Nizam al-Mulk

views updated May 21 2018

Nizam al-Mulk

Circa 1019–1092



Prime Minister . Nizam al-Mulk was the Persian prime minister (wazir) of the well-known Saljuk rulers Alp Arslan (ruled 1063–1072) and Malikdhah (ruled 1072–1092). Throughout this period, Nizam al-Milk witnessed a series of wars, as the Saljuk realm expanded. The Saljuks captured their first significant city, Nishapur, in 1037, and only eighteen years later, in 1055, took Baghdad, the capital of the khilafah in 1055, only eighteen years later. When Nizam al-Mulk became prime minister, the Saljuk sultanate was already the single most powerful Muslim kingdom of its day. During his term in office, it attained even greater size, especially after the defeat of the Byzantines at Malazgirt (Manzik-ert) in 1071 and the capture of Syria in 1072. Probably his role in these conquests was minimal, his position being administrative rather than military; yet, the extend of Saljuk territory put at his command large financial resources to spend on useful projects with lasting effects.

Founder of Colleges . The best-known, longest-lasting, and most influential of Nizam al-Mulk’s projects was the founding of Nizamiyyah madrasahs (colleges) in several cities of the Saljuk realm, which at that time covered most of the eastern Muslim world. The first of these colleges was opened at Baghdad in 1067. The madrasah movement contributed to the establishment of a regular system of Muslim higher education, which later provided a model for European universities. Although madrasahs had already been established as separate institutions independent from masjids, his Nizamiyyah madrasahs gave a strong impetus to the madrasah movement, establishing professorships supported by regular stipends from endowments belonging to each school. Part of the motivation for establishing these colleges was ideological. The state the Saljuks overthrew had been Shi’i, and the Nizamiyyah emphasized the teachings of the Sunni Shafi’i school, which the Saljuks supported, thus demonstrating their Sunni legitimacy. Whatever the political motives, however, the colleges raised educational standards throughout the Muslim world.

Literary Legacy . Although Nizam al-Mulk was clearly part of the class of literati, unlike most members of that class he was a politician, not a scholar of religion, and he wrote in Persian, not Arabic. His major work, the Siyasat-namah (Political Treatise), is a major medieval Muslim work advising rulers and their assistants about the conduct of state and one of the earliest important works of Persian literature. Throughout this work Nizm al-Mulk helped the trend to raise the status of Persian language for nonreligious uses. The book harks back to earlier Persian models of statecraft but also includes many useful examples from Nizam al-Mulk’s own long career. It was meant to instruct the young ruler Malik-shah, who ascended the throne at age seventeen. Malik-shah eventually tired of the interference of the old prime minister, dismissing him from office in 1092. Shortly thereafter, Nizam al-Mulk was assassinated by a follower of an extreme branch of Shi’ism that the prime minister had worked to suppress.


H. Bowen, “Nizam al-Mulk, Abu ‘Alial-Hasan b. ‘All,” revised by C. E. Bosworth, Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-ROM version (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Michael Brett, Ibn Khaldun and the Medieval Maghrib (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate Variorum, 1999)

Bruce B. Lawrence, ed., Ibn Khaldun and Islamic Ideology (Leiden: Brill, 1984).

Nizam al-Mulk, The Book of Government or, Rules for Kings: The Siyar al-Muluk or Siyasatnama, translated by Hubert Darke, revised edition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978).

S.A.A. Rizvi, Nizam al-Mulk Tusi, His Contribution to Statecraft, Political-Theory and the Art of Government (Lahore, 1978).

Niz̳ām al-Mulk

views updated May 23 2018

Niz̳ām al-Mulk (ruling Muslim adviser): see WAZĪR.

More From