British Society for Middle Eastern Studies

Machiavelli's Arab Precursor: Ibn Ẓafar al-Ṣiqillī Author(s): R. Hrair Dekmejian and Adel Fathy Thabit Source: British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Nov., 2000), pp. 125-137 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 05/08/2011 09:27
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British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (2000), 27(2), 125-137


Machiavelli's Zafar





Virtually unknown to contemporary Western scholars and most Arab intellectuals is the political thought of Ibn Zafar al-SiqillT, a distinguished Arab philosopher and political activist of the twelfth century. First discovered in mid-nineteenth century by an Italian Arabist, Ibn Zafar was considered a worthy precursor to Machiavelli by Gaetano Mosca. This paper presents anl analysis of Ibn .Zafar's theories of power and leadership and draws relevant parallels between Ibn Zafar's magnumnopus, Sulwidn al-Muta', and Machiavelli's Prince. Written in the genre of 'advice to the prince', Ibn .Zafar's book offers an empirical analysis of power and a set of maxims and strategies to be used by a virtuous ruler in order to preserve his power and secure his realm. It will be shown that Ibn .Zafar's maxims, like Machiavelli's, transcended his historical milieu and therefore, deserve attention by modern students of Arab political thought.

Introduction Despite the renewed scholarly attentiongiven to Islamic political theory, there still exist lacunae in the history of Muslim political thought which remain to be explored. Indeed,the plethoraof recent studies on Islamic political theory appear to be prompted by the rise of Islamist movements in the twentieth century. Consequently,scholarlyinteresthas focused on the historicalanchorsof contemporaryIslamist thought found in writings of such major thinkersas al-Mawardi (d. 1058), al-Ghazal (d. 1111), Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) and his intellectual descendants. Yet the contemporaryinterestin the intellectualantecedentsof Islamism may have detracted scholars from exploring previously little known Arab thinkers, whose writings transcendedtheir historicalmilieu. One such thinkeris Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammadibn Zafar al-Siqilli (b. 497/1104), a twelfth century man of prince', makes him a worthy precursorto none other than Niccolo Machiavelli (b. 1469). Ibn Zafar's political thoughthas been virtuallyunknownin the West, save for the work of Michele Amari, the distinguished nineteenth century Sicilian al-Mutci'in 1851 into Italian;an English edition Arabist, who translatedSulwadn appearedin 1852.2In his introductory chapter,Amari proudlyrefers to Ibn Zafar
letters, whose book Sulw,n al-Muta', written in the genre of 'advice to the

* R. HrairDekmejianis Professorof Political Science at the University of SouthernCalifornia,LA, USA. :: Adel Fathy Thabit is Associate Professorof Political Science at the University of Alexandriain Egypt. Fora discussion see 'Adil FathiThabit,'Abd al-Hafiz,Shar'iyyattil-Slttafi'l-lsl/o1i (Legitimationof Authority in Islam) (Alexandria: Dar al-Jama'a al-Jadida li'l-Nashr, 1996), pp. 12-13. R. Hrair Dekmejian, Islamiin Revollution, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995), pp. 8-19, 36-40.

For an Arabic edition see Sulwlnlal-Muitu' fi'Udvtdl ail-Atbi' (Consolationfor the Ruler During the Hostility of Subjects), introductionby Abu Nahla Ahmad b. 'Abd al-Majid (Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafa. 1978).
ISSN 1353-0194 print/ISSN 1469-3542 online/00/020125-13 ? 2000 British Society for Middle Eastern Studies DOI: 10.1080/13530190020000493

Michele Amari, Solwan: or Waters of Conmfor)t Ib Zafeir, Vols I and II, (London: Richard Bentley, 1852). by


as 'my Arab fellow-countrymanof the 12th century', whose book 'offers many profoundviews of policy, which are as applicablenow as they would have been A half-century later, Amari's Italian rendition was discovered by Gaetano Mosca, yet anotherSicilian, who also drew parallels between Ibn Zafar's work and that of Machiavelli.4As the founder of the modern field of elite studies, Mosca was keenly interested in exploring the contributionsof medieval Arab thinkersto the field of political science. Indeed,Mosca discoveredin Ibn Zafar's Since work 'a Machiavelismmore refinedthan that of the FlorentineSecretary'5 Mosca, Ibn Zafarhas received only brief mention in an entry in the Encyclopaehe dia of Islam, and in a Frenchmonographon Arabminiatures;6 is betterknown to modem Italian specialists on Muslim Sicily, such as UmbertoRizzitano, who has built upon Amari's pioneering efforts.7 Ibn Zafar's Historical Milieu Ibn Zafar's work needs to be analysed against the backdrop of the political developments of his time and the strategic position of Sicily in the ongoing conflict between the Muslim world and ChristianEurope. Ibn Zafar's world of the twelfth centurywas one of Arab-Muslimdecline. The Aghlabid conquest of Sicily (827), was followed by the rule of the Fatimids and their Kalbite clients, who lost power in 1052 amid internecineconflicts among competing factions: i.e. African Arabs versus Spanish Arabs, Sunni versus Shi'a, and Arabs versus Berbers.8A period of anarchyensued, where rival qac'ids(lordlings) ruled over the island, opening the way for the Norman invasion begun in 1061 and completed in 1097.9Roger I presidedover a ChristianKingdom where Muslims occupied key positions in the Normancourt and the military,in a unique milieu of Christian-Muslim symbiosis and coexistence.10 As the epicentre of a flourishingculture, Sicily became a bridge of culturaltransmissionbetween the Muslim world and ChristianEurope.Under Roger II, Sicily's Arabophileculture reacheda zenith, althoughafterhis death (1154) a period of Muslim restlessness ensued, particularlyduring the reign of William II (1166-1189)." Notably, Ibn Zafarwas born underNormanrule, which shaped his worldview and aspirations as a Muslim facing the consequences of Islamic decline at home and abroad. This milieu of political upheaval and uncertainty gave birth to Ibn Zafar's masterpiece-Sulwdn al-Muta'.
in the age of Tacitus or of Machiavel'.3

