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The Sacral Sultanate

The Sacral Sultanate

Beginning in the first half of the tenth century, the Abbasid caliphate began to splinter and the locus of political control diffused across several emerging states ruled by sultāns. The Arabic word sultān appears in the Qur’ān and can be translated as “strength” or “authority.” However, as an honorific title, sultān describes a regional military commander who has seized the reins of power through conquest and governs independently of caliphal administrative oversight. With the rise of sacral sultanates, a system of secular, dynastic law operating outside the purview of shari‘ah courts became more prominent. Known collectively as qānūn, this legal complex encompassed public institutions and activities and was a jurisdiction of the sultān or one of his authorized representatives. In this new model of rulership, the sultān, the recipient of dawla (meaning royal fortune), functioned as a sacral king whose authority was not derived from the ummah, as was the case with the Sunnī-Jamā‘ī Imamate, but rather directly from God.

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