Ibn Khaldun: Historical Contribution of Islamic Civilization to Western Political Science
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Thursday August 01 2019
The history of modern political science is incomplete without examining the contributions of Muslim thinkers whose academic works are viewed as groundbreaking in their respective fields during the times they lived in. This article examines the political theory of Ibn Khaldun and how it shaped modern Western political thought. While going through his works, the reader is reminded of the works of the fathers of Western political thought, Rousseau and Locke, even though Ibn Khaldun pre-dates their time, operating in the 14th Century.
While studying history, we are taught that due to the socio-economic changes in 19th-century Europe, modern nation-states were carved out to devolve power from royalty and to build the foundation of democracy. However, this historical analysis is incomplete as it ignores the fact that 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain heavily influenced the rest of Europe. In fact, Ibn Khaldun, whose family was originally from Seville, Spain, travelled to and fro between Europe and North Africa dispensing his governing duties and recording his observations in his writings. He suggested in his writings that empires rise to power, reach maturity, and then eventually decay. This idea was examined in his writings in the 14th century, approximately 400 years before empires fell in the rest of Europe, including Spain. His predictions were played out in history as the European feudal lords lost power and were unable to keep up their high taxes and exploitation of the common people, leading to a fall of their empires and revolts by peasants.
Today, the average, modern citizen claims loyalty to their nation-state. This loyalty is perhaps most evident during sporting events that release the patriotism from even the most seemingly unpatriotic individual. The waving of flags, the chanting of slogans, and the reverence for the national anthem by players and audience alike point to a deep-rooted historical and sociological phenomenon in humans that Ibn Khaldun calls ‘asabiyyah’(p. 121 The Social and Political Ideas of ibn khaldun, Qadir, 1941). This can be roughly translated to mean ‘group loyalty’. He explains that this feeling originates from blood ties, but it changes over time until it grows into a feeling in an individual that they are part of a greater group and that group is consequently a part of the individual. He further explains that loyalty to a state is beneficial to both individual and state, as it provides the state with economic benefits and the individual with security against possible threats from enemies.
The model of the state that has been drawn out in Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah is one that reminds the reader of the modern UK that we live in. A state that runs on taxes, provides housing and income for the more vulnerable members of the state (senior citizens and children), and one that allows for the religious freedom of minorities. Ibn Khaldun’s state is not one that has a monolithic culture, rather it is a mixture of cultures and background that unite under loyalty to the main authority. It is very similar to the modern multi-cultural states that we see today, where historically different people claim loyalty to one nationality whilst retaining their ethnic roots. Perhaps this is shocking to readers, as a state governed by Islam is often imagined as an intolerant, monolithic society where the government only allows for the expression of a single religious belief in public life. Readers forget that Islam allows for a diversity of views and their expression, as long as there is no collective harm being done to the people. Laws are in place to govern hate speech and any circulation of views that can lead to loss of life or safety (as is the case in the UK as well).
Given the most recent tensions of today’s political climate with the question of Brexit, the accompanied rise of populism, and the scapegoating of Muslim communities; it is a time when Muslims in the UK are urgently trying to rediscover their own traditions. Particularly considering the UK’s colonial history and wealth of diversity stemming from the contributions of its commonwealth citizens, whatever types of borders and legislative developments Westminster law-makers enact at the end of this process, British Muslims and all minority groups should be confident in their rights within a multicultural society for respect, equality, and access to fundamental freedoms. Traditional Islamic political science is rich with Muslim political thinkers who proposed ideas of co-existence predicated upon loyalty to nationality and tolerance of other nationalities, faiths, and cultures.
In a time of political divisiveness where minority ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities are at the centre of hate-filled political rhetoric, it is essential that politicians promote a universal and unifying message as did Ibn Khaldun in his time.
Moreover, considering the lack of awareness of the contributions of Muslim thought to the development of our society, policymakers must commit to supporting academic freedoms and initiatives to decolonise education, whilst giving greater emphasis within the national curriculum to shared histories and the contributions of minority communities in building our society.
The Social and Political Ideas of ibn khaldun, Abdul Qadir, Journal of Political Science, 1941
Asian Journal of Social Science, Tomar c, 2008
Muqaddimah, Khaldun Ibn, 1377