May Allah ‘aza wajal shower us all with his blessings and endless mercy in this blessed month of Ramadan.
The soft morning light hit the Masjid’s beautiful dome. Bouncing off its reflecting surface made of millions of crystals, the light passed through its towering prism-like minarets, producing a breathtaking display of soft and warm colours encasing the entire structure. It was surrounded by a massive garden dutifully maintained by the botany guild and sectioned off into smaller parcels, each one showcasing a different style of landscaping. The masjid stood at the centre of this lush and intricate maze like a mesmerizing coral gently swimming in a sea of greenery. Four small pavilions were scattered around the garden, embodying various approaches to Valdevian architecture. These ornate buildings provided shelter from the hustle and bustle of the outside world; reserved for quiet contemplation, they were also a productive space for those committed to the memorisation of the Holy Qur’an. The fruit orchard located near the eastern pavilion offered an exceptional view…
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The concept of social science is often seen as the product of specific conditions that occurred in a precise time and space in Western civilization. In fact, Immanuel Wallerstein stated that the social sciences are “an enterprise of the modern world. Its roots lie in the attempt, full-blown in the sixteenth century, and part and parcel of the construction of our modern world, to develop the systematic secular knowledge about reality that is somehow validated empirically” (Wallerstein, 1996:2). Therefore, analyzing, interpreting, and understanding the mentalities, attitudes, and realities of civilizations that share very little in common with Western societies has always been a difficult endeavor that too often leads to a prevailing Eurocentrism in the social sciences.
Studying all human civilizations from a Western perspective, in which all aspects of reality, whether historical or social are therefore organised and understood from said perspective, renders Western thinkers the sole architects of ideas and theories, while relegating non-Westerners and their entire body of knowledge to mere subjects of study. Once ripped from its own ontological and epistemological bases in order to be reinterpreted and contextualized according to a Western worldview, even the scientific knowledge produced by non-Westerners which had “a certain duty and function” in their civilizations loses both “its capability of explaining factual conditions and its virtue of being scientific” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 411).
The idea of a “master explanation of everything Islamic” guaranteed the continued survival of the Orientalist Grand Narrative when it comes to the study of Islam within Western Academia. The resilience of this narrative is not due so much to the result of an inherent strength of Orientalist scholarship, but rather the weakness of the non-essentialist alternatives being offered (Volpi, 2010:33). While postmodern epistemologies provide interesting new avenues of research, they nonetheless do not offer a real and robust alternative (Turner, 1994:101). The bulk of the literature pertaining to the topic of Islam in sociology tends to emphasize the politicization of the religious (or Islamism) at the expense of all the other factors that are shaping the Muslim world as a whole; hence, the persistence of the prevailing reductionist and essentialist portrayal of Muslim societies.
The present instability plaguing the modern Muslim political realm is the subject of much interest and debate in Western academia. Unfortunately, what often transpires from such studies is a rather Manichean view of Muslim societies as inherently despotic entities beholden to oriental despotism and opposed to the very concepts of modernity and progress (Kalmar, 2012:1).Orientalist thought introduced the notion that a civilization based upon Islamic precepts can only inspire undemocratic governments. Western contemporary readings of Muslim societies, for the most part, approach the subject “through the lenses of western concepts and methodologies” and in doing so reiterate unfortunately Orientalist assumptions and arguments (Volpi, 2009:22).
Ibn Khaldun elaborated a social and political philosophy centered around the concept of change. To him, no social order is everlasting and natural but rather historical, hence the “fundamental law to keep in mind about socio-political systems is that they are not static” (Kayapinar, 2008: 377). Ibn Khaldun not only reiterated the importance of change but he also offered a comprehensive analysis of its trajectory. Since every epoch and society has its own peculiarities, rules, and logic, understanding any socio-political and economic event within a certain context and timeframe requires knowing those precise characteristics. “Ibn Khaldun reduced the general dynamic of change into one single notion: assabiya” (Kayapinar, 2008: 378). According to him, this concept plays an essential role in this progression leading to change. “He established asabiyya as the dynamic force in history and the development of any political system” (Mirawdeli, 2015:82). So, ‘Asabiyyah refers to the social bond that provides stability and strength to social groupings.
To understand the contemporary politics of the Muslim world, it is necessary to begin by analyzing the traditional model, social symbols, and ideologies which have informed every aspect of community life for centuries and have been brutally interrupted by the advent of colonialism. Such an analysis in a Khaldunian framework proceeds by examining the organic model at the heart of these societies and identifying the organic relationship between its different parts (politics, economics, social framework, religious ideology, etc.…). The current crisis in the modern Muslim political realm is accompanied by the relative absence of a “compelling and widely shared overall social purpose” (Moten, 1996: 38). According to Moten, this is a direct result of the colonial experience since “the major victim of the colonial domination was the Muslim’s self-image and cultural identity” (Moten, 1996: 10). The colonial policy of progress and enlightenment through a Westernized education system marked the beginning of a strategy seeking to replace the existing educational system, perceived as inferior and backward, with European learning. This attitude vis-à-vis Islamic knowledge is perfectly reflected in “Lord Macaulay’s insistence that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia” (Moten, 1996: 10). This educational policy’s main goal was to transmit European cultural values to the natives and to create “a class of clerks, collaborators and cronies to continue the cultural onslaught of the West” (Moten, 1996: 10).
