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A Fat'h Ali Shah Qajar firman in Shikasta Nasta'liq script, January 1831 Fath Ali Shah Qajar Firman in Shikasta Nastaliq script January 1831.jpg
A Fat'h Ali Shah Qajar firman in Shikasta Nastaʿlīq script, January 1831

A firman (Persian : فرمانfarmân), or ferman (Turkish), [1] at the constitutional level, was a royal mandate or decree issued by a sovereign in an Islamic state, namely the Ottoman Empire. During various periods they were collected and applied as traditional bodies of law. The word firman comes from Persian فرمان meaning "decree" or "order".

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is one of the Western Iranian languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Turkish language Turkic language (possibly Altaic)

Turkish, also referred to as Istanbul Turkish, is the most widely spoken of the Turkic languages, with around ten to fifteen million native speakers in Southeast Europe and sixty to sixty-five million native speakers in Western Asia. Outside Turkey, significant smaller groups of speakers exist in Germany, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Northern Cyprus, Greece, the Caucasus, and other parts of Europe and Central Asia. Cyprus has requested that the European Union add Turkish as an official language, even though Turkey is not a member state.

Islamic state type of government in which the primary basis for government is sharia (Islamic law)

An Islamic state is a type of government primarily based on the application of shari'a, dispensation of justice, maintenance of law and order. From the early years of Islam, numerous governments have been founded as "Islamic".


On a more practical level, a firman was, and may still be, any written permission granted by the appropriate Islamic official at any level of government. Westerners are perhaps most familiar with the permission to travel in a country, which typically could be purchased beforehand, or the permission to conduct scholarly investigation in the country, such as archaeological excavation. Firmans may or may not be combined with various sorts of passports.

Origins of firmans in the Ottoman Empire

In the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan derived his authority from his role as upholder of the Shar'ia, but the Shar'ia did not cover all aspects of Ottoman social and political life. Therefore, in order to regulate relations and status, duties and dress of aristocracy and subjects, the Sultan created firmans. [2]


Firmans of Mehmed II and Bayazid II - kept at the Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols in Istanbul - which granted the ownership of the building to the Greek community StMaryOfTheMongols20071010 02.jpg
Firmans of Mehmed II and Bayazid II – kept at the Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols in Istanbul – which granted the ownership of the building to the Greek community

Firmans were gathered in codes called " kanun " (from the Hellenic word kanon (κανών) meaning rule or rules, as well as the Arabic word qanun (قانون) also meaning rule or law). The kanun were "a form of secular and administrative law considered to be a valid extension of religious law as a result of the ruler's right to exercise legal judgement on behalf of the community." [2]

Qanun is an Arabic word. It can refer to laws established by Muslim sovereigns, in particular the body of administrative, economic and criminal law promulgated by Ottoman sultans, in contrast to sharia, the body of law elaborated by Muslim jurists. It is thus frequently translated as "dynastic law". The idea of kanun first entered the Muslim World in the thirteenth century, as it was borrowed from the Mongol Empire in the aftermath of their invasions. The 10th sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman was known in the Ottoman Empire as Suleiman Kanuni, due to his code of laws.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Arabic Central Semitic language

Arabic is a Central Semitic language that first emerged in Iron Age northwestern Arabia and is now the lingua franca of the Arab world. It is named after the Arabs, a term initially used to describe peoples living in the area bounded by Mesopotamia in the east and the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the west, in northwestern Arabia, and in the Sinai Peninsula. Arabic is classified as a macrolanguage comprising 30 modern varieties, including its standard form, Modern Standard Arabic, which is derived from Classical Arabic.

When issued by the sultan in the Ottoman Empire, firmans' importance was often displayed by the layout of the document; the more blank space at the top of the document, the more important the firman was.

Examples of Ottoman firmans

Firman of Sultan Murad (26 October – 23 November 1386)

In this firman, Sultan Murad I recognises a decree created by his father Sultan Orhan (ca. 1324-60). He gives the monks all they owned during his father's reign, ordering that no one can oppress them or claim their land. [3]

Firman of Sultan Mehmed IV (1648–1687)

In this firman, the monks of Mount Athos report that the administrative officials charged with the collection of taxes come at a later date than they are supposed to and demand more money than the value assessed. They also make illegal demands for additional food supplies. [4]

Mount Athos Mountain and peninsula in northeastern Greece

Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in northeastern Greece and an important centre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. It is governed as an autonomous polity within the Greek Republic. Mount Athos is home to 20 monasteries under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

Other firmans

One of the most important firmans governing relations between Muslims and Christians is a document kept at the Saint Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. This monastery is Greek Orthodox and constitutes the autonomous Sinai Orthodox Church. The firman bears the hand print of Muhammad, and requests the Muslims do not destroy the monastery for God-fearing men live there. To this day there is a protected zone around the monastery administered by the Egyptian government, and there are very good relations between the 20 or so monks, mainly from Greece, and the local community there.

