at the beginning of Islam. They wanted to avoid the coarseness of royal authority and do without royal customs. They also despised pomp, which has nothing whatever to do with the truth. The caliphate then came to be royal authority, and the Muslims learned to esteem the splendor and luxury of this world.

Persian and Byzantine clients, subjects of the preceding (pre-Islamic) dynasties, mixed with them and showed them their ways of ostentation and luxury. Among the things the Muslims came to like was the “outfit” (alah). Therefore, they used it and permitted their officials to use it, to increase the prestige of royal authority and its representatives.

‘Abbasid or ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimid) caliphs would often grant permission to display their flags to officials such as the master of a border region or the commander of an army. Such officials then, setting out on a mission or going from the house of the caliph or from their own houses to their offices, were accompanied by a cavalcade of people carrying flags and the attributes of the “outfit” (alah). The only distinction between the cavalcade of an official and that of the caliph was the number of flags, or the use of particular colors for the caliph’s flag. Thus, black was used for the flags of the ‘Abbasids. Their flags were black as a sign of mourning for the martyrs of their family, the

I. Muslim Coins

  1. Arab-Sassanian dirham issued by al-Hajjaj, struck at Bishapur in the year 78 [697/981]
  2. Umayyad dirham of the reformed type, dated 79 [698/991], struck at Damascus
  3. Dinar of the Almohad Abu Ya’qub Yusuf I, without date or name of mint
  4. Anonymous Almohad dirham, without date or name of mint
  5. Triple dinar of Sultan Barquq, struck at Cairo

Hashimites, and as a sign of reproach directed against the Umayyads who had killed them.

Therefore, the ‘Abbasids were called “the black ones” (al-musawwidah). When the Hashimites divided into factions and the ‘Alids (descendants of Abu Talib) went against the ‘Abbasids on every possible occasion, they wanted to differ from them in the color of their flag, and so they used white flags.

Therefore, they were called “the white ones” (al-mubayyidah). White was used by the ‘Alids throughout the reign of the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids). It was also used by the ‘Alids who seceded at that time in the East, such as the (Zaydi) missionaries in Tabaristan and in Sa’dah (in the Yemen), and those other (‘Alids) who made propaganda for the extremist (Shi’ah), such as the Qarmatians. When al-Ma’mun gave up wearing black and using the (black) insignia of his dynasty, he turned to green and used green flags.

The details of the “outfit” could be increased ad infinitum. When al-‘Aziz Nizar set out to conquer Syria, 552 the “outfit” (alah) of the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids) was composed of five hundred banners and five hundred trumpets.

The Sinhajah and the other Berber rulers in the Maghrib did not affect special colors, but they embroidered their flags in gold and made them of pure colored silk. They always permitted their officials to use these flags. But when the Almohads and, later on, the Zanatah (Merinids) made their appearance, they restricted the use of the “outfit” (alah) of drums and banners to the ruler, and forbade all other officials to use it.

It formed a special cavalcade in the procession which followed immediately behind the ruler. It was called the “rear guard” (sagah). They used a larger or smaller number (of instruments), according to the different customs of the various dynasties.

Some of them restricted themselves to seven, as a lucky number. This was the case in the dynasties. of the Almohads and the Banu al-Ahmar (Nasrids) in Spain. Others went up to ten or twenty, as was the case with the Zanatah. In the days of Sultan Abul-Hasan, as we learned personally, 553 it went up to one hundred drums and one hundred banners of colored silk interwoven with gold, both large and small. They permit their governors, officials, and generals to use one small flag of white linen and a small drum in wartime. They do not permit them any more.

The contemporary Turkish dynasty in the East uses, in the first place, one large flag, surmounted by a big tuft of hair. It is called the chalish or chatr.554 (It 555 is used) with the army in general. Then, there is another flag (carried) over the ruler and called the ‘isabah or shatfah.556 It is the ruler’s insignia. There are many other flags which they call sanjaq, 557 which means “flag” in (Turkish). They use an excessively large number of drums, which they call. k6s They permit any amir or general to use whatever (insignia) he desires, with the exception of the ‘isabah,558which is reserved to the ruler.

The contemporary Galicians, a European Christian nation in Spain, use only a few flags, which fly high in the air. In addition, they make a kind of music with string and wind instruments on the battlefields. This is (all) the information we have about them and the non-Arab rulers who live beyond them.

“In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the difference of your tongues and colors, there are, indeed, signs for those who know.” 559

Throne, dais, couch, chair-(they all mean) pieces of wood or ottomans set up for the ruler, so that he may have a higher seat than the other people at court and so that he will not be on the same level with them. This has always been a royal custom, even before Islam and in the non-Arab dynasties.

The pre-Islamic rulers sat upon thrones of gold. Solomon, the son of David, had a throne of ivory overlaid with gold. However, dynasties use a throne only after they have become flourishing and luxurious, as is the case with all pomp, as we have stated. 560 Dynasties that are in the beginning stage and still keep the Bedouin attitude do not desire it.

The first to use a throne in Islam was Mu’awiyah. He asked the people for permission to use one, saying that he had become corpulent. 560a So they permitted him to use one, and he did. His example was followed by (all the later) Muslim rulers.

The use of an ornate throne) came to indicate a tendency toward pomp.

One day ‘Amr b. al-‘As was in his castle in Egypt, sitting on the ground with the Arabs. The Muqawqis 561 came to the castle. He had men carry out a throne of gold, so that he could sit upon it like a king. He sat on it in front of the Arabs.

They were not jealous of him, because they felt that they had to give him the protection upon which they had agreed, and because they rejected royal pomp. Later on, the ‘Abbasids, the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids), and all the other Muslim rulers in both the East and the West, had thrones, daises, and couches that eclipsed (in splendor those of) the Persian and Roman Emperors.