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For other uses, see Diwan (disambiguation).
Audience in the Diwan-i-Khas granted to the French ambassador, the vicomte d'Andrezel by Sultan Ahmed III, 10 October 1724, in a contemporary painting by Jean-Baptiste van Mour.

A divan or diwan (Persian: دیوان‎, dīwān) was a high governmental body in a number of Islamic states, or its chief official (see dewan). Divan is also a male first name, which is very popular in South Africa. However, the origin of Divan as a name is unknown.


The winter Diwan of a Mughal Nawab.

The word, recorded in English since 1586, meaning "Oriental council of a state," from Turkish divan, from Arabic diwan, is a Middle-Persian word meaning of Deva (divine rulers) and was borrowed into Arabic, Turkish and also at an earlier date into Armenian[1] dīvān, "bundle of written sheets, small book, collection of poems" (as in the Divan-i Hafiz), related to debir, "writer."

In Arabic, the term was first used for the army registers, then generalized to any register, and by metonymy applied to specific government departments.[2] The sense of the word evolved to "custom house" and "council chamber," then to "long, cushioned seat," such as are found along the walls in Middle-Eastern council chambers. The latter is the sense that entered European languages as divan (furniture).

The modern French, Spanish, and Italian words douane, aduana, and dogana, respectively (meaning "customs house"), also come from diwan.[3]

Government departments under the early Caliphates[edit]

The first dīwān was created under Caliph Umar (reigned 634–644 CE) in 15 A.H. (636/7 CE) or, more likely, 20 A.H. (641 CE). It comprised the names of the warriors of Medina who participated in the Muslim conquests and their families, and was intended to facilitate the payment of salary (in coin or in rations) to them, according to their service and their relationship to Muhammad. This first army register (dīwān al-jund) was soon emulated in other provincial capitals like Basra, Kufa and Fustat.[2]

With the advent of the Umayyad Caliphate, the number of dīwāns increased. The main dīwān now became the bureau of the land tax (dīwān al-kharāj) in Damascus, while the first Umayyad caliph, Mu'awiya (r. 661–680), also established the bureau of correspondence (dīwān al-rasāʾil), which drafted the caliph's letters and official documents, and the bureau of the seal (dīwān al-khātam), which checked and kept copies of all correspondence before sealing and dispatching it.[2] Mu'awiya also established the dīwān al-barīd in charge of the postal service.[2] There were also a number of fiscal bureaux: the bureau of expenditure (dīwān al-nafaḳāt) most likely indicates the survival of a Byzantine institution, the dīwān al-ṣadaḳa was a new foundation with the task of estimating the zakāt and ʿushr levies, the dīwān al-mustaghallāt administered state property in cities, and the dīwān al-ṭirāz controlled the government workshops that made official banners, costumes and some furniture.[4] Aside from the central government, there was a local branch of the dīwān al-kharāj, the dīwān al-jund and the dīwān al-rasāʾil in every province.[5]

Under Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (r. 685–705), the practices of the various departments were standardized and Arabized: instead of the local languages (Greek in Syria, Coptic and Greek in Egypt, Persian in former Sasanian lands) and the traditional practices of book-keeping, seals and time-keeping, only Arabic and the Islamic calendar were to be used henceforth. The process of Arabization was gradual: Iraq was the first in 697, followed by Syria in 700, Egypt in 705, and finally Khurasan in 742.[5]

Under the Abbasid Caliphate the dīwāns increased in number and sophistication, reaching their apogee in the 9th–10th centuries.[5] At the same time, the office of vizier (wazīr) was also created to coordinate government.[5] The administrative history of the Abbasid dīwāns is complex, since many were short-lived, temporary establishments for specific needs, while at times the sections od larger dīwān might be also be termed dīwāns, and often as ingle individual was placed in charge of more than one department.[6]

