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The Separation of State and Religion in the Development of Early Islamic Society Author(s): Ira M.

Lapidus Source: International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Oct., 1975), pp. 363-385 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/162750 Accessed: 22/01/2009 11:41
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Int. J. Middle East Stud. 6 (I975), 363-385

Printed in Great Britain







Islamic studies progress.' In recent years a great deal of work has been done on the Umayyad period, on the early history of Shi'ism, and on the origins of the Muslim schools of law. A broader current of research has yielded numerous studies of the 'ulamd' and their place in Muslim religious and communal life. New historical information and new points of view are gradually modifying received perspectives on Muslim religious movements and on the nature of Muslim religious elites. In view of these developments, it seems timely to consider one important question implicit in the research concerning the nature of Islamic societies: What is the relationship between state and religion in Islam? In particular, what was this relationship in classical Islamic times, and what is the heritage of early Islam for later Islamic societies? The prevailing view among Islamists is that classical Islamic society does not distinguish between the religious and political aspects of communal life. The Caliphate was both the religious and the political leadership of the community of Muslims, whose individual believers and subjects belonged to a polity defined by religious allegiance. This view of the seamless web of Islamic political and religious institutions has its basis in the experience of the Muslim community of Medina under Muhammad's leadership. Since Muhammad was the Prophet who revealed God's will in all of life's concerns, belief in Islam entailed both loyalty to a chief
I This paper has gone through several stages of preparation, in the course of which it has been much improved by the generous help of friends and colleagues. Professors Michael Dols and Franz Rosenthal have read the paper with great care, correcting points of detail and commenting on the larger implications and problems of the essay. Professor Wilfred Madelung has been especially helpful in correcting errors of fact and interpretation, and has offered me an important correction of perspective, putting the Hanbali movement in the context of several parallel developments. Conversations with Dr Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Richard Bulliet, and Emmanuel Sivan have also helped refine my thinking on this point. Preliminary presentations at Princeton University and at the International Congress of Orientalists have elicited other helpful comments too numerous to mention in detail. I am grateful for this generous assistance, and gratified to be part of a community of scholars willing to share so generously of their time and knowledge. I would also like to thank Lisa Gerrard for her tasteful editorial assistance.



Ira M. Lapidus

whose authority derived from his religious position, and membership in the umma-the community that he led. In this case, religious and political values and religious and political offices were inseparable. After Muhammad's death, the Caliphate preserved this fundamental idea. As successors to the Prophet, the Caliphs were obliged to preserve his religious and political legacy in its moral, religious, and legal aspects. It was their duty to teach the principles of Muhammad's revelation, to settle disputes, to maintain good order, and to extend Muhammad's conquests to secure the benefits they brought the community. In this regard the Caliph's position was unique and absolute. No other person possessed religious or administrative authority in the umma as a whole, except in so far as he served as the Caliph's delegate. Furthermore, the Caliphs personified Islam - the one element of identity common to the tribal factions that made up the community. The Caliph was the very person of the umma. This seems to be beyond dispute. Yet despite the origins of Islam and its own teachings about the relationship between religious and political life, Islamic society has evolved in un-Islamic ways. In fact, religious and political life developed distinct spheres of experience, with independent values, leaders, and organizations. From the middle of the tenth century effective control of the Arab-Muslim empire had passed into the hands of generals, administrators, governors, and local provincial lords; the Caliphs had lost all effective political power. Governments in Islamic lands were henceforth secular regimesSultanates - in theory authorized by the Caliphs, but actually legitimized by the need for public order. Henceforth, Muslim states were fully differentiated political bodies without any intrinsic religious character, though they were officially loyal to Islam and committed to its defense. In the same period, religious communities developed independently of the states or empires that ruled them. The 'ulamd' regulated local communal and religious life by serving as judges, administrators, teachers, and religious advisers to Muslims. The religious elites were organized according to religious affiliation into Sunni schools of law, Shi'ite sects, or Sufi tariqas. The Sunni schools of law, which are the best known, were groups of scholars and teachers who propounded a particular version of the Muslim holy law, and groups of witnesses, judges, and administrators who supervised the implementation of the law in the community at large. Locally the schools embraced a populace that looked to the 'ulama' for guidance on how to live a proper Muslim life. The schools gave advice in matters of family law - marriages, divorces, inheritances, and so on. They regulated certain aspects of commercial life, administered educational institutions and the properties endowed for their support, distributed charitable funds, provided legal services, and settled disputes. In the wide range of matters arising from the Shari'a - the Muslim law - the 'ulama' of the schools formed a local administrative and social elite whose authority was based upon religion.' Thus though the
For new studies on the period of the early Caliphate, see M.A. Shaban, The 'Abbasid Revolution (Cambridge, I970), and Islamic History A.D. 600-750 (Cambridge,

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 365 Muslim madhdhib were not organized in the same way as Christian churches, they had many of the religious and social functions we associate with churches. But whether or not we wish to speak of churches, religious organizations, institutions, personnel and activities were clearly separate from the ruling regimes. As long as two decades ago, Sir Hamilton Gibb, in his essay 'Constitutional Organization', showed that Muslim political thinkers themselves had become aware of the separation of state and religion and recognized the emergence of an autonomous sphere of religious activity and organization. For example, Ibn Taymiyya held that apart from the Caliphate, the 'ulamd' constituted the true umma of Islam, and that ruling regimes were 'Muslim' regimes not by any intrinsic quality but by virtue of the support they lent the Muslim religion and religious communities.' Clearly, medieval history did not bear out the promised unity of the golden age. In fact the golden age was very brief and the early unity was lost in the early centuries of Islam. When and why was the early unity lost? Our task in this paper is to recount the socioreligious history of the Umayyad and 'Abbasid periods, to trace the progressive differentiation of state and religion, and to evaluate its significance in the evolution of Islamic societies. In analyzing the history of the early Islamic period I shall try to join information that Islamic scholars already know to specific research on the social bases of Hanbalism and its role in the development of a separate religious sphere. The more general interpretative section of the paper should illuminate the specific role of Hanbalism; the concrete example unfolds its implications for the larger question about the relation of state and religion in classical Islamic society. Of course, a great deal about this early period remains unclear and even unknown, but I hope that this essay may nonetheless serve as an example of one useful, though by no means exclusive, approach to the subject, and as a stimulus to further research and reflection.
1971); F. Omar, The Abbasid Caliphate (Baghdad, I969). For the early history of Shi'ism,

see also C. Cahen, 'Points de vue sur la Revolution 'Abbaside', Revue Historique, 230 (I963), 295-338; M. Hodgson, 'How did the Early Shi'a become Sectarian?' Journal of
the American Oriental Society,

For the place of the 'ulama' in the post-'Abbasid period and the schools of laws, see R. Bulliet, The Patricians of Nishapur (Cambridge, 1973) and my essays, 'The Early Evolution of Muslim Urban Institutions', ComparativeStudies in Society and History, xv
(1973), 21-50, and 'Muslim Cities and Islamic Societies', Middle Eastern Cities (Berkeley

(1955), I-I3.

and Los Angeles, 1970), pp. 47-76. More general works on the 'zlama' in Muslim societies now include N. Keddie (ed.), Scholars, Saints and Sufis (Berkeley and Los Angeles,