3 Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, p. 2. 4 G. Mosca, Histoire des Doctrines Politiques (Paris:Payot, 1936), p. 27. Ibid. 6 TheEncyclopaediaof Islam, New Edition,Vol. III (Leiden:E. J. Brill, 1971), p. 970; Rachel Arid,Miniatures Hispano-Musulmanes (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969); pp. 1-8. 7 See Umberto Rizzitano, Storia e CulturantellaSicilia Saracena (Palermo:S. F. Flaccovio, 1975), pp. 160, 284-285, 366, 434-35, 450-451. 8 Fora detailedaccount,see LeonardC. Chiarelli,Sicily DuringTheFatimidAge,Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of History, University of Utah, June 1986, pp. 119-123. 9 Francesco CT:Greenwood Gabrieli,TheArabs:A CompactHistory,translated SalvatorAttanasio(Westport, by Press, 1981), p. 136. 10 Ibid., 137. p. Abu al-HusaynMuhammadIbn Ahmad Ibn Jubayr,Rilia (Travels) (Leiden:E. J. Brill, 1907), pp. 341-342.



Ibn Zafar: A Biographical Sketch Described as a short, misshapen and ill-favoured man, Abu 'Abd Allah MuhammadIbn Abi MuhammadIbn Zafar al-Siqilll al-Makki al-Maliki was born in Sicily (1104), but lived the life of a wandererseeking political haven and a livelihood in mostly inhospitable Arab capitals. Yet despite his misfortunes, Ibn Zafar was highly regardedby his Muslim contemporariesand later chroniclers, in sharp contrastto the oblivion befallen him in the modern Arab/Islamic intellectual milieu. The great geographer Yaqut al-Rium called Ibn Zafar 'a refined philologist';12 the historian Shams al-Din al-Dhahabiconsidered him 'a and brilliantthinker';13 Ibn Khallikanlabelled him 'an accomplished scholar'.14 The epithets of distinctiongiven to Ibn Zafar were 'Hujjatal-Din' (Proof of the Faith), 'Shams al-Din' (Sun of the Faith), 'Jamal al-Din' (Beauty of the Faith), and 'Burhanal-Din' (Argumentof the Faith). The authorof 32 books, Ibn Zafar was an unusually well-rounded intellectual, with a mastery of virtually all branches of learning both sacred and profane, i.e. Islamic law, Jewish and Christianliterature,Persian history, Indian literature,moral philosophy, philology and theology.'5 He was considereda foremost mufassir(exegete), scholarof Islamic law, poet, grammarianand man of letters. Although he was a pious Muslim with strong Arab loyalties, Ibn Zafar's intellectual reach went far beyond the political and cultural confines of Ddr al-Isldm. The precise chronology of the travels of 'the Sicilian wanderer'is difficult to establish. Ibn Zafar is thought to have been raised and educated in Mecca, the city of his forbears, as denoted by the inclusion of 'Al-Makki' in his name. Having spent his youth in Fatimid Egypt and al-Mahdiyya, he left when the latterfell to the Normansin 1148. After a brief stop in Sicily, Ibn Zafartravelled to Egypt and then to Aleppo around 1146, where he secured a teaching position at Madrasa Ibn Abi 'Asriun and the patronage of SafTal-Din, a high-ranking al-Din Mahmuid Zanji (1146-1174). The outbreak official in the court of N-ur Ibn of civil war forced him to leave Syria for Sicily (1154), where he enjoyed the patronageof Amir Abu 'Abd Allah Ibn Abi al-Qasim Ibn 'AlTal-Qurashi,also known as Ibn Hajar. Soon Ibn Zafar left Sicily to take refuge in Hamat, Syria,
where he died in poverty in 1170 or 1172.16

