Book One of the Kitab al-'Ibar




The nature of civilization. Bedouin
and settled life, the achievement of superiority,
gainful occupations, ways of making a living, sciences,
crafts, and all the other things that affect
(civilization). The causes
and reasons thereof.



IT1 SHOULD be known that history, in matter of fact, is information about human social organization,  which itself is identical with world civilization. It deals with such conditions affecting the nature of civilization as, for instance, savagery and sociability, group feelings, and the different ways by which one group of human beings achieves superiority  over another  It deals with royal authority and the dynasties that result (in this manner) and with the various ranks that exist within them. (It further deals) with the different kinds of gainful occupations and ways of making a living, with the sciences and crafts that human beings pursue as part of their activities and efforts, and with all the other institutions that originate in civilization through its very nature.

Untruth naturally afflicts historical information. There are various reasons that make this unavoidable. One of them is partisanship for opinions and schools. If the soul is impartial in receiving information, it devotes to that information the share of critical investigation the information deserves, and its truth or untruth thus becomes clear. However, if the soul is infected with partisanship for a particular opinion or sect, it accepts without a moment's hesitation the information that is agreeable to it. Prejudice and partisanship obscure the critical faculty and preclude critical investigation. The result is that falsehoods are accepted and transmitted.

Another reason making untruth unavoidable in historical information is reliance upon transmitters. Investigation of this subject belongs to (the theological discipline of) personality criticism.2

Another reason is unawareness of the purpose of an event. Many a transmitter does not know the real significance of his observations or of the things he has learned about orally. He transmits the information, attributing to it the significance he assumes or imagines it to have. The result is falsehood.

Another reason is unfounded assumption as to the truth of a thing. This is frequent. It results mostly from reliance upon transmitters.

Another reason is ignorance of how conditions conform with reality. 2a Conditions are affected by ambiguities and artificial distortions. The informant reports the conditions as he saw them but on account of artificial distortions he himself has no true picture of them.

Another reason is the fact that people as a rule approach great and high-ranking persons with praise and encomiums. They embellish conditions and spread the fame (of great men). The information made public in such cases is not truthful. Human souls long for praise, and people pay great attention to this world and the positions and wealth it offers. As a rule, they feel no desire for virtue and have no special interest in virtuous people.

Another reason making untruth unavoidable - and this one is more powerful than all the reasons previously mentioned is ignorance of the nature of the various conditions arising in civilization. Every event (or phenomenon), whether (it comes into being in connection with some) essence or (as the result of an) action, must inevitably possess a nature peculiar to its essence as well as to the accidental conditions that may attach themselves to it. If the student knows the nature of events and the circumstances and requirements in the world of existence, it will help him to distinguish truth from untruth in investigating the historical information critically. This is more effective in critical investigation than any other aspect that may be brought up in connection with it.

Students often happen to accept and transmit absurd information that, in turn, is believed on their authority. Al­Mas'udi,3 for instance, reports such a story about Alexander. Sea monsters prevented Alexander from building Alexandria. He took a wooden container in which a glass box was inserted, and dived in it to the bottom of the sea. There he drew pictures of the devilish monsters he saw. He then had metal effigies of these animals made and set them up opposite the place where building was going on. When the monsters came out and saw the effigies, they fled. Alexander was thus able to complete the building of Alexandria.

It is a long story, made up of nonsensical elements which are absurd for various reasons. Thus, (Alexander is said) to have taken a glass box and braved the sea and its waves in person. Now, rulers would not take such a risk .4 Any ruler who would attempt such a thing would work his own undoing and provoke the outbreak of revolt against himself, and (he would) be replaced by the people with someone else. That would be his end. People would not (even) wait one moment for him to return from the (dangerous) risk he is taking.

Furthermore, the jinn are not known to have specific forms and effigies. They are able to take on various forms. The story of the many heads they have is intended to indicate ugliness and frightfulness. It is not meant to be taken literally.

All this throws suspicion upon the story. Yet, the element in it that makes the story absurd for reasons based on the facts of existence is more convincing than all the other (arguments). Were one to go down deep into the water, even in a box, one would have too little air for natural breathing. Because of that, one's spirit5 would quickly become hot. Such a man would lack the cold air necessary to maintain a well-balanced humor of the lung and the vital spirit. He would perish on the spot. This is the reason why people perish in hot baths when cold air is denied to them. It also is the reason why people who go down into deep wells and dungeons perish when the air there becomes hot through putrefaction, and no winds enter those places to stir the air up. Those who go down there perish immediately. This also is the reason why fish die when they leave the water, for the air is not sufficient for (a fish) to balance its lung. (The fish) is extremely hot, and the water to balance it's humor is cold. The air into which (the fish) now comes is hot. Heat, thus, gains power over its animal spirit, and it perishes at once. This also is the reason for sudden death,6 and similar things.

