Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sunni Political Theory

Mustansariya University (Baghdad),
 a surviving reminder of the grandeur of
 the Abbasid Dynasty. 

This is the fourth part of Iqbal's paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). Parts 1, 2 and 3 were presented earlier.

I shall now describe the three great political theories to which I have alluded above. I shall first take up the Sunni view [i.e. Elective Monarchy].

1. Elective Monarchy

A . The Caliph and the People

During the days of the early Caliphate things were extremely simple. The Caliphs were like private individuals, sometimes doing the work of an ordinary constable. In obedience to the Quranic verse-“and consult them in all matters” –they always consulted the more influential companions of the Prophet, in judicial and executive matters, but no formal ministers existed to assist the Caliph in his administrative work. It was not until the time of the House of Abbas that the Caliphate became the subject of scientific treatment. In my description of the Sunni view I shall mainly follow Al-Mawardy, the earliest Muslim constitutional lawyer who flourished during the reign of the Abbasi Caliph Al-Qadir. Al-Mawardy divides the whole Muslim community into two classes-(1) the electors, (2) the candidates for election. The qualifications absolutely necessary for a candidate are thus enumerated by him:
  1. Spotless character.
  2. Freedom from physical and mental infirmity. (The predecessor of the present Sultan of Turkey was deposed under this condition.)
  3. Necessary legal and theological knowledge in order to be able to decide various cases. This is true in theory; in practice the power of the Caliph, especially in later times, was divided.
  4. Insight necessary for a ruler.
  5. Courage to defend the empire.
  6. Relationship with the family of the Quraish. This qualification is not regarded as indispensable by modern Sunni lawyers, on the ground that the prophet never nominated any person as his successor.
  7. Full age (Al-Ghazzali). (It was on this ground that the chief judge refused to elect Al-Muqtadir).
  8. Male sex (Al-Baidawi). This is denied by the Khawarij who hold that woman can be elected as Caliph.
If the candidate satisfies these conditions, the representatives of all influential families, doctors of law, high officials of the state and commanders of the army, meet together and nominate him to the Caliphate. The whole assembly then proceeds to the mosque where the nomination is duly confirmed by the people. In distant places representatives of the elected Caliph are permitted to receive homage on behalf of the Caliph. In the matter of election the people of the capital, however, have no precedence over other people though, in practice, they have a certain amount of precedence, since they are naturally the first to hear of Caliph’s death. After the election, the Caliph usually makes a speech, promising to rule according to the law of Islam. Most of these speeches are preserved. It will be seen that the principle of representation is, to a certain extent, permitted in practical politics; in the law of property, however, it is expressly denied. For instance, if B dies in the lifetime of his father, A and his brother C, leaving issue, the whole property of A goes to C. The children of B have no claim; they cannot represent their father, or “stand in his shoes”.

From a legal standpoint, the Caliph does not occupy any privileged position. In theory, he is like other members of the Commonwealth. He can be directly sued in an ordinary law court. The second Caliph was once accused of appropriating a larger share in the spoils of war, and he had to clear his conduct before the people, by production of evidence according to the law of Islam. In his judicial capacity he is open to the criticism of every Muslim. Omar I was severely reprimanded by an old woman who pointed out to him that his interpretation of a certain Quranic verse was absolutely wrong. The Caliph listened to her argument, and decided the case according to her views.

The Caliph may indicate his successor who may be his son; but the nomination is invalid until confirmed by the people. Out of the fourteen Caliphs of the House of Umayyah only four succeeded in securing their sons as their successors. The Caliph cannot secure the election of his successor during his own lifetime. Ibn Athir tells us that Abdul Malik-the Umayya Caliph-endeavoured to do so, but Ibn Musayyib, the great Mekkan lawyer, strongly protested against the Caliph’s behaviour. The Abbasi Caliph Hadi, however, succeeded in securing the election of his son Ja‘far, but after his death the majority declared for Harun. In such a case, when the people declare for another Caliph, the one previously elected, must, on penalty of death, immediately renounce his right in public.