Sulwan al-Muta' Existing manuscriptsof Ibn Zafar's magnumopus bear one of two titles: Kitdb
al-Sulwdnat fi Musamardt al-Khulafd' wa 'l-Sadat (Book of Consolations in Conversations with Caliphs and Noblemen) or Sulwan al-Mutda fi 'Udwan al-Atbad (Consolation for the Ruler During the Hostility of Subjects).17 The
12 ild (Book of IntelligentGuidanceandRefinedLearning), Yaqutal-Rumi,KitdbIrshddal-ArTb Ma'rifatal-AdTb Vol. VII (Cairo: Matba'aHindiyya, 1925), p. 102. 13 Al-Imam Shams al-Din MuhammadB. AhmadB. 'Uthmanal-Dhahabi,STra A'ladm al-Nubald' (Biographyof Most LearnedNobles), Vol. 20 (Beirut: Mu'assasatal-Risala, 1985), pp. 522-523. 14 Abf al-'AbbasShamsal-Din AhmadB. Muhammad BakrB. Khallikan, Abi al-A'vynwa Anba'Abnd' Wafaydt al-Zaman (Obituariesof Eminent Men and Histories of Leading Contemporaries),Vol. 4 (Cairo: Maktabat al-Nahdaal-Misriyya, 1948), p. 29. 15 Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, pp. 39-40. On Ibn Zafar's other writings see Arie, Miniaturespp. 1-4; and Umberto Rizzitano, 'Ibn Zafar, Abu 'Abd Allah' in Encyclopaediaof Islam, Vol. IV, p. 970. 16 On Ibn Zafar's travels, see Yaqfut al-Rium, Irshad,p. 102; and Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, pp. 23-28. 17 Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, pp. 95-98.



s book, patterned after Ibn al-Muqaffa" (d. 757) KalTla wa Dimna, brought considerable posthumous recognition to its author, and it was translatedinto Its Persian and Ottoman Turkish.18 principal aim is to provide expert advice to the prince,presentedin the form of maxims which he needs to follow (naslha) when faced with unrestamong his subjects. Indeed, Ibn Zafar is concernedwith acquaintingthe ruler with the art of governing based on practicalrules, as was Machiavelli in his Prince.'9 Method A distinguishing characteristicof Ibn Zafar's book is the use of empirical methodology in the derivation of his maxims on rulership. His empirical approachsets him apartfrom earlier Islamic theorists as well as from most of those who followed him. As distinct from such Muslim philosophersas al-Kindi (d. 873), al-Farabi(d. 950) and Ibn-Rushd(d. 1198), who were influenced by Greek thought, Ibn Zafar belongs to a category of thinkers whose ideas developed within a more authenticIslamic mould, e.g. Rabi' (d. 894), al-Juwayni (d. 1283), al-Mawardi(d. 1058), and Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328).20Yet in sharp contrast to these fuqaha' (legists), whose political thought and rules of governance typically were deduced (istinbat) from the Qur'an and Sunna, Ibn Zafar was a thoroughgoing empiricist. To be sure, Ibn Zafar does not defy the authorityof the religious texts, but seeks empiricalgroundingfor his maxims in historical events and the experience of caliphs, Persian kings and Byzantine rulers, which are supplementedby Arabic poetry and sayings, and Indianfables and tales. In fact Ibn Zafar is careful to state: 'I based this book on examples ... and I used my knowledge, experienceand wisdom in a way that does not conflict with the Shari'a'.'2He proceeds analyticallyby first quoting the Qur'anand the Sunna, and then goes outside the scripturalframeworkto supporthis arguments by real or supposedhistoricalexamples and reinforcedby his own observations. Such resort to historical and experiential empiricism constitutes an unusual departurefrom the norm for a writer of the twelfth century. The Ruler's Imperative Ibn Zafar, like his Florentine successor, upheld the ruler's role as the essential feature of a stable political order and the maintenanceof the general good. He saw the effective prince as being 'more singularthan the griffin,more marvelous than alchemy, and rarerthan red gold'.22 But who was this worthy prince whom Ibn Zafar wanted to help succeed in governance?Unlike the singularityof Machiavelli's purposeto impress Lorenzo de Medici, Ibn Zafar dedicatedhis book to two differentpatrons.A first edition
1892), pp. Bibliographie des Olurages Arabes (Li6ge: ImprimerieH. Vaillant-Carmanne, to 175-177. Kalila wa Diozmna, containinginstructions the princein the form of fables on animals,was translated from Sanskritinto Pahlavi, and renderedinto Arabic by Ibn al-Muqaffa'.See Chauvin, Bibliographie, p. 11. 19 Niccolo with an introduction HarveyC. Mansfield,Jr.(Chicago, Machiavelli,ThePrince, A new translation by IL): Universityof Chicago Press, 1985); and Discourses on Liv,, translated HarveyC. Mansfieldand Nathan by Tarcov (Chicago, IL: Universityof Chicago Press, 1996). 20 150-191. Thabit,Shar-'iya al-Sulota, 21 Suhtdln,Arabic edition, pp. p. 15. 22 Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, p. 58. 18 Victor Chauvin,



