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Iqta‘ (Arabic: اقطاع‎) was an Islamic practice of tax farming that became common in Muslim Asia during the Buyid dynasty. The prominent Orientalist Claude Cahen described the Iqta‘ as follows:

a form of administrative grant, often (wrongly) translated by the European word "fief". The nature of the iḳṭāʿ varied according to time and place, and a translation borrowed from other systems of institutions and conceptions has served only too often to mislead Western historians, and following them, even those of the East.[1]

Unlike European systems, the Muqtis had no right to interfere with the personal life of a paying person if the person stayed on the Muqti's land. Also, Iqtas were not hereditary by law and had to be confirmed by a higher authority (like the sultan or the king). Individual iqta holders in Middle Eastern societies had little incentive to provide public goods to the localities assigned to them. The overarching theme was state power where the iqta was revocable and uninheritable. Though not an investment in a particular holding of land, the iqta—as a fiscal device—gave soldiers a vested interest in the regime.

Muslim tax farming before the Iqta‘

As with other feudal-like tax farming systems, Iqta' evolved from the tribal practices. It originated from the need to secure one's self by paying taxes to the most powerful leader, but later developed into something exchangeable by the landowners like with the fiefdoms of Europe.

The early Iqta‘

The Buyids reform of Iqta‘

The Buyids codified the already existent system of tax farming. They united the Amirs of Persia and reorganized their land into Iqtas, whose borders remained largely similar to the predecessor states. Contrary to most other forms of Iqta, it was hereditary, but the land was divided when there were more sons of age.

Iqta‘ in the Seljuq era

In the Seljuk Empire, the move toward the iqta' system was facilitated by the Persian bureaucrat Nizam al-Mulk "who developed and systemized the trend towards feudalism that was already inherent in the tax-farming practices of the immediately preceding period," [2] It is made clear that muqtis hold no claim on the peasants/subjects other than that of collecting from them in a proper manner the due land tax that has been assigned to them. When the revenue has been realized from them, those subjects should remain secure from any demands of the muqtis in respect of their persons, wealth, families, lands and goods. The muqtis can't hold any further claims on them. The subjects can go to the King and address their grievances in case they are being subjugated by the muqtis. It is thus clear that the muqtis only hold the land under the king, the land in truth belongs to the Sultan. Nizam al-Mulk emphasizes an important element in the iqta- muqti's right to collect and appropriate taxes.[3] Of course, the muqtis also had certain obligations to the Sultan. They had to maintain the troops and furnish them at call. The revenues they got from the iqtas were meant to be resources for him to do the same. The revenue was meant for the muqti's own expenses, payment and maintenance of the troops and the rest had to be sent back to the king. The muqti was thus a tax collector and army paymaster rolled into one.

Iqta‘ in the Mamluk sultanate of Delhi

Shamsa ud-din Iltutmish established the "Iqta‘ system" based on Mohammad Gori's ideas. It was very close to the original form of Iqta' as its main function was only to collect taxes by Muqtis/Iqtedars in India. They had no other right to the subjects apart from the taxes as long as taxes were paid. The money was used to pay for the landowner's army, which could be called by the Sultan at any time, making up for a relatively quick mobilisation and highly professional soldiers. A small part of the money was to be given to the Sultan, but the percentage was usually insignificant compared to the other expenses. Iqtas were given for exceptional military service or loyalty and were, unlike the original, usually hereditary. The Iqta‘ system was later reorganized by Balban, who divided his empire into small pieces of land and opposed making Iqta hereditary. His absolutist rule concentrated on limiting the power of the estates (mainly the nobility and merchants) and securing his supreme authority as the king. He also dissolved the Council of Forty - Chahalgani, a form of sharing power between the highest nobles and the king. His rule was supported by the strengthened espionage and counter-espionage system and his personal secret police, called barids.[4] The Iqta' system was revived by Firuz Shah Tughlaq of the Tughlaq dynasty, having also made the assignments hereditary to please the nobles.

Iqta‘ and feudalism

Although there are similarities between the Iqta‘ system and the common fief system practiced in the west at similar periods, there are also considerable differences.

The Iqta‘ holders generally did not technically own the lands, but only assume the right to the revenue of the land, a right that the government typically reserved the right to change. Many Iqta‘ holders did not hold their Iqta' for life, and at least in most cases they were not subject to inheritance to the next generation.

Although the subjects attached to the Iqta‘ were still technically free men, in real practice the end result often end up with them functioning like serfs.

There are significant variances in the actual implementation of Iqta' systems throughout the different periods and in different area, so it is difficult to completely generalize them.

See also

  • Tax farming

  • Pronoia

  • Kharaj

  • Jizya


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgClaude Cahen, "Iḳṭā'," EI2, Vol. A mechanism had to be devised to collect the surplus from the peasantry and redistribute it among the members of the ruling class. The crucial element in this mechanism was the iqta that combined the two functions of collection and distribution without immediately endangering the unity of the political structure. The iqta was the territorial assignment and its holder was designated muqti 3, p. 1088.
Sep 26, 2019, 9:16 AM
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgIqta's: Distribution of Revenue Resources among the Ruling Class, Irfan Habib
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Citation Linkwww.amazon.comiqta als "islamischer Feudalismus"?
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Citation Linkwww.iranicaonline.orgEncyclopædia Iranica
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Citation Linkwww.amazon.comiqta als "islamischer Feudalismus"?
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Citation Linkwww.iranicaonline.orgEncyclopædia Iranica
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