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Oleg Grabar:

Ceremonial and Art at the Umayyad Court (1955)

Oleg Grabar. Ceremonial and Art at the Umayyad Court. PhD Dissertation, Princeton Univ 1955.

Chapter. I. The Umayyad Royal Idea and its Expression under Mu'awiyah I. Beginning with pg. 18.

The development of ceremonial which expresses the position of the ruler in any time or any realm must necessarily relate to the growth of a political idea. The development of royal ceremonial under the Umayyads goes hand in hand with the formation of the theory of the caliphate, which, since Arnold's study, badly needs revision.

Most studies of Islamic political theory are based on texts which are not earlier than the eleventh century, and which attempt to formulate a theory of authority according to what it should be and should have been under Islamic law. The only really accurate sources for a true understanding of the political theory of the early Islamic dynasties are recorded in incidents which reveal the underlying political philosophy which may or may not have been expressed, but for which we have no direct evidence.

In a text of al-Bayhaqi, Umar ibn-al-Khattab, the second caliph, is compared to Ardeshir, the founder of the Sasanian dynasty. But, while Ardeshir is called "king of the Persians," the arab ruler is named "king of the Arabs and of Islam." This characterization of Umar reveals the ambituity of the concept of authority in Islam. In modern terms, we have here a religious and a secular view of power. But to a large extent these modern terms are meaningless in the seventh century, or, for that matter, throughout the Middle Ages. All authority is of divine origin. On the other hand, on a practical level, it was also necessary to define more specifically who was the recipient of divine power. We owe to the very nature of the Prophet's mission, which was at the same time religious and secular, the development at an early stage of a legitimist movement. It maintained that authority belonged to the family of the Prophet and that, therefore, the caliphate should be given to its descendants. But with the widening of the Islamic empire to include all Arabs and many other linguistic and religious groups, a new trend appeared, that of giving allegiance to the most worthy leader, while searching -- like all such trends -- for justification and rationalization of power in terms of the supernatural authority of God. It is to the latter movement that Mu'awiyah owed his accession to the caliphate. The interesting question posed by this development is: how did he, and, after him, the Umayyads, justify their power?

As far as Mu'awiyah himself is concerned, we have a few traditions. For instance, when one day Hasan, the son of Ali, was emphasizing the rights of his family to the caliphate because of its relationship to the Prophet, Mu'awiyah became angry and said: "The [true] khalifah ... is the one who follows the way of the Prophet and who obeys him. The one, however, who rules unjustly, who sets aside the sunnah, and who attaches himself to the world by all possible means, is not a khalifah, but essentially a king, who shares in earthly sovereignty and enjoys it only for a short time." This is merely a formal statement of the opportunistic attitude of the founder of the dynasty, shaped so as to agree with the theological and omralistic view of supreme power in Islam. But, when al-Mas'udi attempts to explain how Mu'awiyah reached the caliphate, he points out that Mu'awiyah had been a secretary to the Prophet at the end of the latter's life. Therefore, he says, "the people extolled his [Mu'awiyah's] fame and raised him from his position to the point of making him the secretary of the voice [of God]." Al-Tabari reports another story which illustrates the importance of the caliph's relationship to the prophetic office. One day a delegation from Egypt arrived at the court of Damascus. Amr ibn-al-'As, the powerful governor at al-Fustat, had asked the members of his delegation to belittle Mu'awiyah by refraining from saluting him by his title of Commander of the Faithful. But the leader of the group somehow lost his poise and addressed Mu'awiyah as "Prophet of God," apparently the highest title by which a man could address his ruler. We see, therefore, that the first attempt at rationalizing the caliph's power consisted in emphasizing -- and at times inventing supports in evidence of -- the closeness of the relationship of Mu'awiyah to the Prophet or to the prophetic office. It was, in other words, an attempt to legitimize Mu'awiyah.

