Medieval Arab History

The complex structure of the early Islamic administration

When Muslim armies swept out from the Arabian peninsula, annexing territory from Spain to Persia. The largely illiterate Muslim conquerors turned to the local intelligentsia to help them govern.

When Muslim armies swept out from the Arabian peninsula in the seventh and eighth centuries, annexing territory from Spain to Persia. The largely illiterate Muslim conquerors turned to the local intelligentsia to help them govern, the New York Times said.

The Pre-Islamic Arab lacked the tradition of civil service, the political system was based on autonomous units of tribes. Therefore, the second Caliph Hadrat ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab was the first Caliph who administered the state administration systematically, he relied on traditions of pre-Islamic Byzantine and Sassanid administrative function.

During the second caliph, the Arab Empire had expanded in the vast areas of the Middle East.

*Hadrat ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab established a bureaucracy, separating the expanding Caliphate into provinces ruled jointly by a civil governor and a chief judge. Originally, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) decided matters of dispute personally among his small community. The Rashidun caliphs followed the same way, but as the Caliphate expanded, the governors stepped in. So, it was delegated to others. From the period of Umayyad, there was a rise of professional judges – who had authority to apply Islamic religious law (that is, Shariah law). Also, apart from it, there were administrative courts, which specialized in complaints of injustice against state officials (regarded as justice directly from the ruler or the head of the State).

There was continuity of administrative functions even with the change of ‘government’ that dominated the administrative units. Therefore, the complex structure of the Arab-Islamic Empire was based on existing mechanisms of the state administration, the transformation of these mechanisms over time to serve the Islamic needs and the rulership’s notions.

The second Caliph Hadrat ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab nominated officials in the administrative units of conquered territories, many of officials – non-Arabs and non-Muslims – were already employed by the previously ruling dynasties. The Caliph ‘Umar is credited with setting a monetary system that established by the Byzantine and Sassanid. The Caliph also determined the salaries/benefits to the officials and soldiers. The decisions of the administrative units were inter-dependent, for instance, salaried army entailed the form of army units.

Umar ibn al-Khattab took particular pains to provide effective and speedy justice for the people. He set up an effective system of judicial administration, hereunder justice was administered according to the principles of Islam. Qadis were appointed at all administrative levels for the administration of justice. Umar ibn al-Khattab was the first ruler in history to separate the judiciary from the executive. The Qadis were chosen for their integrity and learning in Islamic law. High salaries were fixed for the Qadis so that there was no temptation to bribery. Wealthy men and men of high social status were appointed as Qadis so that they might not have the temptation to take bribes or be influenced by the social position of anybody. The Qadis were not allowed to engage in trade. Judges were appointed in sufficient number, and there was no district which did not have a Qadi.

Hadrat ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab promised not to keep the soldiers away from their families for an extended period and reassured the men that while they were away fighting for the Muslim Ummah, and if they did not return, he, the Caliph would be the father of their children and the caretaker of their wives. Umar believed the role of the leader was to protect the people. This concept seems very unusual nowadays when we see presidents and prime ministers surrounded by bodyguards and willing to trample over anyone to protect themselves and their power. Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, although he was the leader of an empire, never felt it necessary to have a bodyguard. He walked the streets of Madinah like any ordinary citizen, even at night. In fact, it was during the nights that he roamed the streets checking up on those under his protection and anonymously distributing charity.

In conclusion, the state bureaucracy of the Caliphate based on the existing traditions and then transformed independently; the administration in the Umayyad period was Arabized and Islamic. Thereby, Arabic became the official language of administration and Islam a State religion. The bureaucracy reorganized for several times to allow centralized rule effectively.  The format of rulership and the changes in the identity were outcomes of governance’s practical matters and also the reflection or expression of a worldview of what the State is.


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Arif Mohammad

Independent Blogger, ECommerce Webmaster & Social Media Marketer. Mudawwana UK Director. Previously in Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi & Riyadh.

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