Ibn Khaldūn – Paving the concept of aṣabiyyah (social cohesion)

Social Entrepreneurship (SE) practices, as an effective platform to solve social challenges present in modern economic system in regards to māl (wealth) inequality and sustainability is directly related to the concept of ‘aṣabiyyah (social cohesion) proposed and popularised by the 14th century scholar, Ibn Khaldūn (1332-1406 CE) in his famous book call al-Muqaddimah. Al-Muqaddimah is primarily a book of history coupled with theories of production, value, distribution and cycle, which Ibn Khaldūn combined into a coherent dynamic economic theory by tracing his thoughts to the desert populations, dynasties, and the caliphate.

Al-Muqaddimah is the book of explanation of Ibn Khaldūn’s wisdom. It elaborates on a theory of value founded on labour and human capital, a theory of money set on quantitative measures, a theory of price determined by the law of supply and demand, theory of economic distribution identified by production, exchange and public services, and theory of cycles established by the dynamic law of population and public finances. Ibn Khaldūn’s dynamics of an economic system is primarily based on the interaction between supply and demand.

Relating Ibn Khaldūn’s work to the present time, the core concept of ‘aṣabiyyah seems to anticipate the present day concept of SE based on social networks and cohesion. ‘Aṣabiyyah contextualises social change required for the implementation of SE practices and the term ‘aṣabiyyah is analogous to solidarity. Ibn Khaldūn’s theory of ‘aṣabiyyah can be revived and applied to the modern day practices of SE from an Islamic perspective, especially his economic theory on income, expenditure, and multiplier.

Foundations to ‘Aṣabiyyah

The core theme in Al-Muqaddimah is ‘aṣabiyyah which is founded on nomadism, urbanism, and the rise and decline of the states and is considered as the ‘ilm al-‘umrān (science of social organization). Ibn Khaldūn’s views on the interdependence of the religious, political, economic, military, and cultural domains of life are based on all the above requiring the need for effective social control of human activity. (Boulakia, 1971 and Ibn Khaldūn, 2004)

It is essential to infuse ‘aṣabiyyah in groups in order to create social unity among group members and to promote altruism through the sense of cooperation. According to Ibn Khaldūn the concept of al-‘umrān (social organization) has a profound influence in creating social unity and was served as a tool for uniting people during the rise and development of civilizations. The notion of al-‘umrān (social organization) can be revived and applied in SE practices today, especially in terms of uniting community or group members with the aim of building an Islamic civilization.

Meaning of the term ‘Aṣabiyyah

Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) described ‘aṣabiyyah as “helping your own people in an unjust cause”. Ibn Khaldūn’s description of ‘aṣabiyyah in the theory of social development has been used by various international scholars who describe ‘aṣabiyyah from their own points of view and use terms like “sense of solidarity, group feeling, group loyalty, esprit de corps” and so forth. (Abdul Halim et al., 2012, p.1233).

‘Aṣabiyyah Founded on Religion

One of the main features of ‘aṣabiyyah, is its foundation on the Islamic theology. Ibn Khaldūn brought mysticism firmly, within the scope and influence of fīqh.

Religion is the glue that binds all the group members together, through the spirit of ‘aṣabiyyah and provides an environment of belonging through social unity. Ibn Khaldūn confirmed the above: “...religion is the most powerful cement that can hold together a large sedentary people...” (Abdul Halim et al., 2012, p.1234). Therefore, social solidarity within a group is achievable by religious grounding and adherence.

The Islamic guidance on economic dealings is also confirmed by Bakar (2010, p. 434), who points out that many verses from the Qur’ān and collections of ḥadīth cover the “issues of wealth creation and distribution and poverty management, wasteful consumption and proper spending, and human activities of economic value such as in agriculture, business and trade all of which are of concern to the sharīʿah”. The substantial economic content in the Qur’ān and ḥadīth reflects that Islamic sources extend to the realm of economic life and signify the dominant role of the economy in the wellbeing of the people.