Yet this endeavor did not succeed in eliminating shi'ism. On the contrary, shi'ism became more and more powerful in Iraq and, for a while, in Arabia itself. Therefore the later caliphs developed a new line, that of systematically disparaging the nature of prophetic authority. When, under al-Walid I, Khalid ibn-'Abdallah al-Qasri had a new well built in al-Madinah, he made an extremely revealing speech in the mosque, which al-Tabari reports: "O people, which one is the greater, the successor (khalifah) of a man over his people or his messenger (rasul) to them? By God, you may not realize the grace of the Khalifah, but when Abraham, the friend (khalil) of the Merciful, had asked for water, he received bitter water, while, when the khalifah asked for water, he received sweet, drinkable water in the well dug out by al-Walid ibn-'Abd-al-Malik in the two cities [i.e. Makkah and al-Madinah]..." The same story is also reported in Aghani. It comes from a source other than al-Tabari's and it is probably less authentic because it is greatly simplified. Its interest lies in the change that has occurred. Instead of the subtle distinction between successor and messenger, we have a forceful assertion of the full predominance of the caliph over the prophet, or, more exactly, the prophetic office. "One day Khalid was preaching and he said: verily Abraham, the friend of God, had asked for water and God sent it salted and sitasteful, but when the Commander of the Faithful asked for water, God sent it sweet and drinkable." We see, thus, that under al-Walid I there begins a definite movement fo discredit the prophetic office symbolized in the speech of Khalid by Abraham, the friend of God.

Later, under Hisham, the argument progressed a step further. A certain Qiyam ibn-Shaqi, the Himyarite, asked the caliph: "O Commander of the Faithful, who is more honorable (akram), your successor (khalifah) over the people or your messenger (rasul) to them? The Commander of the Faithful answered: Of course my successor over my people. Ibn-Shaqi retorted: But you are the successor of God (khalifat allah) while Muhammad is only his messenger..." Here we reach the final point of the rationalization by the Umayyads of their power. The caliphate is by its very nature, so to speak semantically, seen as superior first to the prophetic office, and then to Muhammad himself, the prophet par excellence.

At the same time the Alids continued to emphasize the fact that their rights originated in their family ties with Muhammad. In their case also the original idea was expanded. Wellhausen has shown that, during the Alid revolt of al-Mukhtar, the leader of the revolt ocntinually proclaimed in speech and in act the prophetic basis of authority in Islam. According to him, the ruler was seen as a prophet who was "the living representation of divine authority." Prophetic titles can also be found, in a few instances, applied to the Umayyads. In those cases it can be explained by the political situation. It is probable that, when al-Hajjaj accepted the title "cupola of Islam, similar to a prophet," he was trying to reconcile the recalicitrant shi'ite population of Iraq to his rule. And from a passage in al-Beladhuri we see that Abd-al-Malik himself was not averse to being likened to a prophet. A Himyarite tells him that his rank before God is the same as that of David, who was considered as a prophet by the Muslims, but who, in the tradition, is a prophet appinted by God as khalifah. There is here an interesting blending of the two traditions.

And a text of the Kitab al-Aghani shows that the Abbasids also favored prophetic titles. The text says that "Harun al-Rashid allowed himself to be addressed in laudatory terms reserved for prophets only. He did not disapprove it nor did he reject it." In discussing this passage, Goldziher considers that this use of prophetic titles as laudatory terms is a new phenomenon, an attempt by the Abbasid dynasty to assert the theocratic character of its power as opposed to the secular character of Umayyad power. However, this usage of prophetic titles might be more easily explained as an attempt to reconcile shi'ite minorities, in view of the fact that an idea of authority based on the prophetic office is not a new phenomenon but one that had developed in Umayyad times among the various religious minorities, those same minorities which helped to bring the Abbasids into power. The Abbasids' acceptance of this tradition existing from Umayyad times was therefore a political move rather than a religious move. The Abbasid caliphs began the tradition of accumulating all existing titles in an effort to make their authority universal.

In other words there took place at the very beginning of Islamic history the formation of two criteria of authority. One is easily defined as prophetic. It was the one adopted by the Alids and the numerous leaders of shi'ite heterodoxies, and also one that appeared sometimes in eulogies dedicated to caliphs or governors. The other one is more complex. It could be called secular, if secularism had a real meaning in Islam. It could be called "khalifal," because of the semantic importance of the Arabic root khalafa in its exposition. But we have seen that the semantic analysis was post facto; it was not the actual origin of the ideological trend I have attempted to define. I would therefore prefer to call it royal, for the following reasons. First, as later chapters will show, the Umayyads were conscious of being rulers of an "Empire" in the Byzantine or Sasanian sense of the word; that is, rulers of a great agglomeration of lands and cultures which they had united into one body. Second, if my analysis is correct, Islamic civilization encountered under the Umayyads a problem which was encountered by all the states that were heirs to the Romano-Hellenistic civilization. In Sasanian Iran, in Byzantium, int he medieval West, there was a continuous struggle between a purely religious authority and a royal or imperial one. This dual character of power forms a common bond in the three major medieval civilizations: Western, Byzantine, and Muslim. That in Islam the religious side can be defined more accurately as prophetic than as religious is merely part of the specific nature of the new religion and of the Semitic tradition to which it belongs. But the other side is the same as in Germany or Byzantium.