of the Sulwan was dedicated to an unknown ruler who was facing a revolutionary situation in Syria; he may have been the ruler of Damascus, who later was expelled by Nur al-Din.23 More consequential from a historical perspective is the book's second edition, which Ibn Zafar dedicated in 1159 to Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Abi al-Qasim Ibn 'All al-Qurashi. A leader of the Muslims of Sicily, Abu al-Qasim had shown munificence toward Ibn Zafar and requested that he write a book for his personal use in facing an incipient political crisis.24 In an effusive dedication to 'qa'id al-muslimin', Ibn Zafar offers Abu al-Qasim 'the choicest and most excellent present'.25 A member of a large Sicilian Arab family whose members traditionally had been military commanders, Abu al-Qasim had returned to Sicily in the 1 150s to assume a military position in the Norman government.26 Soon the Arab nobleman was confronted with challenges to his position from within the Muslim community as well as from King William II (1166-1189), whose weak government could not secure the well-being and loyalties of an increasingly restless Muslim population.27 Thus, for a leader in Abu al-Qasim's tenuous position, Ibn Zafar's book was intended as a welcome source of political guidance, '... an effective remedy for the afflictions of his mind'.28 In the end, Ibn Zafar's political wisdom was not destined to have a major impact on Abu al-Qasim's leadership aspirations, which aimed at the re-establishment of Muslim rule over Sicily. He attempted to rally the Muslims against King William, while seeking military help from the Muwahhidun (Almohads), who in 1159 had taken al-Mahdiyya from the Normans.29 Informed of his seditious plans, the King confiscated Abu al-Qasim's wealth, although he kept him in his Dlvtwdn oversee military matters in the provinces.3? to An Effective Counsellor Ibn Zafar prefaces his maxims by warning the ruler against advisors who seduce others by 'flattering words'. To underline his own integrity and utility as an advisor, Ibn Zafar asserts that princes rarely are able 'to secure an honest and able minister, a learned and faithful counsellor ...'3' To Ibn Zafar, the best Waz7r is one who combines philosophical wisdom, with political experience-a concept which harks back to Plato's model of the philosopher king. Thus, the wise prince should remember that 'counsel is the mirror of the intellect; if therefore, thou wouldst know the capacity of anyone, ask counsel of him'.32 Moreover, to Ibn Zafar, the good counsellor should be faithful to the prince, and able to view things from his master's perspective in order to protect his interests by planning for every contingency.33
23 4 5 6

Ibid., p. 109. Ibid., pp. 31-32, 101-102. Ibid., p. 141. On Abu al-Qasim's leadershiprole, see the first-handaccount by Ibn Jubayr,Rihla, p. 341. 7Ahmad T. Madani,Al-Muslimnlf Siqilliy\a 'waJcanzlb l.ftliyv (The Muslims in Sicily and South Italy) (Cairo, 1948) pp. 50-112. 2s Amari, Sol\vrn, Vol. I, p. 101. 2' On the actions of Abu al-Qasim, see Ibn Jubayr,Rihla, p. 341; also see Amari, BibliotecaArabo-Sicula,Vol. I (Torino-Roma:ErmannoLoescher, 1880), pp. 101-102. 30 Amari, Biblioteca, pp. 101-102.
3l Amari. Sol\an, 32 Ibid., 174. Vol. I, p. 119.

33 Ibid., p. 245-246. pp.



The failure of Waztrsto provide the ruler with useful advice is a persistent theme in the Sulwdn, as its author recounts instances of advisory deficiency owing to incompetence, dishonesty, timidity or the desire to be 'a chameleon living in the trunk of some tree ... until the crisis is past'.34After empirically demonstratingthe danger to the ruler in being bound by the counsel of his official circle, Ibn Zafar stresses the necessity to seek advice from outside the ruler's entourage. This age-old problem of executive decision-making is analysed by Ibn Zafar throughhistorical examples where rulers reach out to an 'old man' to seek honest advice in times of crisis.35Could it be that the 'old man' would be Ibn Zafarhimself? A poor, unfortunate man seeking recognition and employment,Ibn Zafar was at pains to tell the prince that his maxims were only known to professional counsellors, who kept their secrets from others.36 Maxims of Effective Governance Unlike Machievelli, whose advice to the prince covers differentcontingenciesof rulership,most of Ibn Zafar's rules are expressly designed to deal with reversals of fortune facing the ruler. His maxims are presentedunder a five-fold continuum: (1) To trust in God (tafw[d) and advance resolutely if the cause is just, or abandonit if it is unjust. (2) To hold to your course of action with fortitudeand braveryuntil the crisis is over. (3) To persevere with patience (sabr). (4) To submit to God's will, should the issue prove unfortunate. (5) To give up the vanity of earthly power, should it prove to be too heavy a burden.37. These generalguidelines subsumeoperationalrules, the most important which of
may be summarized in the formula: Tadblr + HTla + Quwwa= Victory. When

faced with a powerful antagonist,the amir should use a combinationof planning (tadbir), artifice(hTla)and force (quwwa) in a flexible manner,instead of solely employing absolute force (quwwa al-mutlaqa). Thus, in choosing alternative plans of action, the leader would have to engage in a phased process of decision-makingas follows: TadbTr.The first step to be taken by the prince is to begin planning and strategizingby assessing the natureof the challenge facing him. Such assessment requires first-handinformation,because
... if a man regulates any undertaking according to hearsay, he will build upon possibilities; but if he regulates it according to what he sees with his own eyes, he will build upon certainties.38