If the Caliph does not rule according to the law of Islam, or suffers from physical or mental infirmity, the Caliphate is forfeited. Usually one influential Muhammadan stands up in the mosque after the prayer and speaks to the congregation giving reasons for the proposed deposition. He declares deposition to be in the interest of Islam, and ends his speech by throwing away his finger-ring with the remark-“I reject the Caliph as I throw away this ring”. The people then signify their assent in various ways, and the deposition is complete.

The question whether two or more rival Caliphates can exist simultaneously is discussed by Muslim lawyers. Ibn Jama holds that only one Caliphate is possible. Ibn Khaldun holds that there is nothing illegal in the co-existence of two or more Caliphates, provided they are in different countries. Ibn Khaldun’s view is certainly contrary to the old Arabian idea, yet in so far as the Muslim Commonwealth is governed by an impersonal authority, i.e., law, his position seems to me to be quite a tenable one. Moreover, as a matter of fact, two rival Caliphates have existed in Islam for a long time.

Just as a candidate for the Caliphate must have certain qualifications, so, according to Al-Mawardy, the elector also must be qualified. He must possess:
  1. Good reputation as an honest man.
  2. Necessary knowledge of State affairs.
  3. Necessary insight and judgement.
In theory all Muslims, men and women, possess the right of election. There is no property qualification. In practice, however, women and slaves did not exercise this right. Some of the early lawyers seem to have recognised the danger of mass-elections as they endeavour to show that the right of election resides only in the tribe of the prophet. Whether the seculsion of women grew up in order to make women incapable of exercising a right, which in theory could not be denied to them, I cannot say.

The elector has the right to demand the deposition of the Caliph, or the dismissal of his officials if he can show that their conduct is not in accordance with the law of Islam. He can, on the subject, address the Muslim congregation in the mosque after the prayer. The mosque, it must be remembered, is the Muslim Forum, and the institution of daily prayer is closely connected with the political life of Muslim communities. Apart from its spiritual and social functions, the institution is meant to serve as a ready means of constant criticism on the state. If, however, the elector does not intend to address the congregation, he can issue a injudicial inquiry concerning the conduct of any State official, or any other matter which affects the community as a whole. The judicial inquiry as a rule, does not mention the name of any individual. I quote an illustration in order to give an idea of this procedure:

“In the name of God, most Merciful and Clement, What is the opinion of the doctors of law, the guides of the people, on the encouragement of the Zimmis, and on the assistance we can demand from them, whether as clerks to the Amirs entrusted with the administration of the country, or as collectors of taxes? Explain the above by solid proofs, establish the orthodox belief by sound arguments, and give your reasons. God will reward you.”
Such judicial inquiries are issued by the State as well, and when the lawyers give conflicting decisions, the majority prevails. Forced election is quite illegal. Ibn Jama, an Egyptian lawyer, however, holds that forced election is legal in times of political unrest. This opportunist view has no support in the law of Islam; though, undoubtedly, it is based on historical facts. Tartushi, a Spanish lawyer, would probably hold the same view, for he says: “Forty years of tyranny are better than one hour of anarchy.”

Let us now consider the relation between the elected and the elector. Al-Mawardy defines this relation as “Aqd”-binding together, contract. The State, therefore, is a contractual organism, and implies rights and duties. He does not mean, like Rousseau, to explain the origin of society by an original social contract; he holds that the actual fact of election is a contract in consequence of which the Caliph has to do certain duties, e.g., to defend the religion, to enforce the law of Islam, to levy customs and taxes according to the law of Islam, to pay annual salaries and properly to direct the State treasury. If he fulfils these conditions, the people have mainly two duties in relation to him, viz., to obey him, and to assist him in his work. Apart from this contract, however, Muslim lawyers have also enumerated certain cases in which obedience to the Caliph is not necessary.

The origin of the State then, according to Al-Mawardy, is not force, but free consent of individuals who unite to form a brotherhood, based upon legal equality, in order that each member of the brotherhood may work out the potentialities of his individuality under the law of Islam. Government, with him, is an artificial arrangement, and is divine only in the sense that the law of Islambelieved to have been revealeddemands peace and security.