We can see, thus, that an argument can be made for the existence of a royal consciousness at the level of governmental theory. And this consciousness was expressed in the royal and ceremonial aspects of the sirah of the Umayyad caliphs, beginning with Mu'awiyah and developing as the state became more fully organized.

Mu'awiyah can be truloy considered as the one man who gave the new empire its shape. Under Uthman and Umar the cities of Iraq were remarkable examples of anarchy and of permanent revolt. The rule of Ali with his feeble attempt to transform al-Kufah into the capital of the empire was totally unsuccessful. To create an empire and to secure its bases, Mu'awiyah had to start almost anew. He had to assess his power among the Arabs and the conquered peoples, and, more than that, he also had to adopt mehtods and symbols which would enable the empire to be governed and to survive. One of the methods was the establishment of dynastic succession. In general he amplified and developed what had already been partly founded by his predecessors, especially Umar, that is, a sort of mulk, an abstract form of power, which was expressed in practice in the growing centralization of the empire, in the formation of a regular army, of a navy, and in the development of a royal way of life at the court of the caliphs.

There is no doubt that Mu'awiyah was unable -- and quite probably also unwilling -- to introduce suddenly and without preparation an absolutism on the type found in Byzantium, Ctesiphon, or, later, Baghdad. He may not ever have been very familiar with such practice. Yet it is often said that he read a great deal of history. And furthermore al-Tabari has preserved an interesting account: when Umar ibn-al-Khattab was once visiting his governor of Syria, he was shocked to see Mu'awiyah taking part in a procession, having guards, and in general living an un-Islamic, Chosroes-like way of life. Mu'awiyah's answer was that the Byzantine enemy had spies in Syria and that it was of great importance for the Arab ruler to appear as similar as possible to his Christian opponent. What was merely a strategic move of psychological warfare while he was governor may have become more formal after his accession to the caliphate. There is ample evidence that Mu'awiyah did introduce new habits at the caliphal court.

The most concise account of Mu'awiyah's life is given by al-Mas'udi. It has the advantage over all other acocunts of being more ordered and thorough, in that it describes a whole day of Mu'awiyah's life, whereas other accounts relate specific, but unconnected stories.

"Mu'awiyah's custom was to give audience five times a day. As soon as he made the morning prayer, he received an aide who stayed until he had finished his reports. Then he went in, his Kuran was brought to him, and he read a section from it. Then he would enter his apartment (manzil), where he took care of various business. Next he would make a five rika'at prayer. Afterwards he would go back to the audience-hall (majlis), where he gave audience to his closest councilors. They exchanged views. Then his ministers would come in and give a report on what they had done from morning until night. A small collation was then brought to him, which consisted of leftovers from the preceding night's dinner, cold lamb, or chicken, or something else like it. He had a long conversation, after which he would enter his apartment and do as he pleased. Coming out he would ask a page (ghulam) to have his kursi ready and he would go to the mosque. After his ablutions he sat on the kursi, leaning back against the maqsurah, with his guards standing by. Anybody could come to him, poor people, Arabs from the desert, women, children, and whoever else was destitute. To the one who complained about an injustice, Mu'awiyah would order comfort. To the oppressed he sent guards. To the injured he would order an inquiry. And this continued until there was no one left.

