1902 Encyclopedia > Mohammedanism (Islam) > Institutions of the Muslim State

(Part 8)


Institutions of the Muslim State

Under the first four Caliphs these institutions continued in a rudimentary state. The Caliph (Khalifa substitute or successor) was elected by the Moslem community; and, after receiving from all its members of the oath of fidelity (Bai a) which they were bound to take, united the temporal land spiritual powers in his own hands. He was at the same time high priest, ruler, and judge. He was compelled, however, by the very extent of the empire to delegate his powers to those agents 9’Amil, plural ‘Ommal) whom he commissioned to represent him in the provinces. The State revenues, which entered the public treasury (bail al-mal), were composed – (1) of the tithe, or tax for the poor (Zakat), which every Moslem was bound to pay; (2) of the fifth, raised on all booty taken in war, the rest being divided among the warriors; (3) of the poll-tax (Jizya) and the land-tax (Kharaj), which only affected non-Moslem subjects. The Caliph administered the revenues of the State at his own pleasure, applying them to the necessities of war, to public works, to the payment of officials, to the support of the poor, and to the distribution of the annual pensions, in which every Moslem had originally a right to share. The State could posses landed property. Under ‘Omar I., we find that the pasture land belonging to the State supported not less than forty thousand camels and horses. To ‘Omar I. was due the regulation of the pool-tax by a fixed scale. The rich, whether Christians or Jews, paid four dinars (about thirty-two shillings) yearly; people of the middle class, two dinars; the poor, one dinar. Besides this payment in money, the subject-races had to make contributions in kind, intended for the support of the troops. The land-tax consisted of a general rent in proportion to the extent, character, and fertility of the lands possessed by the conquered.

As the sums produced by these different imposts were often very considerable, it became necessary, as early as the Caliphate of ‘Omar I., to create a special office, charged with the accounts of their expenditure. Its organization was borrowed by ‘Omar from the Persians, and it retained its Perian name of Diwan, a term afterwards applied to all government offices. The Arabs at that time being too illiterate for such employment, the task of keeping the registers of the Diwan was entrusted to Greeks, Copts, and Persians. ‘Omar also gave his attention to the apportionment of the individual pensions of the faithful. Every one received a larger or smaller sun according to the greater or less nearness of his connection with the family, or the tribe, of the Prophet. Thus ‘Aisha, who had been the favorite wife of Mohammed, received a yearly pension of twelve thousand dirhems; the other widows of the Prophet only received ten thousand. The Hashimites and Mottalibites, that is, the members of the Prophet’s family, also received ten thousand dirhems. The Emigrants and the Defenders, or those citizens of Mecca and Medina who had been the first to embrace Islam, had five thousand dirhems; and that was the sum which ‘Omar I. allotted to himself. For every other Moslem of full age, the pension varied from 4000 to 300 dirhems. We can easily understand what an influence the hope of this pension must have exerted on the conquered races, and how much it must have contributed to their conversion. On accepting Islam they acquired a right to the pension, besides ceasing to pay the and-tax and the poll-tax.

Even in the earliest days of Islam the Arabs were not entirely devoid of military skill. Many of their tribes had been brought into relations with the Greeks and Pesians, and had acquired from them some ideas of the art of war. Thus, in the time of Mohammed, the division of an army into a center, right and left wings, vanguard and rearguard, was understood, and the art of defending a camp or a city by entrenchment was also known. The Arabs fought on foot, on horseback, and mounted on camels. The arms of the infantry consisted of a spear, a sword, and a shield, and sometimes also of a bow and arrows. The horsemen fought chiefly with the lance. For defensive arms, besides the shield, the Arabs were acquainted with the helmet, the coat of mail, and the cuirass of leather covered with plates of iron. It was not till the period of the Omayyads that they began to employ military engines, such as the ballista. The army was divided by tribes; and each tribe had its flag, which consisted of a piece of cloth fastened to a lance. As regards the recruitment of their armies, every man able to carry arms was originally bound to render military service. ‘Omar I., to whom Islam owes so many of its institutions, was the first to divide his armies into distinct corps, and to assign to each corps a fixed station. These stations were the province of Cufa, that of Basra, and afterwards the provinces of Emesa, of the Jordan, and of Palestine. These provinces afterwards became military colonies, all the inhabitants of which were bound to render military service, as distinguished from the other provinces, where service was optional, or at all events regulated by the necessities of the moment.