G. Baer (ed.), The 'Ulamd' in Modern History (Jerusalem, (eds.) (Washington, 1955), pp.


H. A. R. Gibb,' Constitutional Organization', in Law in theMiddle East, M. Khadduri

and H. Liebesney


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In the beginning, the Caliphate absorbed the umma, but the religious and the political aspects of Muslim communal life came to be separated by a historical process that involved three developments. In the first phase Arab rebellions against the Caliphate caused the formation of sectarian movements within the once unified body of Muslims. The Arab empire had caused an unexpected revolution in the conception and practice of the Caliphate, which Muhammad had bequeathed and the first Caliphs had ratified. As heirs to the Byzantine and Sassanian empires, and students of former imperial servants, the Caliphs increasingly stressed the imperial character of their office, the importance of allegiance to the state, and the quasi-sacred nature of the Caliph. By developing court ceremonials, adopting new coinages, constructing great monuments, and supervising religious activities, the Umayyad dynasty (661-750) claimed an absolute authority for the Caliph's rule. In policy decisions it favored the preparedness of its armies, the efficiency of administration, and the maximization of resources available to the central government. The Umayyads deepened the political as opposed to the religious aspects of the Caliphate according to Byzantine and Sassanian precedents. Umayyad policy thus introduced a grave tension between the religious origins and the political practices of the Caliphate. This tension caused vociferous opposition to the Umayyad dynasty in the name of a true Caliphate and Islam, numerous conflicts between the Arabs and the Caliphs, and revolts against Umayyad rule. The most familiar opponents of Umayyad rule were the Khariji, who alleged that the Umayyads had no particular right to the Caliphate, which they felt belonged to any righteous Muslim chosen by the community, and the Shi'ites, who held that only members of Muhammad's own family and in particular the descendants of 'Ali were entitled to the holy office. Implicit in their opposition was the emergence of a body of Muslims who separated themselves from the authority and leadership of the Caliphs. The early disputes over succession and Caliphal policy soon gave rise to theological and religious differences and to the formation of sectarian religious movements as well as to political opposition. For our purposes, the Hashimites, who overthrew the Umayyad dynasty and vested the 'Abbasid dynasty with the office of Caliphate, were particularly important. The Hashimites and the 'Abbasids drew their support from the Arab population of Khurasan, and particularly from those descendants of the original conquerors who had become peasant cultivators in the villages around the major garrison cities, especially around Marw. These Arabs had lost the treasury stipends that they claimed as a matter of right as members of the Arab elite, became subject to the authority of local non-Muslim landlords and tax collectors, and were being taxed on the same basis as non-Muslim peasants, an affront

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 367 both to pocket and pride. Even in style of life the Arab settlers were being assimilated to the local Iranian population. In fiscal position, in social status, and in style of life the Arabs came to resemble the non-Arab, Iranian converts to Islam. They came to speak Persian, dressed as Iranians, and adopted local festivals and customs. The hard distinction between the Arab elite and the conquered Iranians was breaking down in favor of a mutual assimilation of populations, which merged distinct ethnic characteristics and social standing into a common Muslim society.I These Khurasanian Arabs who objected to the fiscal and social policies of the Caliphate came to equate their own interests with Islam, and regarded the existing Caliphate as a corruption of the true Caliphate, and its political policies as a departure from religious principles. A Muslim movement opposed to the Caliphate on fiscal and social policy and different from the Caliphate in its sense of Persian and Muslim as contrasted with purely Arab identity had come into being. With heightened religious consciousness, indeed with intense and millennial fervor, the Khurasanians believed that a new dynasty would restore the Caliphate to Muslim principles and open a new age of universal justice and peace, an age of equality among all Muslims, an age of the Mahdi, the Messiah. They distinguished the ideal or the office of the Caliph from its incumbents and understood that the community of Muslims, the umma might well oppose its nominal chiefs for reasons at once religious and political. It had become possible in the name of the true Islam to oppose the reigning Caliph, but not yet possible to imagine an umma without a Caliph. Despite their rebellion, the Khurasanians, like other Arabs, continued to cling to the doctrine of the unity of the community and its identification in principle with the office of the Caliphate. This was the basis of their identity as part of the ruling elite. Their common interest in the preservation of the conquests, in the enjoyment of the revenues, in their status as members of the military class, in their distinction as bearers of the dominant religion and language of the empire sustained loyalty to the conception of the Caliphate. In addition, for the Khurasanians, the Caliphate was not less, but all the more, important as the only available symbol of the new kind of multiracial Muslim society which had come into being in Khurasan. For them, the traditional conception of the Caliphate had become an ideology, a way of thinking about social and political affairs, which was of such symbolic importance that not even the transformation of the reality upon which their conception was based could destroy its meaningfulness. The doctrine of a single brotherhood, a single community, a single Caliphate descended from the Prophet served, whatever the realities, to suppress the awareness that Muslim consciousness was polarized between the need for complete unity and fear of a total collapse of society into hostile and warring factions. In Islamic societies the demand for unity has a symbolic importance in
I J. Wellhausen, The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall (Calcutta, M. A. Shaban, The 'Abbdsid Revolution (Cambridge, I970).


pp. 397 ff., and


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proportion to the weakness of experiences and institutions which are the substance of social unity. Thus, in the midst of rebellion the Khurasanians clung to the conception of the Caliphate stressing its original, vaguely religious significance. By changing the dynasty, they preserved for a time the traditional role of the Caliphate and the identity of Arab-Muslim society, but they nonetheless envisioned a Muslim community with its own religious and political purposes. The new dynasty gave only temporary relief to its supporters. The 'Abbasid dynasty, like the Umayyad, regarded concentrated military forces, a centralized administration, and an august semi-divine ruler enshrined by complex court ceremonial as essential to the office. Similar conflicts of financial and status interests and the old malaise over the political behavior of the Caliphate rose again. The Shi'ites further articulated their opposition to the reigning Caliphs. During the Umayyad epoch, the claims of the 'Alid family to be the rightful successors to the Caliphate had been based upon family identity and the good reputation of 'Ali among Muslims. Because the 'Abbasids made a similar claim to represent the family of the Prophet, however, the Shi'ites now had to bolster their claims with a specifically religious conception of the office. In the emergent Shi'ite view, the true Imam, the true leader of the community, was not merely an administrative successor to Muhammad, but a living continuation of Muhammad's revelations, an infallible guide to the divine law. In this new Shi'ite conception the Imam or Caliph was the very fount of the law, the knowledge of which was vested in him by a 'holy spirit'. Though they were opposed to the 'Abbasids, the Shi'ites did not truly question the traditional Muslim view of the Caliphate. Shi'ites continued to see the Caliph as the sole embodiment of the unity of the community, the proper guide for true Muslim behavior, and the guarantor that the divine will be implemented. Holding to the traditional conception in which political and religious leadership, Caliphate and community, were integrally identified, Shi'ism bolstered the old conception. In the short run, the Shi'ite response to the political problem of the Caliphate was essentially anachronistic. To a generation that had tried to reconcile Muslim beliefs with the political behavior of the Caliphs by a change of dynasty and had failed, Shi'ism offered, in a new guise, no more than the old solution of vesting the divinely intended heirs of the Prophet with the office. Shi'ism made no immediate advance over the Khurasanian position.' In the meantime, the process by which the religious and the political aspects of Muslim communal life would be separated was furthered by another development parallel to the emergence of political and religious opposition movements. This second development was the emergence of religious activity independent of the actual authority of the Caliphs. Though they headed the community, the religion, and the state, the Caliphs did
In the long run, however, ithnd 'ashari Shi'ites would, by accepting the doctrine of the hidden Imam, rupture the traditional conception by allowing a new religious community to develop without real concern for the union of religious and political authority.

