Advice for the Sultan

Prophetic Voices and Secular Politics in Medieval Islam

October 2014 9781849042604 256pp


In Advice for the Sultan Neguin Yavari excavates multiple, conflicting strands of Islamic political thought from the medieval past to the present, reassessing these ideas and their impact over the longue duree. Her aim is to revise our understanding of the relationship between modern history and the current master narratives of both Western and Islamic histories of political thought. She does this by re-examining Islamic advice literature, bringing it to life in novel ways. Yavari argues that if read laterally and closely, it promotes secular values such as reason and moderation as the most effective safeguard against political instability and divine rebuke. Related questions raised in this book include, can Islamic political thought be folded into the discipline of intellectual history? How do we write the history of political thought when its end-product is not seen as the march of a manifest destiny, or progressive secularisation, or the promotion of liberal values, such as is the case with the Islamic world today? Is it possible to read texts for context if the values adumbrated in them do not take hold in society, or to study those that produce political communities that differ radically from those that emerged in eighteenth- and the nineteenth-century Europe?


‘This will be an important and even path-breaking book on Muslim political thought, one that is conceptually sophisticated and rigorous in its scholarship.’ —  Faisal Devji, University of Oxford, author of, inter alia, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (Hurst)

Advice for the Sultan is a startlingly fresh exploration of the interconnectedness of classical and early medieval mirrors for princes, and a subtle reconstruction of context from text, to reveal the “hidden political messages” that lie at the heart of Nizam al-Mulk’s higher purpose.’ — John Gurney, Wadham College, Oxford

‘This novel reading of the rich and complex tradition of political thought offers the intriguing experience of discovering how common values, intentions and judgments connect contemporary political horizons with the Islamic past.’ — Stefan Leder, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Martin Luther University and Director of the  Orient-Institut Beirut

‘This is an important and stimulating re-examination of the enormous range of royal Advice literature in the pre-modern Middle East. Neguin Yavari makes a convincing case for a new, nuanced contextual approach. This marks a signal contribution to the study of the history of Islamic political thought.’ — Antony Black, Emeritus Professor, Politics and International Relations, University of Dundee

‘[This] is an admirably thorough account of the [Islamicate] advice literature that the author has studied for years, but is outstanding and relevant well beyond its field in its attempts to rethink how intellectual history outside of the West should be pursued. … Yavari … explores the texts’ rhetorical strategies to get at the thought behind them. By engaging robustly with structure and rhetoric across centuries of material, she offers a compelling portrait of a tradition of political philosophy and its forms of literary expression, providing an unprecedented synthetic analysis of what authors within this tradition were trying to convey to their readers. She strikes the right balance of historical contextualisation with rhetorical analysis, providing a model for how we might approach other pre-modern systematic disciplines such as philology, which map awkwardly onto modern academic disciplines.’ — Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society


Neguin Yavari is a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Central European University. She studied medieval history at Columbia University, and has written on medieval Islamic history, political thought and international history. Her books include Advice for the Sultan: Prophetic Voices and Secular Politics in Medieval Islam (2014) and the co-edited Global Medieval: Mirrors for Princes Reconsidered (2015).

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.