"Next he returned to his palace and, sitting on the throne (sarir), he let people in according to their rank, but forbade anyone to prevent him from answering salutations. The visitor would say: How is the Commander of the Faithful? May God give him long life. And Mu'awiyah answered: With the grace of God. Once they weer seated he would say: O ye who are called nobles, because, to the exclusion of others, you are honored with sitting in this audience-hall (majlis), tell us the needs of those who have no access to us. A man would stand up and say that so-and-so died for the faith and Mu'awiyah would give a pension to his children. Another would mention that so-and-so was away from his family; Mu'awiyah would give the family a pension according to their needs. Then food was brought in; Mu'awiyah's secretary was present and standing by his side. Should anybody come, Mu'awiyah would invite him to sit at the table and offer him two or three mouthfuls of food, while the secretary was reading his letters. And Mu'awiyah would give him orders. Then he owuld say to the visitor: O servant of God, leave. And he would do so. Then another one would come and so it went until all had come with their needs. Sometimes more or less forty people came with requests during a meal. Once the meal was taken away, the audience was told to leave. Mu'awiyah used then to go to his apartment and nobody was admitted there until the noon prayer was announced, when he would go out and pray. Coming back he used to make again four rika'at. Then he would sit down and receive his closest aides. In winter he used to give them sweets called pilgrim's delight,' such as ... [hee follows an enumeration of sweets]; in summer he used to serve fresh fruits. Then his viziers came to take the necessary orders for the day. This lasted until asr [ca. 3 p.m.]. Then Mu'awiyah went and prayed. Going back to his apartment he would not receive anyone until, towards the end of the afternoon, he would give, sigging on the throne (sarir), a formal audience to people according to their rank. Supper was brought in to him and it was over by the time the evening prayer was announced. No requests were accepted during supper time. When supper had been taken out and prayer-time announced, Mu'awiyah went out and prayed. Then he made four extra rika'at, while reciting at every rak'ah fifty verses form the Kuran, some aloud, some silently. Then, going back to his apartment, he would not receive anyone until the night prayer was announced. He prayed and then received his favorites, his ministers, and his followers. The early part of the night was devoted to work with the ministers. A third of the night was spent in reading the history of the Arabs and of their Days; of the Ajam, of their kings and of their policies; of other kings of the world, of their wars, their strategems, their policies towards their subjects; in general of the history of past nations. Wonderful sweets were brought to him from his wives, halwa and other sweet food. Then Mu'awiyah slept for a third of the night. After he had awakened, he sat up and had archives brought to him with the lives of kings, their history, their wars, and their schemes. Special pages, who were intrusted with the keeping and reading of these records, used to read to him. So Mu'awiyah listened every night to several passages of history, of biography, of annals, and of political fragments. Then he went out to recite the morning prayer. Upon his return he would every day do again what we have described."

We see in this text a partiarchal rulership transformed into a royal one. It is true that Mu'awiyah still goes to the mosque to listen to complaints. He receives personally petitions from various tribesmen. Other accounts give numerous examples of Bedouins from the desert being allowed to interrupt the caliph in the midst of a speech or of an official ceremony. Lammens has also interpreted as an Arabian custom the fact that the caliph used to serve food to his visitors. He goes to the mosque and prays in public, like any other Muslim. But there are already some new elements in the way of life of the caliph. First of all it is emphasized several times that only a selected gorup of courtiers or councilors is admitted to the caliph. They sit according to their rank, but the very existence of several ranks is a new element in Islamic civilization. A text from the Aghani even specifies the position, according to rank, of various leaders vis-a-vis Mu'awiyah, on the famous day when he made Yazid his successor. Then we have pages (ghulam), who sometimes have specified duties, such as reading and keeping archives and historical texts.

When in the mosque, the caliph is surrounded by his guard. Ibn-al-Faqih writes that there were two kinds of guards introduced by Mu'awiyah, the regular guards and the life-guards. He also attributes to Mu'awiyah the introduction of eunuchs, obviously in imitation of Byzantine courts. This latter innovation is also credited to Mu'awiyah byal-Ya'qubi, who writes: "Mu'awiyah was the first one to introduce into Islam eunuchs, guards, and doorkeepers; and he used to let a curtain down between him and the audience; ... and he used to walk with a spear in his hands...and he used to sit on a sarir with the people below him...and he used to say: I am the first king (anwal al-muluk)." This passage clearly shows the way in which later chroniclers simplfied earlier Islamic civilization. All the elements mentioned by al-Ya'qubi are, as well be seen, Umayyad innovations, but from different periods. However the chronicler simplified by attributing them all to the founder of the dynasty himself. The only new elements whose introduction by Mu'awiyah is confirmed by other texts are the guards, the doorkeepers, the chamberlains, and probably eunuchs. All of them will play a much greater role under Mu'awiyah's successors.