However, its consequences were far more devastating and continue to impact Muslim societies to this day. Muslims educated in these Westernized educational systems became a strange mixture of the East and the West, “out of place everywhere and at home nowhere” (Moten, 1996:11). Al-Faruqi goes even further by saying that Muslims today are neither Islamic nor Western, but rather “a cultural monstrosity of modern times” (al Faruqi, 1982: 5). They’ve become a composite of diverging ideas and ideologies, alienated from their own past and yet never quite Western enough; incapable of mining their own sources and consulting the intellectual heritage of their civilization to generate sustainable responses to the social and political challenges they are facing. Even Muslim scholars educated in these Western-centric systems are often either unaware of their intellectual heritage or employ western perspectives to utilize this heritage (…) ignoring in the process “the unique idiosyncratic manners for explaining and settling social problems unique to their civilization” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 408). Overlooking the existing differences between Muslim and Western civilization and applying a Western worldview to the problems of Muslim societies often leads to resounding failures and exacerbates the inability of achieving a consensus around a shared political and social purpose.
The majority of the work on Ibn Khaldun in sociology is comprised mainly of biographical studies pertaining to his life, discussions about his theory of state formation, and examinations of the methodological foundations of his work. However, the application of his theory to existing historical situations remains a rarity. The majority of the work dedicated to the thought of Ibn Khaldun vacillates between studies focusing on certain aspects of his theory/ methodology and studies trying to establish a parallel between his approach and that of Western thinkers. The latter especially often leads to anachronic readings of Ibn Khaldun. The principal difficulty seems to be the misinterpretation of his understanding of religion. Two dominant opinions about Ibn Khaldun’s approach to science and religion are found within Orientalist literature.
According to the first opinion, supported by Gibb and Richter, every social phenomenon discussed by Ibn Khaldun is connected “with the Holy Qur’an and consequently connected with the will of God” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 415). But, according to the second opinion supported by Gumplovicz and Von Kremer, Ibn Khaldun “interpreted social phenomena in a realist way depending on reason and experiment” (Sunar and Yasliçimen, 2008: 415). If he used verses of the Qur’an it was only to escape bigoted reactions and possible accusations of blasphemy. For the most part however, Ibn Khaldun’s work is often relegated to an example of proto-sociology or the subject of investigation. His theories and concepts are described and analysed without ever being used as tools to interpret and understand history. Sociological studies pertaining to Muslim societies in Western academia remain mostly grounded in Orientalist analyses. The work of Ibn Khaldun offers an alternative to the Orientalist Grand Narrative and give us an opportunity to elaborate a neo-Khaldunian sociology beyond the confines of Eurocentrism.
Very few attempts have been made to incorporate Ibn Khaldun’s theory of state formation within the framework of modern sociology. Yet, he offers us a possibility of engaging in the study of Muslim societies without the preconceptions of Orientalism. Khaldunian theory represent a sociological framework indigenous to the Muslim world. In previous centuries, his work influenced Muslim and Western scholars alike, but it also served as a theoretical backdrop to the elaboration of political reforms in the Ottoman empire. A neo-Khaldunian perspective could provide a novel way of looking at the current state of Muslim polity. Through his writings, Ibn Khaldun achieved two important goals. On one hand, he elaborated a new approach to philosophical history, with a theoretical framework and a methodology reiterating the need to engage with the study of history critically. On the other hand, his Muqqadimah provides vital information on the religious, philosophical, and literary Muslim scholarship of the fourteenth century. What is lacking today is the integration of the Khaldunian theoretical framework into the corpus of modern sociology.
Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, Islamization of knowledge: General Principles and Workplan (Maryland: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982), p.5
Kalmar, Ivan (2012). Early Orientalism. Imagined Islam and the notion of sublime power. London; New York: Routledge.
Kayapinar, Akif M. (2008) Ibn Khaldun’s Concept of “Assabiyya”: An Alternative Tool for Understanding Long-Term Politics, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 375-407.
Mirawdeli, Kamal (2015). Asabiyyah and State: A Reconstruction of Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History, Bloomington: AuthorHouse.
Moten, Abdul Rashid (1996). Political Science: An Islamic Perspective. London: MacMillan Press Ltd.
Sunar, Lutfi & Yasliçimen, Faruk (2008) The Possibilities of New Perspectives for Social Sciences: An Analysis Based on Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of “Umran”, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 408-433.
Turner, Bryan (1994). Orientalism, Postmodernism And Globalism. London: Routledge.
Volpi, Frederic (2009) Political Islam in the Mediterranean: the view from democratization studies. Democratization, 16(1): 20-38.
Volpi, Frederic. (2009). Political Islam in the Mediterranean: the view from democratization studies. Democratization, Vol. 16, No.1, pp.20-38
Wallerstein, Immanuel (ed). (1996) Open the Social Sciences: Report of the Gulbenkian Commission of the Social Sciences. California: Stanford University Press.
Khaldunian theory and the Muslim political realm
The Caliphate (al-khilafa) designates the form of government that emerged in the Muslim world after the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)) in 632 and lasted until the early part of the twentieth century. The four rulers (Abu-Bakr, Umar, Ali, and Uthman) that reigned over the nascent Muslim nation after his death came to be known as the Rightly Guided Caliphs in Muslim historiography (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 257). Their era is particularly admired in Islamic theology as a period of extraordinary expansion during which the tradition of electing Caliphs was maintained and the need for a unified community (Muslim Ummah) was reiterated politically and socially. By the end of the year 661, Muslims ruled over Mesopotamia, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Persia, and parts of North Africa. It is during this period that the foundation for all future Muslim empires was established (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 257). The Qur’an and the Sunnah (in the case of Sunni Islam) became the basis upon which was built not only the political legitimacy of Muslim rulers but also the socioeconomic management of Muslim societies.
