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Fr. Assabiya

Sp. as(s)abiya (h)

→ Colonis(z)ation, empire, state


Basic concept in Ibn Khaldun ‘s work (1332-1406), refers to a peculiar philosophy of history that replaces violence and peace within the dichotomous view of an urbanized, pacified core of empire confronted with its violent margins assimilated to “barbarians”. As a theorist of the Islamic state and medieval Islam, he is considered today as the first geographer and social scientist. As one of the great political thinkers and writers of the 14th century, he is among those who could conceptualize the universal, like Marx or Tocqueville in later periods. British historian Arnold Toynbee (1956) sees him as a historical philosopher who built and wrote what may be the most important intellectual work ever procuced in the field. Ibn Khaldun’s major work, Muqaddimah (Prolegomena/Introduction to Universal History) conceives of a new science of human societies and civilisation (ilmu al-umran al-bashari).


Muqaddimah is structured around the al-assabiyya.as a central concept whose meaning is equivalent to factioning, tribalism, consanguinity or cultural-religious community according to the context. It points to any form of solidarity, cohesion and strong links between individuals and groups. Ibn Khaldun’s view is that asabiyyah based on both religious and tribal factors is to impose itself on a society based on tribal links only. For this reason, he thinks that the Arabs could not have established their empire without Islam, which strengthened solidarity among them. Consequently, a distinction should be made between a war waged by Muslims and a war waged by followers of other religions. Muslims’duties, he says, is to wage an offensive war « because of the universal character of Islam and the obligation to convert the whole world, by will or by force. Such character is not recognized among followers of other religions, which do not have a universal mission; the only war they can wage is defensive » (Ibn Khaldun 1967, 459-460).


To take the case of the Byzantine Empire from a geopolitical perspective, the incorporation of the south Caucasian kingdoms of Armenia, Iberia (Eastern Georgia) and Caucasian Albania in the Arab Caliphate in the 7th century began the gradual process of immigration of Muslim elites (of Arab, Persian, Kurdish and, lastly, also Turkish-Central Asian origin) into those regions, so that new centres of Islamic power appeared alongside the principalities of the local aristocracy in the late 8th century and in the 9th century. Traditions of aristocratic mobility were maintained, while Armenian warriors and settlers played an important role defending and securing the Empire’s eastern borders. These complex developments of pre-modern migration are also used by historiographers and demographers to question simplistic and homogenising migration models (Johannes Preiser-Kapeller 2017).


An extension of such analyses has been proposed by Martinez-Gros (2014), who applies the asabiyyah concept to empires, notably the Arab and Muslim world, and by analogy to the global context where “islamist rage” constitutes a marginal violence nurtured by Western societies which have been pacified and become non-violent, at the centre of a new empire or globalized civilisation. This peaceful and secure world has been gradually disarmed, which in turn triggers a return to barbarity, recreates pillaging tribes,barbarous confines, first and foremost because there is a world open to looting (...), well educated and keen to produce and exchange far more than defend itself” (our translation).

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