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 369 not inherit Muhammad's prophethood, nor were they a source of religious doctrine and law. At the core of their executive and symbolic primacy there was a void, for neither the office nor the Caliph himself held the authority from which Muslim religious conceptions and practices were derived. The Qur'an, the revealed book, stood apart from the authority of the Caliph, and was available to every believer. Ever since the beginning of Islam private persons had given themselves to the study of the Qur'an and to the practice of Muslim rites. Private students of religions who were without office, without institutional means of support, and without priestly status were the real authors of the new religion. By the eighth and ninth centuries, the substance of Islamic teaching in Qur'anic studies, hadith, law, theology, and mysticism was no longer directly related to the Caliphate. In the development of an autonomous religious life, the emergence of the Muslim schools of law was of particular importance. In the course of the eighth century distinct schools of legal and religious speculation had gradually taken shape in Medina, Syria and Iraq. Out of the mass of scholars interested in various aspects of Islam, the legal scholars in each locality grouped themselves into exclusive bodies, each of which considered itself the repository of authoritative religious teachings. Each group adhered to the common method and the common body of law sponsored by the great teachers of the schools - the famous imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik, and al-Shafi'i - and others - for whom the schools were named. The essential activity of the schools was to study and comment upon the Qur'an and the hadith, and to evolve the Shari'a, Muslim law, but the scholars also became involved in differing degrees, according to schools, in the administration of the law and of community affairs. As judges, notaries, and administrators of public or trust properties, the school members acquired positions of social as well as religious leadership. Most of the schools came to oppose the authority of the Caliphs in matters of law. The early legal schools denied the Caliphs after the Rdshidun any authority in the elaboration of the law, substituting for it either the ijmd' of the scholars, or the legal reasoning of the imdms.' Moreover, the 'ulamd' generally - Qur'an readers, reciters of tradition, and popular preachers, including the scholars of the several schools of law and theology - greatly influenced the Muslim masses, who turned directly to them rather than to the Caliphs, for moral instruction and religious guidance as Muslims. The various schools of law (not to speak of Shi'ite and Khariji groups) had substantial followings in various parts of the Muslim world. Thus, the development of religious authorities independent of the Caliphate was coupled with the emergence of 'sectarian' bodies within the Islamic umma. From a religious and a communal point of view, the Caliphate and Islam were no longer wholly integrated.
See J. Schacht, Origins of MuhammadanJurisprudence (Oxford, I953).


Ira M. Lapidus

The early ninth century brought a third step in the separation of state and religious and communal life - the emergence of the Hanbali school of law. In one respect the emergence of the Hanbali school followed earlier precedents, but in another way it represented a novel variation and a step forward in the differentiation of religion and politics. Hanbalism fused the tradition of autonomous religious activity with the heritage of political activism and rebellion borne by the ahl-Khurdsdn- a fusion with explosive implications for the religious authority of the Caliphate and for the relations between state and religion. To explain this development requires a long digression and close examination of the reign of al-Ma'mun.


The history of the reign of al-Ma'mun has several times been told from different perspectives, notably by F. Gabrieli in Al-Ma'mun egli 'Altdi and in D. Sourdel's article, 'La politique religieuse du Calife 'Abbaside al-Ma'muin." Each account makes important contributions to our understanding of the period and the policies of the Caliphate, but this history is worth reconstructing to bring into focus some important aspects of the period which have hitherto been neglected. In 813 al-Ma'miun came to power after a bitter civil war in which he had defeated his brother, the previous Caliph al-Amin. Taking control of the Caliphate, al-Ma'miun appointed al-Hasan ibn Sahl, brother of his chief adviser and minister, governor of Baghdad and Iraq. Nonetheless, he had yet to establish his authority and control over the province, and the early years of his reign were marked by rebellions, indeed by a multisided struggle for control of the province. Some of his opponents were Shi'ite pretenders to the Caliphate. In 813 al-Hasan al-Harashi revolted near Nil and proclaimed al-RidA - the chosen one - as Caliph; this was a familiar form of Shi'ite rebellion in which the rebel leadership pledged to support the accession to the caliphate of an as yet unnamed member of the house of 'Ali. This outbreak was followed by a rebellion of Nasr ibn Shabath in the Jazira and then in 814-816 by a rebellion in Kufa led by Ibn Tabataba and supported by Abu'l-Saraya. The rally cry of this rebellion was 'al-Rida' and "amal bil-kitdb wal-sunna' - 'the chosen one' and 'action in accord with the (holy) book and the tradition'. By the year 816 Basra was also in the hands of the 'Alids and there were 'Alid uprisings in Mecca and Medina as well. The 'Alid revolts led to bitter hostility between the two branches of the Hashimite family. 'Alids in Kufa drove out members of the 'Abbasid branch, and fighting took place between the two groups in Mecca. When the 'Abbasid faction later regained control of Iraq, it took its revenge on the 'Alids for these outrages. 'Alids were driven out of Iraq and the relations between the two branches of the
I Gabrieli, Al-Ma'mun e gli 'Alidi (Leipzig, 1929); D. Sourdel, 'La politique religieuse du Calife 'Abbaside al Ma'muin', Revue d'ftudes Islamiques, xxx (i962), 27-48.

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 371 family of the prophet were deeply embittered. A long-standing political antagonism degerated into fratricidal struggle; disagreement over policy became a feud. In Baghdad itself, opposition to the new regime continued to smolder until in 8I5 the people living in al-Harbiyya, the former 'Abbasid army, named the abnd' - the descendants of the supporters of the 'Abbasid revolution - rebelled. After the death of al-Amin the abnd' had pledged their loyalty to al-Ma'mun and had been promised a stipend, but various circumstances - including the punishment of 'Abdallah ibn 'Ali ibn 'Isa ibn Mahan, one of the leading generals of the abnd', the appointment of al-Hasan ibn Sahl, 'a Magian and the son of a Magian' who threatened to completely subordinate the Iraqis to an alien Khurasanian army and administration, and al-Hasan's failure to deliver promised salary payments - led to a rebellion. Officially, the rebels continued to accept the authority of al-Ma'mfn, but they named Ishaq ibn Mfsa al-Hadi and later Mansur ibn al-Mahdi khalifa, lieutenants of the Caliph in Baghdad, and repudiated the administration of al-Hasan, The Baghdadis wished to preserve a measure of autonomy within the framework of the new Caliphate - to refuse foreign administration without denying the authority of al-Ma'mun. Battles and negotiations followed. Al-Hasan made various efforts to divide the rebels by promising pay to some but not to others, or to pacify the rebellion as a whole with promises that the stipends would be forthcoming, but these arrangements came to naught. When negotiations failed the rebels were strengthened by the adhesion of Muhammad ibn Abi Khalid and his son 'Isa, former officers of Harthama ibn A'yan, the 'Abbasid general and governor, who deserted al-Hasan. Thus reinforced, the rebels drove al-Hasan's forces out of Baghdad, took control of the city, and pushed the battle into the Sawad. Control of the countryside was essential if the rebels were to maintain themselves in the city; in 816-817 the abnd' won several victories in Iraq. Military success inspired new political demands. Various officers and members of the Hashimite family proposed to depose al-Ma'mun and to declare Mansur ibn al-Mahdi Caliph. Mansur refused to accept their plan, but they prevailed upon him to take the title of amtr of the Caliph in Baghdad and Iraq. Despite the continuing protective cover of allegiance to al-Ma'mun, the rebels had taken a more aggressive attitude toward the Caliph and reaffirmed their determination to drive al-Hasan out of Iraq. Al-Ma'mun thus found himself opposed by both the 'Alids and by the former 'Abbasid army led by members of his own family. In turn, however, the rebels found themselves embroiled with local opposition to their own claims. While the soldiers of al-Harbiyya district and of the 'Asker al-Mahdi supported the rebellion, the populace of al-Karkh supported al-Hasan by admitting his troops to the city during the fighting. In retaliation the soldiers of al-Harbiyya plundered and burned the district. The opposition of al-Karkh may reflect district and quarter hostilities within the Baghdadi populace; it may echo the 'Abbasid-'Alid antagonisms; but we cannot say this for certain.