The Umayyads who ruled the Muslim empire between 661-750 expanded what was primarily an Arab-Muslim empire into Spain, Central Asia, and India (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 19). They successfully established an effective administration across a vast territory inhabited by multiple ethnic groups with a multitude of cultures and languages. The reign of the Umayyad put an end to the election of Caliphs and began the tradition of hereditary monarchy. In 750, the Abbasid dynasty overthrew the Umayyads and ruled the Muslim world until 1258 (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 329). Much like their predecessors, they continued to expand Muslim rule into new lands and the city of Baghdad became the political capital of the Caliphate. Despite its eventual fragmentation, the Abbasid empire established Islam into a universal and multiethnic religion; a legacy that resonates with Muslims to this day. The schism between Sunni and Shia was particularly evident in the political realm where several Shi’ite dynasties ruled over various parts of the Muslim world (Najeebabadi et al. 2000: 329).
The Fatimid dynasty was the product of a revolution mounted by the Isma’ili movement against Abbasid rule. They officially established their Caliphate in 909 in North Africa. During their reign, Egypt became an important commercial and cultural center (Alatas, 2014:113). They also established major trade routes in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Their long political decline finally came to an end when in 1171 Salah al-Din ibn Ayyub (Saladin) took control of Egypt in the name of the Abbasid Caliph. Another Shiite dynasty that reigned over vast swaths of Muslim land was originally a Sunni Sufi order that turned to Shia Islam in the fifteenth century (Alatas, 2014:113). The Safavid empire at its peak ruled over Iran, parts of the Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Both bureaucracy and the arts flourished under the Safavids. They established an efficient system of administration allowing for greater transparency in order to manage their vast and expansive realm (Alatas, 2014:113). Innovations in the artistic and cultural life were particularly encouraged by Safavid rulers, thus architecture and the fine arts grew exponentially under Safavid tutelage. A Sunni rebellion in 1722 eventually brought an end to their empire.
In the tenth century, Turcoman nomads from Outer Mongolia migrated to West Asia in order to avoid the impending Mongol invasion. Amongst these displaced populations were the Oghuz, a nomadic tribe of warriors known more widely today as the Seljuks. “By the eleventh century, when the Seljuk empire was centered at Isfahan, various Turcoman tribes, which were autonomous from the Seljuks, were trying to establish themselves in Anatolia” (Alatas, 2014:97). These tribes eventually formed their own principalities throughout the region. These groups possessed the ability to mobilize quickly “between a quarter and half a million cavalrymen” (Alatas, 2014: 97). Their ability to bring help and relief when needed to the centralized Seljuk state allowed the Turcoman principalities to grow in power and influence. In the fourteenth century, sixteen Turcoman principalities were established throughout Anatolia. The Seljuk empire disintegrated overtime and finally crumbled in the thirteenth century, giving way to the emergence of the Great Mongol empire. Much like the Seljuks, the Mongol empire eventually broke up into several parts as well. “One of these parts, constituting Iran, Iraq and Anatolia, became the Ilhan empire founded by Hulagu” (Alatas, 2014: 97).
Despite these changes, several Turcoman tribes succeeded in maintaining their independence from both the Seljuks and the Mongols. Amongst them was the Ottoman (Osmanli) principality founded by Osman of the Kayi Tribe. It is from this principality that emerged what later came to be known as the Ottoman empire (Alatas, 2014: 97). The Ottomans ruled most of the Muslim world for over six centuries, making this entity one of the most influential and prosperous empires in Muslim history. At the height of its power, the Ottoman territories incorporated most of Southeast Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.
The encroachment from increasingly powerful European nations on one hand and Tsarist Russia on the other throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century reduced greatly the vastness of Ottoman territory. Mounting economic and social problems further strained the resources of an already embattled empire. But it is the consequences of World War I that damaged irreparably the power and the authority of the Ottoman Caliph. “In March 3, 1924, the Grand National Assembly abolished the caliphate, thus ending the Ottoman dynasty and empire” and leading to the birth of the Turkish Republic (Shaw, 1977: 369). There are today more than fifty Muslim nation-states in the world spread over three continents and ascribing to a wide range of political, economic, and social ideologies ranging from theocratic governments, to secular republics, to monarchies, and democracies. These states started to emerge twenty-three years after the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate and represent a historical discontinuity. What had been the prevailing sociopolitical order in the Muslim world for thirteen centuries came to an end in the early twentieth century. The impact and legacy of Western colonialism is crucial in understanding the process of state formation leading to the emergence of Muslim nation-states after the second world war.
One of the prevailing Orientalist assumptions about the Ottoman empire is the view that it was already in decline by the eighteenth century. This idea finds its source in another Orientalist assumption which states that the Islamic civilization reached its peak during the early medieval period and that the Ottoman empire amounted to nothing more than a brief interruption in the long centuries of decline which followed (Ansary, 2010:220). This idea of a decaying empire by the late sixteenth century is reiterated by prominent Western historians such as Bernard Lewis. “For many centuries, while Europe was rising to greater and greater heights of achievements, the East was sinking in the comfortable torpor of decay (…)” (Lewis, 1994:42). According to him, by the time European powers started their incursions into Ottoman territory, the empire was but a shadow of its former self. However, many Muslim historians disagree with this narrative and maintain that despite the challenges facing it, the Ottoman empire was far from the decaying entity posited by Orientalists (Hanioglu, 2008:42).