Thus, reliable intelligence is needed about the strengths and weaknesses of the
34 Ibid., p. 164. 35 Ibid., pp. 166. 194.

36 38

37 Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, pp. 124, 144.

Arabic edition, p. 16. Sulwadn, Ibid., p. 173.



foe, its strategy, experience and the psychological disposition of the enemy camp.39In weighing such intelligence, priority is to be given 'to what is real, ratherthan approximation',4" because, Ibn Zafar tells the prince, 'Your response to what you hear is based on different interpretationsof the news and the managementof the affairs is based on your perceptions of reality'.41 But before formulatinghis response, the leader's strategizingprocess requires two additionalfunctions-wise counsel and sound deliberation.Ibn Zafar warns that 'The counsel devised at first sight is of all the most worthless' and 'The best counsel is that which has been proved by reflection, and adopted after mature deliberation'.42 Elsewhere, he states with poetic eloquence:
If counsel be the sword of wisdom, and if that sword be the keenest which has been sharpened with the nicest care and of which the blade has been the most diligently polished, then surely the counsel which has been the most frequently discussed and the longest weighed will be better than any other.43

Thus, Ibn Zafar saw the investigatory,consultativeand deliberativefunctions as essential prerequisitesto the employment of artifice (hila) and ultimately force (quwwa). If artifice proves sufficient to overcome a foe, then why use force against him?44 HIla. The employment of .HIla(ruse or artifice) or a stratagembased on guile and trickery, is proposed by Ibn Zafar as a possible alternativeto the use of force. Indeed, it was Ibn Zafar's advocacy of artifice that promptedMosca to view the Sicilian Arab as a precursorof Machiavelli.45 Clearly, for Ibn Zafar, who so often preachedtruth and morality, the use of artifice is a contradiction. But he resolves it by stating that the end justifies the means, i.e. the use of falsehood is permitted,but only for raison d'etat:
Falsehood is like unto poisons, which cause death if they are used alone, but when mixed in the compounds of the apothecary, may be of service. A king may not permit falsehood except in those who use it for the good of the state. As for example: to deceive the enemy, or to conciliate the disaffected.46

Nevertheless, Ibn Zafar is quick to warn his master about the need for secrecy and selectivity in employing artifice, fearing that such secrets may be compromised by disloyal counsellors:
In like manner kings must not give license to keep the poisons of which we have spoken, unless to such safe persons as would know how to withhold them from men of evil dispositions.47

al-Quwwa al-Mutlaqa.When all else fails, then the prince should resortto force, to the fullest extent. Even when employing force, the prince is urged to use
" Ibid., p. 172. 40 Stuhvn, Arabic edition, p. 32. 41 Ibid., p. 33. 42 Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, p. 174. 3 Ibid., p. 174. 44 Suhdn, Arabic edition, pp. 30-46. 5 Mosca, Histoire, p. 27. 46 Amari, Solwan, Vol. II, p. 151.
7 Ibid.



artificetactically to mislead his enemy. However, Ibn Zafarplaces preconditions which the prince needs to consider in deciding upon the use of force. One essential factor is the psychological predispositionof the prince with respect to his foe. In order to have a chance of success, the user of force should not proceed from a self-imposed position of psychological inferiority toward an enemy, however powerful.48And in considering the use of force, Ibn Zafar advises the prince not to attack his enemy unless he knows him to be weaker or nor than himself;49 should the prince treathis enemy with compassion (ihsadn) become distractedby his words and lose the chance to destroy him.50Ibn Zafar does not believe that 'the base natureof man' can be changed and no amount of conciliation will turn an enemy into a friend, thus necessitating his total destruction.5' Theory of Revolution Interspersedin the Sulwan is a theory of revolution, its causes, manifestations and suggested modalities to confront it. As a general rule, Ibn Zafar states that the severity of the governmentdrives the subjectsto revolution,because 'the use of force begets force'.52He warnsagainsttyrannicaloppressionand the violation To of principles of justice which inevitably lead to conspiratorialbehaviour.53 Ibn Zafar, such oppressive and unjustrule is characterized the 'insolence of by the great', 'the timidity of the rich', and 'the carelessness of those who enjoy', which cumulatively produce 'heart-burnings'among the people that lead to expressions of discontentand 'the audacityof the people' to rise up in revolt.54 Within the context of the foregoing macro-level causal factors, Ibn Zafar identifies two micro-level triggers of revolution: (1) partiality in the ruler's treatment of notables, which excites hatred, and (2) mildness in the ruler's treatmentof subjects, which encourages audacity of the populace.55Here, Ibn of Zafarshows a unique appreciation the role of social classes and class struggle as causal factors of political unrest.He identifies three classes of subjects, each of which would requiredifferent modalities of treatmentin order to sustain the ruler's authority.At the top are the notables who need to be shown impartiality, courtesy and benevolence. Next are the middling castes of merchants,artisans and servants, who should be treated with a mix of gentleness and severity as At appropriate. the bottom of the social ladder is the populace 'which always runs after the first who holds out any novelty, without examining either his words or his actions'.56As such, they must be ruled by fear without harshness and by punishmentwithout excess.57 Ibn Zafar is acutely aware of inter-class conflict as a cause of revolution. Thus, he urges the ruler to keep people within their castes.58In this context, he
49 Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, p. 172. 0 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 87. 51 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 172. 52 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 93. 53 Ibid., p. 154. 54 Ibid., pp. 98-99. 5 Ibid., p. 97. 56 Ibid., p. 89. I7Ibid., p. 90. 5XIbid., p. 64.
X4 Sullwin,Arabic edition, p. 32.



