Medieval Islamic Political Thought

Medieval Islamic Political Thought

PATRICIA CRONE
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 472
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r1z0k
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  • Book Info
    Medieval Islamic Political Thought
    Book Description:

    WINNER of the British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize 2004This book aims to present general readers and specialists alike with a broad survey of Islamic political thought in the six centuries from the rise of Islam to the Mongol invasions. Based on a wide variety of sources, some of a type not previously considered in works on political thought, it seeks to bring out the enormous scope and high level of historical (and, in some cases, contemporary) interest of medieval Muslim thinking on this subject.The author aims to make Islamic political thought easier for modern readers to understand by relating it to the contexts in which it was formulated, analysing it in terms familiar to the reader, and, where possible, comparing it with medieval European and modern thought.Guiding the reader through this complex history on a tour of one of the great civilizations of the pre-modern world, the book brings out the fascinating nature of medieval Islamic political thought, both in its own right and as the background to political thinking in the Muslim world today.Some basic familiarity with Islamic history and culture would be an advantage, but no specialist knowledge is presupposed.Key Features:* Written by one of the most renowned scholars in the field* All concepts have been glossed and all persons, events and historical developments have been identified or summarised, both on first encounter and in the index (where the number of the page containing the gloss will be emboldened)* Specialists are addressed in the footnotes; non-specialists are free to skip these and read an uncluttered text.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4650-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Charts
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. viii-x)
    Patricia Crone
  5. ADDENDA AND CORRIGENDA
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. I. THE BEGINNINGS
    • CHAPTER 1 THE ORIGINS OF GOVERNMENT
      (pp. 3-16)

      How did medieval Muslims think that humans had come to live under government? Differently put, how did they explain the origin of the state? The short answer is that they did not normally see government as having developed at all, but rather as having existed from the start. It is worth examining this answer in greater detail, however, for it brings out some of the most basic assumptions behind their political thought. It is to such fundamental concepts and ideas that this chapter is devoted.

      The word ‘state’ in modern parlance refers sometimes to a set of governmental institutions which...

    • CHAPTER 2 THE FIRST CIVIL WAR AND SECT FORMATION
      (pp. 17-32)

      The reader is warned that there are a lot of names, dates, and Arabic terms in this chapter. The first four caliphs, the first civil war, and its aftermath form part of the elementary vocabulary without which one cannot even begin to understand what medieval Muslims said about government. What follows is an attempt to serve the requisite knowledge in as short and simple a manner as possible.

      We saw in the previous chapter that the leader of Muhammad’s community (umma) was called the imam. The dictionaries define an imam as somebody to be imitated, whether head of state or...

    • CHAPTER 3 THE UMAYYADS
      (pp. 33-48)

      As the Roman expansion had undermined the Roman republic, so the Muslim conquest of the Middle East destroyed the patriarchal regime in Medina. In both cases, civil war was followed by the emergence of an increasingly authoritarian monarchy. The Muslim counterpart to Augustus was Muʿāwiya (661–80), who moved the capital to Syria and founded the Umayyad dynasty (661–750), under whom the embryonic state founded by the Prophet acquired a more developed form. But the developments unleashed by the conquests continued to transform Muslim society, rapidly making the political organization of the Umayyads obsolete, their orientation outmoded, and the...

  7. II. THE WANING OF THE TRIBAL TRADITION, c. 700–900
    • CHAPTER 4 INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 51-53)

      The political thought of the first two centuries after the conquests, the subject of the chapters that follow, was dominated by the tribal tradition of the conquerors, especially that of the northern Arabs, to whom Muḥammad and his first followers belonged. One of the most striking features of this tradition was its libertarian character: all adult males participated in political decision-making; nothing could be done without consensus. Modern scholars sometimes characterize the tradition as ‘democratic’. But it was not libertarian, let alone democratic, in the modern style. For one thing, it owed its character to the absence of a state,...

    • CHAPTER 5 THE KHĀRIJITES
      (pp. 54-64)

      The most prominent enemies of the Umayyads were the Khārijites, also known as Ḥarūrīs and Muḥakkima. Their origins are quite obscure. They are identified as those who seceded from ʿAlī at Ṣiffīn in protest against his acceptance of the Syrian call for arbitration, but the story does not offer a satisfactory explanation of the issues between them and ʿAlī, and contrary to what is often said, it was not with reference to their departure from ʿAlī’s camp that they were known as Khārijites (‘those who go out’).¹ It may have been because they assembled at Ḥarūrāʾ that they came to...

    • CHAPTER 6 THE MUʿTAZILITES
      (pp. 65-69)

      Among the neighbours of the Khārijites in Basra were devotees of rationalizing theology (kalām) known as Muʿtazilites. They are said to have appeared in 720s, and at least one of their doctrines (regarding the status of the sinner) plainly has its roots in the Umayyad period. But they remain shadowy down to about 800, when they emerge as a loose association of diverse people and principles in Basra and Baghdad. Their school was systematized from the late ninth century onwards and flourished, above all in Iran, down to the mid-eleventh century. It suffered in the so-called ‘Sunni revival’ and disappeared...

