Probably during the reign of Selim I.
In the preface, Idris praises God, the Prophet and the Ottoman dynasty, noting that the hilâfet takes pride in their existence. After a very short autobiographical notice, he offers this work of his to the Sultan. (A13-14). An introduction in two parts analyzes the meaning of kingship, caliphate and world order. In the first part (A14-15), Idris states that God gave to humanity the perfection of all virtues and capacities. Because of this perfection, man is the substitute (halife) of God in earth; therefore, every perfect man can be named such a substitute. Furthermore, people such as holy men, prophets, imams etc. can be named “spiritual rulers” even if they have no armies or viziers; this naming is symbolic and temporary, just as the king in the game of chess. In the second part (A15-18), the author stresses that in order for the workings of divinity to be visible, both knowledge and power must be manifest; these two virtues can be seen in the function of rulership, and especially in the life of the Prophet. The Koran and the sunna have two objects, namely, theory and practice (maksad-ı ilmî, maksad-ı ‘amelî); these two objects in their turn can be divided in two kinds each, the serving and the served (hâdim, mahdûm). That is, ‘ilm-i hâdim is any knowledge, such as the Holy Law, that serves an aim, i.e. the ‘ilm-i mahdûm or the knowledge of God. In the same way, “serving acts” such as earning goods or improving morally oneself serve the “served act” (‘amel-i mahdûm), namely the right guidance of the people’s affairs and looking after the world order. It goes without saying that the man responsible for such acts must be perfect in their virtues. Here Idris refers to his previous analysis of “spiritual” and “apparent” kingship, saying that in some cases these two coincide, as happens with the caliphs. In any case, the world cannot be deprived of one of these two at a time. Because Muslim kings are manifestations of divine power and knowledge, they have to get the knowledge of God, i.e. ‘ilm-i mahdûm; then, the prerequisite of this knowledge, as demonstrated above, is the ‘ilm-i hâdim, i.e. the knowledge of the Holy Law and other sacred regulations. In the same way, kings must improve morally themselves (‘amel-i hâdim), since they are to exercise ‘amel-i mahdûm. [It will be seen that the preface presents in fact an outline of how Idris perceived his essay.]
In the first chapter (A18-21), Idris proceeds now to describe some of the virtues leading to right government. God presents gifts to man by two ways: innate (vehbî), such as beauty, cleverness and good fortune, or acquired (kesbî), such as gain through some trade. The second way can be influenced by external factors, while the first cannot. The greatest of the gifts bestowed to man is the ordering of the human affairs with the godly guidance, hilâfet-i Rahmanî; this may be obtained either with the “visible kingship” (saltanat-ı sûrî), with the “spiritual rule” (hilâfet-i manevî) or with the “real caliphate” (hilâfet-i hakikî) which combines the other two. It is sustained by the following innate (vehbî) blessings: (a) inborn faith, which makes the ruler respect the Holy Law, administer justice and so forth; (b) good fortune and luck; (c) kindness of morals and good character; here Idris dwells on the issue whether individual character can be changed or not. In his opinion, human disposition is by nature mild, so everybody is inclined to good morals, provided he has the right guidance. It is important to note that a king’s good or bad morals have an effect to the whole of his subjects; (d) high and honourable genealogy: this is important because people obey a person of noble descent or family much easier than an upstart; (e) beauty and affability, which enhances feelings of obeisance and respect, as it shows niceness of morals as well (and here Idris mentions the ‘ilm-i kıyâfet, or physiognomy); (f) comprehension, cleverness and sagacity. In this last point, Idris proceeds to a simile between the human organism and the function of states: the intellect is the vizier, the king the heart, desire the tax collector (tahsildâr) and anger the guard. The king has thus to trust a sagacious vizier who can control the former’s passions.
The second chapter (A21-27) deals with the four cardinal virtues a ruler has to master, along with their respective secondary virtues. The cardinal virtues are enumerated as follows:
(1) Honesty (iffet), i.e. the keeping of lust and passions under control by the Holy Law and the intellect. A king whose passions are not controlled by honesty, the Holy Law and justice, gives birth to hate by the reaya and the military. However, Idris is quick to note that the Prophet and the Koran are mild enough to this respect, as they spoke unfavorably of asceticism, they permit marriage and concubines, along with lawful pleasures. The secondary virtues pertaining to honesty are (a) generosity (sehâvet), a very important virtue for kings, who should be generous toward both their officials and their subjects; (b) modesty (hayâ), which prevents the king from following their whims and oppressing their people.
