Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

All Moslems had a right to a certain share of this, which was regarded as booty. Omar, the second caliph, regulated this distribution and also the system of taxation, and the result was the first divan and the constitution of Omar, looked back to now by all Sunnite Moslems as an ideal. The sources of revenue were (i) the poor-rate (zakāt), a tithe paid by every Moslem; (ii) the fifth of all booty; (iii) the poll-tax (jizya) on non-Moslems; and (iv) the land-tax (kharāj) also on non-Moslems. Thus the constitution determined the position of all non-Moslems in a Moslem state. The ideal was that the Moslems should be kept apart as a superior, fighting caste, and that the non-Moslems should support them (cf. Caliphate, B. § 8, on the reign of Omar II.). The Moslems, therefore, were forbidden to acquire land in conquered countries. The non-Moslems must retain their lands, cultivate them and pay the land-tax (the Arabic word is also used of revenue from the work of a slave) and the poll-tax (the Arabic word means also “ransom”), and give contributions in kind to support the local Moslem garrisons which were massed in great camp-cities at strategic points. If a non-Moslem embraced Islam he entered the ruling caste; his land was distributed among his non-Moslem fellows, and he no longer paid the land-tax but rather received support from the public funds. The amount of these pensions varied with the standing of the pensioner from 10,000 dirhems (a dirhem equalled about a franc) to the widows and relations of the Prophet down to 300. This bureau had, therefore, not only to keep the books of the state, but also to maintain a list of all Moslems, classified genealogically and socially. Its registers were kept by Greeks, Copts and Persians; the Arabs, it may be said in general, adopted the method of administration which they found in the captured countries and drew upon the trained services of their inhabitants.

Such a system led naturally to wholesale conversions to Islam; and the consequent decline in revenue, combined with large donations of lands by Othman, the third caliph, to his own family, gradually broke it down. The first patriarchal period of conquest, unearned wealth and the simple life—called by Moslems the period of the “four rightly guided caliphs,” and very happily by Sachau, ein mönchisches Imperium—passed rapidly into the genuinely Arab empire of the Omayyads, with whom came an immediate development of organization in the state. The constructive genius in this was Moawiya, the first Omayyad caliph. Under him the old simplicity vanished. A splendid and ceremonious court was maintained at Damascus. A chamberlain kept the door; a bodyguard surrounded the caliph, and even in the mosque the caliph, warned by the murder of Othman and of Ali, prayed in a railed-off enclosure. The beginning of the seclusion of the caliph had come, and he no longer walked familiarly among his fellow Moslems. This seclusion increased still further when the administration of the state passed by delegation into other hands, and the caliph himself became a sacrosanct figure-head, as in the case of the later Abbasids; when theories of semi-divine nature and of theocratic rule appeared, as in the case of the Fatimites; and finally when all the elaborate court ritual of Byzantium was inherited by the Ottoman sultans.

But Moawiya I. was still a very direct and personal ruler. He developed a post-system for the carrying of government despatches by relays, and thus received secret information from and kept control of the most distant provinces. He established a sealing-bureau by which state papers were secured against change. He dealt arbitrarily with the revenues of the state and the pensions of the Moslems. Governors of provinces were given a much freer hand, and were required to turn over to the central treasury their surplus revenue only. As they were either conquerors or direct successors of conquerors they had an essentially military government, and were really semi-independent rulers, unhampered except by direct action of the caliph, acting on information sent by the postmaster, who was his local spy. Being thus the heads of armies of occupation, they were not necessarily charged with the control of religious ritual and of justice. These, like every other function, inhered in the office of the caliph and he generally appointed in each province independent cadis over the courts and imāms to be in charge of religious services. Yet the governor was sometimes permitted to hold these two other offices (see Cadi; Imām).

