Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sultan, Caliph, Padişah and Velayat-e faqih

Sultan, Caliph, Padişah and Velayat-e faqih 


Before the advent of Google , it was quite some task to quickly refer to the original source or meaning or quick summary of a political or historical event and origin of words .As I was never posted out to an English speaking country , except for local British Council library, there were few resources for books in English language .So while posted to Romania in early 1980s, I got Encyclopedia Britannica , carried by the chief of protocol on a state visit to Belgrade and then by Defence Attaché concurrently accredited from Yugoslavia to Romania . More on the uses of the encyclopedia later. (They both did very well in their careers)


My first post as third secretary /language trainee was in Cairo from end 1962 , to learn Arabic ( allotted time 2 years) .I took only one year having had done my primary schooling in Urdu in Bhiwani municipal school called Madarsa . So I knew the script. Urdu was then the medium of instruction in most of north India .Urdu script is derived from Persian script and has more alphabets than Arabic. Persian script itself is derived from Arabic .Arabic does not have alphabet P so Paris becomes Baris and Padishah becomes Badshah. For Ch it goes into circles.


After Cairo I was posted to Algiers where in the foreign office or otherwise few spoke Arabic .They spoke many dialects  and most educated persons used French as we use English even now .I was called Mudarris or Muallim, Arabic teacher or learned man . I had to start learning French, which I continued in Paris, where I could manage with English even in their Foreign office at Quay d'Orsay .But in Dakar almost every one spoke French only and may be Wolof (common with neighboring states).


I had to speak Turkish when as First Sec in Ankara ( 1969-73) I toured interiors of this vast land going up to the borders of Bulgaria, Greece, Syria ,Iraq ,Iran , USSR (now Georgia).It is beautiful and full of history , over 40 civilizations . I would normally carry tea caddies and literature on India in Turkish to give them to Kayakams like our sub-divisional officers in olden days and news paper owners cum printers, attached to some political party bringing out 4 to 8 page weekly sheets .My visit, a big event, would cover the first full page in the next issue .With press owners and others I had to speak in Turkish.


Finally I did learn Turkish and about the language and wrote a pioneering article, now available on many websites.


The script of the Turkish language in secular republic of Turkey was changed from Ottoman era Arabic script ( no short vowels, you have to guess) to modified Latin script , in which c stands for J and C cedilla for ch .G is silent and as in ogan becomes silent long oaan , so Erdogan sounds like Erdoaan.


In spite of 10 years in two spells in Turkey and postings and visits to Arab states I remained mystified by the word Sultan .I sensed that originally it was a title of a small up and coming ruler, who soon grew too big and powerful and over shadowed even his original nominal master. This transformation perhaps emerged during the Abbasid Caliphate , when in mid-9th century luxury loving Arab Caliphs started recruiting Turkish slaves from central Asia ,as major fighting forces ,whose commanders acquired status of a sultan .Soon the Caliph to whom the Sultan owed obedience , became the protector of the shadow of the God on the earth ie the Caliph.


When in early 2000s, I had stayed with the Vice Chancellor of Aligarh University, where I had delivered some lectures including on the influence of Turkish on Hindustani, I had looked up about Sultan in the encyclopedia of Islam in his very rich collection of books, but was not satisfied .So here is an attempt.


As for Iranians and Shias, who do not recognize the first 3 Caliphs and in fact curse them, after Mohammad comes Imam Ali, the prophet's son in law.


Persia's conversion to Islam, which forced Zoroastrian Parsees to migrate to India in the 7th century, disrupted mutual interaction and enrichment of Indian and Persian social and cultural streams in place since Achemenean days, if not earlier. But Islam did not liberate the sophisticated and evolved Persians, deeply influenced by spiritual and speculative Avestan, its excessive rituals and love for the intoxicant soma having been curbed earlier by Zoroaster's reforms (Buddhism was a similar attempt against Brahminical rituals and excesses in India around the same time).


