1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Amir

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AMIR, or Ameer (an Arabic word meaning “commander,” from the root amr, “commanding”), a title common in the Mahommedan East. The form emir is also commonly employed in English. The word originally signified a military commander, but very early came to be extended to anyone bearing rule, Mahomet himself being styled by the pagan Arabs amir of Mecca. Thus the term gradually came to be applied to any high office-bearer, or to any lord or chief. The caliph has the style of Amir ul Omara, “lord of lords.” The title Amir ul Muminim, or “commander of the faithful,” now borne by the sultan of Turkey, was first assumed by Abu Bekr, and was taken by most of the various dynasties which claimed the caliphate, including the Fatimites, the Spanish Omayyads and the Almohades. The Almoravides and the Merinides assumed the style of Amir ul Muslimin, “commander of the Mussulmans.”

The use of the word is, in fact, closely akin to that of the English “lord,” sometimes connoting office, as in Amir ul-aḥghal (minister of finance) under the Almohades (cf. “lord of the treasury”), sometimes mere dignity, as in the case of the title of honour borne by all descendants of the Prophet, or of the title Mir assumed by men of great rank in the Far East. Sometimes it implies a temporary office of dignity and command—e.g. the Amir ul-kaj, “commander of the pilgrimage” (to Mecca). Sometimes again it connotes the meaning of “sovereign lord,” in which sense it was early assumed by the princes of Sind and by the rulers of Afghanistan and Bokhara, the title implying a lesser dignity than that of sultan. Thus too it is very generally applied in the East to the chiefs of independent or semi-independent tribes. In the Lebanon both the Christian clans and the Druses are ruled by hereditary amirs. Finally the word (confused not unnaturally with the particle usually attached to it) was borrowed by the West, and is the origin of the English “admiral.”