Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 October 2020
The Enigma of the Shur†a
Although the term shurṭa is frequently referred to by Kindī, the nature of this body and its functions are never explained. The history of the institution in Fusṭāṭ goes back to the first and second governorship of ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ when the command of the shurṭa was in the hands of Khārija ibn Ḥudhāfa. Following the reference to Khārija ibn Óudhāfa, Kindī systematically lists the names of the people who were appointed to command the shurṭa. These appointments were made by the governors of Egypt, and one is left to conclude that it was sort of a military formation, a garrison or a police force.
The meaning of the shurṭa is better understood in the context of Kūfa and Baṣra, and scholars such as Donner, Lecker and Michael Ebstein have discussed many of its aspects. Lecker and Donner have drawn attention to shurṭat al-khamis, which, in the Kūfa of ʿAlī's time, constituted an elite military force.The military role of the shurṭa in the Umayyad period is well-attested, and in Baṣra it was responsible for maintaining order and fighting crime. In 665, for example, the governor of Baṣra with the help of the shurṭa took draconian measures to restore safety in the town. It has been suggested by Crone that the evolution of the shurṭa from military force to urban police took place in Baghdad, and the ṣāḥib al-shurṭa (the chief of the police) became involved in the administration of justice. In tenth-century Baghdad, the shurṭa was a sizeable force, 9,000-strong, that consisted of both cavalry and infantry.
The range of duties of the chief of the police is specified in an anonymous mid-tenth-century text (Siyāsat al-Mulūk) from Buyid Baghdad, and these included patrolling the city, maintaining order and the administration of criminal justice. According to the text, legal education was not a qualification required in order to become a chief of police.