The Ethical Literature: Religion and Political Authority as Brothers

in Journal of Persianate Studies
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This essay discusses the contribution of the Muslim ethical literature of the middle ages to Islamic political thought. The ethical literature offers a perspective on the medieval Islamic constitution that differs markedly from the picture that derives from the juristic literature on the caliphate. Where the juristic literature largely portrays political authority as the servant of religion, the ethical literature presents religion and political authority as “brothers” arrayed in a relationship of mutual dependence. This view is decisively influenced by pre-Islamic Iranian thinking on the relationship between religion and politics, as contained in the “Letter of Tansar.”

The Ethical Literature: Religion and Political Authority as Brothers

in Journal of Persianate Studies



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See e.g. Lapidus 1975363. Lapidus says that the “prevailing view among Islamists” is that while originally the “Caliphate was both the religious and political leadership of the community of Muslims” this relationship held true only in the earliest years of the caliphate. After the middle of the tenth century “governments in Islamic lands were henceforth secular regimes—Sultanates—in theory authorized by the Caliphs but actually legitimized by the need for public order” (idem 364). The Caliphs were not “a source of religious doctrine and law.” The scholars “denied the Caliphs after the Rāshidun any authority in the elaboration of the law” (idem 369). Lapidus associates this view with the proto-Hanbali Khorasani opposition to the Caliph al-Maʾmun which “expected the Caliphate to uphold the truth and law but not to define its content” (idem 382-83).


Dabashi 1989. On the Shiʿite context see Arjomand 1984.

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