Al-Mas'udi's text also mentions a throne. It clearly distinguishes a kursi from a sarir. Both words are generally translated as throne, although the first one can also mean -- and does in modern Arabic -- chair. The sarir is not described in our text, nor is it described in any other text I have found. It seems to be truly a throne in our sense of the word, for it is only used inside the palace and on official occasions. One text mentions the use of a sarir in a mosque, but on an exceptional day. The best preserved representation of what is probably a sarir is that on the bacade of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, as it has been reconstructed in the museum of Damascus. Only the lower section of the relief is preserved. It shows the lower part of a seated man, whose feet rest on what might hav been a low stool. This throne probably had a back, for we see the beginning of a column on each side. The existence of such columns on a sarir is confirmed by the texts. In all probability the sarir of Qasr al-Hayr also had arms. And from what remains of the throne represented on the back wall of the alcove at Qusayr Amrah we may judge that it was of the same type. There is no doubt that this type goes back to Byzantine thrones.

And yet this cannot have been the only form of sarir in existence. For while the number of texts say that the caliph used to sit on his sarir alone, others point out that it was customary for the caliph to invite guests to sit with him on the sarir. It was obviously impossible to do it on a throne of the type found at Qasr al-Hayr. No monument remains to give us an idea of the form of this second kind of sarir. However it is not only in Islam that we find this use of a throne for two different purposes. Sasanian silver plates show us, on the one hand, the ruler alone, seated on a throne, and presiding at an official audience, and, on the other hand, the same ruler on a quite similar throne with a companion. Another point of similarity between Sasanian and Umayyad usage is that both texts dealing with the Umayyads and Sasanian plates quite often picture the throne covered with pillows on which the ruler leans. It is true that there are numerous representations of Byzantine thrones with pillows, but the purpose of the pillow was there quite different. IN Byzantium, as generally in the West, it was used for comfort, and most often there was only one pillow. In Sasanian Persia and probably in Umayyad times there were several pillows and they were used either to accommodate several people or as honorific objects given by the ruler to important guests. The Umayyads followed an eastern tradition in the use they made of this second kind of sarir. It may very well be that the form of this throne was Byzantine, as certainly is true of the Qasr al-Hayr type; and the lack of distinction between two forms of sarir in the texts may indicate that they were similar. However, the form being probably Byzantine, the use to which it was put was not Byzantine, but Persian.

The kursi, although not described, evidently differs from the sarir, for it is portable. Mu'awiyah uses it to move from the palace to the mosque. Secondly, it has no back, for, in the mosque, while sitting in the kursi, the caliph is said to have been leaning against the maqsurah. Furthermore the kursi has unmistakable royal connotations, for at the time of Mu'awiyah it was used only by the caliph or, rarely, by members of his immediate family.

But the word kursi is also used to describe a different object. An interesting example is the kursi of al-Mukhtar, a religious and political rebel who seized power in al-Kufah in 685-686. It is known that al-Mukhtar appealed mostly to the tradition-conscious nomadic elements of the population, recently emigrated from Arabia. In order to foster the loyalty of these followers, al-Mukhtar adopted a kursi, which was supposed to have been 'Ali's kursi. It was a wooden litter which was carried on the back of a mule or a camel and which was covered. It was not necessarily a place on which some leader sat, but rather a symbol of authority most frequently used during battles. In this respect it must be connected with ancient Semitic practices that were until very recent times in evidence among the Bedouins of the Arab desert. The symbolism attached to it by al-Mukhtar was quite different from what we see in the case of Mu'awiyah. When showing the kursi in the mosque, al-Mukhtar said: "There is nothing in ancient nations the like of which is not in existence in this nation; the banu Isra'il had the Ark of the Covenant in which were the remnants of what the people of Moses and Aaron had left, and indeed this [pointing to the kursi] is for us like the Ark of the Covenant. Uncover it." And it was uncovered of its robes.

Certainly in meaning, and perhaps also in form, the kursi of Mu'awiyah is unconnected with the ancient Semitic object used by al-Mukhtar. Nor is it connected with the minbar, which was originally a form of portable throne having little to do with the mosque or with religious ceremonies. Although a text of al-Mas'udi suggests that one ascended the kursi like a minbar, the minbar was essentially unlike our kursi because it had a back and several steps. It is also doubtful whether it was ever used as a litter.

