Asabiyya

`Asabiyya or asabiyah (Arabic: عصبية, ʻaṣabīya) refers to social solidarity with an emphasis on unity, group consciousness and sense of shared purpose, and social cohesion,[1] originally in a context of "tribalism" and "clanism". It was a familiar term in the pre-Islamic era, but became popularized in Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah where it is described as the fundamental bond of human society and the basic motive force of history. `Asabiyya is neither necessarily nomadic nor based on blood relations; rather, it resembles philosophy of classical republicanism. In the modern period, the term is generally analogous to solidarity. However, the term is often negatively associated because it can sometimes suggest loyalty to one's group regardless of circumstances, or partisanship.[2]

Overview

Ibn Khaldun uses the term Asabiyyah to describe the bond of cohesion among humans in a group forming community. The bond, Asabiyyah, exists at any level of civilization, from nomadic society to states and empires.[3] Asabiyyah is most strong in the nomadic phase, and decreases as civilization advances.[3] As this Asabiyyah declines, another more compelling Asabiyyah may take its place; thus, civilizations rise and fall, and history describes these cycles of Asabiyyah as they play out.[3]

Ibn Khaldun argues that each dynasty (or civilization) has within itself the seeds of its own downfall. He explains that ruling houses tend to emerge on the peripheries of great empires and use the much stronger `asabiyya present in those areas to their advantage, in order to bring about a change in leadership. This implies that the new rulers are at first considered "barbarians" by comparison to the old ones. As they establish themselves at the center of their empire, they become increasingly lax, less coordinated, disciplined and watchful, and more concerned with maintaining their new power and lifestyle at the centre of the empire—i.e, their internal cohesion and ties to the original peripheral group, the `asabiyya, dissolves into factionalism and individualism, diminishing their capacity as a political unit. Thus, conditions are created wherein a new dynasty can emerge at the periphery of their control, grow strong, and effect a change in leadership, beginning the cycle anew.

Khaldun's central concept of asabiyah, or "social cohesion", seems to anticipate modern conceptions of social capital arising in social networks:

This cohesion arises spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups; and it can be intensified and enlarged by a religious ideology. Khaldun's analysis looks at how this cohesion carries groups to power but contains within itself the seeds - psychological, sociological, economic, political - of the group's downfall, to be replaced by a new group, dynasty or empire bound by a stronger (or at least younger and more vigorous) cohesion.

Examples

The Asabiyyah cycle described by Ibn Khaldun was true for nearly all civilizations before the modern era. Nomadic invaders had always ended up adopting the religion and culture of the civilizations they conquered, which was true for various Arab, Berber, Turkic and Mongol invaders that invaded the medieval Islamic world and ended up adopting Islamic religion and culture.

Beyond the Muslim world, the Asabiyyah cycle was also true for every other pre-modern civilization, whether in China whose dynastic cycles resemble the Asabiyyah cycles described by Ibn Khaldun, in Europe where waves of barbarian invaders adopted Christianity and Greco-Roman culture, or in India or Persia where nomadic invaders assimilated into those civilizations.

Notes

Bibliography

  • Ahmed, Akbar S. (2003). Islam under siege: living dangerously in a post-honor world. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends in Africa. Moscow: URSS.

Sources

  • The Muqaddimah, translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311–15, 271-4 [Arabic]; Richard Nelson Frye (p. 91). He translated the Arabic word "Ajam" into "Persians".
  • Durkheim, Émile, The Division of Labor in Society, (1893) The Free Press reprint 1997, ISBN 0-684-83638-6
  • Gabrieli, F. (1930), Il concetto della 'asabiyyah nel pensiero storico di Ibn Khaldun, Atti della R. Accad. delle scienze di Torino, lxv

External links

  • (English) Asabiyya: Re-Interpreting Value Change in Globalized Societies
ar:ابن خلدون#علم الاجتماع
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