Al-Mas'udi reports another absurd story, that of the Statue of the Starling in Rome7 On a fixed day of the year, starlings gather at that statue bringing olives from which the inhabitants of Rome get their oil. How little this has to do with the natural procedure of getting oil!

Another absurd story is reported by al-Bakri. It concerns the way the so-called "Gate City" was built.8 That city had a circumference of more than a thirty days' journey and had ten thousand gates. Now, cities are used for security and protection, as will be mentioned.9 Such a city, however, could not be controlled and would offer no security or protection.

Then, there is also al-Mas'udi's story of the "Copper City." 10 This is said to be a city built wholly of copper in the desert of Sijilmasah which Musa b. Nusayr 11 crossed on his raid against the Maghrib. The gates of (the Copper City) are said to be closed. When the person who climbs the walls of the city in order to enter it, reaches the top, he claps his hand and throws himself down and never returns. All this is an absurd story. It belongs to the idle talk of storytellers. The desert of Sijilmasah has been crossed by travelers and guides. They have not come across any information about such a city.12 All the details mentioned about it are absurd, (if compared with) the customary state of affairs. They con­tradict the natural facts that apply to the building and planning of cities. Metal exists at best in quantities sufficient for utensils and furnishings. It is clearly absurd and unlikely that there would be enough to cover a city with it.

There 13 are many similar things. Only knowledge of the nature of civilization makes critical investigation of them possible. It is the best and most reliable way to investigate historical information critically and to distinguish truth and falsehood in it. It is superior to investigations that rely upon criticism of the personalities of transmitters. Such personality criticism should not be resorted to until it has been ascertained whether a specific piece of information is in itself possible, or not. If it is absurd, there is no use engaging in personality criticism. Critical scholars consider absurdity inherent in the literal meaning of historical information, or an interpretation not acceptable to the intellect, as something that makes such information suspect. Personality criticism is taken into consideration only in connection with the soundness (or lack of soundness) of Muslim religious information, because this religious information mostly concerns injunctions in accordance with which the Lawgiver (Muhammad) enjoined Muslims to act whenever it can be presumed that the information is genuine. The way to achieve presumptive soundness is to ascertain the probity (`adalah) and exactness of the transmitters.

On the other hand, to establish the truth and soundness of information about factual happenings, a requirement to consider is the conformity (or lack of conformity of the reported information with general conditions). Therefore, it is necessary to investigate whether it is possible that the (reported facts) could have happened. This is more important than, and has priority over, personality criticism. For the correct notion about something that ought to be14 can be derived only from (personality criticism), while the correct notion about something that was can be derived from (personality criticism) and external (evidence) by (checking) the conformity (of the historical report with general conditions).

If 15 this is so, the normative method for distinguishing right from wrong in historical information on the grounds of (inherent) possibility or absurdity, is to investigate human social organization, which is identical with civilization. We must distinguish the conditions that attach themselves to the essence of civilization as required by its very nature; the things that are accidental (to civilization) and cannot be counted on; and the things that cannot possibly attach themselves to it. If we do that, we shall have a normative method for distinguishing right from wrong and truth from falsehood in historical information by means of a logical demonstration that admits of no doubts. Then whenever we hear about certain conditions occurring in civilization, we shall know what to accept and what to declare spurious. We shall have a sound yardstick with the help of which historians may find the path of truth and correctness where their reports are concerned.

Such 16 is the purpose of this first book of our work. (The subject) is in a way an independent science. (This science) has its own peculiar object-that is, human civilization and social organization. It also has its own peculiar problems, that is, explaining the conditions that attach themselves to the essence of civilization, one after the other. Thus, the situation is the same with this science as it is with any other science, whether it be a conventional 17 or an intellectual one.

It should be known that the discussion of this topic is something new, extraordinary, and highly useful. Penetrating research has shown the way to it. It does not belong to rhetoric, one of the logical disciplines (represented in Aristotle's Organon), the subject of which is convincing words by means of which the mass is inclined to accept a particular opinion or not to accept it.18 It is also not politics, because politics is concerned with the administration of home or city in accordance with ethical and philosophical requirements, for the purpose of directing the mass toward a behavior that will result in the preservation and permanence of the (human) species.

