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Essay: Political Thought of Al Mawardi

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  • Published: 6 July 2019*
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The political theory of Abu al-Hasan Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Habib al-Mawardi (c. 972 – c. 1058) has been analysed and summarised in the form of a research essay. Al-Mawardi, is known as one of the greatest and important scholars regarding the analysis of the caliphate theory and its positions. He became the chief justice of Baghdad due his great knowledge in jurisprudence and religion. This essay tells how the political thought of Mawardi fascinated the rulers of Abbasids, and the Seljuk Empire.
Among the Muslim scholars the understanding of caliphate as a political position changed over time. The caliphs of Umayyad and Abbasside bloodlines were considered different for the first four rightly guided caliphs {Abu-Bakr, Umar, Usman, Ali}. During these years, the jurists contemplated whether the power emanating from the political and religious legitimacy can be conferred on a single person. The clearest expression in the history of Islam, about the caliphal absolutism from legal perspective was discussed by al-Mawardi in his discourse al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya w’al-Wilayat al-Diniyya (The Ordinances of Government). This great work done by al-Mawardi laid the foundation for the Abbasids and buyids to work together.
Caliphate – Divine or Based on Reason:
In the initial chapters of his book, al-Mawardi analysed that whether the office of the highest political authority should be run according to the man-made laws or by those made by ALLAH {SWT}. The legal caliph was a supreme authority which was not dependent upon secular power of sultan but it required obedience to fulfil all the religious duties which have been embarked upon the caliph. The jurist ultimately favoured the latter opinion through extrapolating the divine ‘righteousness’ of the four initial Caliphs and stretching it on the Umayyad and Abbasids. Moreover, the opinion about Caliphate is also mentioned in the holy Quran as the Quran says, “O you who believe! Obey God, the Messenger, and those of you (who) are in authority.” By making aware of the character of Caliph, al-Mawardi attempted to regain the lost political office of Islam that lost its shine back in the 11th century.
Eligibility criteria for Caliph Candidacy:
Mawardi mentioned the seven conditions he felt were necessary for the caliph to possess in order to rule efficiently and guard the faith. He must be ‘aadil’ {just}, because he is the administration of justice and it is the most important and the for most duty according to the Quran. Secondly, he must have ‘ilm’, {knowledge} of Islamic traditions so that he is able to pass any judgements as a mujtahid. It also shows a resemblance of opinion with al-Jahiz, an early jurist, who believed in the “knowledge conducive to the exercise of independent judgement in crises or decision making.” Al-Mawardi said that the caliph should be mentally well and physically fit so that he can do his job easily and efficiently. The caliph must be a courageous and enthusiastic person so that he can do “jihad” {holy war} with the enemies of Islam. He believed that the caliph must be from the Quraysh. To empower his point he used the saying ascribed to Mohammad is quoted by al-Mawardi, “Imams (the Caliphs) comes from Quraysh.” It can also be seen as an attempt by al-Mawardi to legitimise the caliphate of the Abbasids and the Umayyad ruling era.
Mawardi can be recognised as the first Islamic scholar who orderly explained the nature of the caliphate, a tendency that was innovative to the scholars of that Islamic era.
Feature of Islamic society:
Mawardi believes that sovereignty belongs to ALLAH {SWT}, so his laws and all the good patterns made by him must prevail. Caliph has been made as a head of the state and he is ruling upon people as result of him being the successor of Prophet Mohammed {P.B.U.H}. The caliph must make it sure that Sharia is in practice in the area of his rule. It is one of the big responsibilities he has as being the caliph, the head of the state. Al mawardi was the first person who felt the need to bring in the sharia principles and historical situation. The main idea of the “Al-ahkam as-sultaniya” was to provide a hypothetical explanation for the parting of authority and control between the Caliph in the religious sphere and the Emir in public organisation on the basis of joint promises.
Ascension/Election of a Caliph:
Caliphs were previously elected directly, there was no voting process before the four rightly guided caliphs. Mawardi favoured the former approach, jurist also justified it by intentionally being generic on the count of nominators. He believed that homage can be “given by those who were present, without waiting for the arrival of those who were absent.” Similarly the “judgement made by a single individual is enforceable.”
Fascinatingly, the notion of ‘Imam al-Mafdool’, the control of mediocre, is also promoted in Ahkam if a better person stands up who can become caliph, interms of eligibility criteria, the electors’ opinion “clinches in favour of the former and may not be retracted even for the sake of a better one.” This posture is in sharp difference to the ‘better choice’ jurisprudence of al-Jahiz, another distinguished theologian throughout the earlier reign of Caliph al-Ma’amun.
There is a contradiction in al mawardi, s statement about the historic possibility of recognising solely the caliph alone. He knew that the Sunni view on imamate will not be the same as the Shiite view of power, he rejected the shite view of the imam theory. As a result Al-Mawardi was ready to recognize the caliph even if there is only one elector.
Dominion of a Caliph:
The Muslim world did felt the decline of the once most powerful Abbasid caliphate. Obligated by the existing state and the persistence of Caliph al-Qaim, al-Mawardi’s explanation combined the authority of Abbasid leader. Due to the declaration of the office of caliphate as being run according to the orders of God, the Caliph was automatically placed on the apex of mortal authority. The book also strained that God has “entrusted the conduct of policy (to the Caliph) so that the management of affairs may be undertaken in the light of true faith and a consensus may be reached on the right course to follow.” By giving the caliph the spiritual respect, it was given a status that was higher than just an ordinary institutional, symbolic value was given to the caliph as he has the power to regulate any political or religious systems. It was looked upon that if the caliph is not present in government matters the machinations of government will become illegitimate; in simpler terms – the caliphate is authoritative. The same view was claimed later by al-Ghazali.
Al-mawardi also had a claim that caliph cannot be dismissed easily. He mentioned that to dismiss a caliph the reason behind it should be really a strong one. For example if there is a threat to the state if the caliph maintains his position only then the caliph must be removed.
The main theme that Mawardi has in the caliphate theory is about the supreme authority of the caliph in all matters. According to al-Mawardi if the caliph has appointed any official, so that official cannot be removed until the caliph makes the decision to remove him. Even if the caliph has made a committee to hire or fire people, that committee can hire or fire new people but it can still not fire any official which the caliph has hired on his own, the committee is constraint in not firing the person who has been previously hired by the caliph. In his own words, “the delegated minister may reinstate hired officials and fire those appointed by himself, not those appointed by the caliph.”
It was al-Mawardi foresight, political and theological shrewdness that made him realise that the shift in power was shifting from the centre to the edge. The Buyids were becoming a test to reckon with for the Abbasid Caliphs. By elevating the position of Caliph, al-Mawardi advertently impressed upon every Muslim inimical to Abbasid dynasty that the ruler was legitimate and has a divine status. Through the ‘Imam al-Mafdool’ policy, any potential disagreement that could have uprooted the Abbasids was supressed. By giving a legal status to the ‘Imarat al-Istasla’, governorship through usurpation, al-Mawardi astutely counteracted the political impartiality and helped the Abbasids retain their symbolic and legal control. We can say that the contribution made by al-Mawardi in politics, especially in the caliphal form kept the conflicts at bay for the Abbasids.

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