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“The Shadow of God on Earth” from Nizam al-Mulk’s ‘Siyasat-Nama’

Abu ‘Ali Hasan Tusi, Nizam al-Mulk, was born about 1020 near Tus in eastern Iran. Like his father, he first worked for the Ghaznavids as an administrator, but eventually attached himself to the Saljuq ruling house around 1050, serving Chaghri Beg, Tughril Beg, Alp Arslan, and Malikshah. During the 20-year reign of the latter, Nizam al-Mulk became the real master of the Great Saljuq Empire. It was to Malikshah (1072-92) that he dedicated his political memorandum the Siyasat-nama (also known as Siyar al-mulk) or The Book of Government completed in 1091. The following year, he was assassinated as the court was on its way from Isfahan to Baghdad. His murderer, who was disguised as a Sufi, was immediately killed, but is generally thought to have been an emissary of the Nizari Isma‘ili chief Hasan-i Sabbah. This text reflects an important development in Sunni political ideology in the 11th century, as it witnessed the increasing influence and integration of Persianate and Turkic ideals of kingship into the notion of the “imamate” (leadership position) of the ummah.

Chapter 1. On the Turn of Fortune’s Wheel and in Praise of the Master of the World—may God confirm his Sovereignty

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; He charges that person to close the doors of corruption, confusion and discord, and He imparts to him such dignity and majesty in the eyes and hearts of men, that under his just rule they may live their lives in constant security and ever wish for his reign to continue.

Whenever—God be our refuge!—there occurs any disobedience or disregard of divine laws on the part of His servants, or any failure in devotion and attention to the commands of the Truth (be He exalted), and He wishes to chasten them and make them taste the retribution for their deeds—may God not deal us such a fate, and keep us far from such a calamity!—verily the wrath of the Truth overtakes those people and He forsakes them for the vileness of their disobedience; anarchy rears its head in their midst, opposing swords are drawn, blood is shed, and whoever has the stronger hand does whatever he wishes, until those sinners are all destroyed in tumults and bloodshed, and the world becomes free and clear of them; and through the wickedness of such sinners may innocent persons too perish in the tumults; just as, by analogy, when a reed-bed catches fire every dry particle is consumed and much wet stuff is burnt also, because it is near to that which is dry.

Then by divine decree one human being acquires some prosperity and power, and according to his deserts the Truth bestows good fortune upon him and gives him wit and wisdom, wherewith he may employ his subordinates every one according to his merits and confer upon each a dignity and a station proportionate to his powers. He selects ministers and their functionaries from among the people, and giving a rank and post to each, he relies upon them for the efficient conduct of affairs spiritual and temporal. If his subjects tread the path of obedience and busy themselves with their tasks he will keep them untroubled by hardships, so that they may pass their time at ease in the shadow of his justice. If one of his officers or ministers commits any impropriety or oppression, he will only keep him at his post provided that he responds to correction, advice or punishment, and wakes up from the sleep of negligence; if he fails to mend his ways, he will retain him no longer, but change him for someone who is deserving; and when his subjects are ungrateful for benefits and do not appreciate security and ease, but ponder treachery in their hearts, shewing unruliness and overstepping their bounds, he will admonish them for their misdeeds, and punish them in proportion to their crimes. Having done that he will cover their sins with the skirt of pardon and oblivion. Further he will bring to pass that which concerns the advance of civilization, such as constructing underground channels, digging main canals, building bridges across great waters, rehabilitating villages and farms, raising fortifications, building new towns, and erecting lofty buildings and magnificent dwellings; he will have inns built on the highways and schools for those who seek knowledge; for which things he will be renowned for ever; he will gather the fruit of this good work in the next world and blessings will be showered upon him.