Caliph al-Saffah (r. 749–754) established a department for the confiscated properties of the Umayyads after his victory in the Abbasid Revolution. This was probably the antecedent of the later dīwān al-ḍiyāʿ, administering the caliph's personal domains.[5] Similarly, under al-Mansur (r. 754–775) there was a bureau of confiscations (dīwān al-muṣādara), as well as a dīwān al-aḥshām, probably in charge of palace service personnel, and a bureau of petitions to the Caliph (dīwān al-riḳāʿ).[5] Caliph al-Mahdi (r. 775–785) created a parallel dīwān al-zimām (control bureau) for every one of the existing dīwāns, as well as a central control bureau (zimām al-azimma). These acted as comptrollers as well as coordinators between the various bureaus, or between individual dīwāns and the vizier.[5] In addition, a dīwān al-maẓālim was created, staffed by judges, to hear complaints against government officials.[5] The remit of the dīwān al-kharāj now included all land taxes (kharāj, zakāt, and jizya, both in money and in kind), while another department, the dīwān al-ṣadaḳa, dealt with assessing the zakāt of cattle. The correspondence of the dīwān al-kharāj was checked by another department, the dīwān al-khātam.[7] As in Umayyad times, miniature copies of the dīwān al-kharāj, the dīwān al-jund and the dīwān al-rasāʾil existed in every province, but by the mid-9th century each province also maintained a branch of its dīwān al-kharāj in the capital.[5]

The treasury department (bayt al-māl or dīwān al-sāmī) kept the records of revenue and expenditure, both in money and in kind, with specialized dīwāns for each category oft he latter (e.g. cereals, cloth, etc.). Its secretary had to mark all orders of payment to make them valid, and it drew up monthly and yearly balance sheets.[6] The dīwān al-jahbad̲ha, responsible for the treasury's balance sheets, was eventually branched off from it, while the treasury domains were placed under the dīwān al-ḍiyāʿ, of which there appear at times to have been several.[6] In addition, a department of confiscated property (dīwān al-musādarīn) and confiscated estates (dīwān al-ḍiyāʿ al-maḳbūḍa) existed.[6]

Caliph al-Mu'tadid (r. 892–902) grouped the branches of the provincial dīwāns present in the capital into a new department, the dīwān al-dār (bureau of the palace) or dīwān al-dār al-kabīr (great bureau of the palace), where "al-dār" probably meant the vizier's palace.[5] At the same time, the various zimām bureaux were combined into a single dīwān al-zimām which re-checked all assessments, payments and receipts against its own records and, according to the 11th-century scholar al-Mawardi, was the "guardian of the rights of bayt al-māl [the treasury] and the people".[6] The dīwān al-nafaḳāt played a similar role with regards to expenses by the individual dīwāns, but by the end of the 9th century its role was mostly restricted to the finances of the caliphal palace.[6] Under al-Muktafi (r. 902–908) the dīwān al-dār was broken up into three departments, the bureaux of the eastern provinces (dīwān al-mashriḳ), of the western provinces (dīwān al-maghrib), and of the Iraq (dīwān al-sawād), although under al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932) the dīwān al-dār still existed, with the three territorial departments considered sections of the latter.[5] In 913/4, the vizier Ali ibn Isa established a new department for charitable endowments (dīwān al-birr,), whose revenue went to the upkeep of holy places, the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and on volunteers fighting in the holy war against the Byzantine Empire.[6]

Under Caliph al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–861), a bureau of servants and pages (dīwān al-mawālī wa ’l-ghilmān), possibly an evolution of the dīwān al-aḥshām, existed for the huge number of slaves and other attendants of the palace.[5] In addition, the dīwān al-khātam, now also known as the dīwān al-sirr (bureau of confidential affairs) grew in importance.[5] Miskawayh also mentions the existence of a dīwān al-ḥaram, which supervised the women's quarters of the palace.[6]

Government councils[edit]

The Divan-ı Hümayun or Sublime Porte was for many years the council of ministers of the Ottoman Empire. It consisted of the Grand Vizier, who presided, and the other viziers, the kadi'askers, the nisanci, and the defterdars.

The Assemblies of the Danubian Principalities under Ottoman rule were also called "divan" (see Akkerman Convention, ad hoc Divan).

In Javanese and related languages, the cognate Dewan is the standard word for chamber, as in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or Chamber of People's Representatives..

Ministerial departments[edit]

In the sultanate of Morocco, several portfolio Ministries had a title based on Diwan:

  • Diwan al-Alaf: ministry of War.
  • Diwan al-Bahr: 'ministry of the Sea', i.e. (overseas=) Foreign ministry.
  • Diwan al-Shikayat (or - Chikayat): ministry of Complaints.


  1. ^ François de Blois, "Divan", Encyclopaedia Iranica; accessed February 10, 2007
  2. ^ a b c d Duri 1991, p. 323.
  3. ^ Holt, Lambton & Lewis 1977, p. 533.
  4. ^ Duri 1991, pp. 323–324.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Duri 1991, p. 324.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Duri 1991, p. 325.
  7. ^ Duri 1991, pp. 324, 325.