Statecraft in Turbulent Times: A Tenth-Century Arabic Mirror for Princes (Kitāb fī al-Siyāsa by al-Wazīr al-Maghribī) Open Access
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Al-Wazīr Maghribī’s Kitāb fī al-Siyāsa is an ethico-political treatise that propounds some ideas and ideals of statecraft and sheds considerable light on the political milieu of the ‘Abbāsid caliphate two centuries before it completely collapsed at the hands of the Mongols in 1258AD. This little-known Arabic mirror for princes conjures up images of a hectic time very similar to that of the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Writing in a different time yet under similar contexts, Abū al-Qāsim al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī al-Maghribī (370-418/981-1027), better known as al-Wazīr al-Maghribī, divided statecraft into three distinct, yet interdependent, categories in a bid to help the ruler to comport himself and to tailor his policies toward his courtiers and subjects, especially in volatile times. Unlike the works of medieval jurists that focused on maintaining the caliphate or at the very least the application of Shari‘a and unlike the contributions of philosophers that mostly aimed at establishing far-fetched utopias, the medieval mirror for princes genre focused on the more pragmatic regulation of the affairs of the people and the polity. Yet, al-Maghribī’s treatise has drawn little to no interest in academic circles. I hope this study of al-Maghribī’s political thought can help fill this lacuna. This thesis offers a textual and contextual study of this didactic oeuvre, expounding on its language, themes and setting. It first sets the scene for understanding the background of al-Maghribī and his sundry contributions. Next, a detailed summary of the overarching themes, and a thorough analysis of the language and style of the text ensue. It also proffers a close textual reading of the Islamic overtones and Greek and Persian underpinnings articulated masterfully throughout this treatise. I then go on to pinpoint the mechanisms of statesmanship as put forth by al-Maghribī. Next, I situate this treatise into its temporal context by revisiting the eventful era in which al-Maghribī lived. Lastly, I offer a much-needed English translation of the Arabic text. This thesis draws heavily on primary and secondary sources in Arabic and English. Penned in a time very similar to that of the post-Arab Spring Middle East, this treatise could in fact serve as a guidebook for contemporary Muslims rulers as its practical advice and wisdom are just as applicable today as they were in the 4th/10th and early 5th/11th centuries.