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Ahl al-Ḥall Wa-al-ʿAqd

By:
Wael B. Hallaq
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Ahl al-Ḥall Wa-al-ʿAqd

Those who are qualified to act on behalf of the Muslim community in electing a caliph are known as ahl al-ḥall wa-al-ʿaqd (the people who loose and bind; less frequently, ahl al-ʿaqd wa-al-ḥall). In medieval political theory, their main function was contractual, namely, to offer the office of caliphate to the most qualified person and, upon his acceptance, to administer to him an oath of allegiance (bayʿah). They were also entrusted with deposing him should he not fulfill his duties. They must be Muslim, of age, just, free, and capable of exercising ijtihād (interpretation of religious sources). The implication of the last requirement is that ahl al-ḥall wa-al-ʿaqd are jurists of the highest caliber, whose consensus is binding.

In the absence of any revealed text stipulating the number of ahl al-ḥall wa-al-ʿaqd, scholars were in disagreement concerning this issue. Some argued that there must be sufficient to represent all regions of the Islamic empire. The prevailing opinion, however, seems to have been that one person suffices; this reflects the historical reality in which a caliph normally designated his successor. Since the caliph appointed by ahl al-ḥall wa-al-ʿaqd must enjoy the same qualifications required of the members of the appointing body, the caliph himself was deemed a most qualified member, who might alone designate a successor. This is perhaps why some Muslim political theorists, such as the eleventh-century Shāfiʿī jurist al-Māwardī, maintain that the bayʿah of ahl al-ḥall wa-al-ʿaqd is a subsidiary process, resorted to when the caliph fails to appoint an heir.

Theory diverged from practice in at least one respect. In later times, military commanders played the role of ahl al-ḥall wa-al-ʿaqd, although they did not fulfill the theoretical qualifications. Most notably, they were not deemed mujtahids (interpreters of the law) and were thus not empowered to form a consensus on behalf of the Muslim community. Their assumption of this role was finally justified on the basis of public interest (maṣlaḥah), mainly in terms of the doctrine that however objectionable the appointments of military commanders may be, they are preferable to a situation in which the community is left without leaders.

The title ahl al-ḥall wa-al-ʿaqd has gained particular significance in modern political thought. The title is now intimately connected with an expanded meaning of shūrā, a term that previously meant consultation among the oligarchs on political matters, including the appointment of a caliph. In nineteenth- and particularly twentieth-century political thought, the ahl al-ḥall, through the medium of shūrā, speak for the full community. Khayr al-Dīn al-Tūnisī (d. 1889), a Tunisian reformer, equates ahl al-ḥall with a European-style parliament, and Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā (d. 1935) entrusts them with powers to elect and depose rulers by virtue of their influential status in the community and their mutual consultation. Their decisions, though they may be at variance with those of the ruler, are binding upon him because ahl al-ḥall are the deputies of the community and express its will. For Rashīd Riḍā the ruler thus becomes subservient to ahl al-ḥall, who express through their consultation the will of the community on matters of public law and policy. More recent political thinkers deem the ruler a servant of the people, elected by a process of consultation whose medium is ahl al-ḥall. No rule, they argue, can be legitimate unless it is based on this process. See also BAYʿAH and IJTIHāD.

Bibliography

  • Crone, Patricia. God's Rule: Government, and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Faḍl Allāh, Mahdī. Al-Shūrā: Ṭabīʿat al-Ḥākimiyah fī al-Islām (The Shūrā: The Nature of Sovereignty in Islam). Beirut: Dār al-Andalus, 1984.
  • Kurzman, Charles, ed. Modernist Islam, 1840–1940: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Kerr, Malcolm H.Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muḥammad ʿAbduh and Rashīd Riḍā. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966, pp. 34–36, 159–165, 183.
  • Lambton, Ann K. S.State and Government in Medieval Islam. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Summarizes the theories of various medieval scholars on the subject. See pages 18, 73, 89, 105, 111–114, 139, 141, 184, 311.
  • Māwardī, Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad al-. Al-Aḥkām al-Sulṭānīyah (The Laws of the Caliphate). Edited by M. Engri. Bonn, 1853. Translated from the French by Léon Ostrorog as Le droit du Califat. Paris: Éditions Leroux, 1925. Well-known classical work on constitutional theory. See pages 6–7, 21–22.
  • Meri, Josef W., ed. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. 2 vols.London: Routledge, 2006.
  • Shaltūt, Maḥmūd. Min Tawjīhāt al-Islām (Concerning the Guiding Principles of Islam). 7th ed.Cairo and Beirut: Dār al-Shurūq, 1983, pp. 471ff.
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