    • CHAPTER 7 THE SHĪʿITES OF THE UMAYYAD PERIOD
      (pp. 70-86)

      Both the Khārijites and the Muʿtazilite anarchists restated the libertarian aspect of the tribal tradition in Islamic form. With the Shīʿites, by contrast, we encounter a thinking that can only be described as authoritarian. All Shīʿites held the imam to be something more than an ordinary human being and explained his special status in terms of his kinship with the Prophet. Yet Shīʿism also began among the conquerors, as has often been stressed, and the authoritarian style of thinking may well have tribal roots as well. For if the tribesmen of Arabia resisted kings, they also deferred to sanctity, as...

    • CHAPTER 8 THE ʿABBĀSIDS AND SHĪʿISM
      (pp. 87-98)

      The Umayyads fell in 750 to rebel troops from eastern Iran, more precisely Khurāsān. The troops had been recruited by Iraqi dissidents who named themselves and their Khurāsānī followers Hāshimiyya, adherents of Hāshim’s descendants, and who called for allegiance to the riḍā of the Prophet’s family. The sources claim that the term al-riḍā was a mere cover for an ʿAbbāsid, but it seems more likely that it stood for a Hāshimite to be elected by shūrā. (For the Hāshimite clan, the reader may consult chart 3; for its ʿAbbāsid branch, chart 5.). The main candidate of the Hāshimiyya seems to...

    • CHAPTER 9 THE ZAYDĪS
      (pp. 99-109)

      The ʿAbbāsids forced the Shīʿites to put their own house in order. The imamate had been restored to the Prophet’s house, the new caliphs said, but what if one disagreed? A clear alternative to the shīʿat banī ’l-ʿAbbās was needed, and the Zaydīs were the first to develop it.

      The Zaydīs were named after Zayd b. ʿAlī (d. 740), a great grandson of ʿAlī who mounted an unsuccessful revolt against the Umayyads in Kufa in 740.¹ For the first hundred years or so after Zayd’s death, and to some extent even thereafter, the Zaydīs should be envisaged as a multiplicity...

    • CHAPTER 10 THE IMAMIS
      (pp. 110-124)

      Like Zaydism, Imamism crystallized in the course of the eighth and ninth centuries, but it only acquired its classical form of Twelver Shīʿism in the tenth and early eleventh. (It could to that extent have been covered in part III of this book rather than here.) Unlike Zaydism, it was not a doctrine for export to the tribal world. It developed in Kufa, Qumm and Baghdad, and to a lesser extent in Medina, where its imams resided until 848, and it reflected the spiritual needs of townsmen who had come to terms with their own exclusion from politics; indeed, it...

    • CHAPTER 11 THE ḤADĪTH PARTY
      (pp. 125-142)

      Scholars had appeared within all parties, in all Muslim settlements, in the course of the Umayyad period. By the late Umayyad/early ʿAbbāsid period some of them had come to form a party of their own under the label aṣḥāb al-ḥadīth, ‘adherents of Ḥadīth/reports’, or ‘Ḥadīth party’, or, as the term is more commonly translated, ‘Traditionalists’. Initially they seem to have been concentrated in Iraq and the Ḥijāz, but they soon spread to Khurāsān, Egypt, and elsewhere.

      The adherents of Ḥadīth believed that the Prophet’s practice (sunna) could be recovered from ḥadīth, ‘traditions’, that is short statements reporting the Prophet’s solutions...

  8. III. COPING WITH A FRAGMENTED WORLD
    • CHAPTER 12 INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 145-147)

      Of all the visions developed in the first two centuries it can be said that their starting point is monotheism in combination with the tribal conceptions of the Arab conquerors. By the tenth century, this was no longer the case. Back in the early days the Arabs were conquerors who set the cultural tone, and as it happened, the cultural traditions of the Syriac and Aramaic-speaking Jews and Christians who were their neighbours in Syria and Iraq blended imperceptibly with their own. The other native traditions, above all the Greek and the Persian, were not absent, but it was only...

    • CHAPTER 13 THE PERSIAN TRADITION AND ADVICE LITERATURE
      (pp. 148-164)

      The Persian tradition was deeply alien to the early Muslim thought world. In religious terms it took the form of Zoroastrianism, a dualist or indeed polytheist religion which had no prophet or scripture (it took a while for Zoroaster and the Avesta to be adapted to those roles),¹ which expressed itself in mythology and priestly ritual, and which endorsed the oddest of marriage rules and burial customs. Manichaeism struck the Muslims as much more intelligible, for although it used Zoroastrian names, its conceptual world was Judeo-Christian and its message Gnostic. Thus it was usually against Manichaeism rather than Zoroastrianism that...

    • CHAPTER 14 THE GREEK TRADITION AND ‘POLITICAL SCIENCE’
      (pp. 165-196)

      The Greek tradition was less opaque to the early Muslims than the Persian, having long been Christian, but its role in Islamic culture was nonetheless more marginal, largely thanks to the fact that the Arabs only succeeded in conquering the eastern provinces of the Byzantine empire. Greeks were poorly represented in the caliphate. The metropolitan elite remained outside it, and their number was limited even at a provincial level, for many Greeks left Syria and Egypt when the Arabs took over: unlike the Persians, they still had an empire to go to. Of the educated men, Greek or non-Greek, who...