The subject here is different from that of these two disciplines which, however, are often similar to it. In a way, it is an entirely original science. In fact, I have not come across a discussion along these lines by anyone. I do not know if this is because people have been unaware of it, but there is no reason to suspect them (of having been unaware of it). Perhaps they have written exhaustively on this topic, and their work did not reach us.19 There are many sciences. There have been numerous sages among the nations of mankind. The knowledge that has not come down to us is larger than the knowledge that has. Where are the sciences of the Persians that 'Umar ordered wiped out at the time of the conquest!20 Where are the sciences of the Chaldaeans, the Syrians, and the Babylonians, and the scholarly products and results that were theirs! Where are the sciences of the Copts, their predecessors! The sciences of only one nation, the Greek, have come down to us, because they were translated through al-Ma'mun's efforts. (His efforts in this direction) were successful, because he had many translators at his disposal and spent much money in this connection. Of the sciences of others, nothing has come to our attention.

The accidents involved in every manifestation of nature and intellect deserve study. Any topic that is understandable and real requires its own special science. In this connection, scholars seem to have been interested (mainly) in the results (of the individual sciences). As far as the subject under discussion is concerned, the result, as we have seen, is just historical information. Although the problems it raises are important, both essentially and specifically, (exclusive concern for it) leads to one result only: the mere verification of historical information. This is not much. Therefore, scholars might have avoided the subject.

God knows better. "And you were given but little knowledge." 21

In the field under consideration here, we encounter (certain) problems, treated incidentally by scholars among the arguments applicable to their particular sciences, but that in object and approach are of the same type as the problems (we are discussing). In connection with the arguments for prophecy, for instance, scholars mention that human beings co­operate with each other for their existence and, therefore, need men to arbitrate among them and exercise a restraining influence.22 Or, in the science of the principles of jurisprudence, in the chapter of arguments for the necessity of languages, mention is made of the fact that people need means to express their intentions because by their very nature, co­operation and social organization are made easier by proper expressions 23 Or, in connection with the explanation that laws have their reason in the purposes they are to serve, the jurists mention that adultery confuses pedigrees and destroys the (human) species; that murder, too, destroys the human species; that injustice invites the destruction of civilization with the necessary consequence that the (human) species will be destroyed.24 Other similar things are stated in connection with the purposes embedded in laws. All (laws) are based upon the effort to preserve civilization. Therefore, (the laws) pay attention to the things that belong to civilization. This is obvious from our references to these problems which are mentioned as representative (of the general situation).

We also find a few of the problems of the subject under discussion (treated) in scattered statements by the sages of mankind. However, they did not exhaust the subject. For instance, we have the speech of the Mobedhan before Bahram b. Bahram in the story of the owl reported by al-Mas'udi 25 It runs: "O king, the might of royal authority materializes only through the ' religious law, obedience toward God, and compliance with His commands and prohibitions. The religious law persists only through royal authority. Mighty royal authority is accomplished only through men. Men persist only with the help of property. The only way to property is through cultivation.26 The only way to cultivation is through justice. Justice is a balance set up among mankind. The Lord set it up and appointed an overseer for it, and that (overseer) is the ruler."

There also is a statement by Anosharwan 27 to the same effect: "Royal authority exists through the army, the army through money, money through taxes, taxes through cultivation, cultivation through justice, justice through the improvement of officials, the improvement of officials through the forthrightness of wazirs, and the whole thing in the first place through the ruler's personal supervision of his subjects' condition and his ability to educate them, so that he may rule them, and not they him."

In the Book on Politics that is ascribed to Aristotle and has wide circulation, we find a good deal about (the subject which is under discussion here). (The treatment,) however, is not exhaustive, nor is the topic provided with all the argu­ments it deserves, and it is mixed with other things. In the book, (the author) referred to such general (ideas) 28 as we have reported on the authority of the Mobedhan and Anosharwan. He arranged his statement in a remarkable circle that he discussed at length. It runs as follows: 29 "The world is a garden the fence of which is the dynasty. The dynasty is an authority through which life is given to proper behavior. Proper behavior is a policy directed by the ruler. The ruler is an institution supported by the soldiers. The soldiers are helpers who are maintained by money. Money is sustenance brought together by the subjects. The subjects are servants who are protected by justice. Justice is something familiar,30 and through it, the world persists. The world is a garden ...", and then it begins again from the beginning. These are eight sentences of political wisdom. They are connected with each other, the end of each one leading into the beginning of the next. They are held together in a circle with no definite beginning or end. (The author) was proud of what he had hit upon and made much of the significance of the sentences.