Saint Catherines Monastery Greek-orthodox monastery in South Sinai, Egypt

Saint Catherine's Monastery, officially "Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai", lies on the Sinai Peninsula, at the mouth of a gorge at the foot of Mount Sinai, near the town of Saint Catherine, Egypt. The monastery is controlled by the autonomous Church of Sinai, part of the wider Eastern Orthodox Church, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sinai Peninsula peninsula in the Red Sea

The Sinai Peninsula or simply Sinai is a peninsula in Egypt, and the only part of the country located in Asia. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Red Sea to the south, and is a land bridge between Asia and Africa. Sinai has a land area of about 60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi) and a population of approximately 1,400,000 people. Administratively, the Sinai Peninsula is divided into two governorates: the South Sinai Governorate and the North Sinai Governorate. Three other governorates span the Suez Canal, crossing into African Egypt: Suez Governorate on the southern end of the Suez Canal, Ismailia Governorate in the center, and Port Said Governorate in the north.

Muhammad Prophet and founder of Islam

Muhammad was the founder of Islam. According to Islamic doctrine, he was a prophet, sent to present and confirm the monotheistic teachings preached previously by Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. He is viewed as the final prophet of God in all the main branches of Islam, though some modern denominations diverge from this belief. Muhammad united Arabia into a single Muslim polity, with the Quran as well as his teachings and practices forming the basis of Islamic religious belief.

Firmans were issued in some Islamic empires and kingdoms in India such as the Mughal Empire and the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Other uses

The term "firman" was used by the archeologist/novelist Elizabeth Peters for official permission from the Egyptian Department of Antiquities to carry on an excavation. A similar authority was cited by Austen Henry Layard for excavations at Nimrud which he mistakenly believed was Nineveh. [5]

See also

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Having considered the demand you have submitted to me, in which you inform me that a modification of the order of succession established by the Firman, addressed to your ancestor, Mehmed Ali-Pacha, dated on the 2nd of the month of Rebiul-Akhir, 1257, confering upon him the Government à titre d'hérédité of the Province of Egypt, and the transmission of the succession from father to son, in a direct line by primogeniture, would be favorable to the good administration of Egypt and the development of the well-being of the inhabitants of that Province—
Appreciating in all their extent the efforts you have made toward this end since your nomination to the Government-General of Egypt, which is one of the most important provinces of my Empire, as well as the fidelity and devotion of which you have never ceased to give me proofs; and wishing upon my part to give you a striking testimony of the good-will and entire confidence I accord to you, I have decided that henceforth the Government of Egypt and the annexed territories and dependencies shall be transmitted to your eldest son, and in the same manner to the eldest sons of his successors.
If the Governor-General leaves no male heir, the succession will fall to his eldest brother, and in default of brothers, to the eldest son of the eldest brother. This shall be hereafter the law of succession in Egypt. Moreover, the conditions contained in the foregoing Firman are, and remain always in force as heretofore; each one of the conditions will be constantly observed, and the maintenance of the privileges which flow from these conditions will depend upon the integral observance of each one of the obligations which they impose.
The pledges more recently accorded by my Imperial Government-General of Egypt to maintain 30,000 effective troops, to create a difference between the moneys coined in Egypt, in my Imperial name, and the other moneys of my Empire, to confer the civil grades of my Government as high as the rank of Sanié, are equally confirmed.
The law which interdicts the succession of the male descendants of the daughters of the Governors will be maintained in future as in past.
The tribute of 80,000 bourses, paid by Egypt into the Imperial Treasury, is increased to 150,000 bourses, commencing March, 1866.
My Imperial Trade being issued to put into execution the preceding conditions, the present Firman, bearing my Imperial signet, has been transmitted to you by my Chancellerie.
It is incumbent upon you, with that loyalty and zeal which characterizes you, profiting by the knowledge you have acquired of the requirements of Egypt, to consecrate yourself to the good administration of that country; to labor to assure to the people entire security and tranquillity; and, recognizing the value of the pledge I have just given you of my Imperial favor, to observe with fidelity the conditions as established above.

Done 12th day of the Month of Muharram, 1283.

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  1. "firman". Seslisozluk. 1999–2012.
  2. 1 2 Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002, pp. 260-261
  3. "Firman of Sultan Murad I," Ottoman Documents, Hellenic Ministry of Culture, 11 Mar 2007 Archived 12 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "Firman of Sultan Mehmed IV," Ottoman Documents, Hellenic Ministry of Culture, 11 Mar. 2007 Archived 12 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Layard A. H. Nineveh and Its Remains Vol. II p.3 at Google Books