The Clear Exposition of the Principles of Accountability, by Ibn al-Ukhuwwah

Note: The following is an extract from N.A Baloch’s ‘The Great Books of Islamic Civilisation’. This is a short summary of Ibn al-Ukhuwwah‘s ‘The Clear Exposition of the Principles of Accountability’.

The author Diya al-Din Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Qurashi al-Shafi`i Al-Ash`ari, known as Ibn al-Ukhuwwah, was born by the middle of the 7th century A.H. (13th C.E.) and died in Rajab 729 A.H. (1329 C.E.).

Social regulations in Islam included supervision of public safety with the all awareness provided for in Holy Quran and Hadith. This supervision, and the accountability that went with it, was hisbah which in its essence was a Muslim’s obligation arising from the Quranic injunction al-amr bi al-ma`aruf wa al-nahyi un al-munkar, to promote good and prevent evil. Hisbah as ‘accountability’ was an essential corollary of Islamic Justice as applied to public services and public transactions. It called for supervision, inspection, and stock taking in order to ensure proper performance of public and professional services. From this obligation emerged the office of a Sahib al-Suq (Supervisor of the Market) for supervision and promotion of public morality and fair play in professional dealings and transactions in crafts, trades and markets. The Hisbah Department though a part of the Chief-Justice’s Secretariat was headed by a separate official with the special status of ‘Muhtasib’ (Administrator of Accountability). He was sought to be a God fearing religious man and was invested with all powers to allow the licit and forbid the illicit. He ranked higher than the Qadi and was appointed by the Caliph himself.

Figure 2. Ibn al-Ukhuwwah’s ‘hisbah’ works would have been used to regulate markets or souqs. Above is a depiction of a bazaar by Amadeo Preziosi, 1816 – 1882. (Source)

The first ‘Muhtasib’ (replacing ‘Sahib al-Suq’) was appointed in the 3rd century A.H. during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Mamun. Instructions issued to him, the procedures adopted and the cases decided by the Muhtasib led to the development of Hisbah literature wherein the subject was discussed and elaborated in all its dimensions. By the end of the 5th century A.H., Imam Ghazali (d. 505 A.H. / 1111) devoted a section to it in ‘Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din’. As Hisbah became an essential feature of Islamic Polity, Mawardi (d. 589/1193) included a chapter on it in his al al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyah, thus bringing Hisbah within the orbit of Constitutional Law.

Figure 3. Silk merchants and customers by Amadeo Preziosi, 1816 – 1882. (Source)

The full-fledged works written on Hisbah were of two categories: the works of a judicial nature which defined the essence and scope of hisbah and the obligations arising out of it for the Muhtasib, and those of an administrative nature which dealt with technical details of the supervision for guiding and enlightening the Muhtasib. However, all the works on the subject underlined the great importance of the office of the Muhtasib and stressed his high qualifications so that he would be above any reproach whatsoever. More specifically, he was to be God-fearing and religious, noble, learned, modest, experienced, intelligent, unbiased, rich and honest above corruption.

In the Muslim West, al-Saqti of Malaga (Spain) wrote Kitab fi Abab al-Hisbah (The Book on Requirements for Hisbah) by about 500/1106. Later in the 6th century, Ibn `Abdun of Seville wrote Risala fi al-Qada wa al-Hisbah (The Treatise on Justice and Hisbah) while Ibn Bassam authored a more comprehensive work Nihayat al-Rutba fi Talab al-Hisbah (Standard Achievement in the Investigation of Hisbah) containing as many as 118 chapters. In the Muslim East, the first full-fledged work, with the same title as Ibn Bassam’s, containing 40 chapters, was authored for Sultan Salahuddin Ayubi by Abd al-Rahman b. Nasr b. Abdullah al-Shafi`i al-Shizari (d. 589/1193). Later in the 7th/13th century Ibn al-Ukhuwwah wrote Ma’alim al-Qurbah fi Ahkam al-Hisbah (The Clear Exposition of Principles of Accountability). In this work, extending to seventy chapters, Ibn al-Ukhuwwah has enlarged upon al-Shizari’s work incorporating considerably advanced material on the subject, including discussion on difficult cases, some of them hypothetical in nature for purpose of explanation. Written as a guide book for the Muhtasib, it provides a summary of the positive and negative injunctions contained in the standard codes of the Shari`ah together with regulations for the safe guarding of public morality, for ensuring the purity of faith and for the protecting the public against trickery, charlatanry, fraud and exhortation (E.I.).


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