Ira M. Lapidus

In any case, law and order completely collapsed in Baghdad. With the breakdown of political authority, the populace of Baghdad was exposed to gangs of thieves, shuttdr, and 'ayydrun. Houses were attacked, people were robbed or kidnapped and held for ransom. Women were not safe on the streets, while merchants and artisans were subject to extortions and the operation of protection rackets. Even whole quarters or villages were attacked. The populace was in despair because many of the thieves were ' Harbiyya', soldiers of the controlling faction, or 'ayydrun, auxiliaries in the retinue of the leading officers. Baghdad was being pillaged by a rebel army in the absence of the Caliph and his forces. This crisis stimulated efforts at popular organization in Baghdad. Faced with incessant assaults, the sulaha' - the good men - of each suburb and street resolved to fight. The division of the city into quarters produced a natural popular leadership. At the same time, various individuals began to incite their neighbors and the people of the city against the bandits. Khalid al-Daryfsh who lived in the Tariq al-Anbar called upon his neighbors and the people of his mahalla (quarter) to fight the thieves and shuttar. Using the religious slogan, amr bil-ma'rzf wa-nahzy'an al-munkar, 'Command the good and forbid the evil', Khalid mobilized volunteers called mutawwi'a to defend themselves against the bandits. Religious themes were even more explicit in a similar defense led by Sahl ibn Salama al-Ansari, a resident of al-Harbiyya quarter and one of the ahl-Khurdsdn in Baghdad. Sahl wore a copy of the Qur'an around his neck and called on the people to 'Command the good and forbid the evil'. He appealed to his neighbors, to the people of his nzahalla,and to a larger audience including the Banu Hashim, the Caliphal family, and to the people of high and low rank. While Sahl organized his followers and marched through the streets and suburbs to keep order and stop the protection rackets, his movement went beyond resistance to banditry. Sahl signed his supporters into a diwdn, or registry, required that they uphold the Qur'an and the sunna, 'amal bil-kitdb Allah wa-sunnat nabiyihi, and pledged them to take an oath of allegiance to him to oppose whosoever opposed the Qur'an and sunna. Beyond resistance to banditry Sahl envisaged allegiance to a higher principle which justified opposing even the Caliph and the state authorities if they failed to uphold Islam. On this point he and Khalid al-Daryush parted ways. Khalid wished to mobilize the people to maintain order, but would not oppose the Caliphal authority which he regarded as intrinsically legitimate, while Sahl preached that allegiance to the Qur'an and sunna superseded obedience to authorities who were compromised by failure to uphold Islam. The vigilante movement and self-defense against criminals had further political repercussions. Because Sahl's efforts were directed against the soldiers of al-Harbiyya, his patrols, his statelike organization replete with diwdns and oaths of allegiance and his refusal to accept either the authority of al-Ma'min or of the rebel government, meant the opening of a third front of Baghdadi politics, aimed against both the reign of al-Ma'mun and the regime of the rebel authori-

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 373 ties. The rise of Sahl turned the struggle for power in Baghdad into a threesided struggle for power in which Sahl and his people proved, for a time, to be serious contenders. In 817-818 the challenge posed by Sahl unnerved the leaders of the alHarbiyya rebellion. Mansur ibn al-Mahdi returned from the Sawad to Baghdad; 'Isa ibn Muhammad began to negotiate with al-Hasan to close ranks against the threat posed by Sahl. 'Isa accepted an arrangement which assured amnesty for him and his family. He was to become joint governor of Iraq with al-Hasan, and six months' pay would be distributed to the rebel soldiers. Sahl's rising power also seems to have frightened some of the military chieftains who had supported him. Muttalib ibn 'Abdallah ibn Malik al-Khuza'i deserted Sahl to declare his renewed allegiance to al-Ma'mun. Sahl refused to allow Muttalib to violate the oath he had given saying 'This is not what you swore to me.' Evidently Muttalib and other Baghdadi officers including Mansir ibn al-Mahdi, Khuzayma ibn Khazim, and al-Fadl ibn al-Rabi' had previously given Sahl their oath. For several days Sahl ibn Salama fought with Muttalib until Muttalib made peace with Sahl. 'sa, however, conspired to have Sahl assassinated. When his plot failed 'Isa made excuses to Sahl and agreed to give Sahl his bay'a, or oath of allegiance, to 'Command the good and forbid the evil', and to follow the Qur'an and sunna. Having survived the desertion of Muttalib and the assassins of 'Tsa, Sahl was recognized as a major force in the struggle for control of Baghdad and Iraq. No doubt each party had its own reasons for this agreement. The military chiefs delayed capitulation to al-Ma'mun by adopting the vague formula of Sahl ibn Salama, while Sahl reserved the wider claims of his religious movement. These claims became more explicit as Sahl adopted the slogan, ld ta'a lilmakhluqfi ma'siyat al-khdliq, 'No obedience to the creature in disobedience of the Creator', an open allusion to the conflict, as he saw it, between God's will and Caliphal authority. At the same time, from al-Harbiyya to Bab al-Sham, Sahl's followers built burj (towers) in front of their houses, fortifying themselves within the city - a beleaguered polity of the saintly in an imperfect world. At this juncture the situation in Iraq took a new turn. Al-Ma'mun nominated 'Ali al-Rida, the eighth descendant of 'All, to succeed him as Caliph. This policy may have been calculated to pacify Shi'ite opinion in Iraq and to reconcile the 'Alid and 'Abbasid branches of the Hashimite family, but in Baghdad it only served to push the Banu Hashim into open rebellion against al-Ma'mun. Embittered by the events of the last few years, fearful of being betrayed into the hands of the Shi'ites, the Hashimites deposed al-Ma'mun and elected Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi to be Caliph. This more radical turn of events was supported by the quwwdd, the military chiefs of al-Harbiyya, including Muttalib and 'Isa ibn Muhammad, who switched their allegiance back to the rebellion. The new regime quickly took control of Baghdad, Kufa, and parts of the Sawad. In Baghdad the first order of business for the new regime was to crush the


Ira M. Lapidus

movement of Sahl. This was easily and quickly accomplished. When the antiCaliph Ibrahim b. al-Mahdi and 'Isa b. Muhammad decided to act, Sahl, who proved so powerful against Muttalib a short while before, easily fell into the hands of his enemies. 'Isa b. Muhammad came to arrest him, bribed the people of his quarter for a dirhem or two per head, and took Sahl without resistance. Why he should have fallen so easily I do not understand. Sahl was asked to recant in public, but instead he again proclaimed his mission of 'amal bil-kitdb wal-sunna and asserted that he supported the 'Abbasid da'wa. For this he was beaten and imprisoned, and rumor was given out that he had been killed. In fact, he was subsequently released, jailed again, and finally was set free by al-Ma'mun. According to one source, Sahl recognized al-Ma'mfun and was given a pension. In any case, this is the last we hear of Sahl and the vigilante movement. Nonetheless, the new government was not destined to last. 'Ali ar-Rida died; al-Fadl ibn Sahl was assassinated; al-Ma'mun resolved to return to Iraq; and the opposition wavered. Muttalib again proclaimed al-Ma'mun Caliph; 'Isa ibn Muhammad urged Humayd, one of al-Hasan's generals, to enter Baghdad. For this betrayal he was imprisoned by Ibrahim, but his followers rebelled against Ibrahim's authority, drove his officials out of alKarkh, and helped al-Hasan's forces enter the city. Ibrahim was deserted, deposed, and forced into hiding; the soldiers were promised their pay, and Baghdad was once again in the hands of al-Ma'mfn. In 819-820 the Caliph entered the city for the first time in his reign. The rebellions were quieted;'
The fullest account of the movements of Khalid and Sahl is found in al-Tabari, Ta'rikh
al-ruzsul wal-muluk, Husayniyya edition, x, 24I-3, 248-9. Abbreviated accounts with

occasional supplementary detail may be found in Ibn al Athir, al-Kdmil ftl-Ta'rikh Cairo, 1357 A.H.),V, 182-3, 191; 'Uyun al-.Hadd'iqft Akhbdr al-Haqd'iq, M. J. de Goeje and P. de Jong, eds. (Leiden, I869), pp. 352-3 - an account that stresses the connections and the army; Miskawayh, Tajdribal-Umum, M. J. de Goeje and between the 'ayydru2n P. de Jong, eds. (Leiden, I869), pp. 433-5, 440-I; Ibn Kathir, al-Biddya wal-nihdya , (Cairo), x, 248; al-Mas'udl, Muruj al-Dhahab (Cairo 958), IV, 29, points out that the volunteers, the mutawwi'a, were the chiefs of the common people and of their followers. Al-Ya'qubi says that al-Ma'mun 'also gave amnesty to Sahl b. Salama al-Mutawwi'i who used to clothe himself in awoollen garment, drape a copyof the Qur'an about his neck, and urge the people to depose al-Ma'mun; but no one ever paid any attention to him'. Or so al-Ya'qubl might have wished. See W. Millward, 'The Adaptation of Men to Their Time: An Historical Essay by al-Ya'qubi', Journal of the American Oriental Society,
LXXXIV (I964),


For events in general, the main source is al-Tabari, Ta'rikh, years i 98-204; Miskawayh gives valuable details about the 'Alid-'Abbasid feud, pp. 424-5. See also Ibn al Athir and 'Uyun al-Hadd'iq for the same years. Muttalib had a long history of changes of political heart. He was, as al-Ma'mun is reputed to have remarked, the first and the last to be involved in every political dispute. As governor of Mosul in 809-10 Muttalib supported al-Ma'mun rather than al-Amin, who had appointed him. Between 8I3 and 8I6 he held two short terms as governor of Egypt, during the second of which he was driven from the country by the outbreak of civil war. In Baghdad he declared support for Sahl although this proved to be only a holding action for al-Ma'mun, but he would soon oppose al-Ma'muin by temporarily supporting the anti-Caliph Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdl before returning once again to his

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 375 the movement of amr bil-ma'ruf prohibited.I For the first time in almost ten years Baghdad was at peace.