Then the Persians lost their language, Pahlavi, which emerged a few centuries later as Persian in modified Arabic script. Having been ruled by Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Tartars for eight-and-half centuries, there emerged the Sufi-origin Persian Safavids, who became finally masters of their own land, which more or less comprises present-day Iran. At the same time, to preserve their sect and survive, Iranians after centuries of foreign rule developed an uncanny ability not to bring to their lips what is on their minds, and have institutionalized it as takiyya, ie dissimulation.

They also modified simple Arab Islam into a more sophisticated and innovative Shi'ite branch, with the direct descent of Imam Ali's progeny from Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, echoing their deeply ingrained sense of the divinity of rulers. They strengthened (against the Arab caliphs and Turkish sultans) the status of the imams, who among more egalitarian Sunnis are no more than prayer leaders, in line with the Indian-Iranian tradition of placing priests higher than rulers (as are Brahmins in the Indian caste system). By tradition, Azeri (Turkish) speaking Iranians become chiefs of the armed forces. Ayatollah Ali Khameini is an Azeri speaking Iranian.

The status of the imam evolved into the doctrines of intercession and infallibility, ie, of the faqih/mutjahid. (Somewhat like Hindu shankracharyas and the fraternity of learned pundits). The speculative Aryan mind fused the mystic traditions into Sufi Islam, bringing out the best in Islamic mysticism and softening the rigors of austere and crusading Islam which had emerged from the barren sands of Arabia.


Velayat-e faqih (Persian: ولایت فقیه‎, velāyat-e faqīh), also known as Islamic Government (Persian: حکومت اسلامی‎, Hokumat-i Eslami), is a book by the Iranian Shia Muslim cleric and revolutionary Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, first published in 1970, and probably the most influential document written in modern times in support of theocratic rule. The book argues that government should be run in accordance with traditional Islamic sharia, and for this to happen a leading Islamic jurist (faqih) must provide political "guardianship" (wilayat or velayat) over the people. A modified form of this doctrine was incorporated into the 1979 Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran[2] following the Iranian Revolution, with the doctrine's author, Ayatollah Khomeini, as the first faqih "guardian" or Supreme Leader of Iran.


Sultan (Arabic: سلطان‎ Sulṭān, pronounced [ˈsulˈtˤɑːn]) is a noble title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership" and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة sulṭah, meaning "authority" or "power".* Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), without claiming the overall caliphate, or to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate.


*Most Arabic words originate from and hence can be reduced to 3 Arabic alphabets ( use=isteimal to amal ,Mudarris to dars –lesson)


Muslims total around 1.6 billions in all sects and factions. After the decline of US led West , they are emerging again as powerful community aka Ummah and force .So the various aspects of Islam and its states , differences and cleavages need to be studied and Western propaganda should be abjured.


Below is a piece from Turkey's major newspaper Hurriyet whose original avatar called Turkish Daily News I was very familiar and associated with since 1969.


K.Gajendra Singh 3 November, 2013.


Ottoman rulers - sultan, khan, padişah and caliph

NIKI GAMM  November 30, 2013


The word sultan derives from an Arabic word meaning authority or power, particularly the strength, authority and position of a ruler or dictatorship. It was first used in the Abbasid period but not to signify the ruler, rather men of lesser importance but still wielders of power


"… the son of Sultan Murad, son of Sultan Mehmed Khan, the sultan of the lands and the emperor of the seas, the shadow of God extending over men and djinn, the deputy of God in the East and the West, the champion of the water and the land, the conqueror of Constantinople and the father of that conquest Sultan Mehmed…" is how Fatih Sultan Mehmed is described in the inscription above the gate (Bab-i Humayun) leading into the first courtyard at Topkapı Palace. The Ottoman ruler wasn't just plain "sultan"; he had acquired a whole series of attributes to emphasize his importance.

The word sultan derives from an Arabic word meaning authority or power, particularly the strength, authority and position of a ruler or dictatorship. It was first used in the Abbasid period (750-1258) but not to signify the ruler, rather men of lesser importance but still wielders of power. The Seljuk Turks however did use the word for their rulers when they had conquered the Middle East (1037–1194) and much of Anatolia. There has been some debate among historians over when the Ottoman Turks applied the word sultan in documents; however, Fuad Köprülü seems to have settled the issue by attributing its use to Yıldırım Bayezid (1354 – 1403) in two documents written in his time. Still Ahmet Refik Bey, citing other sources, insisted that the reign of Çelebi Mehmed (1413-1421) as the first time when "sultan" was used, although he admitted that it had been previously used in various places from time to time such as on Bayezid's mausoleum. The whole argument takes up several pages in Mehmet Zeki Pakalın's "Tarih Deyimleri ve Terimleri Sözlüğü," if you're interested.

