The glorious Caliphate of the Abbasids provided the most congenial atmosphere for the advancement of learning and is rightly known as the golden period of Islamic civilization. It was during this Regime that the celebrated Caliph Mamoon ar-Rashid founded his Darul Hukama (House of Wisdom) which served as the laboratory for translation and research work that paved the way for future advancement of knowledge. It was this period which gave birth to legists like Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafii and Imam Abu Yusuf; philosophers like Ishaq al-Kindi, Imam Ghazali and Abu Nasr Farabi; scientists and mathematicians like Musa Khwarizmi, Jabir ibn Hayyan and Zakriya Razi; Sufis like Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani, Hazrat Junaid Baghdadi, and Hazrat Shibli; musicians like Ishaq Mausili and Zalzal and administrators like Yahya Bermaki and Hasan ibn Sahl. Intellectual development during the epoch attained a standard without any precedent in the history of Islam. The Caliphs and their Amirs vied with one another in literary pursuits and patronage of learning. One of the great intellectual luminaries of this age was Al-Mawardi, who is distinguished as the first political thinker of Islam and ranks amongst the greatest political thinkers of medieval times, including Nizamul Mulk Toosi, Ibn Khaldun and Machiavelli. From the post of a Qazi, he rose to be the Roving Ambassador of the Caliph and solved many knotty political tangles of his State. ‘Al-Khatib of Baghdad’. writes an orientalist, on the authority of Abu Ali Hasan ibn Da’ud, relates that the people of Basrah always took pride in their three learned countrymen and their works viz., Khalid ibn Ahmad (d. 175 A.H.) and his work, ‘Kitab-ul-Amin’, Sibawayh (d. 180 A.H.) and his ‘Kitab-un-Nahw’; Al-Jahiz (d. 225 A.H.) and his Al-Bayan-wat-Tabiyan. To this may be added the name of a fourth scholar Al-Mawardi, the learned jurisconsult and political economist of Basrah, whose monumental work ‘Al-Ahkam-us-Sultaniyah’. is a masterpiece of politico-religious literature of Islam.
Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Habib, Abul Hasan Al-Mawardi was born at Basrah in 364 A.H./1058 A.C. into an Arab family which manufactured and carried on trade in rose water, hence the sobriquet ‘Al-Mawardi’. He received his early education at Basrah, studying jurisprudence from the well-known Shafiite jurist, Abul Qasim Abul Wahid As-Saimari. Later he proceeded to Baghdad for higher studies and learnt jurisprudence, grammar, and literature from Abdullah al-Bafi and Sheikh Abdul Hamid al-Isfraini. Soon he was well versed in Islamic studies including Hadith and Fiqh as well as in politics, ethics, and literature.
He served as Qazi (Judge) at various places and was appointed the “Qazi al-Quzat” (Supreme Judge) of Ustuwa, a district of Nishapur. In 429 A.H. he was elevated to the highest judicial post of “Aqb-al-Quzat” (Grand Qazi) of Baghdad, a post he held with distinction until his death.
He was an eminent practical politician and a prolific writer on diverse subjects like religion, ethics, literature, and politics. The Abbaside Caliph al-Qadir Billah (381-422 A.H.) held him in high esteem and Qa’im bin Amrillah (391–460 A.H.), the 26th Abbaside Caliph of Baghdad posted him as his Roving Ambassador and sent him on several diplomatic missions to the neighboring and satellite States. His wise statesmanship was, to a great extent, responsible for maintaining the prestige of the dwindling Caliphate of Baghdad among her too powerful and almost independent Seljuk and Buwayhid Amirs. He was heavily loaded with valuable presents by the Seljuk, Buwayhid, and other Amirs whom he proffered wise counsels which were in conformity with the dignity of the Caliphate of Baghdad. According to Jalal-ud-Dawlah, he surpassed other men of his class in wealth. A few persons charged him with professing Mutazili creed but later writers have refuted it. He died in 1058 A.C. after a successful career.
