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Amir al Mumenin / Commander of the Faithful

This title, though not so well known to European historians, has been more widely spread and more durable than that of Khalif. Omar, the second Khalif, was the first who assumed the title Ameer al Momenin, or 'Commander of the Faithful.' Caliph (Successor) of the Prophet of the Lord, was, he said, 'too long and Of the cumbersome a name, while the other was easier and more fit for common use.' Omar, when elected on the death of Abubekr, represented to the assembled chiefs the difficulty he would experience in styling himself the Vicar of the Vice, and that the difficulty would increase with each successor. 'Whereupon Mogairah, son of Shaab, addressed Omar thus: "My lord, you are our Amir. We are, by the grace of God, Al-Mumenin, the Faithful; receive the title, if it please you, of Amir al Mumenin." The proposal was well received, and it was ever after borne by those who assumed to be the successors of Muhammad, and it was the only title ever borne by them.

The title Amir, Commander, is commonly rendered imperator, and was borne by the generals of the armies of the faithful, and afterwards by those who ruled provinces under the real or nominal authority of the Khalifs, until it was superseded by that of Sultan. The Amir al Omra, Commander of the Commanders, was the usual designation of the chief minister of the Khalifs, and played an important part in their history, and has also been in use under Turkish and other Muhammadan governments. Like other sovereign titles, that of Amir is still in use, though it has long since ceased to be specially connected with rule or military command.

But the term Amir was, in early Muhammadan times, not confined to commanders of high rank. Makrizi, in his history of the Mamluk Sultans, speaks of the Arabs who came to the aid of one of these rulers against the Tartars, as under their Amirs, as if they were sheiks or chiefs; but in the Turkish armies of this period it was a title of command of a special grade, conferred by the Sultan himself. On one occasion, mention is made of an Amir of ten.

The Haulqua, or Halkah, or circle, was the body guard of the prince, which, under some sovereigns, became an army. Saladin is said to have had ten thousand under his direct command. They were purchased slaves, and, by force of circumstances, became a warrior caste, like the Janissaries, and are well known to history as the Mamluks of this period.

The title Amir of the Faithful was retained by ecclesiastical rulers long after they ceased to be warriors. It was not until the fifth century of the Hejra that it was borne by any other prince than the Khalif, Malik Shah, the third of the line of the Seljuk dynasty, had it conferred on him by the reigning Khalif, who, according to D'Herbelot, sent a special embassy to confirm him in the title and power of Sultan, adding also this special dignity, hitherto reserved by the Khalifs to themselves. It had, indeed, been already applied to Mahmud of Ghazni, in the inscription on the minaret or pillar raised to his memory, and on that, near Ghazni, raised to his successor Hasaud.1 Within a very few years of the date of the accession of Malik Shah, it was conferred on a prince of the Marabut dynasty in Western Africa, by the Moorish chiefs who had invited him to come to their aid in Spain. This prince, Yusuf ben Tashfin, defeated Alphonso VI. of Leon and Castile in a great battle near Badajoz. An Arabic writer, quoted by Makrizi in his treatise on Musalman coins, says that, after the battle, thirteen kings elected and proclaimed him Amir of the Musalmans, and that he was the first of this race of rulers who bore the title.

It is curious to find it applied to the reigning Khalif on a coin of Jengiz Khan. At no period of the career of this conqueror had he shown any respect for the Muhammadan religion. On the contrary, when he entered Bokhara, he is said to have ascended the reading desk of a mosque and thrown the Koran under the hoofs of his horses. He and his descendants were tolerant as to religious usages, and it is possible that this word may have been introduced into his coinage, from motives of policy, after his conquest of Kharizm and Khorasan. If so, he certainly failed to conciliate the believers.

The prestige of this great name long survived the decline of the power of the Khalifs. It had been usual in coinage to add the title of the reigning Khalif. Of this there are frequent instances on coins of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. After the fall of Baghdad, the Khalifs in Egypt, though little more than domestic chaplains of the warrior caste that ruled, were courted by distant potentates. The head of the rising Ottoman family applied to Egypt for a confirmation of a new title. Gibbon thus describes the event: " The humble title of Emir was no longer suitable to the Ottoman greatness, and Bajazet condescended to accept a patent of Sultan from the Caliphs who served in Egypt under the yoke of the Mamelukes, a last and frivolous homage, that was yielded by force of opinion, by the Turkish conquerors, to the house of Abbas and the successors of the Arabian prophet."




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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:59:32 ZULU