“The Vicegerent of God, from Him We Expect Rain” The Incorporation of the Pre-Islamic State in Early Islamic Political Culture

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Linda T. Darling



The Islamic historical narrative indicates a sharp break between the “age of ignorance” (jāhiliyya) and the age of Islam that extends beyond religion and ethics to politics and culture. This article contributes to the scholarly effort to refute that break by examining an aspect of continuity in political thought, the Circle of Justice, a shorthand description of the organization of the state in the Middle East since ancient times. The stereotype sees the Circle as a Persian product; this article shows that the Circle of Justice emerged millennia before the Persians, that the Persians were actually slow to make it their own, that aspects of it were part of Arabic culture before Islam, and that many people other than Persian scribes quoted or used it in the early Islamic centuries. Examining ancient cuneiform royal inscriptions, Pahlavi documents, the poetry addressed to Umayyad and ʿAbbāsid rulers, and early works of history and political thought, the article traces the Circle’s ideas down through the centuries until their encapsulation in the form we know today, the earliest version of which is found in the work of the historian and adab writer Ibn Qutayba.

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