The first time that the word sultan was used on Ottoman coins was on a copper coin minted by Murat I (r. 1362–1389). There were two elements necessary to demonstrate that one held power in the Islamic Middle Eastern world: one was by having one's name read out in Friday prayers, the other way was by having the right to mint coinage in one's name. 

The title of khan was a traditional one that emphasized the continuity of the Ottoman Empire with its Central Asian roots. The word apparently comes from Çağatay Turkish or possibly the Tatars. It was regarded as the equivalent of padişah and seems to have been a reminder to the Ottoman Turks of where they came from. It appeared on coinage as early as that of Çelebi Mehmed. 

Padişah more common

The Ottoman rulers also used a Persian title, padişah (shah of shahs) and this seems to be interchangeable with the title sultan. According to Gibb and Bowen in "Islamic Society and the West," padişah was the title more commonly used. Unlike the title sultan, historians don't seem to have been as concerned about establishing its first use for an Ottoman ruler. One could speculate that the adoption occurred after the first time an Ottoman ruler defeated an Iranian shah. 

As for the title caliph, Sultan Selim I took the title after conquering Egypt in 1517. It had been the title of the last of the Abbasid rulers, Al-Mutawakkil III who was captured together with his family. They were taken to Istanbul, where he formally surrendered the title to Selim. By this time however the caliph no longer wielded political power; it had become a means for the Mamluke sultans in Egypt to legitimize their rule since the caliph of the time would issue a diploma granting them the right to it.

Although Ottoman rulers assumed use of the title exclusively, they weren't addressed by any of the forms of address that applied to the caliph such as imam. Nor did they concern themselves with religious matters directly unless there was a direct threat to their rule. Instead they appointed a "şeyhülislam" to adjudicate religious affairs. At the same time they were not the Commander of the Faithful (Amir ul-Mu'minin), that is, acknowledgement of their right to the title of caliph extended only as far as their political power stretched; their reach was not universal. The same terms of address that could be used for the Ottoman sultan as caliph were used to describe one of the Mughal rulers of India. 

Title of caliph

Holding the title of caliph did oblige the sultan to uphold sharia law and the Ottomans were conscientious in doing this. Gibb and Bowen conclude from this that "the general conception of the powers and functions of the monarchy was but little affected by Islamic ideals. The Seljuk Turks had been thoroughly indoctrinated with Persian prinicples, which fit in well with Turkish views based upon the military-style organization of their tribal system, a feature that was passed down to their succesive Ottoman rulers. The main function of the 'World-Creator' – hünkar, one of the favorite titles of the Ottoman Sultans – was to keep the world on its axis by seeing that his army was paid and that no class of his subjects trespassed upon the rights and duties of any other class. The weaker the personal authority and influence of a Sultan, the more rigidly he was held to the strict observance of traditional customs and usages." The authors here are not referring to religious customs and usages but secular ones, although this may be why the Ottomans were more assiduous in upholding sharia law as their power grew weaker over the centuries.

Until the eighteenth century however the Ottomans successfully expanded their empire into the Balkans, at times losing a lot of ground. The battle at Petrovaradin (modern Serbia) in 1716 resulted in a disastrous defeat for the Ottomans at the hands of the Austrians, however it marked the furthest northern point that the Ottomans were able to march. From then until the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718 they continually lost ground to European forces and while they made somewhat of a recovery, it was only temporary. Of particular importance however was that until this juncture Ottoman sultans had insisted that they were superior to the rulers of European nations. They had insisted on being called padişah but with their being defeated, they were forced to acknowledge that the Austrian emperor was also a padişah in the Turkish versions of the various treaties signed. The Ottoman padişah was no longer the one and only.