Since the decree of God was such that this should be the era by which bygone ages are to be dated and that it should crown the achievements of former kings, whereby He might bestow on His creatures a felicity granted to none before them, He caused the Master of the World [i.e. Sultan Malik-Shah], the mightiest king of kings to come forth from two nobles’ lines whose houses were cradles of royalty and nobility, and had been so from generation to generation as far back as the great Afrasiyab [ancestor of Turkic peoples]; He furnished him with powers and merits such as had been lacking in the princes of the world before him, and endowed him with all that is needful for a king—such as a comely appearance, a kindly disposition, integrity, manliness, bravery, horsemanship, knowledge, skill in the use of various kinds of arms and accomplishment in several arts, pity and mercy upon the creatures of God, strictness in the performance of vows and promises, sound faith and true belief, devotion to the worship of God and the practice of such virtuous deeds as praying in the night, supererogatory fasting, respect for religious authorities, honoring devout and pious men, winning the society of men of learning and wisdom, giving regular alms, doing good to the poor, being kind to subordinates and servants, and relieving the people of oppressors. Following all this God gave him power and dominion as befitted his worthiness and good faith, and made all the world subject ot him, causing his dignity and authority to reach all climes; all the dwellers on earth are his tributaries, and as long as they seek his favor they are protected by his sword.

Now in the days of some caliphs, if ever their empire became extended it was never free from unrest and the insurrections of rebels; but in this blessed age (praise and thanks to God) there is nobody in all the world who in his heart meditates opposition to our lord and master, or ventures his head outside the collar of obedience to him—may God perpetuate this empire until the resurrection and keep the evil eye far from the perfectness of this kingdom, so that His creatures may pass their days under the equity and authority of the Master of the World and be ever intent on blessing him.

Such is the happy state of this great empire; and in proportion to its greatness it is blessed with an abundance of wise and good institutions. The wisdom of the Master of the World is like a taper from which many lamps have been lighted; by its light men find their way and emerge from the darkness. He has no need of any counsellor or guide; nevertheless he is not without cares, and perhaps he wished to test his servants, and assess their intelligence and wisdom. So when he commanded his humble servant to write down some of those good qualities that are indispensable to a king, indicating every principle which kings have followed in the past but now do not observe, whether praiseworthy or unpraiseworthy, whatever came to the mind of his humble servant that he had seen, learnt, read or heard, was written down, and the Sublime Command was fulfilled; these few chapters were composed in the manner of an epitome, and what was proper to each chapter was mentioned in that chapter in a simple style, by the grace of God.

Chapter 2. On Recognizing the Extent of God’s Grace towards Kings

It is for kings to observe His pleasure (His name be glorified) and the pleasure of the Truth is in the charity which is done to His creatures and in the justice which is spread among them. A kingdom which is blessed by its people will endure and increase from day to day, while its king will enjoy power and prosperity; in this world he will acquire good fame, in the next world salvation, and his reckoning will be the easier. Great men have said, “A kingdom may last while there is irreligion, but it will not endure when there is oppression.”

Tradition tells that when Joseph the prophet (the prayers of God and His peace be upon him) went out from this world, they were carrying him to Abraham’s tomb (upon him be peace) to bury him near his forefathers, when Gabriel (upon him be peace) came and said, “Stop where you are; this is not his place; for at the resurrection he will have to answer for the sovereignty which he has exercised.” Now if the case of Joseph the prophet was such, consider what the position of others will be.

It has come down in a tradition from the Prophet (may God bless him and save him) that on the day of the resurrection, when anyone is brought forward who in his life wielded power and command over God’s creatures, his hands will be bound; if he has been just, his justice will loose his hands and send him to paradise; but if he has been unjust, his injustice will cast him into hell as he is, with his hands bound in chains.

There is also a tradition that on resurrection day whoever had any command in this world over God’s creatures, even over the inhabitants of his own house or over his own underlings, will be questioned about it; likewise the shepherd who tended his sheep will be required to answer for that too.

Of a certainty the Master of the World (may God perpetuate his reign) should know that on that great day he will be asked to answer for all those of God’s creatures who are under his command, and if he tries to transfer his responsibility to someone else he will not be listened to. Since this is so it behooves the king not to leave this important matter to anyone else, and not to disregard the state of God’s creatures. To the best of his ability let him ever acquaint himself, secretly and openly, with their conditions; let him protect them from extortionate hands, and preserve them from cruel tyrants, so that the blessings resulting from those actions may come about in the time of his rule, if God wills.

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