Caliphate, Featured, Ruling

Accounting the governors of the Caliphate

Administrative Divisions of the Caliphate

The Caliphate is divided up administratively to aid the Caliph in the task of ruling. Administrative divisions exist in all states today differing only in size and name.

The territories which the Islamic State rules over are divided into provinces where each province is known as a wiliyah. The provinces are in turn divided into districts where each district is known as an i’mala. The person appointed over the province is called a governor (wali) and the person appointed over the district is called a mayor (‘amil) or ruler (hakim).1

Administrative Divisions of the Caliphate

Importance of Accounting the Governors and Mayors

For the citizens of the Caliphate, their first point of contact with the leadership of the state is the governor and the mayor. The governor and mayor are managing people’s day to day affairs on a local and regional level. If the governor is oppressive then this affects people’s daily lives more than any other government official including the Caliph.

Historically, there were many oppressive governors in the Islamic State. The infamous governor Hajjaj bin Yusuf in Iraq killed thousands of Muslims under his rule, although he continued to implement Islam and carry the Islamic message (daw’ah) to neighbouring countries.

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ predicted that oppressive leaders would rule over the Muslims.

Hudhayfah ibn al-Yamaan narrated that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “There will be Imams after me who will not be guided by my guidance, nor will they act according to my Sunnah; some men will rise amongst you with satans’ hearts in human bodies.” Hudhayfah asked, “What shall I do, if I were to reach that time?” He ﷺ said, “You should hear and obey the leader even if he whipped your back and took your money; do hear and obey.”2

During the later period of the Abbasid Caliphate the governors became very powerful and effectively ran their provinces as independent states. They became known as sultans and their provinces known as sultanates. The Caliph agreed to this state of affairs and was content with the praise he received from the mosque sermons, and by the governor mentioning that decisions were taken on the Caliph’s behalf.

Therefore, detailed accountability mechanisms are needed for the governor and his mayors to ensure the unity of the Islamic State and preventing any abuse of the governor’s powers that could lead to the oppression of the people. Although we only refer to the governor in the next discussion, all accountability mechanisms apply equally to the mayors as well.

Accountability Mechanisms

The governor is a ruler and as such must fulfil the same strict contractual conditions as the Caliph and Assistant Caliphs, as the governor is a deputy for the Caliph in his province. This ensures only those strong in the Islamic ideology and with the capability to rule will be governors. The Caliphate is not a monarchy and so the governors are chosen based on merit and not due to family ties as unfortunately occurred during some periods of Islamic history.

The Media, Political Parties and Mazalim Court all play a pivotal role in accounting the governors and keeping them in check. In addition to these there are four accountability mechanisms which apply specifically to the governors. These are separation of powers, limited term of office, the Regional Assembly and continual monitoring by the Caliph and Assistant Caliphs.

Separation of Powers

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ appointed two types of governor. The first was a governor with a general mandate to rule over all affairs in his province such as the governor of Yemen, Amru bin Hazm. The second was a governor with a specific mandate to rule over some matters in his province and not others such as the appointment of Imam Ali over the judiciary in Yemen. It is mentioned in the Seerah of ibn Hisham that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ appointed Farwa bin Musayk as a mayor of the tribes – Murad, Muzhij and Zabeed and he sent with him Khalid bin Sa’eed as governor of Sadaqah (funds).3

This action of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is an evidence for the Caliph having the choice to appoint either a governor with a general mandate or a specific mandate.

Although the Caliph in origin is allowed to appoint a governor with a general mandate, historically this caused great harm to the unity of the Islamic State. Muawiya, the governor of Syria who ruled with a general mandate for 22 years became very powerful and was able to challenge the authority of the fourth rightly guided Caliph Ali bin Abi Talib leading to civil war. As discussed previously during the decline of the Abbasid Caliphate the governors became semi-independent transferring their provinces from wiliyat to sultanates. Egypt and Spain went even further and actually declared themselves as Caliphates in opposition to the legitimate Caliphate of the Abbasids.