The European penetration of Muslim lands was a slow and complex process, and not so much the ferocious military onslaught Lewis presented in his analysis. “The process was so slow, however, and so pervasive and so complex that it was hard for anyone going through the history of it all day by day to make a connection between the European encroachment and the burgeoning decay” (Ansary, 2010:220). The Ottoman empire did not simply go down in flames to conquering European armies. Despite an increasing European penetration and the growing military, economic, and administrative challenges facing it by the end of the eighteenth century, the Ottoman empire remained a military and political giant (Hanioglu, 2008:42). In fact, “long after the empire was totally moribund, long after it was little more than a virtual carcass for vultures to pick over, the Ottomans could still muster damaging military strength” (Ansary, 2010:221).
In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, Ibn Khaldun gained an important following amongst Ottoman scholars who used his ideas to address some of the pressing issues facing the Ottoman state. The prominent seventeenth century writer Katib Çelebi was one of the first Ottoman scholars to apply Ibn Khaldun’s ideas to analyze the empire’s financial woes. In his book The Mode of Procedure for Rectifying the Damage, the Khaldunian theory of cyclical rise and decline of states was applied for the first time to the Ottoman context. Another Ottoman historian who was greatly influenced by both Ibn Khaldun and Çelebi was Mustapha Naima. In his chronical Tarih-i Na’ima, he mentioned the Khaldunian cyclical theory to illustrate the contrast between nomadic and sedentary societies (Fleischer, 1983:200).
“By the eighteenth century, Ibn Khaldun was well established in Ottoman circles as having provided a framework that explained the decay of the Ottoman state. The Ottoman empire was said to be in Ibn Khaldun’s stage of stasis and decline” (Alatas, 2007:274).
The Ottoman scholars who studied Ibn Khaldun’s work started paying attention to the social, political, and economic organization of the empire trying to detect the signs of decline posited by Khaldunian theory. Scholars such as Çelebi and Naima were primarily preoccupied with elaborating institutional and administrative reforms susceptible of preventing a potential collapse. Their reading of Ibn Khaldun was therefore mainly normative and ideological (Alatas, 2007:275). His sociological arguments were used in the Ottoman context to not only champion reforms designed to strengthen the authority of the Caliph, but also to justify the holding of the Caliphate by an Ottoman dynasty.
To understand the prevailing political instability in the modern Muslim world, it is crucial to revisit the end of the Ottoman empire. However, in order to avoid falling into the usual pitfalls of Orientalism, a change of perspective is required. Khaldunian theory offers a framework and a methodology indigenous to the Muslim world. This theory was the primary tool used by Muslim scholars to study the patterns and rhythm of their own history. It was through Khaldunian concepts that they analyzed their political institutions and proposed the necessary reforms. The advent of colonialism led to the dismantlement of Muslim scholarship and halted any and all efforts to further develop Ibn Khaldun’s ilm al-‘umran al-bashari (science of human social organization).
Fanon analyzed in-depth how colonized societies become subjugated in all aspects. The rise of Orientalism as a form of scholarship dedicated to the study of the Orient and Islam is part of a broader pattern in which the production of knowledge is part and parcel of the grand colonial project. The colonial realm is a compartmentalized and Manichean world, where the “colonial subject is a man penned in: apartheid is but one method of compartmentalizing the colonial world” (Fanon, 1963:15). Through its policies and academics, the colonizer implants in the mind of the colonized that all essential values are Western values, and “remain eternal despite all errors attributable to man” (Fanon, 1963:15). The colonized becomes convinced of the pertinence and accuracy of these ideas; his very thought process has now fallen prey to the same colonial incursion ravaging his land. “The white colonists attack the traditions and myths—above all, their myths—of the racially colonized while clandestinely creating and perpetuating myths of their own concerning the racially colonized” (Rabaka, 2010:121).
These concocted myths and stereotypes not only become part and parcel of the colonial narrative, but they are also eventually internalized by the colonized. This leads to the emergence of many of the problems Fanon addresses throughout his corpus. Disrupting and shattering indigenous cultures triggers amongst all colonized peoples an inferiority complex. They position themselves in relation to the culture and the language of their colonizers. “The more the colonized has assimilated the cultural values of the metropolis, the more he will have escaped the bush” (Fanon, 1952:2). The psychological, social, emotional, economic, and political impact of this mythical portrait of the racialized subject entrenches even further the dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized. Constantly attacking, challenging, and weakening severely any lingering inkling of autonomy or sovereignty from the pre-colonial era reiterates this binary power-dynamic between the colonialists and the colonial subjects.
“Colonization is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it” (Fanon, 1963:170).
In order for the colonial project to reach its desired supremacy, the indigenous population must be convinced of the benefits of colonization. This can only happen once they are completely alienated from their own indigenous culture. The peoples of the colonies were reduced to entities with no history of their own, no art, no past, and certainly no future (Said, 1993:193). The inherently destructive nature of colonial domination was quick to disrupt in remarkable ways the cultural and intellectual life of the conquered.
