Abu Ali Hasan ibn Ali ibn Ishaq, better known as Nizamul Mulk Toosi, was the celebrated Grand Vizier of the Seljuk ruler, Malik Shah. Being one of the ablest and most talented Prime Ministers that the Muslim world has produced, Nizamul Mulk ranks high among the greatest administrators and statesmen of the world. The celebrated historian Phillip K. Hitti calls him “one of the ornaments of the political history of Islam”, and another well-known orientalist, Ameer Ali says: “Nizamul Mulk was probably, after Yahya Barmaki, the ablest Minister and Administrator Asia has ever produced”.
Nizamul Mulk was born on April 10, 1018, A. C. at Radkhan, a village near Toos. His father was a revenue agent on behalf of the Ghaznavide King. He got proficiency in almost all sciences and arts at an early age. In 1054 he joined the service of Alp Arsalan, the Seljuk Prince. Later, when Alp Arsalan ascended the throne, Nizamul Mulk was made his Grand Vizier. Nizamul Mulk Toosi continued in office under two succeeding Saljuk Rulers. He held great sway over Alp Arsalan and accompanied him on all his campaigns and journeys. He was present at the famous battle of Manazgrid. He also undertook military operations on his own and was responsible for the capture of Istakhr citadel in 1076 A.C. For more than 20 years during the reign of Seljuk Monarch, Malik Shah, Nizamul Mulk was the real ruler of the Seljuk Empire, the entire authority vested in his capable hands.
Nizamul Mulk was the man behind the glorious reign of Malik Shah Saljuki. His wise Administration and the prestige of Seljuk arms had established such peace and prosperity in the vast Seljuk Empire that none dared to rebel against the State. “Nizamul Mulk was in all but name a Monarch”, adds the Encyclopaedia of Islam “and ruled his Empire with striking success”. He was kind and merciful in nature but firm and decisive in action.
His work on Administration and Government form enduring monuments of his genius and capacity. Peace reigned in his vast Empire. For twelve times he traversed his wide dominions and personally examined the conditions and requirements of each Province.
Nizamul Mulk paid much attention to the welfare of his people. Life became happy, safe, peaceful and cheap, resulting in the unwonted security of road and low cost of living in his dominions. He set up a network of colleges, madrassas, hospitals, mosques and palaces in the cities of Western Asia. He established resting places and guardhouses along the trade and pilgrim routes for protection of merchants and travellers. In peace and prosperity, good administration and pursuits of learning, the Seljuk Empire administrated by Nizamul Mulk rivalled the best Arab and Roman rule. He made the road leading to Makkah from Iraq safer and more comfortable for pilgrims.
Nizamul Mulk was one of the greatest patrons of learning that the world has seen. His Court was the meeting place of scholars, statesmen and poets, who flocked around him from all parts of the world. Being one of the greatest sponsors of Islamic learning in history, he founded a chain of great educational institutions all over his vast dominions. He founded the Nizamiya types of higher educational institutions at Neshapur, Baghdad, Khurasan, Iraq and Syria. The first great institution founded by him in 1066 A.C. was the Nizamiya University of Neshapur, which, in fact, was the first university of the Islamic world. According to Allama Ibn Khalikan, Nizamul Mulk Toosi was the first in Islamic history to lay the foundation of a regular educational institution.
The State Exchequer was enriched by the munificence of Nizamul Mulk Toosi for purposes of advancement of education. The Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah once called him and said: “Dear father, you can organise a big army with so much money”, The wise Minister replied: “My son, I have grown old, but you are young. If you are auctioned in a Bazaar, I doubt if you will fetch more than 30 dinars. In spite of this, God has made you the Monarch of such a vast Empire. Should you not be grateful to Him for the same? The arrows thrown by your archers will not have a range of more than 30 yards, but even the vast shield of the sky cannot check the arrow of prayers flung by the army which I have undertaken to produce”. Malik Shah was struck with the reply of his talented Vizier and cried out: “Excellent father, we must produce such an army without the least delay”.
Institutions of higher education sprang up all over the Seljuk Empire. The big cities of Khorasan, namely, Merv, Neshapur, Herat, Balkh and Isphahan had a chain of Nizamiya Institutions of higher education. But the greatest of these was the Nizamiya University of Baghdad set up in 1066 A.C. which stands as a landmark in the educational advancement of Muslims during the Mediaeval times. It was a model institution in the whole world of Islam, known for the high standard of teaching and great scholarship of its teachers, attracting students from all over the world. It was, in fact, the first Academy of Islam. Imam Ghazali, the well-known thinker of Islam, had been its Principal and the celebrated Persian poet, Sheikh Muslehuddin Sa’adi, a student of this institution.
Nizamul Mulk spent 1/10 of the State income on education, spending three million rupees on the building of higher educational institutions and one million on the Nizamiya University of Baghdad.
Nizamul Mulk was instrumental in the inauguration of Jalali Calendar, a much-improved one, formulated by a body of astronomers headed by Umar Khayyam.
Nizamul Mulk wrote in 1091 A.C. for the guidance of Malik Shah, his monumental political treatise, Siyashit Nama, which stands as a landmark in the annal of political treatises, written during the Mediaeval times. He added 11 chapters to the book, the following year. It is a book on the Art of Administration for the benefit of Rulers. Being an able Administrator, he incorporated his personal experiences in this book, which can serve as Magna Charta for an ideal state. It deals with topics of kingship, judiciary, espionage, ambassadorship, the qualifications and functions of all classes of officers. He complained that a sound intelligence service was not being maintained in Mediaeval states whereby corruption may be revealed and rebellion forestalled. The book was written in Persian, containing 50 chapters of advice, illustrated by historical anecdotes. The last 11 chapters added to the book in 1092 A.C. deal with dangers that threatened the Empire, specially from the Ismailis.
In Siyasat Nama, he insisted on limiting the rights of fief holders to the collection of fixed dues.
His Administration greatly resembled the Buyid Administration of the golden days of the Abbasids. He had very successfully accomplished the maintenance of a large tribal army by abandoning partially the traditional tax framing system of revenue collection for that of the fief, whereby the Military Generals supported themselves and the army under their command, through the land allotted to them by the State for the purpose. Nizamul Mulk elaborately systematized it.
In the absence of regular intelligence service, he managed to intimidate the rebels through a judicious display of Saljukide might. He was a follower and champion of Shafu sect and had gained the support of famous and powerful Ulema. Among these were an Al-Ishaq, Al-Shirazi, and Al-Ghazali.
In 1091 the first challenge to his authority was made when Basra was captured by Carmatians and the citadel of Almut by Hasan bin Sabah.
Nizamul Mulk Toosi was assassinated by a follower of Hasan bin Sabah on October 4, 1092, near Sihna while on his way to Baghdad. The assassin had disguised himself as a Sufi. Thus died one of the greatest administrators and benefactors of the world of Islam.