The modern Persian term for “revolution,” enqelāb, often used in conjunction with dawlat as the divinely ordained turn in power, stretches way back to the medieval period, and was in fact even used shortly before the revival of literary Persian to describe the Khorasanian uprising against the Umayyads. We find two very different ideas of revolution in the Persianate literature. The first is a deterministic theory of revolution in earthly kingdoms as a natural phenomenon; this has received little or no attention in the secondary literature on the subject. The idea had Indian origins, was developed in the late Sasanian Iran and absorbed in the astronomical theories of the early ʿAbbasid period. The second conception is a normative one, and belongs to the literature on statecraft and political ethics. It explains revolution as a consequence of the moral decay of the ruler and his failure to uphold the principles of statecraft. According to this second theory, revolutionary upheaval and changes of dynasty result from the failure of the rulers to maintain the prosperity of the kingdom through justice. This conception, too, can be traced to the Khorasan uprising. The mutual articulation and reconciliation of the deterministic and the normative conceptions of revolution represents the Persianate understanding of human agency within the framework of cosmic laws.
After a brief sketch of the historical background, the mutual impact of Islam and constitutionalism is examined by looking closely at the process of constitution-making in the broad context of the constitutional politics of Iran between 1905 and 1911. The modification of modern constitutional concepts under the impact of Shiʿi Islam and through its custodians in the course of the reception of Western constitutionalism in this period is followed by an analysis of the impact of modern political ideas on Islam. The analysis is based on the texts of the Fundamental Law of 1906 and its 1907 Supplement, and on the contemporary tracts for and against constitutionalism from opposite Islamic viewpoints. Our detailed examination of these sources indicates no presumption that a constitution had to be based on Islam. Nor was there any notion of ‘the Islamic state,’ the slogan of the Islamic revolution of 1979. For the constitutionalists and anti-constitutionalist pamphleteers of the first decade of the twentieth century alike, the counterpart to the constitutional government was not the Islamic state but the autocratic monarchy of ‘the king of Islam.’
The promotion of the Persianate normative model of imperial kingship was the major ecumenical contribution of the Persian bureaucrats who served the Saljuq and Mongol rulers of Iran and Anatolia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to state-building. The phenomenal growth of popular Sufism in Timurid Iran and early Ottoman Anatolia had a highly paradoxical impact on the legitimacy of kingship, making its conception increasingly autocratic. Both in the Ottoman and the Safavid successor empires, the disintegrative tendency of nomadic patrimonial empires was countered by variants of Persianate imperial monarchy. It is argued that the decisive event in sundering the ecumenical unity of the Persianate world was not the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, but the Mahdist revolution of the Safavid sheykhoghlu, Shah Esmāʿil, half a century later. The parting of ways stemmed from the variant of mystically enhanced autocracy adopted in the two cases—one with orthodox, Sunni, and the other with heterodox, Shiʿite inflection. The latter model became the Safavid model of autocracy under Shah Esmāʿil, and was quickly adopted by the Timurids after their conquest of India in 1526.
Persianate Islam developed in close connection with the rise of independent monarchies and state formation in Iran from the last decades of the ninth century onward. Political ethic and norms of statecraft developed under the Sāmānids and Ghaznavids, and constituted a major component of Persianate Islam from the very beginning. When Islam spread to India under the Delhi Sultanate in the thirteenth century and to the Sultanates in Malaysia and Indonesia after the fifteenth, Persianate political ethic was one of its two salient components, Sufism being the other. The immigrating Persian bureaucratic class engaged in state formation for Indian rulers became the carriers of this political ethic, importing it in its entirety and together with symbols and institutions of royalty and justice. With the continued eastward expansion of Islam, Persianate political ethic and royal institutions spread beyond India into the sprawling Malay world.
The critical importance of the Samanid dynasty for the emergence of New Persian as a language destined to serve as the lingua franca of the Persianate world has long been recognized. Not so of the distinctive Persianate polity that first emerged under the Samanids in Central Asia in the tenth/fourth century and was later transplanted throughout the Persianate civilizational zone. As this paper was written as an address to the 4th ASPS convention in Lahore, it stresses the significance of that historic city in the transmission of the Persianate polity as a model of political and military organization and its political culture to India with the expansion of Muslim power and the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in the early thirteenth/seventh century.