Therefore in a future Caliphate the governor should be appointed with a specific mandate over all affairs in his province except the armed forces, treasury and judiciary. This is because the armed forces are the power, the treasury is the “life blood” and the judiciary is the safeguarding of rights and the execution of penal codes. The police would be under the governor’s command in terms of execution but not administration. This means the governor can utilise the police but not appoint or dismiss the police commissioner or any other officers. Administration of the police is performed by the Internal Security Department.4

The armed forces, judiciary and treasury would be under the control of the Caliph through their respective government departments.

This separation of powers therefore removes the ability of the governor to threaten the unity of the Caliphate and commit oppression against the people in his province.

However, this separation of powers does pose a number of challenges and needs to be managed correctly. Limiting the powers of the governor too much can lead him to becoming a lame duck unable to fulfil his responsibilities of ruling.

At the beginning of the Abbasid Caliphate governors were appointed with a specific mandate without control of the armed forces, judiciary and treasury. The Caliph would appoint a separate qadi for the judiciary, a saihib al-shurtah for the army and a sahib al-kharaj for the treasury. While the governor was almost always an outsider with no ties to the province he was ruling the other posts of qadi, saihib al-shurtah and sahib al-kharaj were appointed from the local elites (wujuh) with grass roots support from the people.

Hugh Kennedy highlights this point:

“Sometimes the governor himself was directly responsible for the financial administration of the province but from late Umayyad times, a separate sahib al-kharaj was appointed by the caliph, answerable directly to him. On occasion the sahib al-kharaj could be a more powerful figure in the province than the governor.”5

“In many ways the saihib al-shurtah must often have been a more important figure in the life of the province than the governor to whom he was theoretically subordinate. In contrast to the governors, the police chiefs were usually men who had roots in the province and had strong family connexions there.”6

Limited Term of Office

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to appoint governors for a limited period and then remove them. No governor remained in his province for the entire duration of the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ rule. This indicates that the governor should never be appointed permanently, but only for short periods after which he is removed. It would be best to remove him if he became established or if people became attracted to his personality. He should be removed immediately if the people complained against him through a vote of no-confidence in the Regional Assembly or House of Representatives.

Hugh Kennedy describes the terms of office during the early years of the Abbasid Caliphate.

“Terms of office were usually very short. Under al-Saffah and al-Mansfir this was not so pronounced as one governor, Yazid bin Hatim, held the office for eight years, though this was exceptional. Under al-Mahdi and Harun appointments seldom lasted more than a year and on many occasions less. In the twenty-two years of al-Mansur’s reign there were only eight changes of governor while in the twenty-three years of Harun’s there were twenty-two. In the twelve years from 170 to 182 AH there were no less than sixteen changes.”7

Although the sharia has not specified a specific time period for the governor the civil war between the rightly guided Caliph Imam Ali and the governor of Syria Muawiya who was in power for 22 years shows the harm caused by a lengthy term of office. This is why the term of office should be limited.8

Regional Assembly

In every province there exists a Regional Assembly (Majlis ul-Wiliyah) that is elected by the people of that province every five years. Those elected are representatives of the Muslim and non-Muslim (dhimmi) citizens of that province.

This Regional Assembly has two main functions. Firstly, it acts as an advisory body to the governor explaining the reality of the province and its problems. Secondly, it monitors the governor and his mayors and accounts them where necessary. If the majority of the Regional Assembly complain about the conduct of the governor or his mayors and pass a no-confidence motion against them, then the Caliph must remove the governor or mayor from office.9

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ removed Al-Ala’ Ibnul-Hadhrami, the governor of Bahrain, because a delegation of Abd Qays (the tribe of Bahrain) complained about him. The second rightly guided Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab used to dismiss governors when the people complained against them. Umar dismissed the righteous companion Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas because the people complained about him. Umar remarked, “I did not remove him because of incompetence or betrayal.”10

The establishment of a Regional Assembly with the power to have the governor or mayors removed from office, will ensure the governor and mayors serve the interests of the people and not their own selfish interests.

Monitoring by Caliph and Assistant Caliphs

The Caliph should inquire about the actions of the governor and he should monitor them closely. He should also appoint someone who can check their state of affairs and carry out inspections. Assistant Caliphs are appointed and given responsibility for one or more provinces of the state, so they can supervise the governors and assist them where necessary.

