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Rulership and Justice

Islamic Period

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The Socio-political Hierarchy of Medieval Islamic Society

The Socio-political Hierarchy of Medieval Islamic Society

Delegation of administrative, judicial, and military responsibilities to subordinates was vital for the efficient and effective maintenance of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, and later the empires of the sultāns. This bureaucratic system created multiple political and social orders of khāss (the rulers) positioned above the lower classes (‘amm, the ruled). We have established that the sultāns attained their political authority through the conquest of territories belonging to the caliph-imām. Even though this military activity undercut the caliph-imām’s authority, many Muslims reasoned that the principles of governance that had guided the historic Sunnī-Jamā‘ī Imamate remained unchanged so long as the sultāns provided for the “equitable maintenance” of the various social classes and guaranteed that each retained its “proper place” and received its “due portion of provision and honor.” Thus, the direct rule of sultāns became a justifiable alternative to the Sunnī-Jamā‘ī Imamate. From this general scheme, we can see the relative status of each class and the outlines of a complex network of military personnel, specialized state functionaries, prominent businessmen, and an influential aristocracy all participating, in various ways, in governance and social management. The diffusion of power across the classes of rulers placed limitations on the sultān’s absolute sovereignty and indicates that urban notables exercised some degree of autonomy and local authority in areas outside the jurisdiction of the imperial capital.

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