(2) Courage (şecâ’at), i.e. the temperance of the power of wrath, which can vary between anger and cowardliness; the former may lead the king’s domain and subjects to various risks, while the latter makes the ruler not be able to stop oppression in his kingdom. The secondary virtues here are (a) greatness of zeal, i.e. an orientation towards things high and eternal; (b) clemency (hilm); a king without this virtue may be taken over by flatterers who urge him to use violence instead of forgiveness; (c) perseverance and zeal (gayret, hamiyet): the king is like a guardian and shepherd to his people, so he has to put every effort to protect them.
(3) Wisdom (hikmet), which may control all the faculties of the body and of the intellect. If a Sultan’s faculty of intellect (kuvve-i ‘akıle) cannot keep his passions and desires under control, he is not to be named the shadow of God as he ought to. The secondary virtues of wisdom are (a) perspicacity and limpid thought, aided by constant counsel with wise and pious men; (b) remembrance; especially, the Sultan must remember the rights of subjects and militaries and stick to the laws ordained.
(4) Justice (‘adâlet), which can be defined as the moderation of all human faculties; it is an absolute prerequisite of good government. The Sultan must conform to two kinds of justice: first, he must apply justice to his personal affairs, as everybody else; second, he has to be just in arranging the affairs of his subjects and his state. The secondary virtues are (a) faithfulness and affection; the king must look after his subjects as he does for himself; (b) fidelity and fairness in rewards; the king must keep to his word, the same way he expects his subjects to fulfill their own obligations.
In the third chapter (A27-38), the longest and the most practical of the essay, Idris examines the practice of kingship. Mastering the virtues and good morals is not enough, since character should correspond to practice and acting. Of course, the Holy Law gives a sure guideline for acting; however, some advice is also fit, which will be given in four parts, although eventually only one part seems to appear. The author gives five categories of rules (kânûn) [which might have given the essay its name.
(1) Kings and rulers must be pious and devout. In this way, they have two advantages, namely serving as an example to their subjects and getting an eternal reward. Part of this duty is the bestowing of favour to Seyyids, ulema, sheikhs and other religious people.
(2) As far as it concerns the king’s council (dîvân), it should be accessible to every oppressed subject without mediators. This was the practice of the early caliphs, which had undergone certain alterations in the course of time: in order to keep the world order (nizâm-i ‘alem), the Sultan had to keep himself away of the everyday council and use the viziers and other officials as mediators in small or trivial issues. To prevent the dangers against justice inherent to this arrangement, the Sultan must appoint numerous sagacious viziers and officials, so that the oppressed, once ignored by one of them, might address another. Besides, the Sultan should attend to the Council personally twice a week; in this event, he must be seated in a high place and surrounded by many servants and officers, in order to be well seen by oppressed and oppressors alike.
(3) This category contains various rulings maintaining the well-being of high and low (havâss u ‘avâmm). The king should be surrounded by clever and trusted servants and companions (musâhib, havâss), who are to tell him always the truth and the right; he must be cautious in his wrathful decisions and willing in his favourable ones, so as to exercise forgiveness. He must punish more gravely wicked people and be milder against virtuous ones, as the former are willing to endure graver punishments in order to follow their desires. The Sultan must abstain from lies; he must not neglect his subjects’ affairs; he must show respect toward the noble and aged followers of his dynasty, avoiding promotion of young and inexperienced persons to high and important posts. He must always consult his councilors before taking a decision. He is not to show himself in public except from serious occasions, as this would harm the respect of his subjects; likewise, although it is permitted that he goes hunting, riding or taking promenades, he must maintain his royal stature and choose very carefully his boon companions. He must abstain from gambling, making jokes and other vain entertainment. He must avoid women’s company other than in carousing, as female counsel in state affairs is devastating. In short, the Sultan should make constant company but with two classes of people, namely the ulema in religious affairs and the men of the pen and of the sword (ehl-i kalem, erbâb-ı silâh) concerning the order of the kingdom.
(4) About the military affairs: Idris begins this chapter by citing a version of the famous ‘circle of justice’ (kingship-army-Sultan-subjects-property). In order for the state to last, the Sultan’s orders must be influential; in this work, the Sultan depends on two classes of people: the men of the sword (erbâb-ı seyf) and the men of the pen (erbâb-ı kalem). This dependence is illustrated by a further simile with the human body: the king has the place of the head within the kingdom, and the place of brains within the head. Now, the head and the brains constitute two separate powers, the first controlling perception and the second movement. The motive power (kuvve-i muharrike) corresponds to the army, the people of the sword, while the power of perception (kuvve-i hâssa) corresponds to the people of the pen; these two powers must be kept in balance by the head and brain, i.e. the Sultan. The king must have two kinds of viziers and proxies, those arranging affairs of state and finance and those looking after the military affairs. The former should care for the conquest of towns and the waging of the Holy War, while the latter are responsible for the securing of the subjects’ livelihood, the restoration of towns and the security of both officials and subjects. More specifically, the former viziers must look after the provisioning of the army, the education of the militaries’ children according to the rules of the army and of the Holy War etc. In regular intervals the vizier of the army should inspect the army and check the soldiers’ payments, as a decrease in the soldiers’ payment is destructive for the state and religion. The men of the pen, on the other hand, must be of noble descent and of fine character; as for the vizier, vekil-i mutlak of the Sultan, he must be wise, just and moral.
