MĀWARDĪ, AL- (ah 364–450/974–1058 ce), more fully Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad ibn Ḥabīb; Muslim jurist and political theorist. Al-Māwardī was born in Basra but spent most of his life in Baghdad. He studied Islamic law in both cities with eminent legists of the Shāfiʿī school of jurisprudence. Because of his reputation as a scholar, he was appointed judge in several towns, including Ustuwā in Iran and Baghdad in Iraq. In Baghdad the caliph al-Qādir (991–1031) chose him to write a resumé of Shāfiʿī jurisprudence; al-Qādir's successor, al-Qāʾim (1031–1074), used al-Mā-wardī for diplomatic missions to the Buyid and Seljuk rulers of Iran.
Although al-Māwardī is remembered primarily as the author of Kitāb al-aḥkām al-sulṭānīyah (Book of governmental ordinances), he wrote other books on jurisprudence and government, as well as treatises on such varied topics as Qurʾanic exegesis, the prophethood of Muhammad, the conduct of judges, proverbs and traditions, and Islamic ethics. The report that he did not permit circulation of his books until after his death is regarded as apocryphal. While his book on ethics, entitled Kitāb adab al-dunyā wa-al-dīn (Book of manners in worldly and religious affairs), is still read by Muslims, it is seldom taken into account in discussions of al-Māwardī's importance in the development of Islamic thought; surprisingly enough, the same holds true even for his works closely related in subject matter to Al-aḥkām. Accordingly, in the absence of any comprehensive study of al-Māwardī's complete works, estimates of his significance must be regarded as tentative despite the fact that the place assigned him in political thought by Western scholars is firmly fixed and widely accepted.
The date of composition of Al-aḥkām is not known, nor is the nature of the relationship of this book to a similar, in many respects identical, book of the same title written by al-Māwardī's contemporary, the Ḥanbalī jurist Abū Yaʿlā ibn al-Farrāʾ. However, scholars assume, without documentation, that since al-Māwardī's Al-aḥkām seems to be a mature work, it must have been written toward the end of his life; since, moreover, al-Māwardī was sixteen years older than Ibn al-Farrāʾ, it is believed that the latter must have borrowed, without acknowledgment, from the former. Clearly these are problems that need to be solved before al-Māwardī's originality and development as a thinker can be understood. In the meantime, an indication of the content of Al-aḥkām and its possible connection with the author's milieu must suffice.
According to al-Māwardī he wrote Al-aḥkām at the behest of a ruler, perhaps a caliph, as a convenient compendium of ordinances relating to government, culled from manuals of jurisprudence. This work, and Abū Yaʿlā's, are rightly regarded as the first books of jurisprudence to be devoted exclusively to the principles and practice of Islamic government. The parts of Al-aḥkām that have attracted most attention discuss the three highest offices of the medieval Islamic state: the caliphate, the vizierate, and the emirate by usurpation, even though at least two-thirds of the work is devoted to lesser administrative and judicial offices, taxation, and land policy. Scholars are divided as to whether the book, either as a whole or in parts, reflects actual political conditions prevailing in al-Māwardī's time or constitutes a program for establishing an ideal state or for reasserting the power of the caliphate in the face of threats posed by secular, military rulers. The prevailing view is that al-Māwardī was a supporter of al-Qāʾim and al-Qādir in their struggle against the Buyids and the Seljuks. His support, never explicitly expressed as such, came in the form of arguments derived from the Qurʾān, tradition (ḥadīth ), and jurisprudence (fiqh ) for the necessity of maintaining the caliph as executor of Islamic law and for the duty of the Muslim community to obey him. Admittedly, this dual principle seems remote from the realities of al-Māwardī's day, when generals exercised political power in Islamic states. But al-Māwardī tried to come to terms with this reality and to accommodate it within the scope of Islamic law in his chapter on the emirate by usurpation. There he argued that rule by emirs based on force was to be sanctioned as long as they acknowledged the authority of the caliphs and implemented Islamic law. In effect, such an admission constituted a first step toward concession to political expediency, which was characteristic of the subsequent development of medieval Islamic political thought. Be that as it may, al-Māwardī's formulation of the character of the Islamic state has been regarded as authoritative by many Muslim thinkers and Western scholars alike.
The fullest published study of al-Māwardī is the long article by Henri Laoust, "La penseé et l'action politiques d'al-Māwardī," Revue des études islamiques 36 (1968): 11–92. I discuss problems that Laoust does not treat in my article "A New Look at al-aḥkām al-Sulṭāniyya," Muslim World 64 (January 1974): 1–15. Al-aḥkām al-sulṭānīyah has been translated into French by Edmond Fagnan as Les statuts gouvernementaux (Algiers, 1915).
Donald P. Little (1987)