    • CHAPTER 15 THE ISMAILIS
      (pp. 197-218)

      Ismailism first came to the attention of the authorities in 891, when villagers from the countryside of Kufa were reported to have been infected by a new heresy.¹ By then, as it turned out, lower Iraq had hosted an Ismaili mission for some sixteen years while other missions had sprung up, or were fast appearing, in Baḥrayn, Iran, Yemen, India, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, and even in Baghdad itself. Where was it all coming from? The answer proved to be from Salamiyya in Syria, where a family, originally from al-Ahwāz in Khuzistan, was directing a grand movement to take...

    • CHAPTER 16 THE SUNNIS
      (pp. 219-256)

      The Sunnis have their roots in, and derive their name from, the partisans of ḥadīth who came to prominence in the ninth century under the name of ahl al-sunna wa’l-jamāʿa. It is probably safe to say that by the end of the ninth or the beginning of the tenth century the majority of Muslims had come to accept their political convictions. Numerous though the Shīʿites were in those centuries, most Muslims were neither Shīʿites nor Khārijites; and most of those identifiable in negative terms could now also be identified in positive terms as accepting the four-caliphs thesis and holding communal...

  9. IV. GOVERNMENT AND SOCIETY
    • CHAPTER 17 THE NATURE OF GOVERNMENT
      (pp. 259-285)

      As seen in Chapter 1, early Muslims tacitly assumed humans to have originated in a politically organized society based on revealed law, and to have recreated such a society whenever God sent them a messenger with a new law. In the ninth century they began to enquire into their own presuppositions. Why do humans live social lives? Must their societies be based on religious law brought by a prophet or might man-made law and morality suffice? Could one manage without a monarch? Must government be monarchic, or indeed autocratic, or could alternative forms of political organization be envisaged? Their answers...

    • CHAPTER 18 THE FUNCTIONS OF GOVERNMENT
      (pp. 286-314)

      What services did medieval Muslims expect from the state? Religious scholars often answer the question in the form of lists of the ruler’s sharʿī functions (i.e. those required by the Sharʿīa), along the lines of “the Muslims must have an imam to execute their laws, apply their ḥudūd, despatch their armies, marry off their (female) orphans and distribute the booty (fayʿ) among them”.¹ But such lists are too concise to be meaningful to a modern reader, and they do not mention any non-sharʿī functions, nor do they say what would happen to the sharʿī functions if the imam disappeared. What...

    • CHAPTER 19 VISIONS OF FREEDOM
      (pp. 315-331)

      In practice, government was more often than not both weak and oppressive: weak in the sense that it could not get much done, oppressive in the sense that rulers would freely sacrifice the lives and property of their subjects in order to stay in power and keep some semblance of order. It was normal for members of the elite, scholars included, to spend time in jail; most high-ranking governors and generals died violent deaths; and torture, assassination, poisoning, confiscation, and extortion were matters of routine. Yet the desire for freedom remained. Not that medieval Muslims used that term. They did...

    • CHAPTER 20 THE SOCIAL ORDER
      (pp. 332-357)

      To the Arab conquerors, people were first and foremost members of descent groups such as tribes and nations rather than of social strata or classes. The key distinction was between Arabs and the rest, that is, the ʿajam or barbarians (especially Iranians). Arabs were free, autonomous tribesmen chosen by God to be the carriers of His last revelation and rulers of the world. Everyone else was misguided and (already or soon to be) defeated. There was no room in this simple view of things for non-Arab Muslims, yet converts soon appeared in significant numbers, introducing new ways and ideas which...

    • CHAPTER 21 MUSLIMS AND NON-MUSLIMS
      (pp. 358-392)

      Human beings were divided into Muslims and infidels (kuffār, sing. kāfir). A Muslim was someone who surrendered to God and lived as His servant (ʿabd allāh, pl. ʿibād allāh) in a society based on His law. Infidels were rebels against God whose societies could never be more than the robbers’ nests with which St Augustine had compared kingdoms devoid of justice.¹ Since they did not live by God’s law, nothing they did had any moral basis. Relationships established by them were not legally valid, compacts made with them did not have to be honoured, they themselves could be freely killed,...

    • CHAPTER 22 EPILOGUE: RELIGION, GOVERNMENT, AND SOCIETY REVISITED
      (pp. 393-398)

      As we have seen, medieval Muslims generally held the best polity to be one based on religion because people had to subordinate their individual interests to those of the collectivity when they lived together and could best be made to do so in the name of higher things. The highest of all things were God and the next world. Forming a single polity thus meant submitting to God and whoever represented Him as leader of the polity in question; vice versa, submitting to God meant entering a polity in which God set the rules of human interaction, laying down how...

  10. CHARTS
    (pp. 399-413)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY, ABBREVIATIONS, AND CONVENTIONS
    (pp. 414-446)
  12. INDEX AND GLOSSARY
    (pp. 447-468)