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ASABIYAH. Derived from the root `asab (“to bind”) and `asabah (“union”) `asabiyah refers to a sociocultural bond that can be used to measure the strength of social groupings. It was a familiar term in the preIslamic era and became a popular concept when Ibn Khaldun (1332-14o6) used it in his work Muqaddimah. `Asabiyah, then, can be understood as social solidarity, with emphasis on group consciousness, cohesiveness, and unity.

`Asabiyah is a social as well as psychological, physical, and political phenomenon; it is neither necessarily nomadic nor based on blood relation. Its meaning is close to Emile Durkheim’s idea of the “conscience collective.” The `asabiyah that unites a group of people against strangers simultaneously reinforces the values and norms of the group. Strong spirit and strong morals seem to go hand in hand, especially in nomadic societies. Here, Ibn Khaldrtn’s `asabiyah may be compared with Durkheim’s “mechanical solidarity.” Whereas Durkheim believed that suicide rates rise as a result of the weakening of mechanical social solidarity, Ibn Khaldun believed that the weakening of the `asabiyah among civilized people indicates the approaching suicide of the society as a whole.

Pre-Islamic nomadic `asabiyah was condemned to a great extent by the prophet Muhammad, because it was used generally in intertribal wars and raids. `Asabiyah, like any other human trait, can be “good” or “bad,” depending on the purpose for which it is used; Islamic history provides many examples that illustrate this point, especially from the period of the caliphate. To Ibn Khaldun, Mu’awiyah’s rebellion against the legitimate caliph, `Ali, and the takeover of the caliphate by force was a result of Mu`awiyah’s strong `asabiyah. By the same token, the rebellion of Husayn (`Alt’s son) did not succeed because of Yazid’s strong `asabiyah. The Ikhwan al-Safa’ (Brethren of Purity) and subsequently, Ibn Khaldun witnessed the rise and fall of many states during the Islamic empire. Ibn Khaldun was specific in analyzing the change in the mode of living from baddwah (nomadic or primitive life) to haddrah (sedentary life); the clash between nomadic invaders and urban people results in a cyclical rise and fall of dynasties, and each new stage arises from the conflicting contradictions of the previous stage. It should be noted that `asabiyah is too vague a factor to be useful in political and social affairs. Islamic history shows that the same `asabiyah may increase or decrease in power according to a change in situation. Many leaders lost their own `asabiyah after suffering a defeat; others gained strong `asabiyah after some accidental victory or sudden rise in fortune.

Throughout Islamic history, a strong relationship has existed between `asabiyah and religion. The Ikhwan alSafa’, Ibn Khaldun, and other Muslim thinkers believed that religion strengthens group cohesiveness. This social function of religion to unify people can be seen in the achievement of the Arabs after they became Muslims. When Arab tribal `asabiyah coincided with certain aspects of religion, the Arabs became extremely religious. They showed amazing zeal and devotion to Islam when, after the Prophet’s death, their `asabiyah was directed against the “unbelievers” outside Arabia.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Arabs, who were subjected to foreign rule, felt the need for unity, solidarity, and self determination: the major elements of `asabiyah. Hence the rise of Arab national consciousness. `Asabiyah and nationalism may be considered analogous. Both emphasize identity, loyalty, a sense of belonging, and aspiration. Specifically, the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon, the Italian seizure of Tripoli, the Ottoman policy of Turkification, the European betrayal of the Arabs by the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and the subsequent creation of Israel led to Arab dissatisfaction and resentment. Their awakening, sense of unity, and aspiration for self-determination and constructive social reforms gave rise to modern Arab nationalism.


Baali, Fuad, and Ali Wardi. Ibn Khaldun and Islamic Thought-Styles. Boston, 1981. Detailed interpretation of Ibn Khaldun’s ideas on idealism versus realism, right versus might, and Islam versus nomadism.

Hitti, Philip K. The Arabs: A Short History. Chicago, 1956. Introduction to the history and accomplishments of the Arabs through many centuries.

Ismael, Tareq Y. Government and Politics of the Contemporary Middle East. Homewood, Ill., 1970. Excellent collection of ideas relating to nationalism and other aspects of Middle East politics.

Jabara, Abdeen, and Janice Terry. The Arab World from Nationalism to Revolution. Wilmette, Ill., 1971. Thorough analysis of the social structure and social problems of the Arab World.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/asabiyah/

  • writerPosted On: October 12, 2012
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