is particularly concerned about the role of the middle classes-merchants, artisans and servants-who will leave their castes if the ruler uses force against them, and proceed to join 'the military order' and precipitate a mass uprising.59 In recognizing the revolutionary potential of the middle classes, Ibn Zafar is a true precursor of later theorists who saw the pivotal role of these social categories in leading challenges to royal authority.60 Equally significant to Ibn Zafar is the role of 'the blind fanatic' (ta'assub al-adma), who uses religion to rally the populace against the ruler, and once in power, rules 'with an authority more absolute than that of the sovereign'.61 Basing himself on examples from Islamic and pre-Islamic history, Ibn Zafar correctly diagnoses the rise of commoners to supreme power in times of upheaval, backed by the urban underclasses-a phenomenon so pervasive in recent European history, which is seen by political theorists as the onset of totalitarian dictatorship.62 In warning the ruler about 'the blind fanatic', who uses religion as an instrument of mass mobilization, Ibn Zafar undoubtedly had in mind such charismatic revolutionaries as Hamdan Qarmat, the Iraqi peasant, whose Batini message brought together peasants, artisans and emigrants to terrorize the 'Abbasid Caliphate in the ninth and tenth centuries.63 The Virtuous Prince In his task of advising the ruler, Ibn Zafar identifies the attributes of the virtuous prince and the methods he needs to employ in order to forestall rebellion and maintain stability. Thus, there are five main virtues in which princes ought to surpass all other individuals: (1) paternal affection for all subjects; (2) vigilance over the populace; (3) courage to defend the people; (4) sagacity to delude foes; (5) prudence to take advantage of every opportunity.64When facing adversity, he advises the ruler to: (1) have patience; (2) not give way to depression; (3) execute strict justice; (4) secure the roads; (5) protect people seeking refuge; (6) conciliate alienated subjects; (7) show generosity and clemency.65 To Ibn Zafar the most important among the foregoing attributes is patience (sabr), which rules over all other virtues-knowledge, prudence, understanding, activity, benignity and piety.66 He equates patience with endurance because patience is like 'a coat of mail' in adversity, so 'endure and thou shalt conquer'.67 Ibn Zafar's concept of patience in kings consists of three clusters of elements and their effects: (1) long-suffering, which gives birth to clemency; (2) watchfulness and foresight, which cause prosperity of the realm; (3) courage, which produces firmness in the ruler and warlike energy and intrepidity to defend the State.68 Elsewhere, Ibn
59 Ibid.
60 Thomas H. Revolutionaryv Greene, Com)parative Movements,3rd edn (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall, 6' Amari, Solwan, Vol. II, p. 67. 62 Carl Friedrich J. and Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, TotalitarianDictatorshipaindAutocracy(New York: Fredrick

1990), pp. 43-45, 67-68. A. Praeger, 1963), pp. 17-26. On the Carmathians Qaramita, Philip K. Hitti,Historyoft'te Arabs. 10thedn (London:Macmillan,1970), or see

p. 444. 64

Amari, Solwan, Vol. I, pp. 241, 242. Ibid., Vol. II, p. 90. 66 Ibid., pp. 39-40. 67 Ibid., pp. 40-41. hs Ibid., p. 43.