Looking back over the events of the early years of the reign of al-Ma'mun, the vigilante movement of Sahl seems to be a crucial aspect of a multisided struggle for control of Iraq. The Caliph with the forces of al-Hasan ibn Sahl and unidentified loyalist elements in the Baghdad district of al-Karkh, Shi'ites in Kufa and Basra, the abnd' led by elements of the Hashimite family were three of the crucial contenders. The abnd' of al-Harbiyya formed a vociferous party allied to Hashimite family interests in the city, but they usually pursued a narrow policy defined in terms of salary payments and political power for opportunistic officers. Out of this milieu also came the shuttar or 'ayydrun, the criminal element preying on the civilian population of the city. The movement of Sahl was directed against the 'ayydrun and implicitly against the rebel army authorities and the regime of Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi, but it was equally opposed to recognizing the authority of al-Ma'mun. The movement of Sahl was one of several political movements, but what party or what interest did it represent? Our sources give a few clues. Sahl's movement seems to have been a popular or mass movement at base. Despite the participation of some Hashimite leaders and the uncertain allegiance of some of the leading abnd' officers, such as Muttalib and al-Fadl ibn al-Rabi', most of the leadership of the movement came from the sulaahd', from the men of good will of the neighborhoods and blocks, and from the popular preachers such as Sahl and Khalid. Most of the followers are called the 'dmma,the common people. As such, the movement is to be distinguished from the activities of 'ayyadrun or ahddth, paramilitary youth gangs familiar to students of Muslim urban society. In fact, in this case the 'dmma clearly opposed the 'ayydruzn and other military elements. Furthermore, Sahl's support seems to have been localized in al-Haribiyya quarter of the city, the district once settled by the Khurasanians who brought the 'Abbasid dynasty to power and became the mainstay of 'Abbasid military power. A few identifications of individuals also suggest that Sahl's followers were former Khurasanian supporters of the dynasty. Sahl himself was one of the ahlKhurdsdn, and he claimed to support the 'Abbasid da'wa. Another activist, Ahmad ibn Nasr ibn Malik al-Khuza'i - to whom we shall return - was also of Arab Khurasanian descent. The neighborhood of Khalid of al-Daryush, the Tariq al-Anbar, was the residence of the famous traditionalist, Ahmad ibn
original allegiance. See al-Kindi, al-Wuldt wal-Qu.ddt (Leiden, I912), pp. 152-61; al-Azdl, Ta'rikh Mawsil (Cairo, 1967), pp. 325, 342; Ibn Tayfir, Ta'rikh Baghddd (Baghdad, 1968), p. 32; Gabrieli, Al-Ma'm2une gli 'Alidi, p. 49; Ibn Taghribirdi, alNujum al-Zdhira (Cairo),

157, I62-3.

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Ta'rikh Bagihddd (Beirut, 1966), xII, 350-I.


Ira M. Lapidus

Hanbal,' who also descended from one of the original supporters of the 'Abbasid movement. These clues relate the vigilantes to the descendants of the original 'Abbasid army, to people of Khurasanian-Arab descent who resided in alHarbiyya, but who were evidently assimilated to civilian pursuits and no longer active in the army. Sahl therefore represented the civilian Arab descendants of the original 'Abbasid da'wa who now opposed the military interests of 'Abbasid soldiers who lived in the same section of the city and who shared a common Arab-Khurasanian descent. Sahl's movement echoes the situation in Marw before the 'Abbasid revolution, where sedentarized civilian Arabs found themselves opposing the military interests of other Arabs and of the Umayyad Caliphate and administration in eastern Iran. Moreover, these people had inherited the revolutionary tradition of their forebears. Sahl's slogan, 'Command the good and forbid the evil', sums up the demand for a righteous society, a community of the just living in accord with God's law. While the Caliphs, perhaps beginning with al-Ma'mun who was the first to replace the market inspector of Baghdad known as the sahib al-suq with the official called the muhtasib, claimed that only they and their appointed muhtasibs were responsible for 'commanding the good and forbidding the evil', the popular preachers held that it was incumbent upon all Muslims to see to the implementation of the holy law. Thus, Sahl's slogan embraces a conception of Islam in which every Muslim was obliged not only to obey the legal, moral, and ritual teachings of Islam, but also to prevent their gross violation by others.2 By employing this slogan Sahl sought to appeal to the populace of Baghdad on grounds even broader than self-protection; he tried to mobilize the latent religious sentiment which made each Muslim personally responsible for a just society. Sahl was appealing to a sentiment akin to the sentiment for jihad, or holy war - indeed his volunteers were called mutawwi'a, as were the volunteers for frontier duty and for the holy war against Byzantium. Sahl was appealing to a sentiment which reached beyond the boundaries of Caliphal government to an essentially communal conception of Islam. In this respect the vigilante movement embodied a revolutionary conception of the structure of Muslim society. Similarly, the slogan 'No obedience to the creature in disobedience of the Creator' also expressed a radical position. It was originally a Khariji slogan to justify resistance to Caliphal authority, but by the beginning of the 'Abbasid age it evidently had some currency in other circles. Ibn al-Muqaffa', the scribe,
For Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Ahmad ibn Nasr, see below. See the Encyclopaediaof Islam, new edition, III, 487. The Hanbali school holds that al-amr bil-ma'rif is a religious duty, but counsels against the use of violence. Ibn Batta, La Profession de Foi, H. Laoust, ed. (Damascus, 1958), pp. 53-4. Later authors such as al-Mawardi, al-Ahkam al-Sultdniyya, treat the injunction to command the good as the responsibility of the muhtasib. Al-Ghazali gives the religious basis of the obligation in Qur'an and hadith. See L. Bercher, 'L'obligation d'ordonner le bien et d'interdire le mal