With the accession of Mo’awiya I. to the supreme power, the mechanisms of the State was modified and became more complicated Mo;awiya endeavored to copy the ceremonial of foreign courts. He built himself a palace at Damascus, and set up a throne in the audience-chamber, the door of which was kept by a chamberlain (Hojib). When he attended the service at the mosque, he occupied a close pew with a grating in front (Maksura). When he left his palace, he was surrounded by a bodyguard (Shorta), commanded by a provost (Sahib al-Shorta). Lastly, in his own lifetime, he caused his son Yazid to be acknowledged a his heir presumptive, and thus established the principle of hereditary succession, which was opposed to the spirit of Islam, and was the source of every kind of calamity. As regards the administration of the State, Mo’awiya acted at his own will and pleasure. Thus, in order to secure the services of ‘Amr b. al-‘As, the conqueror of Egypt, he gave to him the revenues of that province, a part of which ought to have gone to the State. He also took an important step with regard to the annual pensions of the Faithful, which he reduced by about two and a half per cent. The administration of the public funds in the different provinces was left to their Prefects, who were expected to pay into the public treasury only the surplus of their respective revenues. The empire had been at first divided into ten provinces. – 1. Syria (subdivided into four Jond, or military districts); 2. Cufa, with Arabian ‘Irak and Persian ‘Irak 3. Basra, with Persia, Sijistan, Khorasan, Bahrain, and ‘Oman; 4. Armenia; 5. Mecca; 6. Medina; 7. The Indian, Marches; 8. Africa; 9. Egypt; 10. Yemen. Mo’awiya, however, subsequently thought proper to make Khorasan a separate province. Under his successors, and according to the necessities of the moment, it was sometimesreunited to the government of ‘Irak. In ‘Irak itself, Mo;awiya joined Basra and its dependencies to Cufa.

Under Mo’awiya the Prefects had the most extensive civil and military powers. They had even the right of the direct appointment of their Sub-Prefects. Mo’awiya, notwithstanding, though it advisable to disconnect from their powers the offices of Judge (Kadi) and of Religious Official (Imam), which were entrusted to special functionaries named directly by the caliph. The Caliph was, however, always at liberty to modify these arrangements at his own pleasure. Under the successors of Mo’awiya, we find certain Prefects invested at the same time with the dignities of Cadi and Imam.

It was also to Mo’awiya that the State owed the creation of a Chancery (Diwan al-akhtam, or Seals- office), in which all decrees proceeding from the Caliph were registered ; so that when once issued these decrees could not be falsified. Mo’awiya also exerted himself to ensure rapidity of communication throughout the empire, by instituting the courier-post (Barid), in imitation of the post of the Persians and Byzantines.

After Mo’awiya we must come down to the time of ‘Abd al-Melik to meet with any important innovations in Moslem institutions. Before the reign of that Caliph the books of the public offices were kept by Christians and Persians, and drawn up in Greek and Persian. ‘Abd al-Melik ordered, the exclusive employment of the Arabic language, and substituted Moslems for all the Christian and Persian clerks in the government offices. It wa sthis same Caliph who founded the monetary system of Islam, and who was the first to strike dinars (pieces of gold worth about ten francs), and dirhems (pieces of silver worth about a franc), with legends in Arabic. The postal system was also very much improved and developed under this prince. ‘abd al-Melik was powerfully seconded by the famous Hajjaj, who was able to re-establish in ‘Irak the disputed principle of obligatory military service, and who also succeeded by skillful management, in raising the condition of agricuture in that province. Walid, the successor of ‘Abd al-Melik, especially distinguished himself by the foundation of religious institutions. In his reign the mosque of Damascus, half of which had hitherto remained in the hands of the Christians, was appropriated exclusively to the Moslems, and considerably embellished. Hospitals were also established for lepers, the poor, the blind, and the sick. The pious ‘Omar II. devoted all his efforts to the embellishment f the mosque of Damascus. An edict of ‘Omar I. had forbidden Moslems to acquire landed property, agriculture being considered an occupation unworthy of a free man. This law had fallen into disuse; but ‘Omar II. put it in force again, and declared null and void every purchase of land made by a Moslem subsequently to A.H. 100. The effects of this law might have been fatal to the empire; but it again became obsolete under the Caliphate of Hisham.