The Caliph should also meet with all of the governors or some of them from time to time and listen to the opinions of the Regional Assembly members.

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would examine the governors when appointing them, as he did with Mu’az and Abu Moussa. He ﷺ used to explain to them how they should conduct their duties, as he did with Amr bin Hazm. He ﷺ also drew their attention to some important matters as he did with Aban bin Sa’id when he appointed him governor over Bahrain and said to him: “Look after Abd Qays and honour their leaders.”11

Likewise it has also been confirmed that he ﷺ used to hold the governors accountable, inspect their situation and listen to news brought to him about them.

He ﷺ used to ask the governors to account for the revenues and expenses they had spent.

Al-Bukhari and Muslim narrated on the authority of Abu Humaid Al-Sa’idi who said: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ appointed Ibnul-Utbiyya as mayor in charge of the Sadaqat of Banu Saleem. When he returned back to the Prophet ﷺ and he accounted him, he said; ‘This is for you and (this is a gift) that was presented to me.’ So the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘Why did you not remain in your father’s and mother’s home so that your gift comes to you if you spoke the truth.’

Then the Messenger of Allah ﷺ stood on the pulpit, addressed the people praised, Allah and said; ‘What about a State official whom I give an assignment and who comes and says; ‘This is for you and this has been presented to me as a gift?’ Why didn’t he remain in the house of his father or the house of his mother so that his gift be presented to him if he is truthful? By Allah, any one of you will not take anything from it (Sadaqah) unlawfully but will bring it on the Day of Judgment, carrying on his neck a camel that will be growling, or a cow that will be bellowing or a sheep that will be bleating.’ Then he raised his hands so that I could see the whiteness of his armpits. Then he said twice; ‘O Allah, I have conveyed your command.’”12

‘Umar bin al-Khattab when he was Caliph used to closely monitor the governors, and he appointed Muhammad Ibn Maslama to examine their state of affairs and inspect them.

‘Umar used to gather the governors during the Hajj season to review their performance and listen to the complaints of their subjects about them. He also used to discuss with them the affairs of their provinces and ask about their own conditions.

It has been reported that ‘Umar once said to the people around him: ‘Would you say that my duty would be fulfilled if I appointed over you the best from amongst you, and ordered him to be just?’ They said; ‘Yes.’ He said; ‘No. Not until I had checked his performance, and seen whether or not he did what I had ordered him to do.’13

‘Umar was known to be strict when accounting the governors and the mayors. He would even remove some of them on just a suspicion without conclusive evidence. He even used to remove a governor on the slightest doubt that did not even reach the level of suspicion. He was asked about this one day and he said: ‘It is easy to swap an Ameer for another so as to amend the people’s affairs.’14

Therefore, the governor’s conduct will be closely monitored and scrutinised by the Caliph, the Assistant Caliphs, Mazalim Court and Regional Assembly. Additionally the political parties and media will play their part in exposing any corruption by the governor and his officials within the province.




1. Hizb ut-Tahrir, ‘The Institutions of State in the Khilafah,’ translation of Ajhizat dowlah ul-Khilafah, Dar ul-Ummah, Beirut, 2005, First Edition, p. 72

2. Sahih Muslim 1847

3. Hizb ut-Tahrir, ‘The Institutions of State in the Khilafah,’ Op.cit., p. 74

4. Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘The Ruling System in Islam,’ translation of Nizam ul-Hukm fil Islam, Khilafah Publications, Fifth Edition, p. 196

5. Hugh Kennedy, ‘Central Government and Provincial Élites in the Early ‘Abbāsid caliphate,’ p. 33

6. Ibid, p. 35

7. Ibid, p. 32

8. Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘The Ruling System in Islam,’ Op.cit., p. 198

9. Hizb ut-Tahrir, ‘The Institutions of State in the Khilafah,’ Op.cit., p. 147

10. Ibid, p. 73

11. Ibid, p. 76

12. Bukhari and Muslim

13. Hizb ut-Tahrir, ‘The Institutions of State in the Khilafah,’ Op.cit., p. 76

14. Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘The Ruling System in Islam,’ Op.cit., p. 201