The Ocean of the Soul: Man, the World, and God in the Stories of Farid Al-Din 'Attar

By Hellmut Ritter; John O'Kane | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
MEN OF POWER

The typical characteristics of worldly men are found in an intensified form within that social class which partakes of the bounty of this world's gifts to the fullest extent, which is able to experience the joys of the world with the least restrictions but, for this reason, is also most deeply enṭangled in the world's snares and most thoroughly enslaved by its own earthly desires, craving for power, possessions and pleasure in life, namely the class of rulers and the great in the world—the men of power.

In the period of Seljuk rule, during which ₿Aṭṭār lived, political dominion was most sharply distinguished both from the old Arab era when the tribal chief was only primus inter pares—Wellhausen even speaks of a "community without a supreme authority"—as well as from the early Islamic theocracy when the caliphs appeared as successors to the office of the Prophet. Although, of course, the caliphate in Baghdad theoretically still retained the theocratic character of its dominion over the Muslim community and laid claim to a legitimacy formulated according to religious constitutional law, real power had long since passed into the hands of rulers whose rule had come about through purely dynamic struggle and was based on brute force.

In the theoretical justification of the sultan's power, with which the celebrated Seljuk vizier Niẓām al-Mulk introduces his mirror for princes (Siyāsatnāma), there is no mention at all of the caliphate and the conditions of legitimacy laid down in constitutional legal writings. Indeed, the task of the ruler is described as being to restore peace, order, justice and prosperity, as well as the application of the holy law, yet the ruler does not owe his position of power to legitimate entitlements anchored in law but rather to the ordaining of God who in every age selects someone from among mankind, endows him with the necessary abilities for rule, provides him with prestige and respect in men's hearts, assures him of victory over his rivals in times of confusion, and bestows on him the good fortune of dominion (dawlat u iqbāl).

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