(5) The last category of rules concerns financial matters and stresses generosity. According to their relationship with their subjects, kings can be divided into four groups: those who are generous and liberal both in their personal life and toward the subjects; those who are liberal only for themselves; those who, although generous toward their subjects, are mean in their personal life; finally, those who are mean in both fields. The ancient Greek philosophers have stated that a king generous toward his subjects is praiseworthy, while he must be ascetic in his personal life and live by his own trade. In contrast, Indian philosophers claimed that the king should be also liberal toward himself, since this shows the majesty and grandeur of his kingdom. Indeed, present-day kings started to exhibit their wealth in order to compete with their peers and reassure their own pomp. As for the other two cases which imply meanness toward the subjects, they both are undoubtedly blameworthy. In this point, Idris cites four principles concerning generosity toward the subjects:
(a) The Sultan must always be vigilant and careful concerning his subjects’ well-being; he must inspire to them love and affection with justice, so as to be obeyed promptly and willingly.
(b) Since the subjects are an infinite treasure for the king, the latter must thus maintain this treasure by keeping the taxes in proportion to the subjects’ capacities. He should not ask for excessive taxes, as this would derange the circle of equity; all the more so, he should even sustain and help the subjects in case of natural disasters. Furthermore, kings must preserve their subjects’ honour, even more than their propriety. The same goes for the kings’ officials, such as judges etc. Finally, taxes should be collected at definite seasons of the year, namely when the crops are ripe and ready.
(c) The Sultan must look after the maintenance of agriculture, trade and other sources of revenue. Every arable land should be cultivated, even with state expenses; after all, agriculture is the greatest treasury of the world. As for the towns, they also must be looked after: they should be well defended by the army and caravan routes should be established between both towns and states. The roads must be kept safe, because trade goods are essential for the well-being of a kingdom. Merchants should not be taxed excessively with dues and customs; especially the rich and important ones must be looked upon with favour, since they yield more profit for the state than the benefits bestowed to them.
(d) The fourth and rather irrelevant set of principles concerns rules for the king’s banquets and personal relationships. Idris stresses that such activities are wholly lawful and necessary for human beings. Private gatherings of the Sultan’s family permit him to open his heart and be relieved from his anxieties. If the Sultan abstains from such entertainment, his disposition will become enfeebled; asceticism is not acceptable in Islam, a religion of temperance and moderation that hates excesses in both sides. This means, on the other hand, that the Sultan should not excess in rest and negligence either. He should also keep a closed company of trustful friends, where he could share his secrets. Then Idris proceeds to enumerate entertainments the king must avoid. He must abstain from things prohibited by the Holy Law and control inordinate appetite (nefs-i emmâre); the same goes for drinking and using drugs, since all these substances enfeeble the mind, necessary for government. The king should not waste his time in vain, for instance gambling; music and singing is permitted, according to the Greek philosophers but to the Koran as well. The author here notes his disagreement with some ulema that claimed music unlawful. Furthermore, the king has every right in enjoying women’s company, either by lawful marriage or with concubines; what is not wise is to be with them constantly and to consult them in state affairs. Then, Idris reverts to the issue of food, noting again that one must neither excess in concupiscence nor abstain from the necessary amount. In short, the Sultan should spend his leisure time in prayers, reading the Koran, meditation, conversation with wise companions and ulema.
The fourth and final chapter (A38-40) tries to link the worldly kingship with the hereafter. Sultans as everyone else will eventually die, and so Idris gives here a list of prerequisites that will ensure the kings’ eternal kingship, i.e. their dwelling in Paradise. These prerequisites are (1) knowledge of God (ma’rifet), to be conscious of the temporality of this world and to know that justice in command is better than prayer; (2) submission (itâ’at); here again, the king must remember that the greatest submission is to ensure justice through the observance of the Holy Law; (3) benevolence (ihsân); Idris emphasizes here that the Sultan must spend the income of the treasury, coming from the tithe, the loot from the Holy War, etc., for the benefit of the Muslims: namely, the army, the poor and destitute, as well as the building of mosques, public kitchens, bridges, caravanserais and so forth.