The present instability plaguing the modern Muslim political realm is the subject of much interest and debate in Western academia. What often transpires from such studies is a rather Manichean view of Muslim societies as inherently despotic entities opposed to the very concepts of modernity and progress. “This idea has a pedigree of many centuries, and the classic term for what it refers to is oriental despotism” (Kalmar, 2012:1). Orientalist thought introduced the notion that a civilization based upon Islamic precepts can only inspire undemocratic governments, often using the current political situation in various Muslim countries as a compelling example. Western contemporary readings of politics in Muslim societies approach the subject “through the lenses of western concepts and methodologies” reiterating Orientalist assumptions and arguments (Volpi, 2009:22).
Khaldunian sociology is a historical sociology which can be applied to a wide range of societies where social bonds based on kinship played an important role in the formation of their states. Ibn Khaldun’s theoretical framework provides us with the ability to understand the dynamics leading not only to the rise of these states but also their potential decline, while keeping in mind the distinctive characteristics of each society. “The central concept of ‘asabiyyah is also sociological as it refers to a type of social cohesion founded on the knowledge of common kinship or descent” (Alatas, 2014:146). A Khaldunian framework offers us the possibility of analyzing the woes of the modern Muslim political realm from a new and fresh perspective, outside of the usual reductionist and essentialist portrayal of Islam as an entity possessing an anti-modern core.
Peace be upon him
Alatas, Syed Farid (2014). Applying Ibn Khaldun: The Recovery of a Lost Tradition in Sociology. London; New York: Routledge.
Alatas, Syed Farid (2007) The Historical Sociology of Muslim Societies: Khaldunian Applications, International Sociology, 22(3):267-288.
Ansary, Tamim (2010). Destiny Disrupted. A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. New York: Public Affairs.
Fanon, Frantz (1952) Le syndrome nord-africain, Esprit Nouvelle série, 187(2): 237-248.
Fanon, Frantz (1963). The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press.
Fleischer, Cornell (1983) Royal Authority, Dynastic Cyclism, and “Ibn Khaldunism” in Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Letters, Journal of Asian and African Studies, 18(3-4): 198-220.
Hanioglu, M. Sukru (2008). A Brief History of The Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kalmar, Ivan (2012). Early Orientalism. Imagined Islam and the notion of sublime power. London; New York: Routledge.
Lewis, Bernard (1994). The Shaping of the Modern Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press.
Najeebabadi, Akbar Shah; Mubarakpuri, Safi-ur-Rahman; Abdullah, Abdul Rahman; Salafi, Muhammad Tahir (2000). The History of Islam, Houston, Tex: Darussalam.
Said, Edward (1993), Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.
Shaw, Stanford (1977). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rabaka, Reiland (2010). Forms of Fanonism. Frantz Fanon’s Critical Theory and The Dialectic of Decolonization. New York: Lexington Books.
Volpi, Frederic (2009)Political Islam in the Mediterranean: the view from democratization studies. Democratization, 16(1): 20-38.
He ran endlessly through the pitch black jungle, leaping effortlessly over the massive detritus of mangled roots littering the forest floor. Using his bio-sonar to navigate the dense wilderness surrounding the Cluster’s outpost, he could hear in the distance the terrifying sounds of the carnivorous creatures that infested the lowlands. Only a few more clicks separated him from his camouflaged jumper. Blowing his own cover to protect another agent was probably the most reckless thing he’s ever done. Running for his life while trying to avoid the Cluster’s acolytes and the ravenous local wildlife was certainly not how he originally planned on ending his mission, but strategy demanded this sacrifice of him.
The grove of old Socoma trees keeping out of sight the clearing where he hid his jumper finally came to view. These giant trees, resembling wooden towers sculpted from obsidian, often grew to unimaginable heights in close proximity. Linking their…
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“The substantive interest of Ibn Khaldun in both the Muqaddimah and the Kitab al-‘Ibar, lies in the explanation of the formation and decline of Maghribian and Arab states” (Alatas, 2014: 22). In his study of the rise and fall of north African states, Ibn Khaldun compared the social organization of pastoral nomadic societies to that of sedentary societies. He posited that the differences observed between these two types of societies are the result of inherent differences in their ‘asabiyyah; a concept often translated as group feeling or social cohesion. “Ibn Khaldun’s thesis was that groups with strong ‘asabiyyah could establish political rule over those with weak ‘asabiyyah” (Alatas, 2014:22). He saw the progression from nomadic civilization toward a sedentary one as a natural process where the advent of sedentary lifestyle is in fact the desired outcome of bedouin life. He postulated that all human societies evolve from a rather primitive lifestyle toward a far more complex one entailing grand cities, sophisticated cultures, and an opulent lifestyle.
According to him, the concept of ‘asabiyyah plays an essential role in this progression. “He establishes asabiyya as the dynamic force in history and the development of any political system” (Mirawdeli, 2015:82). ‘Asabiyyah refers to the social bond that provides stability and strength to social groupings. “This abstract concept conveys the idea of the bond that ensures the cohesion of a social group just as, analogously, the tendons ensure the cohesion of flesh to the bones” (Baali, 1988:44). Ibn Khaldun clarified that such a bond is not only born of consanguineal relations but is also social, psychological, physical, and political in nature. The superior ‘asabiyyah enjoyed by nomadic bedouins gave them a stronger social cohesion than the sedentary groups living in urban areas where they’ve established their dynasties. This strong social cohesion gave them both “the aggressive and defensive strength” necessary to eventually take over sedentary groups with a weakened ‘asabiyyah (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). A diminished social bond leaves settled groups at the mercy of nomadic/pre-urban bedouin tribes. These tribes often relied on the cities of the settled groups to acquire the basic necessities of life. This scarcity resulting from their precarious lifestyle promoted cooperation and mutual reliance amongst the members of the tribe which brought about a stronger and more vigorous ‘asabiyyah.