Dusuki (2006) described two meanings of the term ‘aṣabiyyah from an Islamic viewpoint. The first meaning to the term ‘aṣabiyyah, is connoted positively to social solidarity or social harmony and is aligned with the concept of tawḥīd (unity). This meaning of ‘aṣabiyyah is rooted in the Qur’ānic verse: “... And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.” [Qur’ān 5:2] and is related to ‘aṣabiyyah in terms of providing an environment of cooperation between members within a group to work towards the common goals and encouraging members to fulfil their loyalty towards each other instead of pursuing their own personal agendas. The second meaning of ‘aṣabiyyah is referred to ‘aṣabiyyah jāhilīyah denoting the blind loyalty to a group irrespective of the group’s right or wrong judgements which may lead to “injustice, inequalities, mutual hatred and conflict”. Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) differentiated ‘aṣabiyyah from ‘aṣabiyyah jāhilīyah as reported by Ibn Majah from the father of Fusaylah: When Prophet Muḥammad (SAW) was asked “whether the love for one’s own qawm (group, tribe or nation) constituted under the meaning of ‘asabiyyah. He replied: “No! ‘asabiyyah is rather the helping of one’s qawm (group, tribe or nation) in ẓulm (injustice)”. (Dusuki, 2006, p.4)

‘Aṣabiyyah and Community Empowerment

There is a need for establishment of a holistic humanistic approach to socio-economic development, focused on the interest of all individuals regardless of geographic, cultural, and racial affiliations (Mohammad, 2010).

Ibn Khaldūm’s economic theory is based on the fact that one cannot cater for all his / her needs individually and requires cooperation between people. Strong bonds among group or team members is essential to achieve unity among group or team members and to provide a support system for each other in order to fight against competition or opponents.

The idea of social cooperation is on the basis that the benefits and costs are shared in proportion to contributions made by each group member and that all group members have the rights and opportunities for basic needs of life in terms of food, health, housing, education, employment, infrastructure and so forth. ‘Aṣabiyyah provides such an environment of social solidarity and enables group members to function with integrity and cooperation in order to achieve common goals and mutual benefits. The pattern of ‘aṣabiyyah is widely exhibited as the strong binding tie among nomadic tribes which according to Ibn Khaldūn, is due to normads’ simple life-style without much luxuries. It fuses groups together through a common language, norms, trust, culture and code of behaviour. Ibn Khaldūn explains that human beings as a species naturally prefer to live in clusters, cooperate and help each other but due to worldly temptations and distractions, human beings sometimes become selfish and serve their own personal interest, which undermines the interest of the societies and common-good. (Dusuki, 2006)

Social solidarity is less prominent in the modern urban materialistic societies where the demand for luxuries is high, causing individuals to pursue their own personal interests. The false illusion of scarcity and limited economic resources makes people compete with one another in a negative manner and the desire for luxuries affect the akhlāq of the people. The above is explained by Ibn Khaldūn: “Immorality, wrongdoings, insincerity and trickery, for the purpose of making a living in a proper or an improper manner, increase among them. The soul comes to think about (making a living), to study it, and to, use all possible trickery for the purpose. People are now devoted to lying, gambling, cheating, fraud, theft, perjury and usury”. (Dusuki, 2006, p.3)

‘Aṣabiyyah described as social solidarity or ‘espirit de corp’ in French is an important ingredient in creating a strong united civilisation and is broadly described by Dusuki (2006) and Ibn-Khaldūn (2004) as providing a group environment whereby individuals or members of the group can identify and align their own personal interests with the interests of the group and subordinates.

The concept of ‘aṣabiyyah also described as the spirit of group feeling is based on either blood relationship or being part of a group with a common view created through “...alliance and clientship” (p.1234). According to Ibn Khaldūn, ‘aṣabiyyah was cultivated out of a primitive lifestyle which forced certain groups or nations to unite together at times of difficulty in order to fight for basic needs and to protect themselves and fellow members of the group from dangers outside their group. (Abdul Halim et al., 2012)

Ibn Khaldūn clearly explained the ingredients of sustainable development as the blending of economic prosperity with social and cultural growth, coupled with the rule of law based on justice and a good governance structure (Mohammad, 2010). Ibn Khaldūn asserted that the growth of māl occurs when utilised for the communal well-being of the people and removing hardships as public spending contributes to the welfare and prosperity of people. Factors for sustainable economic growth are education, health care moral and spiritual wellbeing. (Ibn Khaldūn, 2004 and Chapra, 2006)

For more knowledge on Ibn Khaldūn, please refer chapter 5 of the book entitled: “Waqf (Endowment): A Vehicle for Islamic Social Entrepreneurship”. Please click here for details on the book.

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