At the accession of the ‘Abbasids the center of the empire was displaced. Damascus fell from the rank of its capital to that of a provincial town; while Baghdad, a small and unknown village, became the mistress of the world. Under the first ‘Abbasids the empire-not including the province of Baghdad- was divided as follows:- 1. The province Cufa; 2. The province of Basra, with the district of the Tigris, Bahrain and ‘Oman; 3. Hijaz and Yamama; 4. Yemen; 5. Ahwaz; 6 Farsistan; 7. Lhorasan; 8. The province of Mosul; 9. Mesopotamia, with Armenia and Azerbaija; 10. Syria; 11. Egypt and the province of Africa (Spain being a dependency of Africa); 12. Sind. Al-Saffah afterwards made Palestine a distinct province, and separated Armenia and Azerbaijan from Mesopotamia. Still later, Harun al-Rashid created a new province to the north of Syria, which received the name of ‘Awasim. Each newly-conquered province was always united to that one of the older provinces to which it was nearest.

Simultaneously with the accession of the ‘Abbasids, Persian influence began to preponderate. The Persian, Khalid b. Barmak, was entrusted with the administration of the finances (Diwan al-Kharaj) by As-Saffah, who was also the first Caliph who transferred the burden of public affairs from himself to a Prime Minister (Wazir, whence, in European languages, the term Vizier). The title of Wazir was unknown to the Omayyads. The office of Prime Minister was of Persian origin. It existed till the time of the Caliph Radi, when that of Amir al-Omara was substituted for it. When the Caliphs had fallen under the tutelage of the Buyids , it was the latter who chose Viziers, leaving to the caliphs only Secretaries ( Rayis al-Ruwasa). Under the Seljuk Sultans the Caliphs were again permitted to choose their own Viziers.

The institutions of the office of Vizier was not the least amongst the causes of the decadence of the Eastern Caliphate. The ‘Abbasids gradually became unaccustomed to the exercise of power and the management of affairs, and thus lost all direct influence over their subjects. Besides the Minister of Finance and the Vizier, the ‘Abbasids created another important office, that of Postmaster-General (Sahib al-Barid), whose duty it was to collect at a central office all the information which arrived from the provinces, and to transmit it to the Prime Minister. Thus the administrative services were greatly extended under the ‘Abbasids. They were subdivided as follows: -1. Diwan al-Kharaj, or Ministry of Finance; 2. Diwan al-Diya, or Bureau of State property; 3. Diwan al-Zimam, Registry Office ort Excheque Office; 4. Diwan al-Jond, or Ministry of War; 5. Nazar al-Mazalim, or Court of Appoeal; 6. Diwan al-Mawali wal-Ghilman, or Bureau of the freedmen and slaves of the Caliphs; 7. Diwan Zimam al-Nafakat, or Office of Expenditure; 8. Diwan al-Barid, or Office of the Posts; 9. Diwan al-Rasail, or Office of Correspondence, 10. Diwan al-Tauki, or Office of the Imperial Seal, and of the registration of official ldocuments. There were also offices for the dispatch and reception of official documents, and for the inspection of weights and measures.

We cannot better conclude this brief summary of the institutions of the Caliphate than by giving a sketch of the organization of the State, according to the Moslem authors themselves.

The supreme chief received the title of Caliph, or of Commander of the Faithful (Amir al-Mo’minin). He united in his own person all the powers of the State; his Ministers and all public functionaries acted only by virtue of a commission from him. They, like all other Moslems, were at the mercy of the Caliph, who had power of life and death over them. As spiritual chief, the Caliph was also the supreme judge in questions of dogma. In theory he held his powers by the free choice of the majority of Moslem; but, when he had once received their oath of allegiance, he became their absolute master. The first condition of eligibility to the Caliphate was to belong to the tribe of Koraish. In Moslem belief, the subjects of the caliph owed him obedience and aid so long as he should fulfill his duties with exactness. These consisted in maintaining the principles of religion, in administering justice scrupulously, in defending the territory and assuring its safety, in carrying on war for the subjugation of the infidels, and in spending the public revenue in conformity to the law. If the Caliph failed in the peformance of his duty, rebellion against him became lawful.

The minister might be absolute or dependent. If dependent, they simply executed the orders of their sovereign. If absolute, they took his place, and exercised all the powers of a Caliph except that they could not, at least in theory, designate any successor to the reigning Caliph. It was only to the Caliph himself that they were responsible for their actions.

The Prefects, when once appointed, whether by the Caliph or the Vizier, became so many petty sovereigns, and, legally, owed an account of their actions only to the Caliph, or to his Prime Minister, when the latter was absolute.

