Siasatnama, “The Book of Rules for Kings.” is a book written by the great vizier, scholar and political thinker Nizam ul Mulk. He was one of the best political theorists to have ever lived. Yet, not many people, especially Muslims, know about him or his works. Legend says that when Nizam ul Mulk was a boy, a wise sheik told him he would become the Khwaja (master) of the earth. He, later on, became the governor of his town. From there he rose the political ladder to become the Grand Vizier of the Seljuk Empire. The most extensive empire at the time which spanned from the Khyber Pass to Anatolia.
The revamping of the Iqta system
One of his most significant accomplishments was to expand on the Iqta system which Omar ibn Khattab (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) made. The basis of the Iqta system was avoiding oppression of the people. One of Nizam ul Mulks’s famous quotes is, “A nation will survive irreligiosity, but it will never survive oppression.”
The Iqta system is sometimes confused with feudalism, which is incorrect. Although sometimes it can devolve in feudalism as it did in the latter part of the Mughal empire and many other Islamic Empires. Army officers called Muqtis are given land as payment instead of a salary. The Muqti would sometimes take the land’s tax and send a percentage to the Sultan.
Other times, The Sultan would take the tax and give a fixed salary to the Muqti. Keep in mind that the Muqti generally lives far away from his land, so he can’t exploit the peasants working on it. He only gets the tax money. Nizam Ul Mulk emphasizes not to give the Muqti administrative power over the peasants. The local Emir is the one who does the actual administration of the land.
Later on, The Ottoman Sultan, Yavuz Sultan Selim, would take away police power from the Emir and give it to the Chief Qadi, Which further decentralized the local government. The Iqta system was a genius system that balanced out the interests of different people and groups so that no one would be interested in oppressing the local population.
There should also be an information network of spies that serve the Sultan and look for any administrator who breaks the law and report it to him. However, the Seljuks didn’t have one because Alp Arsalan didn’t trust spies. Nizam Ul Mulk complains about this in Siasatnama and emphasizes the importance of spy and intelligence networks to catch oppression and betrayal before they happen. He says, “… Reports good and bad are like arrows: If you shoot enough of them, at least one will hit the target.”
His other significant accomplishment is the creation of orthodox Islamic Aqeedah. During Nizam Ul Mulk’s time, there were many competing theologies with different ideas. Such as the Ismailis and Mu’tazilites. The Ismaili Shias were also known as Batinis, meaning hidden ones.
These sects convinced many people to join them because they had superior logical arguments that answered many of the philosophical questions present in the ancient Greek works that mainstream scholars could not answer. So Nizam ul Mulk asked Imam Ghazzali to help him secure an orthodox Islamic creed. One that would become the mainstream theology which was the Ashari kalaam.
Most Muslims are part of the Ashari/Maturidi kalaam because of Nizam ul Mulk and Imam Ghazzali. Imam Ghazzali worked to refute the Batinis, and Nizam Ul Mulk worked to fight them politically.
Final thoughts on the Siasatnama
When I first got Siasatnama, I thought it would be a tedious manual on political science filled with dull technical details on political theory. To my surprise, the book was a very high-level overview of leadership skills filled with many engaging stories to emphasize his points.
The book is more like a commentary on the tales of previous sultans and shahs concerning leadership than a thesis on politics. 90% of Siasatnama is stories, and 10% is commentary. Some of the stories are about Nizam ul Mulk. However, most of them are about previous Sultans, Caliphas, and Shahs.
In conclusion, we Muslims have a rich history with some of the best literature written by the world’s most intelligent scientists. It is, however, sad to see that even in Islamic schools in the west and abroad. We copy other school systems.
The Muslim World needs to make our own education curriculums to give our children Islamic literature. Our goal should be to inspire them and let them know we have a rich history. We must give our children a sense of continuity. Siasatnama is only one book. We have many books on every subject which are translated and studied throughout the world. The first step to teaching the Islamic tradition to our children is to learn it ourselves.
Check out our other article about why Muslims should change their stance on oppression of both Muslims and others.