Further administrative developments came with the Abbasids. They created a new city, Bagdad, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, where the three races, Syrian, Arab and Persian, met and sought with Bagdad as a capital to consolidate the empire. The Arab empire, it is true, had passed away with the Omayyads; yet there might be a chance to create a world-empire of all the Moslem peoples. But not even the genius and administrative skill of the early Abbasids could hold together that unwieldy mass. The semi-independent provinces soon became fully independent, or at most acknowledged the caliph as a spiritual head and paid a nominal tribute. His name might stand on the coinage and prayers be offered for him in the Friday service, the two signs of sovereignty to this day in Islam. With this crumbling of the empire went a more elaborate organization; bureaus took the place of principles and of the energy of individual rulers. As the system of Moslem law was built on that of the Roman codes, so was the machinery of administration on that of Persia. And with the Abbasids the chance of the Persians had come. Abū ‘l-Abbās, the first Abbasid caliph, was the first The Vizierate. to appoint a vizier (wazīr, “helper,” so Aaron is wazīr to Moses in the Koran), a confidential minister to advise him and come between him and the people. Advisers the caliphs had had before; but not a definite adviser with this name. He must, we are told, have a strain of the ruler in him and a strain of the people to be able to work with both. He must know how to be acceptable; fidelity and truthfulness are his capital; sagacity, firmness, generosity, clemency, dignity, effectiveness of speech are essential. It is plain that the vizier became as important as the caliph. But Abū ’l-Abbās was fortunate in early securing as his vizier the grandfather of the house of the Barmecides (q.v.). On this Persian family the fortunes of the Abbasids hung, and it secured for them and for Islam a short golden age, like that of the Antonines, until the jealous madness of Hārūn al-Rashīd cast them down. Thereafter the vizierate had many vicissitudes. Technically a vizier could be either limited or unlimited. The limited vizier had no initiative; he carried out the commands of the caliph. The unlimited vizier, often afterwards called the grand vizier, exercised full authority and was the alter ego of the caliph, to whom he was required only to report. Naturally the formal distinction is a later theorizing of history; for a weak ruler his vizier became absolute, for a strong ruler his vizier remained subordinate. Here, as with regard to all Moslem institutions, a marked distinction must be made between the historic facts and the speculative edifices raised by constitutional theorizers. Compare especially Mahommedan Law. Until the time of Rāḍī (934-940) the vizierate thus fluctuated in importance. In that caliphate the vizier lost all authority, and in his place came the amīr al-omarā—equivalent to the major domus of the Franks—the head of the Turkish bodyguard, in terror of whom the caliph now stood. When in 945 the Būyids captured Bagdad and the caliph became a purely spiritual sovereign, they took the title “vizier” for their own chief minister, and the caliphs retained only a secretary (see Caliphate, C. § 22). Under the Seljuks, however, they regained their viziers and some real authority. Elsewhere, also the vizierate had its vicissitudes. Under the Mamelukes the vizier fell to be merely the court purveyor. Under the Omayyads of Spain the title was given to several responsible officers of the state, but their chief was called ḥājib, chamberlain. Under the Almohades the chamberlain was called vizier. In the modern Turkish empire the grand vizier (called generally ṣadr A‘ẓam) is the sultan’s representative in secular matters, and nominally stands between the sovereign and all the other officials. He is the president of the council of ministers, but Abd-ul Hamid II. deprived the office of almost all its importance.

Under the early Abbasids the four most important ministers were the chief cadi, the chief of police or head of the life guards, the minister of finance and the postmaster, who was the head of the system of information and espionage which Other Ministers. covered the empire. But at different times the different bureaus varied greatly. Under Motawakkil we find the bureau of taxes and finance; bureau of the crown estates; bureau of state book-keeping; bureau of war, i.e. of hired troops; bureau which kept reckoning and control of the pensions of the clients and slaves of the ruling family; bureau of the post system; bureau of expenditures. But in spite of this elaborate system, no Moslem government has, except sporadically, been highly centralized. Provided the taxes are paid, a large measure of local autonomy has always been enjoyed by the country districts. Under the Abbasids almost the only exception was the necessarily centralized control of the irrigation system of the Tigris and Euphrates. And similarly elsewhere.

In the case of all these offices, we have delegation by the caliph, under necessity, of his too heavy burdens. But one duty of an Oriental ruler he could not so easily lay aside. It had always to be possible for the oppressed to come into his presence and claim justice; he must sit in the gate and judge. Therefore, when the caliph found it necessary to delegate the ordinary administration of justice, he found it also necessary to set up a special court of oppressions, which developed, to a certain extent, into a court of appeals. The first to establish such a separate court was Abdalmalik the Omayyad