The Generals were appointed either by the Caliph or by the Vizier, or lastly by the Prefect, when only a local war was in question. They were sometimes invested with very extensive powers, such as those of concluding treaties of peace, of administering justice, and of dividing the booty. The General, in his turn, appointed the officers (Nakibs) and under-officers (‘Arifs). It was a general order that infidels, before hostilities against them were opened, should be summoned to embrace the faith, or to submit by capitulation. The conversion of infidels was valid, even when effected sword in hand, on the field of battle, and the new convert became inviolable in person and property. On the other hand, every infidel taken prisoner was sold as a slave, with his wife and children. He might even be put to death. Apostates were never to be spared; they were put to death, and their property confiscated.

Justice was administered by Cadis, appointed either by the caliph, by the Vizier, or by the Prefect. To be eligible as a Cadui (kadi), it was requisite that a man should be – 1. A made and of respectable age; 2. In full possession of his mental and physical faculties; 3. A free man; 4. A Moslem, 5. Of good moral character; 6. Acquainted with the principles of the law and their application. The duties of the Cadi were to examine into the disputes and lawsuits brought before him; to enforce the execution of his judgments; to name judicial councils for the administration of the goods of minors, madmen, etc., to administer the mortmain property of mosques and schools (walf, plural wokuf); to watch over the execution of wills; to inflict due legal penalties on those guilty of crimes or misdemeanors; and to inspect the highways and public buildings. When any locality possessed no Imam, or public officiator at the mosque, it was the Cadi who performed this duty. The assistants of the Cadi were Notaries (Shohud), Secretaries (Omana), and Deputies (Nayibin). If the Cadi died, his subordinates lost their offices ipso facto. On the other hand, the death of a Caliph did not nullify the powers of the Cadi; but it was necessary that he should be confirmed by the new sovereign.

The Court of Appeal (Nazar al-Mazalim) was instituted to take cognizance of those causes in which the parties concerned appealed from the judgment of the Cadi. The sittings of this court were presided over by the Caliph in person. It was established by the Ommayad ‘Abd al-Melik. The last Caliph who sat in public to examine appeal cases was Mohtadi. After him a special judge was appointed to the function of president of the Court of Appeal.

Besides the Judges thre were Inspectors (Mohtasib), charged with the police of the markets and the care of morals. The Mohtasib’s duty was to take care that weights and measures were not falsified, and that buyers were not deceived as to the quality of the goods sold. He had the power of inflicting summary punishment on delinquents, but only in the case of flagrant offences. If the person charged denied the facts, he was to be brought before the cadi. As regard ‘s morals, the Mohtasib took care that widows and divorced women should not remarry before the expiration of the legal period prescribed by the Koran. Slaves and beasts of burden were placed under his guardianship, and he protected them from ill-treatment on the part of their masters. The Mohtasib was also commissioned to prevent public scandals such as the sale of wine; to forbid Christian and Jews from building houses higher than those of the Faithful; and to enforce their wearing on their dress a distinctive mark (Ghiyar).

Besides the offices already described, there existed three others which require mention-those of the Marshals of the Nobility (Nikabat al-Ashraf), of the Imams, and of the Emirs of the Pilgrimage.

The Marshals of the Nobility were appointed in the different provinces either by the Caliph, by his representatives, or by the Grand Marshal. Their functions were to superintend the descendants of the family of the Prophet, who formed the nobility of Islam, and to keep a register of all the births and deaths which occurred in the families of the members of this nobility. In every province there were two Marshals, one for the family of ‘Ali, the other for the ‘Abbasids.

The duty of the Imam was to recite the public prayers in the mosque. He was appointed by the Caliph or his representatives, and chose in his turn his Mo’edhins, who called the Faithful to prayer from the tops of the minarets. In the Friday prayers it was the duty of the Imam to invoke publicly the blessings of Heaven on the reigning Caliph.

The leadership of the yearly pilgrimage to the temple of Mecca was considered a great honor. It was almost always the Caliph himself or one of his near relatives who assumed the function of Amir al-Hajj. The duties of this leader of the pilgrimage were.-. To escort the pilgrims in safety on their journeys to Mecca and back; 2. To direct the religious ceremonies during the sojourn of the pilgrims at the Holy City.

Such, briefly stated, was the organization of the Moslem State. Let us now say a few words on its religion.

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