Ibn Khaldun assigned to religion an important role in the creation and the strengthening of ‘asabiyyah. He used as an example the advent of Islam in the Arab Peninsula where religion provided a spiritual bond between disparate Arab tribes and gave them a common cause for which to fight (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 126). Islam served as a unifying force and created a strong social cohesion amongst the Arab tribes joining the nascent Muslim nation. This unification allowed the pre-urban tribes to establish royal authority and commence sedentary life. The strength of their bedouin ‘asabiyyah and the puissance of their religious mission allowed them to expand their territory and conquer previously settled groups (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 91).
“The role of religious ideology, then, lies in its significance as necessary “additional power” that supports the struggle of a powerful asabiyyah, the Quraysh in the case of Islam, to overpower those groups that are equal or superior to it in strength(…) Furthermore, according to Ibn Khaldun, religious ideology can materialize only if it conforms with and responds to the material conditions and needs of the life of the society it addresses. Islam was successful not only because Muhammad belonged to a dominating “house” with a powerful asabiyya (…) but also because his teachings were congruent with the desert vision and material reality of the Arabs” (Mirawdeli, 2015:97).
The primitive culture of the tribes is one focused exclusively on satisfying the basic needs. It is a life of austerity and extreme precarity. In what Ibn Khaldun called the stage of badawa (pastoral nomadic) the tribes are mostly preoccupied with ensuring their survival. This made unity a crucial element to the existence of the group. In order to bring this about, they needed to create a “dominating element” (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). ‘Asabiyyah allows an individual within the group to acquire a legitimate power that gives him “Mulk” a royal authority. “Hence, asabiyya expresses itself in the form of legitimatising the restraining power of a person among the group, giving him mulk, royal authority” (Mirawdeli, 2015:84). The group willingly submits to his authority which only further strengthens their cohesion as a group. Once the ruler achieves his hegemony over his own group, he is now poised to extend it to neighbouring tribes. Eventually, consanguineal relations lose their importance as the primary source of ‘asabiyyah to be replaced by a far more abstract understanding of power. The chieftain that previously held royal authority over the group is replaced by a state based on a “single great ‘asabiyyah” (Mirawdeli, 2015:85).
“Thus, Asabiyya gives a group the superiority without which royal authority cannot be achieved. At the same time, by making social organization possible, it establishes the first condition of umran. And historical evolution, the transition from Badawa to sedentary culture, is concurrent with the transformation of royal authority into a fully developed state. In this sense, civilization is no more than the manifestation of the function and reality of the State” (Mirawdeli, 2015:85).
Sedentary life on the contrary is one predicated on conveniences and luxury. With a large number of individuals living in close proximity to one another in cities they’ve settled, the production of goods increased, and a large quantity of surplus labour became available for the manufacturing of luxuries (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 94). But, according to Ibn Khaldun the development of all these superfluities is what eventually triggered the degeneration of the group and led to the decline of its power and strength (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 94). The simplicity, the roughness, and the simple devotion and allegiance found in the original group eroded with increasing wealth and power. The comforts of sedentary life are not however the only thing that precipitated the decline of the group. When the ruler gained absolute power and started excluding his people from the royal authority he enjoyed due to their voluntary submission to his dominance, he started to sow the seeds of discord and weakened the very ‘asabiyyah to which he owed his authority (Ibn Khaldun et al. 2005: 95).
Ibn Khaldun postulated in his theory of state formation that all human societies are caught in this cyclical process; from humble and simple beginnings, to opulent cultures and lifestyle, followed by erosion and decline. In his theory he identified four stages progressing from badawa (desert life) to hadara (civilization). The first stage is the period of establishment, where group solidarity is primarily based on familial ties and religious kinship. Life at this stage is one of great precarity and the survival of the group is what matters most. The rulers at this stage are chieftains who endeavour to “perfect themselves by exhibiting admirable qualities demonstrating, among other things, their capacity for administrating God’s law” (Dale, 2015: 187). In the second stage, the ruler succeeds in monopolizing the royal authority and acquires absolute power. This hegemony by the ruler coincides with the erosion of the ‘asabiyyah that began on the basis of familial group solidarity. The ruler can now build a proper state with features such as a complex administrative bureaucracy, a paid army, and advisors to counsel him.
The third stage is characterized by the abundance of luxury and the increasing importance of leisure as a defining aspect of sedentary life. “Monarchs now found it increasingly necessary to increase taxes to support their extravagant lives and were initially able to do so because their cowed subjects did not resist” (Dale, 2015:192). The ruler uses his authority to satisfy his personal needs. He then spends exorbitant amounts on public works and on the beautification of his cities. The state enjoys economic prosperity, and high culture is developed through the crafts, fine arts, and the sciences. Cultural pursuits gain avid supporters amongst the ruling class and the upper strata of society. Leisure and self-indulgence become important aspects of life.