Zafar advises his prince to have strengthof mind, a correct eye, quick witted sagacity, courage and vigour.69Because of the vicissitudes of power, the most prudentruler, says Ibn Zafar, is the one who preparesfor every contingency by keeping a faithful vizier, a sharpsword, a fleet coursershould he need to escape, He a beautiful woman and an impregnablefortress.70 warns against such vices as kingly pride, ire, vanity, rashness, sloth, greed, rapacity and preoccupation with sensual pleasures which distract the ruler from his duties and tasks of To are rulership.71 be sure, the passions of a 'man of understanding subordinate to his judgment', because he regulates them 'according to the dictates of reason'.7 As a good Muslim, Ibn Zafartells the rulerthat 'worldly materialism' breeds opposition, and that the good prince should practiceabstinence, 'a virtue Ibn Zafar does not limit himself to the enumerationof the general attributes of the virtuousruler,but applies them to specific problemsof governance.Thus, a wise prince should be aware of 'the five signs' that bring about the demise of rulers:(1) belief in gossip and those who cannot foresee the issue of events; (2) turningagainst those whom he ought to love; (3) lacking sufficientrevenues;(4) favouring one and dismissing anotherbased on caprice and not reflection; (5) dismissing the counsel of men of wisdom and experience.74
followed only by the elect'.73


Ibn Zafar's conceptionof the ideal ruleris one who is not only watchfulbut also proactive in identifying problems as they arise, and dealing with them before Thus, the ruler should seek informationon the they cause discord and sedition.75 and about the specific complaintsof his subjects,which he needs popularmood, to satisfy, because 'subjects first move their tongues and then hands'.76 Indeed, the ruler should not ignore rebellious words, but confront opponentsand critics before limited dissatisfactionleads to bigger problems. In order to control his subjects' rebellious tongues, the ruler will have to 'bind their hearts to him in love' by administering justice impartially,lighten taxes, and exempt them from Ibn Zafar goes as far as to advocate a redistributionof wealth, 'to imposts.77 collect the superfluouswealth of individuals,and to expend it for the good of the
public' 78

In confronting opponents, Ibn Zafar counsels the ruler not to use violence
will be pushed to a mass

uprising against their will.79 Instead the ruler first needs to use patience and compromise. However, at some point, the ruler may have to use toughness, because, says Ibn Zafar,unlimitedsoftness (lhn)and compromisewill bringharm
69 70

(unf) prematurely, because the subjects (al-ra'iyya)

Ibid., p. 46.
Ibid., p. 83. Ibid., pp. 62, 68. Ibid., pp. 123-124.


73 Ibid., p. 171. 74 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 210. 75 Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 88-89.


76 Ibid., p. 72.

Ibid., pp. 88-89.

7X Ibid., p. 209.

Arabic edition, pp. 86, 96.



to the ruler,as in the case of the Caliph 'Uthman,whose leniency resultedin his death at the hand of his enemies.80
Power and Fate

Ibn Zafar was a most patient instructorin citing seemingly endless maxims and examples to teach the prince the skills of rulershipin orderto sustain his power. Clearly, Ibn Zafar had no use for princes who lacked the will to shape their destiny and readily gave up the struggle when faced with adversityby blaming their troubleson fate or fortune.Thus, he sought to strike a balance between the determinismof humanaction and fate itself. Although he counselled the rulerto persevere with patience and fortitude, Ibn Zafar also wanted to prepare his master for the possibility of failure. As a faithful Muslim, Ibn Zafar depicts the world as 'a temporary shelter' where the possession of power and wealth is transitory.Thus, 'those who long to obtain power, should know how to resign it'.81When the ruler has done his best to use the prescribedmaxims but fails to contain the rebellion, then Ibn Zafar counsels his master to accept his fate and give up power, because this is God's will. Ibn Zafar and Machiavelli: A Comparative Analysis The foregoing analysis of Ibn Zafar's theories and maxims reveal important similaritiesto as well as differences from Machiavelli's thought as presentedin The Prince. The similaritiesbetween the two thinkerspertainto the commonality of their objectives, method, and maxims on rulership,as well as parallelsin their Both the Sicilian Arab and the Florentine Secretary were theorists of crisis, which defined their individual milieu and shaped their writings and behaviour. The FlorentineRepublic had fallen in 1512, bringing Machiavelli great misfortune and imprisonment. In Ibn Zafar's time, the Muslim world's internal conflicts and wars with the Christians drove him to a life of itinerancy and poverty. Both men advocated political unity, Machiavelli calling for a united Italy, and Ibn Zafar dreamingof a revived and united Islamic Arab realm. Their parallel pursuit of these noble goals was prompted by their shared sense of idealism, within which they hoped to advance their individual fortunes in to winning appointments governmentpositions. In this sense, the Sicilian and the Florentine were both hoping to convince their respective princes of their personal loyalty and functionalusefulness to the pursuitof stable political order. In Machiavelli's dedicationof The Prince to Lorenzo de Medici and Ibn Zafar's dedication of Sulwdn to Abu al-Qasim, both writers were urging these rulers to adopt their respective programmesand policies which would secure princely power, as well as benefit their subjects and the largerinterestsof the Italiansand Arabs, respectively. Thus, while selfishly pursuing their individual careers, the two men sincerely believed that their advocacy of a strong and secure ruler was a moral end that would provide stability and some benefit for the people.82
8( Amari, Solwan, Vol. II, pp. 97-98. X1Ibid., pp. 218-219. 82 W. T. Jones, 'Machiavelli to Bentham' in EdwardMcChesney Sait (ed.) Masters of Political Thought,Vol. II (Boston, MA: HoughtonMifflin Company, 1956), pp. 37-39.

respective historical milieux.