Al-Mawardi, being an exponent of the Shafi’ite school, was a prominent traditionist. Unfortunately, none of his works on the subject have survived. No doubt a number of Hadiths from him have been quoted in ‘Ahkam-us-Sultaniya’, ‘A ‘lam-un-Nubuwa-t’, and ‘Adab-ud-Dunya-wad Din’. His hold on Hadith can be gauged from his ‘A’lam-un-Nubuwat’. His explanation of the difference between miracle and magic in the light of the sayings of the Prophet is according to Tash Kopruizadah the best recorded until that time.
As a Jurisconsult, Al-Mawardi occupies an eminent place amongst Muslim scholars on the subject. He had specialized in the subject and was universally recognized as one of the greatest jurists of his time. He propounded the Shafi’ite Fiqh (Jurisprudence) in his masterly work ‘Al Hawi’ which served as an invaluable reference book on Shafi’ite Jurisprudence for the later jurists, including Al-Isnavi who speaks very highly of it. This book of 8,000 pages was condensed by Al-Mawardi into an epitome comprising of 40 pages and was named ‘Al Iqna.’
Al-Mawardi enjoys high reputation among the old commentators of the Holy Quran. His commentary entitled ‘Nukat-wa’l-Uyum’ has a place of its own amongst the classical commentaries of Al-Qushairi, Al-Razi, Al-Isfahani, and Al-Kirmani. The charge that his certain commentaries bear germs of Mutazilite views does not stand to reason and such outstanding divines as Ibn-Taimiya has classed it among the good books on the subject. His commentary of the Holy Quran had been very popular and it was abridged by a writer. A Spanish Muslim scholar named Abul Hasan Ali came all the way from Saragossa in Spain to read this book from the author himself.
Al-Mawardi also wrote a book on the Quranic similitudes, which, in the opinion of As-Suyuti was the first book on this subject. Emphasizing the importance of this book Al-Mawardi writes, “one of the main Quranic sciences is the science of parables or similitudes. People have neglected it as they have confined their attention to similitudes only and have lost sight of the similars mentioned in the similies. A similitude without a similar is a horse without a bridle or a camel without a rein”.
Al-Mawardi, though not a regular student of political science, was a high-class political economist and his speculative political writings are of much value. His monumental work, ‘Al Ahkam-us-Sultaniyah’ occupies an important place amongst the political treatises written during the medieval times.
He wrote four books on political science namely:
- Al Ahkam-us-Sultaniyah (Laws concerning Statecraft),
- Adab-al-Wazir (Ethics of the Minister)
- Siyasat-ul-Malik (Kings’ Politics)
- Tahsil-un-Nasr-wat-Ta’jit-uz-Zafar (Facilitating conquest and hastening victory).
Of these, the first two books have been published. His ‘Al-Ahkam-us-Sultaniyah’, which has been translated into several languages including French and Urdu is an invaluable work on Islamic public laws. In the contents of this book, he has followed the Kitab-ul-Umm of As-Shafi’i. the ‘Adab-al-Wazir’ (Ethics of the Minister) which deals with the functions of the Prime Minister and lays down sound advice on public administration. A vast literature dealing the duties and privileges of the Prime Minister has been produced in Islamic countries, but Al-Mawardi’s ‘Adab al-Wazir’ is the most comprehensive and important work on the subject which embraces almost all phases on this intricate matter.
The political, as well as religious writings of Al-Mawardi, wielded considerable influence over the later writers on the subject, specially in Islamic countries. His influence may be traced into the ‘Siyasat Nama’ of Nizamul Mulk Toosi and the ‘Prolegomena’ of Ibn Khaldun. Ibn Khaldun, who is recognized as the founder of Sociology and is an outstanding writer on political economy, no doubt, excelled Al-Mawardi in many respects. Enumerating the necessity of a ruler, Ibn Khaldun says: “The sovereign exists for the good of the people… The necessity of a ruler arises from the fact that human beings have to live together and unless there is someone to maintain order, society would break into pieces.” He observes: “There is a constant tendency in an oriental monarchy towards absolutism, towards unlimited power, so undoubtedly the tendency of the oriental governors was towards greater and greater independence of central authority.” Earlier, Al-Mawardi had pointed out the unlimited powers of governors during the decline of Abbaside Caliphate when the governorship was acquired through usurpation and the central authority had little control over them.
Thus Al-Mawardi stands out as the first great political thinker in Islam whose writings, as well as practical experience in politics, have gone a long way in molding the political outlook of the later writers.