Rules for Governing


Al-aḥkām al-sulṭānīyah (Rules for governing), by Abu al-Hasan al-Mawardi (died 1058), is known as the earliest comprehensive work on governing the Islamic state. It combines theoretical reflections on the nature of the state and the qualifications of the caliph and his officials with practical guidance on the application of legal principles for judges. The influence of Al-aḥkām al-sulṭānīyah has varied over the years. In his English translation, scholar Asadullah Yate treats the work as of antiquarian interest, stating that it “affords insights into aspects of the deen (religion) that have all but vanished in the twentieth century of the Christian era.” Today, however, with the reappearance of Islamic religiosity, its treatment of statehood and leadership is regarded as of more importance. In straightforward, unadorned prose, al-Mawardi covers qualifications for leadership, requirements for high executive and judicial office, and the determination of primacy among rival caliphs or military regimes. This last subject was in fact the stimulus for him to write the book. Al-Mawardi lived in Baghdad at a time when the Abbasid caliphs were fighting to restore their primacy in confrontation with numerous rivals, among them the Shia Buyid dynasty and their Sunni rivals the Seljuks. A staunch Sunni, al-Mawardi argues for a realistic statecraft based on principles he discerned in the Qurʼan and in the life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. al-Mawardi appears to have been born in humble circumstances in Basra, southern Iraq. His family sent him to Baghdad for education. He rose to a position of influence at the Abbasid court through his writings on government. For all his importance, he has received little attention from biographers. Some authors make the unsubstantiated claim that his family was Kurdish, while in other cases historians incorrectly place him among a group of Meccan theoreticians who were out of touch with the real circumstances of Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo and thus could not have composed this work. Published in 1881, the edition presented here is from the collections of the Law Library of the Library of Congress.

Last updated: May 9, 2016