selon al-Ghazali',

Institut de Belles Lettres Arabes, xvIII (1955), 53-91,


Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 377 translator and author of the Risdlafi al-Sahdba,' a treatise of advice on government written for the Caliph al-Mansur, discusses the slogan as if it were a familiar topic of debate. Extremists, he points out, take the slogan to mean that the Imam who orders men to disobey God is no longer qualified to be the ruler, and that only a person who gives (religiously) true commands is truly the Imam. Their extreme opponents hold that obedience is due the ruler regardless of the nature of his orders. The correct opinion, he holds, is that no obedience is due the ruler in disobedience of God, but this does not cancel the obligation of obedience in general. Ibn al-Muqaffa' distinguishes religious and political orders. No obedience is due the ruler in violation of religious precepts, in matters of fard'id and hudud, but he still must be obeyed in political matters - ra'y and tadbir. A sacrilegious command is not binding, but it does not dissolve the authority of the ruler. In Sahl's movement, however, the plea for no obedience to the creature was coupled with a bay'a to support the kitdb wal-sunna and to support Sahl himself. Sahl thus adopted the extreme position and undertook to represent Muslim communal and religious interests vis-c-vis the Caliphate and no longer accepted the Caliphate as the embodiment of the community and its sole and necessary spokesman. Finally, the revolutionary slogan, 'amal bil-kitdb Allah wa sunnat nablyihi, had been used by the 'AbbAsids themselves in their revolt against Umayyad rule. Abui Muslim, organizing the 'Abbasid revolution in Khurasan, called on his followers in the name of the Holy Book and the sunna and required them to take the bay'a to the kitdb wal-sunna. In the late Umayyad period, other rebels used the slogan. Al-Karamani, Bishr ibn Jurmuz, and Ziyad ibn SAlih al-Khuza'i who rebelled against Abu Muslim also adopted the appeal to the sunna. In the time of al-Ma'miun, Abu SarAyAcalled for the kitdb wal-sunna, as well as for support to al-Ridd - the chosen one of the family of the prophet, the combination of slogans meant to appeal to both 'Alid and 'AbbAsid opinion. Thus, Sahl's use of the slogan placed him in the revolutionary tradition of Khurasan and of the precedents set by the 'Abbasid da'wa itself.z Descended from the earlier movement which overthrew Umayyad rule in the name of religious ideals, the
Ibn al-Muqaffa', 'Risala fi al-sahaba', Athar Ibn al-Muqaffa' (Beirut, I966), pp. 348-9. The phrase la td'a lil-makhli2q ma'siyat al-khaliq is often translated 'No obef dience to the creature who disobeys God', but Ibn al-Muqaffa"s discussion makes it clear that the moderates interpreted the issue as whether commands contrary to God's law are to be obeyed. 2 For the use of the slogan 'antal bil-kitab wal-sunna, see F. Omar, The Abbasid
Caliphate (Baghdad, 1969), pp. 86, 87, 95, 137, 159. Omar derives most of his materials

from the Akhbdr al-'Abbas. See also al-Tabari, de Goeje edition, ii, 1931-1989. For Abu Saraya, see Ibn al-Athir, Kdmil, v, I73-4; 'Uyuin al-Hadd'iq, p. 345; Miskawayh, Tajdrib,p. 419; C. van Arendonk, Les Debuts de l'Imdmat Zaidite (Leiden, 960), pp. 96-7. With this tradition in mind, al-Ma'min also promised to deal with his subjects according to the Qur'an and sunna. See al-Jahshiyari, Kitub al-wuzard' wal-kuttab (Cairo, 1938),
p. 279.
MES 6 4


Ira M. Lapidus

vigilante episode proves to be more than a peace-keeping device and more than a struggle for power in an unsettled political situation; it revives the religiously inspired political activism which had already replaced one dynasty with another and which now opposed its own creature in the name of basic religious principles.

The implications of the vigilante episode reach from the past into the future. Though al-Ma'mun's return to Baghdad suppressed Sahl's activities, the vigilante experience was important in shaping the policies of his regime. Confronted by enormous political and ideological problems - civil war, bitterness between 'Alids and 'Abbasids, the various rebellions, the breakdown of the coalitions of Hashimites, Iraqi soldiers, and Khurasanian administrators on which previous 'Abbasid Caliphs had based their rule, and the popular movement of Sahl ibn Salama - al-Ma'mun prepared to rebuild the political and ideological foundations of the Caliphate and to restore and enhance the prestige and authority of his office. On the political front al-Ma'mfun consolidated his power by removing the Banu Sahl from power and replacing them with the Tahirid family which would henceforth govern Khurasan, police Baghdad, and suppress rebellions in the Jazira, Syria and Egypt. On the religious and ideological front, al-Ma'mun reaffirmed, and indeed extended, the claims of the Caliphate by vesting it with the Shi'ite conception of extensive religious authority and control of ritual and doctrine. The first thrust of al-Ma'mun's policy was to restore unity by adopting a pro-'Alid position and by obliging the Hashimite family to accept this orientation and his authority over the succession. Al-Ma'muin required that the official 'Abbasid color, black, be abandoned in favor of the 'Alid green. Once the change had been accepted he reverted to wearing the black. Otherwise, al-Ma'mun took no active steps. In the period between 8I9 and 826 he is known to have consulted theologians such as Bishr ibn Ghiyath al-Marisi, and to have discussed making the doctrine of the created Qur'an an official belief, but his first active gesture did not come until 826 when he proposed to denounce the Caliph Mu'awiyya in the mosques. Al-Ma'mun's proposal had nothing to do with Mu'awiyya, but was a way of asserting a pro-'Alid position. It was also a challenge to the anti'Alid position which was strongly held by the ahl-Khurasan. In counseling against this declaration, Yahya ibn Aktham, al-Ma'mun's chief qddi, warned that it would lead to disturbances among the 'dmmaand the ahl-Khurdsdn, and that it was wiser for the Caliph to avoid partisan involvements. In the following year, al-Ma'mun proclaimed the superiority of 'Ali to all other companions of Muhammad and to the Rdshidun Caliphs and announced his support for the doctrine of the created Qur'an. In 830 al-Ma'mun declared new variations in the standard prayer sequence and ordered that three 'takbir'be said. He also considered legalizing the mut'a type of temporary marriage, both

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 379 measures being in accord with 'Alid religious views. Outside the government this religious policy caused consternation in 'ulamd' circles, while inside the government it was opposed by the qddi Yahya ibn Aktham. Yahya's removal from office and his replacement by the Ahmad ibn Abi Du'ad in 832 was thus the signal for a new stage in the progression of al-Ma'mun's program. In 833 alMa'mfun inaugurated a mihna or inquisition to force government officials and religious leaders to accept his religious views and his authority in matters of religious ritual and doctrine.I Though the mihna was part of a general effort to restore the ideological authority of the Caliphate, it was also a response to the political activism of the ahl-Khurdsdnwho asserted the priority of kitdb and sunna against the authority of the Caliph. The close connection between the movement of Sahl and the religious issues of the mihna will become apparent in the course of a close study of the people and issues involved.

In the inquisition, al-Ma'mun's officials examined groups of qddis and scholars of hadith for their views on the createdness of the Qur'an. Only people who subscribed to the doctrine would be allowed to hold official positions; and those who did not could lose their livelihoods, their physical security, and even their lives. Our sources list a total of forty-eight persons who were subject to official interrogation and biographical information is available for thirty-one of them.2 The first group to be examined included seven persons, all of whom agreed to accept al-Ma'mun's doctrine and who were no doubt selected in the expectation that they would. Of the seven, Muhammad ibn Sa'd, the scribe of alWaqidi, Abu Muslim, the mustamli of Yazid ibn Harun, Yahya ibn Ma'in, Zuhayr ibn Harb, and Ahmad ibn al-Dawraqi were well-known traditionalists and scholars. Three were mawdli of prominent Arab families. Yazid ibn Harun, who figures indirectly, was born in Bukhara, and lived in Wasit before coming to Baghdad. He is numbered among the people of al-amr bil-ma'ruf.
treatment and interpretation of al-Ma'mun's religious policy is Sourdel, I The fullest 'La politique religieuse... ' See also W. M. Watt, 'The Political Attitudes of the Mu'tazilah', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, n.v. (1963), 38-57; J. van Ess, 'Ibn Kullab und W. M. Patton, Ahmad Ibn .Hanbal and die Mihna', Oriens, xvII-xix (1967), 92-142; the Mihna (Leiden, I897), pp. 52-5; Ibn Tayfur, Ta'rikh Baghddd, pp. 30, 42, 50; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum, ii, 187, 20o, 203, 213; al-Tabari, Ta'rikh, Husayniyya edition, x, 278-9, 281; al-Mas'udi, al-Muruj, IV, 40-I; al-Bayhaqi, Kitdb al-Mahisin wal-mdsawz, F. Schwally, ed. (Giessen, 1902), p. 15I; Ibn al-Murtada, Die Classen der Mu'taziliten, ed. (Weisbaden, S. Diwald-Wilzer, 1961), pp. 64-5; Miskawayh, Tajdrib, p. 463; 'Uyun al-.Hadd'iq, p. 370. 2 For the mihna in the reign of al-Ma'mun, see Patton, Ahmad ibn .Hanbal, al-Tabari, Ta'rikh, Husayniyya edition, x, 284 ff.; Ibn al-Athir, Kdmil, v, 222-6; Miskawayh, Tajdrib, pp. 465 ff., 'Uyun al-.Hadd'iq, pp. 376 ff.; al-Kindi, p. 451. See also al-Khatib, Ta'rikh Baghdad (Beirut, 1966), v, 177; xI, 349, for a few additional comments about people involved in the mihna.