When our discussion in the section on royal authority and dynasties 31 has been studied and due critical attention given to it, it will be found to constitute an exhaustive, very clear, fully substantiated interpretation and detailed exposition of these sentences. We became aware of these things with God's help and without the instruction of Aristotle or the teaching of the Mobedhan.

The statements of Ibn al-Muqaffa32 and the excursions on political subjects in his treatises also touch upon many of the problems of our work. However, (Ibn al-Muqaffa`) did not substantiate his statements with arguments as we have done. He merely mentioned them in passing in the (flowing) prose style and eloquent verbiage of the rhetorician.

Judge Abu Bakr at-Turtushi33 also had the same idea in the Kitab Siraj al-Muluk. He divided the work into chapters that come close to the chapters and problems of our work. However, he did not achieve his aim or realize his intention. He did not exhaust the problems and did not bring clear proofs. He sets aside a special chapter for a particular prob­lem, but then he tells a great number of stories and traditions and he reports scattered remarks by Persian sages such as Buzurjmihr34 and the Mobedhan, and by Indian sages, as well as material transmitted on the authority of Daniel, Hermes, and other great men. He does not verify his statements or clarify them with the help of natural arguments. The work is merely a compilation of transmitted material similar to sermons in its inspirational purpose. In a way, at-Turtushi aimed at the right idea, but did not hit it. He did not realize his intention or exhaust his problems.

We, on the other hand, were inspired by God. He led us to a science whose truth we ruthlessly set forth.35 If I have succeeded in presenting the problems of (this science) ex­haustively and in showing how it differs in its various aspects and characteristics from all other crafts, this is due to divine guidance. If, on the other hand, I have omitted some point, or if the problems of (this science) have got confused with something else, the task of correcting remains for the discerning critic, but the merit is mine since I cleared and marked the way.

God guides with His light whomever He wants (to guide).36

In 37 this book, now, we are going to explain such various aspects of civilization that affect human beings in their social organization, as royal authority, gainful occupation, sciences, and crafts, (all) in the light of various arguments that will show the true nature of the varied knowledge of the elite and the common people, repel misgivings, and remove doubts. We say that man is distinguished from the other living beings by certain qualities peculiar to him, namely: (1) The sciences and crafts which result from that ability to think which distinguishes man from the other animals and exalts him as a thinking being over all creatures.38 (2) The need for restraining influence and strong authority, since man, alone of all the animals, cannot exist without them. It is true, something has been said (in this connection about bees and locusts. However, if they have something similar, it comes to them through inspiration,39 not through thinking or reflection. (3) Man's efforts to make a living and his concern with the various ways of obtaining and acquiring the means of (life). This is the result of man's need for food to keep alive and subsist, which God instilled in him, guiding him to desire and seek a livelihood. God said: "He gave every thing its natural characteristics, and then guided it." 40 (4) Civilization. This means that human beings have to dwell in common and settle together in cities and hamlets for the comforts of companionship and for the satisfaction of human needs, as a result of the natural disposition of human beings toward co-operation in order to be able to make a living, as we shall explain. Civilization may be either desert (Bedouin) civilization as found in outlying regions and mountains, in hamlets (near suitable) pastures in waste regions, and on the fringes of sandy deserts. Or it may be sedentary civilization as found in cities, villages, towns, and small communities that serve the purpose of protection and fortifi­cation by means of walls. In all these different conditions, there are things that affect civilization essentially in as far as it is social organization.

Consequently,41 the discussion in this work falls naturally under six chapter headings:

(1) On human civilization in general, its various kinds, and the portion of the earth that is civilized.

(2) On desert civilization, including a report on the tribes and savage nations.

(3) On dynasties, the caliphate, and royal authority, including a discussion of government ranks.

(4) On sedentary civilization, countries, and cities.

(5) On crafts, ways of making a living, gainful occupations, and their various aspects. And

(6) On the sciences, their acquisition and study.

 I have discussed desert civilization first, because it is prior to everything else, as will become clear later on. (The discussion of) royal authority was placed before that of coun­tries and cities for the same reason. (The discussion of) ways of making a living was placed before that of the sciences, because making a living is necessary and natural, whereas the study of science is a luxury or convenience.42 Anything natural has precedence over luxury. I lumped the crafts together with gainful occupations, because they belong to the latter in some respects as far as civilization is concerned, as will become clear later.

God gives success and support.