'ASABIYYA


'ASABIYYA, Arabic word meaning originally 'spirit of kinship' (the 'asaba are male relations
in the male line) in the family or tribe. Already used in the hadith in which the Prophet
condemns 'asabiyya as contrary to the spirit of Islam, the term became famous as a result of the
use to which it was put by Ibn khaldun, who made this concept the basis of his interpretation of
history and his doctrine of the state. 'Asabiyya is, for Ibn khaldun, the fundamental bond of
human society and the basic motive force of history; as such, the term has been translated as
'esprit de corps' (de Slane), by 'Gemeinsinn' and even by 'Nationalitaetsidee' (Kremer), which
is an unjustified modernism. The first basis of the concept is undoubtedly of a natural character,
in the sense that 'asabiyya in its most normal form is derived from tribal consanguinity (nasab,
iltiham), but the inconvenience of this racial conception was already overcome in Arab antiquity
itself by the institution of affiliation (wala'), to which Ibn khaldun accords great importance in
the formation of an effective 'asabiyya. Whether it is based on blood ties or on some other social
grouping, it is for Ibn khaldun the force which impels groups of human beings to assert
themselves, to struggle for primacy, to establish hegemonies, dynasties and empires; the validity
of this principle is tested firstly in Arab history, pre-Islamic and Muslim, and secondly in the
history of the Berbers and other islamicised peoples: the Arab empire is the product of the
'asabiyya of quraysh, especially of the Banu 'Abd Manaf group, but once power (mulk) has been
seized, the dominant group tends to detach itself from the natural 'asabiyya on which it is based,
and to substitute for it other forces which become the instrument of its absolutism. This
extraordinary appreciation of a non-religious force as the motive power of history (the religious
element only superimposes itself as a secondary element) involved Ibn khaldun in delicate
problems of reconciliation with the traditional view of Muslim history and civilisation, a view,
moreover, which he supported with whole-hearted conviction; this effort of harmonisation,
apparent in more than one page of the Muqaddima, prevented him from making a deeper
examination and rendering fully coherent his ingenious theory.
(F. Gabrieli)


Bibliography:
F. Gabrieli, Il concetto della 'asabiyyah nel pensiero storico di Ibn ]aldun, Atti della R. Accad. delle scienze
di Torino, lxv, 1930, 473-51t

H. A. R. Gibb, The Islamic Background of Ibn Khaldun's political Theory, BSOS, vii, 1933, t3-31.


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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam -- 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands