Rituals of Islamic Monarchy: Accession and Succession in the First Muslim Empire

Rituals of Islamic Monarchy: Accession and Succession in the First Muslim Empire

Rituals of Islamic Monarchy: Accession and Succession in the First Muslim Empire

Rituals of Islamic Monarchy: Accession and Succession in the First Muslim Empire

Synopsis

Rituals of Islamic Monarchy is a history of the oath of allegiance by which the caliph was recognised at his accession. It begins in pre-Islamic Arabia and traces the development of a formal ceremonial of Islamic monarchy in Syria and Iraq during the 7th-9th centuries CE. It examines how the caliphs sought to proclaim their status as the representatives of God's covenant on earth through syntheses of Roman and Iranian royal ritual and customs and practices brought from pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabia. It engages with current debates about the reliability of the Islamic tradition for early Islamic history and identifies key turning-points in the formation of classical Islamic political culture. An early chapter discusses the importance of the Qur'an as a historical source for the time of the Prophet Muhammad. For the caliphal period, close readings of the sources for specific rituals alternate with the examination of later copies of documents used at these accession rituals.This study of the invention and re-invention of a central institution of early Islamic political culture is the first such account of Islamic accession ceremonial and will appeal to both specialists in early Islamic history and non-specialists alike.

Excerpt

This book is a history of the rituals by which the first Muslim monarchs were formally acknowledged. Like the Christian Roman emperor and the Iranian King of Kings, the caliph of the first Muslim empire was acclaimed by his followers and received oaths of allegiance from them. He appeared before them enthroned in both religious and royal settings, bearing the insignia of his office. That the caliph was a ‘monarch’, and in some senses a ‘king’, perhaps does not need to be restated. However, the emphasis in much of Islamic political thought on the notion of ‘kingship’ (mulk) as mere earthly, or temporal power, in contrast to the legitimate authority of the ‘caliphate’ (khilāfa), which is derived from God, can obscure the important continuities between caliphal authority and that of ancient Near Eastern monarchy. Because of this distinction in the Islamic tradition, ‘monarchy’ is probably a better description of the caliphate than ‘kingship’; it encompasses the shared cultural heritage with ancient Near Eastern rulership, while acknowledging the distinctive semantic and conceptual transformations of that heritage that took place in Islam.

The monarchs of Rome, Iran and Islam each represented temporal and sacral authority in an imperial context – they were both ‘king’ and ‘priest’ of a preeminent, divinely sanctioned world power. In Islam, a division of roles between the caliph and his Muslim subjects eventually led to ‘classical’ Sunni orthodoxy (that is, the four main schools of medieval Sunni Islam), in which the right to interpret God’s law (sharīʿa) came to reside not exclusively in the person of the caliph, but rather in God’s community as a whole. However, this does not invalidate the parallel with Rome and Iran, where an unstable division of authority between ‘church’ and ‘state’ was also maintained. Furthermore, there is very good evidence that during the first centuries of Islam many held the caliph – as . . .

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