Ira M. Lapidus

After this initial success al-Ma'mun turned to a second group of twenty-five Baghdadis, which included people from whom serious opposition must have been anticipated. This group was also composed of experts on hadith. Four of these people were or had been judges: Bishr ibn al-Walid al-Kindi, qddi of Baghdad; a descendant of the Caliph 'Umar, qddi of Raqqa; al-Fadl ibn Ghanim, qd.d of Rayy and Egypt; and al-Nadr ibn Shumayl, once qd.dtof Marw. Al-Dhayyal ibn al-Haytham had been governor of al-Anbar. There were two mawdli. Noteworthy are eight persons of Khurasanian background: Abu Nasr al-Tammar from Nasa; Qutayba ibn Sa'id from Balkh; and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaq ibn Abi Isra'il, al-Fadl ibn Ghanim of the Khuza'i clan, Muhammad ibn Hatim, Muhammad ibn Nuh, and al-Nadr ibn Shumayl were all from Marw or descended from people from Marw. Ahmad ibn Hanbal was the son of a man who had come to Baghdad with the founding of the new regime, and he was the grandson of one of the people who had comprised the initial 'Abbasid da'wa in Khurasan. Under severe pressure only a few people in this group held out against the Caliph's contention. Four men are said to have been imprisoned briefly: Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Muhammad ibn Nuh, al-Hasan ibn Hummad Sajjada, and alQawariri. According to al-Tabari, only two of these held out: Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Muhammad ibn Nuh, both from Marw. The biographical sources add that al-Fadl ibn Ghanim, Bishr ibn al-Walid, and 'Ali ibn Ja'd also refused to accept the doctrine of the created Qur'an. Thus, in the first round of the mihna, the people from Marw formed one noteworthy group and emerged from the trials as leaders of the theological opposition to al-Ma'muin, though the mihna was by no means limited to this particular group. Moreover, the theological opposition is clearly linked to popular demonstrations against the policy of the regime. Ahmad ibn Hanbal was considered the 'chief of a sect who has gathered his 'dmma and ghawghd' (the commoners and riff-raff) to proclaim in the streets that "nothing which is of God is created and the Qur'an is of God"...' The scholars from Khurasan, like the preachers from Khurasan, had a vociferous popular following.' Two other persons are reported to have been examined at this time, though not as part of the large group. Affan ibn Muslim was a mawla residing in Baghdad; Abu Hasan al-Ziyadi was once qddzof Baghdad. Their biographers tell us that they both refused to accept al-Ma'mun's doctrine. Similar trials were carried on in the provinces. In Damascus the qddi Abu Mushir wavered, but in the end refused to agree with al-Ma'mun. In Kufa four persons are known to have been examined. One, Malik ibn Isma'il was a mawla. The other, an outstanding traditionist who refused to accept the new doctrine, al-Fadl ibn Dukayn, was active in the movement of al-amr bil-ma'ruf. On a visit
Ibn al-Murtada, Die Klassen der Mu'taziliten, S. Diwald-Wilzer, ed. (Wiesbaden, I96I), p. 124. Al-Jahlz reports that the mobs that fought for al-Amln against al-Ma'mun in 8I3 were anti-Mu'tazilite. This may be an anachronism. See Sourdel, 'La politique
religieuse...', p. 32.

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 381 to Baghdad in 819-820, al-Fadl was arrested and brought before the Caliph for attempting to prevent a soldier from molesting a woman in the streets of Baghdad. The mihna continued in the subsequent reigns of al-Mu'tasim and al-Wathiq. In Egypt a large group of scholars, traditionists, lawyers, and others were examined, but in this period five cases stand out. 'Ali al-Madini was known as a great scholar of hadith. Yusuf ibn Yahya al-Buwayt was a famous scholar of law and a companion of al-Shafi'i, who was brought from Egypt to Samarra to be examined by al-Wathiq. Ghassan b. Muhammad al-Marwazi, qddl of Kufa, was one of the ahl-Khurasan. Nu'aym ibn Hammad is of further interest. He was a member of the Khuza'i clan, from Marw, one of the ahl-Khurasan, and an associate of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. These three refused to accept the doctrine; all were imprisoned and died in prison. The later mihna touched fewer people, but it was all the more fiercely prosecuted and all the more resolutely resisted.' The fifth figure in this period was Ahmad ibn Nasr ibn MAlik. Ahmad, of the clan of Khuza'i, was the grandson of one of the 'Abbisid agents in Khurasan, a very highly regarded scholar of hadith, and an associate of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He was dedicated to the sunna, openly opposed the doctrine of the created Qur'an, and was a leader of the movement of al-amr bil-ma'rzffin the time of Sahl. In the reign of al-WAthiq Ahmad became the unofficial leader of the opposition to the Caliph's religious policy, and in 845-846 he decided to revive the movement of al-amr bil-ma'ruif.He took the bay'a or oath of political and religious allegiance from his followers, declared his intention to 'Command the good and forbid the evil', and began to organize a rebellion. His men, Tilib on the west side of Baghdad and AbfuHarun al-SarrAjon the east, distributed money and organized a following. Some of the recruits included men in the service of Ishaq ibn Ibrahim, the chief of police, a Khurasanian Arab, clan chiefs, the people of Ahmad's quarter, and men of the Banu al-Ashri clan. At the sound of drums - the agreed signal - the conspirators were to rise against the Caliphate. This naive plan was destined to fail. Two men of the Banfu al-Ashri clan, confused by drink, gave the signal on the wrong day. The attention of the police was roused, and Ahmad and various others were betrayed. Twenty-nine of his followers were imprisoned, a search was made of Ahmad's house, and, though no weapons were found, he was taken to Samarra to be examined by the Caliph. At Samarra, Ahmad was not tried for conspiracy, but for his religious views.
The biographical sources for people involved in the mihna include al-Dhahabi, Tadhkirat al-Huffdz (Hyderabad, I955); Ibn .Hajar al-'Asqalani, Tadhhib al-Tadhhib, iz vols. (Hyderabad, I328 A.H.). al-Khat.b, Ta'rikh Baghdad, 14 vols.; Ibn al-'Imad, Shadharat al-Dhahab (Jerusalem, 1350 A.H.), II, 44, 46-8, 56, 64, 68-72, 85, 94-8. Ibn Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum Sa'd, al-Tabaqat, E. Sachau, ed., 9 vols. (Leiden, 1905-21);
al-Zdhira, II, 222, 229, 252, 254, 260,272,276-7,303, 306; al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shdfi'iyya (Cairo, I964), In, I62-5; al-Sam'anl, al-Ansab (Hyderabad, I966), II, 366-7; In, 73-4; v, 392-393; al-Waki', Ak_hbdr al-Qu.dat (Cairo, I947-50), 326. 291-2, 272-3, III, 191,

Whenever page numbers have not been listed, the sources may be consulted alphabetically or by convenient tables of contents.


Ira M. Lapidus

Refusing to submit to the Caliphal orthodoxy, he was condemned and executed; his head, displayed in public to warn others of the fate of those who defied the Caliph, made Ahmad a martyr.'

