THE THEORY OF ʿAṢABIYYAH IN IBN KHALDŪN’S POLITICAL THOUGHT
Its Relevance to Modern Muslim States
By Edi Kurniawan*
Abū Zayd ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn Muḥammad ibn Jābir Khaldūn Al-Ḥaḍramī or Ibn Khaldūn, is a well-known Muslim scholar, known as the father of Sociology through his book, Kitāb al-ʿIbar wa Dīwān al-Mubtadaʾ wa al-Khabar fī Ayyām al-ʿArab wa al-ʿAjam wa al-Barbar wa man ʻĀṣarahum min Dhawī al-Sulṭān al-Akbar. He however also masters in political, economic, and Islamic jurisprudence sciences. In the field of political science, one of the most important of his theory is his theory of ʿaṣabiyyah (Arabic: عصبية). ʿAṣabiyyah literally means al-muḥāmah and al-mudāfaʿah or those who is defensed and protected. However ʿaṣabiyyah that meant by Ibn Khaldūn here is not only limited to a family relationship attributed by kinship, but also a relationship arising from brotherhood and partnership. It is understood as consanguinity which has the power to bind the community. Thus, its bond will make a group of people feels as if they are in the same feeling; like one body, when part of it is hurt then the whole body will feel pain.
The main goal of ʿaṣabiyyah is to lead the royal authority because it will give protection and make possible mutual defense, the pressing of claims and every other kind of social activity. In Ibn Khaldūn’s thought, he differentiates between leadership and royal authority. Leadership means being a chieftain, and the leader is obeyed, but he has no power to force others to accept his rulings. Royal authority means superiority and the power to rule by force. However, both leadership and royal authority needs ʿaṣabiyyah to achieve authority. Leadership will exist only through superiority, and superiority only through group ʿaṣabiyyah. So that, leadership over people is also derived from an ʿaṣabiyyah that is superior to each individual ʿaṣabiyyah.
ʿAṣabiyyah, however, has the relationship to the rise and the fall of a state. A state can go through the whole cycle within a span of four generations of rulers. In the beginning, the first stage is a period of establishment. Group solidarity (ʿaṣabiyyah) here is based on family ties and religion which is essential for the preservation of the state. The ruler is more of a chief than lord or king. He himself has to folIow the rules of religion because “dynasties of wide power and large royal authority have their origin in religion based either on prophecy or on truthful mission”.
In the second stage, the ruler typically succeeds in monopolizing power. He becomes an absolute master. This monopoly of power by the ruler is the natural and necessary end of the rule that began on the basis of natural group solidarity. The third is one of luxury and leisure when the ruler uses his authority to satisfy his personal needs. The fourth stage is a stage of contentment, satiation, and complacency.
When that dynasty has already been established and ruler has already been changed from first ruler to the next; then at that time the role of ʿaṣabiyyah has been eroded from their lives that were caused due to indulgence, as described by Ibn Khaldūn that some of the characteristics of royal authority tends to laziness, living in luxury; while the character of the ruler claims all glory for itself, goes in for luxury, and prefers for tranquility and peacefulness; then this is a ‘devastating disease’ of ʿaṣabiyyah among them; and ultimately shattering the kingdom.
In Ibn Khaldūn’s political thought, ʿaṣabiyyah, religion, and state are in one cycle and they have a mutual relationship one another; a state will be strong if it is based on religion; religion will strengthen the ʿaṣabiyyah of a state, and the mission of Islām will not be perfect without ʿaṣabiyyah. A state, however, will have wide power if it is based on religion; either it is prophecy (nubuwwah) or truthful mission (daʿwah haqq); and religious mission will strengthen the ʿaṣabiyyah. The expansion of Islām will not be complete without ʿaṣabiyyah; while ʿaṣabiyyah will strengthen the dynasty as well as the expansion of Islām.
In modern context, ʿaṣabiyyah can be termed in various forms, names, and characteristics such as the spirit of nationality or nationalism and the unity of thought (waḥdat al-fikr) and the unity of purpose (waḥdat al-hadaf). Through these terms and other values of ʿaṣabiyyah, ʿaṣabiyyah can be interpreted, elaborated, and reflected in modern Muslim states as a high value. A clear example of it will especially be portrayed in Indonesian modern context - through Pancasila as the pillar of country and through its slogan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (and in Malay world in general.
* This paper summary was prepared for International ILEM Summer School 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey on 23- 29 August 2014. Unfortunately, it was not accepted.:-)
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