B. Ministers and other Officials

The Caliph, after his election, appoints the principal officials of the State, or confirms those previously in office. The following are the principal State officials with their duties defined by the law:
  1. The Wazir - The Prime Minister - either with limited or unlimited powers. The Wazir with unlimited powers must possess the same qualifications as the Caliph, except that, according to Al-Mawardy, he need not necessarily belong to the Quraish tribe. He must be thoroughly educated especially in Mathematics, History, and Art of speaking. He can perform all the functions of the Caliph, except that he cannot nominate the Caliph’s successor. He can, without previous sanction of the Caliph, appoint officers of the various departments of the State. The Wazir with limited powers cannot do so. The dismissal of the Wazir with unlimited powers means the dismissal of all officials appointed by him; while the dismissal of the Wazir with limited powers does not lead to the dismissal of the officials appointed by him. More than one Wazir with unlimited powers cannot be appointed. The Governors of various provinces can appoint their own Wazirs. A non-Muhammadan may be appointed Wazir with limited powers. The Shi‘ah dynasty of the Obaidies appointed a Jew to this position. An Egyptian poet expresses his sentiments as follows: “The Jews of our time have reached the goal of their ambition - Theirs is all honour, theirs is all gold-O people of Egypt I advise you to become Jews; God himself has become a Jew.”
  2. The Governors - Next to the Wazir the most important executive officers of the State were governors of various provinces. They were appointed by the Caliph with limited or unlimited powers. The governor with unlimited powers could appoint sub-governors to adjoining smaller provinces. For instance, the sub-governor of Sicily was appointed by the Governor of Spain and that of Scind by the Governor of Bassora. This was really an attempt to create self-governing Muslim colonies. The officer in charge was, so to speak, a miniature caliph of his province; he appointed his own Wazir, Chief Judge and other state officers. Where special commander of the provincial army was not appointed, the Governor, ex-officio, acted as the commander. This, however, was an error, since the governors became gradually powerful and frequently asserted their independence. But in his capacity of the commander, the governor had no right to raise the salaries of his soldiers except in very special circumstances. It was his duty to send all the money to the central treasury after defraying the necessary State expenses. If the provincial income fell short of the expenses, he could claim a contribution from the central treasury. If he is appointed by the Caliph, the death of the latter is not followed by his dismissal, but if he is appointed by the Wazir, the death of the Wazir means the dismissal of all governors appointed by him, provided they are not newly confirmed in their respective posts. The governor with limited powers was a purely executive officer. He had nothing to do with judicial matter, and in criminal matters too his authority was very much limited. Muslim lawyers, however, recognise a third kind of governorship, i.e., by usurpation. But the usurper must fulfil certain conditions before his claim is legally justified.
  3. Commanders of Armies - Here too the distinction of limited and unlimited powers is made, and the duties of commanders, subordinate officers, and soldiers are clearly defined.
  4. The Chief Judge - The Chief Judge could be appointed by the Caliph or the Wazir. According to Abu Hanifa in some cases, and according to Abu Ja‘far Tabariy, a non-Muslim, can be appointed to administer the law of his co-religionists. The Chief Judge, as representative of the Law of Islam, can depose the Caliph-he can kill his own creator. His death means the dismissal of his staff; but the death of the sovereign is not followed by the dismissal of the judges appointed by him. During the interregnum a judge can be elected by the people of a town, but not during the sovereign’s lifetime.
  5. President of the Highest Court of Appeal and general control - The object of this institution was to hear appeals and to exercise a general supervision over all the departments of the State. Abdul Malik-the Umayyah Caliph and the founder of this court, personally acted as the president, though more difficult cases he transferred to Qazi Abu Idris. In later times, the president was appointed by the Caliph. During the reign of the Abbasi Caliph Al-Muqtadir, his mother was appointed President, and she used to hear appeals, on Fridays surrounded by Judges, priests and other notables. In one respect, the President of this court differed from the Chief Judge. He was not bound by the letter of the law like the Qazi; his decisions were based on general principles of natural justice, so that the President was something like the keeper of the Caliph’s conscience. He was assisted by a council of judges and lawyers whose duty was to discuss every aspect of the case before the President announced his decision. The importance of this institution may be judged from the fact that it was among the few Muslim institutions which the Normans retained after their conquest of Sicily in the 11th century.
To be continued tomorrow

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