The events of the mihnagive us important insights into the evolution of Muslim communal and sectarian movements in the early ninth century and bring into the open implicit debates about the nature and limits of Caliphal authority in religious matters. The mihna reveals that the leadership of the opposition to al-Ma'muin's claims to legal and doctrinal authority came from that same Khurasanian milieu which had earlier opposed him in the streets of Baghdad. The numerous scholars from Marw, the leadership of Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Ahmad ibn Nasr, their involvement in popular demonstrations and in the movement of al-amr bil-ma'ruf show that the religious teachings of the traditionists and the political activism of the ahl-Khurdsdn were part of a single movement. The crisis of the early ninth century had fused the Khurasanian tradition of militant opposition to the Caliphate for political and religious principles with traditionist religious attitudes to create a new socioreligious movement. In the following century the new movement took the form of the Hanbali school of law. The teachings of Ahmad ibn Hanbal were codified to become the basis of a new corpus of law and traditions, a new school in which religious thinkers adhered to the principles of the master and expounded them for an audience of disciples, students, auditors, visitors, and the public at large. The new school, moreover, kept its popular following and preserved its activist political heritage. Hanbali preachers or wa'iz, who gave sermons and harangued the masses, continued to involve the populace of Baghdad in political and religious questions. At issue among the Khurasanians, the scholars, and the Caliphate was the nature of the religious authority of the Caliphate and the limits of the obligation to obedience. As opposed to the Shi'ite view adopted by al-Ma'mun, the popular slogans of the Khurasanians held that the precepts of the Qur'an and sunna superseded political or even religious loyalties - that a Caliph who did not follow Islam could not command obedience, and that the community of Muslims itself was responsible for upholding the norms of Islam. The more precise views of the 'ulama' and particularly of Ahmad ibn Hanbal were essentially the same. In the view of the traditionists, Islamic religious obligations derived not from Caliphal pronouncements, but from the Qur'an and hadith as recalled, interpreted, and explained by the leading scholars of the community. The
I Al-Tabari, Ta'rlzkh, Husayniyya edition, xi, 15-17; de Goeje ed., III, 1343; Ibn Kathir, al-Biddya, xi, 303-6; Miskawayh, Tajarib, p. 529; al-Azdl, Ta'rzkh Mawsil, p. 341; Ibn al-Athir, Kdmil, v, 273-4; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum II, 259; al-Khatib, Ta'rlkh Bagahddd, v, 173 ff.; Ibn Hajar, Tadhhib, I, 87.

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 383 traditionists expected the Caliphate to uphold the truth and law, but not to define its content, because as the ultimate object of Muslim devotion, the law stood beyond the Caliph. The political implications of this view were carefully nuanced. According to Ahmad ibn Hanbal, it was the duty of the 'ulama' to revive and preserve the law, and the duty of all Muslims to 'Command the good and forbid the evil', that is, to uphold the law, whether or not the Caliphate would properly do so. In general however, Ahmad did not oppose the Caliph's authority over the machinery of the state. The Hanbalis remained committed to the 'Abbasid dawla as the true Caliphs of Islam. In the name of the law a Muslim could disobey the Caliphate over a specific matter, but not rebel against the regime.' The implication of Ahmad's views is to circumscribe the authority of the Caliphs in religious matters and, though Ahmad himself did not have a language to express it, to recognize a practical distinction between secular and religious authority. This tacit discovery had profound implications. By the middle of the ninth century, the tradition of active militancy for religious principles - a tradition embodied by the ahl-Khurdsdn - had acquired a religious point of view. This development replaced ad hoc militancy with a radical revision of the whole concept of the umma and of the Caliphate. The growth of religious loyalty to hadith and the long struggle over doctrine and authority had crystallized a conception of the umma of Muslims as a community founded upon loyalty to religious principles which were formulated independently of the Caliph, under the leadership of those private religious scholars who preserved tradition and elaborated the law. Merging political activism, a popular religious movement, and the school of law as a scholarly and religious tradition of study, late ninth- and early tenthcentury Hanbalism marked a new stage in the differentiation of religious and political institutions in Islam. Hanbalism brought the potential for militant opposition to the Caliphate into the very core of Sunni Islam. It made the Caliphs' once devoted followers into a new sectarian community. Henceforth, the Caliphate was no longer the sole identifying symbol or the sole organizing institution, even for those Muslims who had been most closely identified with it. The umma itself was now an independent and differentiated entity shaped by religious beliefs - a social body whose continued existence was no longer bound up with its nominal chief. The crystallization of the Hanbali school of law seems to have completed a process by which religious bodies with a defined sense of the meaning of Islam, and a socially accepted means for recognizing its leaders and confirming the authenticity of its beliefs, had come into being - communities which could no longer look to the Caliphate as the sole representation of their religious identity. The Caliphate, after all, had been conceived in an earlier age when neither the substance of Islam nor a body of religious scholars had yet developed, but by the middle of the ninth century the evolution of the Sunni religious communities

Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., article Ahmad ibn Hanbal.


Ira M. Lapidus

had grown beyond the confines of an earlier Muslim world, with its unified community and with its religious identity concentrated in the Caliphate. The Caliphate, descending in the family of the prophet, still signified the ultimate unity of believers and the derivation of their faith within an historically continued community. Though the Caliphs remained the heads of the Muslim umma, the chief authority in Islam responsible for the overall functioning of the community of Muslims, though the union of religion and politics remained valid in theory, Islam had in fact passed beyond the age of this primal unity.

In the development of Islamic institutions we have come from an early identification of politics and religion to a differentiation of political and religious life into organized and partly autonomous entities. In the early polity led by Muhammad and in the early decades of the Caliphate, membership in the Muslim community entailed participation in a state order, with one person, the Caliph, representing both the religious and the political aspects of Muslim identifications. By the process I have tried to describe - by the emergence of opposed communal and Caliphal interests, the recognition of a communal life independent of the Caliphate, and subsequently the organization of a politically active community based on religion - Muslim religious communities evolved apart from the Caliphal polity. By the middle of the ninth century, the ahl-Khurdsdn and the Sunni traditionalists had tested the boundaries of Caliphal authority in religion. In subsequent centuries, this initial differentiation of religious and communal institutions from the political institution of the Caliphate grew more profound and more clearly defined. In later centuries, as we have indicated, the Caliph lost his de facto political power to secular military and administrative regimes, albeit to regimes nominally loyal to Islam. At the same time, the several religious communities, Sunni and Shi'ite, developed religiously organized forms of socioreligious life independent from that of states and empires. Eventually, Muslims everywhere came to be identified as subjects of a regime on the one hand, and adherents of one or another religious body - a Sunni school of law, Shi'ite sect, or Sufi tariqa - on the other. We know very little about this process of centuries, and one of the most important desiderata in the social history of Islam is to further explore this profound differentiation. We need to know more about the 'ulamd', and their conception of religion, their values, and their attitudes toward politics and the state. To what extent we must know, did the 'ulamd' recognize a realm of religion separate from the realm of the state? Second, further research into the social structure of religious life is essential. How were religious communities organized? What parts did the 'ulamd' play within them? What relations did they have with the common people? How deeply did religious and sectarian identifications penetrate the Muslim masses?

Separation of state and religion in early Islamic society 385 And, of course, what social and religious functions did the 'ulama' and organized sectarian communities play in the ongoing life of Muslim communities? Third, there is the question of the relations between Muslim communities and Muslim states. How were these relations formed under different regimes, in different localities; how did they change over time? To what extent did the 'ulama' influence the development of the state? To what extent did the state control the 'ulamd' and sectarian communities? Finally, given the fundamental differentiation of state and religion which we have explored, and its ramifications in later Islamic centuries - given the differences in values, in personnel, in organization, and in functions between Muslim sectarian communities and Muslim states - may we not speak of a distinction between church and state in Islam? How may we describe and explain the Islamic situation if it represents neither the unity posited by Islamists for the early Caliphate nor the thorough institutional differentiation evident in the Christian Europe? The issue is important. Though the modalities of 'state' and 'religion' in the Islamic world are quite different from those of 'state' and 'church' in the west, Islamic society, in fact, if not in its own theory, is one of those societies in which religious and political institutions are separate. The implications of this fact for the operation of regimes, for the structures of communities, for the moral situation of the individual Muslim believer runs through the whole fabric of Islam.