In the fourth stage luxury and comfort are now defining features of society. Life is centered around the search for contentment and satiation. Complacency, corruption, and decadence take hold in the once morally upright group. The ruler indulges in depraved behavior while neglecting the state. “The nobility, superior ‘asabiyyah, and other personal traits that characterized chiefs three generations earlier had, by the fourth generation, entirely dissipated” (Dale, 2015: 192). At this point, the state is starting to decline and to disintegrate. The vital forces of solidarity and religion that once provided the group with the means to their unity and success are now all but destroyed. To ensure support for his rule and to maintain the luxuries acquired, he once again resorts to raising the taxes. As the income of the state declines, it ultimately becomes impossible for the ruler to maintain his authority.
Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical view of history
A linear view of history first emerged in the work of St. Augustine (354-430 CE) who described history as the unfolding of God’s plan. He believed that this process which started with the creation of the world would come to an end with the Final Judgement. The growth of knowledge and the recording of past events contributed greatly to the rise of the concept of linear history (Barnes, 1948: 171). Voltaire in the eighteenth century also ascribed to a similar view, albeit more secular. He divided the evolution of history into four great ages eventually culminating in the scientific enlightenment of Man. However, the idea that history repeats itself through the rise and fall of civilizations was not completely unheard of before Ibn Khaldun’s ilm al-ijtima al-insani( science of human society).
Throughout the centuries, many historians and philosophers, such as Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Montaigne (1532-1592) held a cyclical view of history. In the modern age, both Arnold Toynbee (1884-1975) and Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) adhered to a cyclical view of history in which civilizations continuously rise and fall. In fact, Toynbee posited that the cyclical nature of history emerged as the predominant view when ancient civilizations like the Babylonians made discoveries in the field of astronomy (Bailey, 1958: 93). As they observed recurrent cosmic events (lunar month, solar year, night and day cycle), the repetitive nature of life shaped their view of history. This cyclical conceptualization is also found “in the mentality of the old Hindu civilization as well as in the rhythm of the Yin and Yang of ancient China” (Bailey, 1958: 94). In fact, the notion of world-cycles was also central to the ancient Greeks’ understanding of cosmic time. This idea was later inherited by Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius who strongly believed in the uniformity of the world.
“The idea was adopted by the Stoics and championed by Marcus Aurelius who was convinced that the world is so uniform that a man of forty has seen all that past generations saw or that future generations may see” (Bailey, 1958: 94).
The Italian philosopher Giovanni Battista Vico elaborated in the early 1700s what he called the theory of historical returns (ricorsi). His cyclical understanding of history was mainly based on his anti-Cartesian view of humanity and his rejection of Man’s supposed rationality. Vico dismissed the natural sciences capacity to explain human phenomena, and much like Ibn Khaldun in the fourteenth century, he set out to create a “new science which could shed light on the developments in collective life” (Bailey, 1958: 94). His investigation into the human past led him to identify three stages in the life cycles of nations. These cycles followed a single constant pattern that he dubbed the storia eterna ideale. According to Vico, the progression of each nation through these stages (the eras of gods, of heroes, and of men) was preordained by Divine Providence. As a devout Christian he regarded “the old Testament’s story, until the end of the Flood, as an accurate narrative”, and in doing so played an important role in the preservation of Christian historiography.
“He believed that each nation passed through identical stages from ‘barbarism of the senses’ to true civilization and then into decadence resulting from overintellectualism, the ‘barbarism of reflection’. Here the cycle begins all over again” (Bailey, 1958: 94).
There is an obvious difference between Ibn Khaldun’s style of investigation of history and the method used by previous philosophers and historians (Korkut, 2008: 548). Having developed a theory explaining the structure of social events, he proceeded to elaborate an investigative method to analyze them. He propounded that all social events are unique and warned against the all too common mistake of “applying a solution to a certain social problem as remedy for another (…)” (Korkut, 2008: 548). He described social phenomena as dynamic and prone to changes as opposed to being static. Hence, a solution devised for a certain social event becomes inapplicable to another. “In tandem, each social event is circumscribed by the moral, psychological, and physical atmosphere of the society from which it spurts; indeed, the relevant causes of each society are distinctive” (Korkut, 2008: 548).
Alatas, Syed Farid (2014). Applying Ibn Khaldun: The Recovery of a Lost Tradition in Sociology. London; New York: Routledge.
Mirawdeli, Kamal (2015). Asabiyyah and State: A Reconstruction of Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History, Bloomington: AuthorHouse.
Baali, Fuad (1988). Society, State, and Urbanism: Ibn Khaldun’s Sociological Thought, Albany: State University of New York Press
Ibn Khaldun; Rosenthal, Frantz; Dawood, N.J; Lawrence, Bruce B (2005). The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
Dale, Stephen Frederic (2015). The Orange Trees of Marrakesh: Ibn Khaldun and the Science of Man. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Barnes, Harry Elmer (1948). Historical Sociology: Its Origins and Development, New York: Philosophical Library.
Bailey, Robert Benjamin (1958). Sociology Faces Pessimism: A Study of European Sociological Thought Amidst a Fading Optimism, The Hague: Nijhoff.
Korkut, Senol (2008) Ibn Khaldun’s Critique of the Theory of “al-Siyasah al-Madaniyyah”, Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3-4): 547-570.
The significant impact of beliefs and ideas on the very underpinnings of human society is undeniable. The origins, identity, and purposes of a nation are often found in narratives creating a national-myth, which operates as the bedrock of its ideological and spiritual foundation. “What gives nationalism its power are myths, memories, traditions, and symbols of ethnic heritage and the way in which a popular living past has been, and can be, rediscovered and reinterpreted by modern nationalist intelligentsia”. One could even argue that our sense of self is directly linked to the selective, communal structure of significant events that form a unifying mythology—“unifying for those who are included; alienating for those who are excluded”.
