Ancient India: Jalali’s Ethics

Ancient India: Jalali’s Ethics

Essay Summary

Jalali’s Ethics is an essay written by the Persian author Muhammad ibn Asad Jalal ud-din al-Dawwani (1427–1501) which is an idealist perspective on society. Al-Dawwani wrote this essay with the intention of creating and implementing an idea for a social structure with integrity and balance. The author was a prominent Islamic philosopher and theologian and presumably was writing this piece in order to create new ideas and reach other philosophers at the time to engage in philosophical exchanges. In addition, the essay is written about the ideal rule and the qualities that one must possess in order to maintain equilibrium in all areas of ruling and can thus be determined to have been addressed in part to leaders at that time. An English translation of this essay was originally published in 1839 and was originally written in Arabic.

The author is mainly focused on how a person with political power can maintain a sense of balance and incorporate multiple aspects of character into ruling. Dawwani’s perspective proclaims the importance of preserving political balance is to make sure that all four classes are equally practiced and treated with important. He describes these four classes as, men of the pen, men of the sword, men of business and husbandmen. Dawwani compares the importance of political focus in leaders in these four areas to physical health and believes that in order to be a fair leader, the politician must correspond with each of these four classes just as a body must interact with various elements in order to maintain proper health.

Men of the pen, men of the sword, men of business and husbandmen are all compared to various elements in order to describe how their importance creates a necessary political equipoise. “Men of the pen, such as lawyers, divines, judges, bookmen, statisticians, geometricians, astronomers, physicians, poets”(Dawwani) are compared to water as the necessary element that they are most closely linked to. Men of the sword are compared to fire; men of the business to air; husbandmen to earth. The author is conveying the delicate balance that comes with the power or a leader and is setting his standard for what it would ideally look like for a ruler to do this. It is important to the author that all four classes are revered for their importance in this delicate system.

The author states that if any of these elements are ignored and not properly addressed, “…the loss of equipoise, and is followed by dissolution and ruin, in political coalition, no less, the prevalence of any one class over the other three overturns the adjustment and dissolves the junction” (Dawwani). Thus a leader must possess all of these qualities in order to be successful.


The author is very clear in their communication of the main points to the audience. Obviously since I am reading a translation of the original work there is the possibility of minor nuances and differences that may only be fully understood in the original language. The text is clear in describing the various classes and adds both an introduction and a powerful conclusion where the point of the essay is reiterated. The descriptions of various classes are eloquent and passionate. There is a passion for the message that is conveyed through the poetic and dramatic prose.

This work became popular in the Mughal Court in India at the time and was used to advise the emperor. For this reason it can be determined that the document was incredibly influential and an important piece of reference for how the ideal society should be enacted and run. In India, it was socially viewed as an orientation and a moral compass for society and its leaders. This is a significant view as well in regards to the fact that it acknowledged the importance of equality involved in society. India historically has been predominantly a caste system in which people are born into various roles and are set for life in those positions. If one was born into a lower caste, they are considered to be much less important and sometimes filthy.

This was an essay that brought a different perspective to light and introduced an idea that each role fulfills a specific duty and that without each role being fulfilled, the rest would perish or not succeed. This reliance is an important difference in India’s mainstream beliefs. I was surprised to read this piece and find how it was popular and influential because it appears as though society had very different ideals at the time. I have become aware of a more diverse mentality that was present in ancient India. This diversity displays a deeper acknowledgement of how humans are linked to the natural world and the importance that Indian culture placed on this concept. This is evident by the comparison between humans and various elements including air, fire, earth and water.

The fact that Dawwani did rely on these elemental metaphors in order to express his opinion on the matter is telling that is was a relevant and agreed upon fact that these elements were important in health. Based upon the comparison to the body’s need to maintain a balance it is apparent that human health was a valuable and respected subject at the time.

While this essay was significant in the fact that it was referenced in court and used by the emperor’s advisor, it was insignificant in the fact that it did not make a large cultural impact in the division between caste systems and the way in which people were treated. What views that may have been persuaded and changed at the time did not leave a lasting effect on the traditions on the Indian culture.

I was impressed that what I believe to be a rather progressive essay was used in a period of time that appears to be somewhat conservative and divisive culture. It is now obvious to me that just because there were prevalent social values and systems does not mean there were not a plethora of other ideas that were of cultural import.


Muhammad ibn Asad Jalal ud-din al-Dawwani, Jalali’s Ethics.

Photo by Ali Arif Soydaş on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Sun, Mar 07, 2021. Ancient India: Jalali’s Ethics Retrieved from

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