The similarity in their objectives to advise the ruler in securing power also extends to the methodology employed by the two writers in formulating their maxims. Both Machiavelli and Ibn Zafar use a largely empirical method, based on historical examples of the successes and mistakes of rulers, combined with their own personal experience in the political life of Italy and the Arab world, respectively. Indeed, both men possessed great historical knowledge, a shrewd understanding of the forces shaping their respective environments and pride in their own abilities as experts on the affairs of State. Yet despite their impressive credentials, their writings failed to save them from their common fate of political oblivion. The central commonality between Machiavelli and Ibn Zafar is their focus on power and the art of ruling, the mechanics of statecraft. Thus, they analyse the causes that produce the rise and fall of rulers and States. Also, there is considerable agreement on the tactics to be used by the ruler to secure his power stakes. For both men the employment of tactical flexibility is a central virtue. Machiavelli's advice to the prince to combine the attributes of the lion and the fox, i.e. force and trickery,83has an exact parallel in Ibn Zafar's prescription to use force (quwwa) and artifice (hIla). Neither writer recommends the use of force alone, or its indiscriminate employment, but a reliance on persuasion, propaganda and trickery. However, when necessary, the ruler needs to act decisively in the affairs of State, and use force ruthlessly against his internal or external foes, which requires him to maintain a strong military force of loyal soldiers. Both men believed in the absolute necessity of having a powerful prince in order to prevent anarchy. In matters of statecraft, what are the limits of human action as distinct from fate and fortune? Both Machiavelli and Ibn Zafar place a strong emphasis on the determining role of human capability. To Machiavelli, half of the world's affairs are governed by fortune and half by man.84 Ibn Zafar refrains from citing such percentages, although his repeated exhortations to the prince to persevere, places him squarely on Machiavelli's side. The prince is to submit to the will of God only when everything else fails. Another common theme in the writings of the two thinkers is one of the central issues of effective leadership, i.e. the selection of good advisors. This was a sensitive issue for both men because of their shared aspirations to become official advisors to their respective princely patrons. Both warn the ruler about the danger of appointing sychophants to their official circle and agree on the attributes of a good advisor-competence, reliability, and total loyalty, whereby he always upholds his ruler's interests above his own.85 The significant similarities between Ibn Zafar and Machiavelli should not obscure the differences between them, which included differences in both degree and in kind. These differences were the product of the specific historical milieux in which Machiavelli and Ibn Zafar lived and worked. Machiavelli was a product of the Italian Renaissance, who had rebelled against the ideological constraints of the Roman Catholic church which he saw as a main impediment to Italian unity. Therefore, his maxims on power are

14 Ibid., pp. 98-101. 15 92-95.

The Prince, trans. Mansfield,p. 69.

Ibid., pp.



divorced from religious, moral and social concerns. In sharpcontrast,Ibn Zafar functionedlargely within the confines of the Muslim ummaand its religio-political legality and morality, which imposed certain constraints on his political thought and advice to the prince. Thus, Ibn Zafar advises the ruler to place his trust in God and exercise patience, righteousness and magnanimitytoward his subjects, not only because such policies will maximize his chances of securing power, but also would satisfy the requirementsof virtuous rulershipas defined by Islamic religious standards.Thus, even in the first edition of his masterpiece, which uses the theological and philosophical language of the ancient Persians, Ibn Zafar remains within the religious and moral frameworkof Islam.86 The religious framework from which Ibn Zafar proceeds places him in a quandaryabout human nature. Although he agrees with Machiavelli about the base nature of human beings, which tends to promote anarchy, Ibn Zafar's Muslim faith leads him to acknowledge the possibility of moderating human passions throughreligious teaching. However, when facing foes who are habitual wrongdoers, Ibn Zafar tells the prince to destroy them without compassion. Clearly, Ibn Zafar's political theories and profound understandingof the dynamics of power and rulership, no less than his empirical and experiential methods, place the Sicilian thinker far ahead of his time and his Muslim and Europeancontemporaries.In order to assess fully the significance of his work, furtherresearch is necessary, focusing on the totality of his known writings as Yet, as Mosca discovered a century comparedwith those of his contemporaries. ago, in many ways Ibn Zafarwas a true precursorof Machiavelli.Althoughthere is no evidence that Machiavelli was aware of Ibn Zafar's ideas, who predated him by 350 years, the Florentinediplomatwould have been impressedby much of what the Sicilian Arab wrote about power, leadershipand the modalities of governance.

86 Amari comparedthe two editions and found changes in the 2nd edition, possibly designed to conciliate Ibn Zafar's religious critics. See Amari, Solwan. Vol. I, p. 104.


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