Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Susan Buck-Morss

Subject Categories

Law | Near Eastern Languages and Societies | Political Science


authority, Caliphate, Islam, Sharia, sovereignty, Ulu Al Amr


This dissertation evaluates the political history of Islam through the prism of the Sunni conception of authority. It finds an historical red thread that explains the legal and political evolution of different types of Islamic government that have, instead of a European-type sovereign, the Ulu Al Amr (those in authority). In addition, it argues that it is the authority of Ulu Al Amr that legitimizes temporal power via legal rulings such as Wilayah al ahed (allegiance to a dynastic monarchy) and Wlayah al qaher (obedience to coercive power and rule). Those rulings are essential to legitimating historical change. Historical legal opinions among Muslim scholars hold that the members of the Ulu Al Amr are the Ulama--those with knowledge, the learned, religious scholars with temporal power. This dissertation claims that contrary to the legal standards that changed historically in Fiqh al siyash al sharia (the branch Islamic jurisprudence that addresses political issues), it is the Ulama who were the Ulu Al Amr. It is Ulu Al Amr they and only they who decide on the exception through Ijma (consensus or agreement of the community, a source of Islamic law). This view of Ulu Al Amr is most consistent with the Sunni conception of authority that legitimates the force of temporal power. Finally, this dissertation argues that the historical evolution of the concept of authority and the legal role of Ulu Al Amr are an outcome of political struggles and demands between the Ulu Al Amr (qua temporal power) and Muslim subjects rather than a set of legal codes frozen in time and space.