It seems probable that our object is a new one in Islam, as it appears to be so different from the kursi of the Bedouin as symbolized by the object venerated by al-Mukhtar. Parallels can be established with backless Byzantine and Sasanian thrones, but there are only a few references to a litter at the Byzantine court, and none to my knowledge in Sasanian times. The closest parallel to the kursi may be the beyysos of Byzantine emperors, a more modest throne than that used on great state occasions. It is possible that this usage of two thrones goes back to the Roman usage of the sella curulis and the sella gestatoris.

The kursi seems to have undergone considerable change during the Umayyad period. In the case of Mu'awiyah it is never mentioned except as a sort of litter. IN later times its main function was altogether different. It was found in the throne-room, but used by the followers of the ruler, while the ruler himself sat on a sarir. In only a few cases was it maintained as a litter, and then not a royal one. There occurred a depreciation of the kursi; and this might explain why, later, the word for throne came to mean chair. It must be remembered, however, that in Umayyad times the kursi was still an honored seat, closer to the throne of the king than to the bench of the simple man.

It would appear then that the sarir was the symbol of the caliph or of his immediate representative -- the caliph was sometimes called sahib al-sarir -- while the kursi was a throne of a different shape, often used as a litter, which degenerated into a sort of secondary throne for honored persons. It also appears from the texts that the kursi of the Umayyads was a different object form the kursi of the Bedouin. It may be suggested that it was an Umayyad innovation, and probably one of Mu'awiyah's, since we meet it first under him. But the problemof the exact origin of the object remains unsolved.

If, however, Mu'awiyah's kursi was a new object in Islam, why did not later historians, who have generally been so severe toward royal innovations, accuse Mu'awiyah of having introduced the kursi into the Islamic realm? The explanation may lie in the psychology of the Muslim chronicler, a man whose thinking was influenced by the political reality of his day as well as by the tradition. After the end of the eighth century, the kaqsurah and the seated khutbah -- the two elements Mu'awiyah has most often been accused of having introduced -- ceased to be symbols of secular power. They became elements of religious, even more exactly cultic significance. The maqsurah was little used after early 'Abbasid times, and the khutbah was delegated to the imam. The throne, on the other hand, kept its prestige and was maintained as a symbol of royal power. It was, therefore, much easier to the traditionally educated writer to accuse the Umayyad caliph of having introduced the now secondary maqsurah and seated khutbah. He succeeded, thus, in satisfying the tradition by attacking symbols of mulk, while at the same time keeping in favor with his royal patrons by not disapproving of the one symbol of mulk that was still in use, the throne.

The innovations of which Mu'awiyah has been specifically accused, the maqsurah and the sitting of the caliph while preaching the khutbah, are much better known. Today the khutbah is a cultic institution, which traditionally goes back to the Prophet Muhyammad himself. Therefore we have a great wealth of traditions dealing with it. But the essential problem of the khutbah is its meaning in the early Islam of the orthodox caliphs and in the time of the Umayyads.

In early Islam the meeting at the mosque known as salat jama'ah, "general prayer," which was to be the nucleus out of which the present day cult developed, was not a religious but a political meeting. Then the expression minbar al-mulk, which connects the seat of the preacher with royal attributes, takes its full meaning of throne, from which the ruler announces to the people new decisions and recent events. Then also the khatib is not simply a preacher, but a political leader or a king, who therefore cannot but sit while addressing his people. The minbar, on which he sits, together with the stick or spear he carries, are remnants from pre-Islamic days, when they were symbols of judicial power. Lammens has shown that Umar, Uthman, Ali, and probably the Prophet himself sat while addressing the assembly of the faithful. Mu'awiyah and the Umayyads are thus exonerated from the accusation of having been the first ones to sit while pronouncing the khutbah.

