Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah (Ordinances of Governance) – Abu’l-Hasan al-Mawardi


Abu’l-Hasan al-Mawardi (972-1058AD), son of a rose-water merchant, was a tenth century Basra based judge who was involved in the political affairs of his time.

The eleventh century saw the possibility of a revival of Abbasid fortunes through an alliance with the rising Seljuks. The Abbasid rulers asked Mawardi to write a treatise on the Islamic political ruling system so people were able to differentiate the legitimate Abbasid Caliphate from pretenders such as the Fatimids based in Egypt.

The resulting book, Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah (The Laws of Islamic Governance), written in 1045-58AD, gained prominence at the time and is the most cited textbook in modern political studies in Islam.

Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah has been adopted by numerous contemporary political movements calling for the reestablishment of the Caliphate (al-Khilafah).

Mawardi’s many works of jurisprudence and sociology demonstrated him to be an excellent dthinker and scholar.

Dr Asadullah Yate, Cambridge graduate and student of Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Murabit, undertook the translation in 1996.

Fundamental Ideas

Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah book commences with a discussion of the juristic theory of the Caliphate – commencing with the obligation of Imamate on Muslims (the author uses the term interchangeably with Caliphate) and the supporting Sharia evidences followed by a discussion of the contract and procedure of appointment of the Caliph. Mawardi elaborates the conditions of the holder of this office, how the Imam is to be chosen (either elected by those of power and influence or delegated by the previous Imam) and the responsibilities of the Imam (which are enumerated as ten). He regularly cites examples of consensus from amongst the companions of the Prophet(pbuh) during the first thirty years after the death of the Prophet(pbuh).

The following nineteen chapters (over 300 pages in length) detail insights into key issues of Islamic political and public administrative law, including the appointment of governors, officials, judges and military commanders, and their rights, responsibilities and duties; fighting apostates, insurgents and brigands; dividing the spoils of war; boundaries between countries, land reclamation and water supplies; land enclosure, tithes, taxes and alms; crimes and punishments; fornication, theft, drinking and adultery. Mawardi makes considerable use of Sharia texts and historical precedents throughout the earlier Caliphate periods to justify his points and articulate the structural concepts of the state.

The key construct that al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah articulates is the hierarchical structure of political governance with the Caliph at the apex. The head of the Islamic state is the Caliph with whom political authority (sultah) is vested and sovereignty is destined for the sharia (siyadah). Below the Caliph sit the governors (wazirs), executive and non-executive assistants (muawin), judges (qudaa), head of the military (amir al-jihad), judicial redress, niqabaj tribunal and administrators to who authority is delegated and who are answerable to the Caliph.


Most of the book is empirical, dealing with the day to day apparatus of governance and public administration. An early chapter however deals with the juristic theory of the Caliphate and its underpinning evidences. This appears focused at provided support to the Abbasid rulers and countering the Fatimid claims rather than addressing political theory, the nature and purpose of political power.

Mawardi’s arguments lie firmly in the area of traditional jurisprudence which contrast sharply with political writings of Muslim philosophers such as al-Farabi. They differ with writers such as Ibn Taymiyyah in their erudition which makes them less accessible to simple readers or those without juristic and political knowledge.

Some contemporary writers have suggested that Mawardi’s work is an articulation of selective historical episodes during the Khulafah Rashidah packaged into an Islamic theory. They however miss the Sharia evidences cited by Mawardi throughout his text, showing his articulation is not expressing historical episodes but Sharia texts – the Caliphate structure is the de facto political system of Islam.

Mawardi's book has influenced a number of contemporary political groups and movements, in particular Hizb ut-Tahrir, who wish to reestablish the Caliphate and adopt much of the strucutre and processes from the classical period of Islam that was articulated by Mawardi.