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Matt Goodell

Hist 115
11-12-08

Government, According to Nizam al-Mulk

Four hundred years after the death of the prophet Muhammad, those in power are

not descendants of Muhammad, or even any of the Rashidun caliphs. They are not even

Arabs. They are Turks. To mention these details to a 7th century Muslim would probably

result in a heart attack, but such is the scene in and around the Arabian Peninsula when

Nizam al-Mulk is commissioned by the Seljukid Sultan, Malikshah to write Book of

Government. I will outline a few of Nizam al-Mulk’s main points in his effort to portray

proper government, kingship, and peasantry.

God is Government. For all intents and purposes, in the Islamic world, in the 9th

and 10th centuries, God is Government. Nizam al-Mulk wrote “In every age and time God

(be He exalted) chooses one member of the human race and, having adorned and

endowed him with kingly virtues, entrusts him with the interests of the world and the

well-being of His servants…” This illustrates two things. One, that God is behind the

appointment of the ruler. And two, that there is a supposed transfer of power as God

“entrusts him with the interests of the world…” Despite this, the king is still in a vastly

different seat than that of the caliph. The king does not have the same overarching claim

of infallibility that the caliph does. The king is more of a hands on ruler and must “ever

acquaint himself, secretly and openly, with their (his subordinates) conditions;” so that

“blessings from those actions may come about in the time of his rule…” A wise and just

ruler will be like a light in the darkness that the peasantry can use to light his or her own
path to The Truth. Of course, the king must use the Qur’an and the hadiths as tools to

make righteous decisions as he rules for God.

In order for the king to be informed of the goings on of his people Nizam al-Mulk

advises a wide range of tactics. The king should use informants, spies, and messengers to

relay valuable details regarding the kingdom. According to Nizam al-Mulk, quarrels

between peasantry even as insignificant as “if anybody wrongly took so much as a

chicken or a bag of straw from another” are worthy of the king’s attention. Although it

might be said that the king has a “responsibility” to the peasantry, the absolute nature of

their obedience to the king is demanded as much as ever.

At this time, as long as the king is in power it is safe to assume that he is in God’s

favor. Once his rein is questioned, he looses on the battlefield, or is assassinated; the new

ruler stakes claim on divine leadership based on the grounds that he was able to

overthrow the previous king.

Because these rulers are not claiming authority based on their genealogy, in the

eyes of the Islamic community they are only as powerful as God decides them to be. If a

king has his throne secure then it must be because God wills it to be so. This dependency

on God for legitimacy leaves the ruler on completely un-solid ground if Islam is not true.

If the king is said to be appointed by a god that does not exist, or does not back him, then

he is just a man. If he uses a counterfeit book of scripture and the words of a false

prophet to make his decisions then everything he commands the peasantry to do is

unfounded. If he believes the Islamic God has put him there, he better be right, or he is no

better than the lowest of the peasants he rules. He has not been entrusted with the

interests of the world.


These are just some of the conditions the Islamic community finds themselves in

the 9th and 10th centuries. The rulers have many of the same characteristics of the

caliphs they have taken the power from, but also because of the nature of their rule, have

in some ways a greater responsibility to the people they command… Absolutely.