But more interesting to our purposes than the historical question of who originated the custom is that of how it came to play an important part in both religious and royal ceremonial. Admitting the political, or rather official, function of the mosque, the ceremonial may find its origin in the ceremonial of the royal court rather than in that of the church, as is generally believed. In the case of the preacher, the plausibility of the royal origin of the ceremony receives further support in the facts that the caliph's guard used to stand around him when he preached and that it was customary to burn incense around the imam during the khutbah. This latter fact has been taken by some for an imitation from Christian services. But others point out that the rite was not one that was part of the whole ceremony, but one that was directed exclusively to the khatib, when the latter was involved in a specific action and that, furthermore, it is mentioned by geographers especially in the case of al-Madinah, the most tradition-minded center of Islam. All this may explain why in the eleventh and tenth centuries, when the Psalms were translated into Arabic, thronos was translated as minbar. Considering all these royal elements, I am necessarily led to accept the fact that the khutbah was pronounced by a seated khatib, for it is a traditional prerogative of the chief in any civilization to be seated.

The seated khutbah cannot be conceived of as an innovation, but was part of a more general pattern of royal symbolism, whether its sources are to be sought in pre-Islamic Arabia or in some other civilization. Although it may be troubling to see not only the tradition but preceptive scholars like Goldziher, fully convinced of the fact that the Umayyads introduced the custom into Islamic civilization, the evidence is clearly to the contrary. All one can add is that, in their attempts to centralize and to organize the newly created empire, Mu'awiyah and his successors emphasized the political importance of the salat jama'ah and attempted to increase the prestige of the dynasty by surrounding their persons with a greater ceremonial than was customary in preceding times. In the case of Mu'awiyah it appears quite clearly in such events as his organization of Yazid's election as his successor. Analysis of the seated khutbah shows also that one should not, in a study of royal or imperial elements in Umayyad civilization, overlook the customs and traditions issued from the jahiliyah, as it may not always be correct to imagine as perfectly democratic and simple a civilization that for centuries had been in contact with many kingdoms and empires on its southern as well as its northern frontier.

The maqsurah poses a problem somewhat similar to that of the khutbah, except that here it is certain that the object was introduced by an Umayyad -- although again the tradition is not definite as to who exactly the innovator was. Following several attempts against his life, Mu'awiyah, or Uthman or Marwan, is supposed to have decided to build a fence which would allow him to direct prayers without fear of assassination. But if we keep in mind the political nature of the meeting of the mosque, the maqsurah becomes something different. And we must further keep in mind that the maqsurah was introduced, as a text of al-Ya'qubi indicates, in the year 44 A.H., that is, at a time when no security problem could have justified its introduction. The meaning of the word maqsurah is revealing. It is used to define other parts of the mosque or even a part of the mamam where the customer oculd be alone, and it means a "reserved, separated space." Sauvaget connects it with the curtain, which in imperial courts was used to separate the ruler from the audience and of which we shall find examples later in this study. It is a royal attribute.

But there is no doubt that in many respects -- and in particular in the whole institution of the wafd -- the early Umayyads maintained the form, if not the spirit, of a certain pre-Islamic parliamentarianism. However we also know from Sauvaget's study and from the additional evidence of the text on Mu'awiyah, that there was even in the earliest time a strong royal streak in Umayyad government. We shall see that this latter tendency was the more dynamic, the more living one, and therefore the more logical one to which to attribute an innovation. It is within the context of a new force in Islamic civilization -- the mulk -- that we must also understand the throne and the more exclusive audiences introduced by Mu'awiyah. They were timid innovations no doubt, innovations which, because they were especially fitted to the early Islamic pattern, Lammens was led to interpret as symbols of the "democracy" of Mu'awiyah's regime. But they all belong to a new trend, which was to be amplified by the following generation, a trend sets the ruler apart from the ruled not only in prestige and in honors, but also in terms of the space in which the ruler moves. One may add, as an illustration, the well-known sentence of Ziyad ibn-Abihi, when he enlarged the mosque of al-Basrah and joined it to the palace: "It is not fitting that the imam pass across the people," when going to preach. Therefore he had a door pierced through the southern wall of the mosque, through which the imam appeared.

Kursi, maqsurah, seated khutbah, and audiences according to rank where the participants sit in pre-designated places -- all these elements, in spite of variations in the tradition, can be traced back to Mu'awiyah himself or to his time. They all tend to emphasize the exclusiveness of the ruler in front of his subjects. IN the realm of practical politics, this exclusiveness finds its counterpart in the establishment of hereditary succession, as another symbol of the mulk so decried by later traditionists, but rightly recognized by them as part of the "sunnah of Kisra and Qaysar."


By permission of Dr Grabar

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Paul Halsall, May 2023

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