In such a context, recollections of the past are no longer simply chronicles of previous events but rather part of a broader strategy that allows us to understand and interpret the present. Although appeals to the past are usually animated by a desire to resolve disagreements on what really took place and the accuracy of “conventional versions”, they also reflect a need to address uncertainties about whether the past is over and resolved or “whether it continues, albeit in different forms, perhaps”. History for its part plays a crucial role in giving form and meaning to the passage of time by establishing a hierarchy of events through which some are deemed more memorable than others. This classification shapes thereafter the collective consciousness of a nation and its relation to its past. It provides a mechanism through which the collective identity is secured, the existing social order legitimized, and the national-myth becomes truth.
National myths are often crafted by political elites in order to meet practical political needs, such as enhancing regime legitimacy, mobilizing public support for government policies, or resolving sectarian divides. These myths can be used to bestow upon a nation a sense of moral superiority by legitimizing national goals and objectives. Every aspect of the past and the present are to be used in order to create a grandiose “cult of national pride” in which every achievement and every painful experience becomes part of this narrative of self-glorification. Whether the myth finds its roots in reality or whether it is primarily based on false claims of national righteousness and exploits remains a moot point. However, national myths can also become maligning myths in which history is whitewashed and past transgressions either denied or rationalized. Offenses committed in the name of the realm are justified by accusing the injured party of malicious intentions toward the nascent nation. Thus, the victims become in essence responsible for their own trauma since they are after all the architects of the own demise. Vicious narratives that denigrate others through accusations of cultural inferiority usually accompany these claims of belligerence. Once these myths are widely spread, institutionalized and propagated through media and academia, they effectively dominate the national collective memory and mold the fundamental ideas of a nation’s identity.
In Canada, “conventional” history (history which underpins our social and political conventions) has distorted the collective consciousness, overstating certain contributions while omitting others. The real history of Canada is said to begin in 1867 with the advent of the contemporary state of Canada ushered in by the establishment of European populations on this land. In this Grand Narrative, the existence of Aboriginal nations prior to that moment in history is deemed insignificant and their history irrelevant. “This mythical rendering of Aboriginal nations is one way in which Canada has avoided recognizing less savory portions of its genesis” while justifying conquest through this “historico-mythology” portrayal of Canadian history.
The reality of Canada as a settler state engaging in “colonial land theft and physical and legislative brutality” as necessary evils for the greater colonial project is glossed over in favor of the “dominant narrative of Canadian beginnings, from heroic pioneers taming uncharted wilderness (…)”. The Canadian national myth is not only steeped in self-glorification but it also provides a clever narrative through which colonial crimes are justified and their legacy ignored. In fact, racism becomes part of the basic structure of the state, seeping through the cultural life of the dominant society “both by its exclusive narrative of dominant experience and mythology, and by its stereotypical rendering of the “Other” as peripheral and unidimensional”. Aboriginal societies are depicted in this narrative as homogeneous entities lacking both the diversity of European societies and the refined complexity of European cultures. In this paradigm, the perceived political and cultural deficiency of Aboriginal societies, which rendered them “incapable of holding sovereignty or land or resisting the civilizing, modernizing impulse of colonial domination”, justifies the colonial land theft leading to the creation of Canada. While recognizing that some “blunders” might have occurred in this process of nation building, we are rapidly reminded that they pale in comparison to the greater good achieved by the birth of this nation. The continuous denial of “Canada’s origins in colonial enterprises” prevents the broader Canadian society from addressing and tackling the consequences of that initial relationship.
“The obscured reality of Canada’s colonial foundations contributes to a contemporary Canadian psychosis as we struggle to account for and deal with the consequences of that same colonialism while generally denying its reality”. This dilemma between reiterating the existing national myth and uncovering the reality behind the birth of Canada is one that is evident in the reiteration of “historical accounts that are partial and exclusionary (…)”. The history of indigenous nations, their ongoing resistance to assimilation, and their fight to exercise self-determination are treated as if adjacent or distinct from the broader Canadian history. The legacy of Canada’s colonial past is one that is seldom known by most Canadians. While today Canada prides itself on being a Multicultural society where diversity is deemed essential in strengthening the fabric of Canadian society, the same cannot be said about its founding principles as a settler state. In fact, George-Etienne Cartier a leading French-Canadian statesman and father of confederation stated the following while talking about Canadian identity:
“In our federation we should have Catholic and protestant, English, French, Irish, and Scots, and each by his efforts and his success would increase the prosperity and glory of the new confederacy.”
In this speech there is no mention of Aboriginal peoples, they are in essence excluded from what is to become the new Canadian federation. In fact, one could argue that to this day the “state continues to develop policies grounded in the foundational myths of the legitimacy of colonial and contemporary appropriation of land and resources”. In order to overcome this Canadian psychosis it is imperative to abandon the current historico-mythology in which Canadian history is grounded, and instead face the past to collectively create equitable and restitutionary bases for a common future all Canadians can enjoy.
Smith, Anthony D. (1999). Myths and Memories of the Nation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Green, Joyce A. (1995). Toward a détente with history: Confronting Canada’s colonial Legacy. International Journal of Canadian Studies 12, Fall.
Said W. Edward. (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.
Ajzenstat, Janet. (2003). Canada’s Founding Debates. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.