ʿAsabiyya or asabiyyah (Arabic: عصبيّة) is a concept of social solidarity with an emphasis on unity, group consciousness and sense of shared purpose, and social cohesion,[1] originally in a context of "tribalism" and "clanism". It was familiar in the pre-Islamic era, but became popularized in Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah where it is described as the fundamental bond of human society and the basic motive force of history, pure only in its nomadic form. ʿAsabiyya is neither necessarily nomadic nor based on blood relations; rather, it resembles philosophy of classical republicanism. In the modern period, it is generally analogous to solidarity. However, it is often negatively associated because it can sometimes suggest loyalty to one's group regardless of circumstances, or partisanship.[2] Ibn Khaldun also argued that ʿasabiyya is cyclical and directly related to the rise and fall of civilizations: it is most strong at the start of a civilization, declines as the civilization advances, and then another more compelling ʿasabiyyah eventually takes its place to help establish a different civilization.[3]


Ibn Khaldun describes Asabiyyah as the bond of cohesion among humans in a group forming community. The bond, Asabiyyah, exists at any level of civilization, from nomadic society to states and empires.[3] Asabiyyah is most strong in the nomadic phase, and decreases as civilization advances.[3] As this Asabiyyah declines, another more compelling Asabiyyah may take its place; thus, civilizations rise and fall, and history describes these cycles of Asabiyyah as they play out.[3]

Ibn Khaldun argues that each dynasty (or civilization) has within itself the seeds of its own downfall. He explains that ruling houses tend to emerge on the peripheries of great empires and use the much stronger ʿasabiyya present in those areas to their advantage, in order to bring about a change in leadership. This implies that the new rulers are at first considered "barbarians" by comparison to the old ones. As they establish themselves at the center of their empire, they become increasingly lax, less coordinated, disciplined and watchful, and more concerned with maintaining their new power and lifestyle at the centre of the empire—i.e, their internal cohesion and ties to the original peripheral group, the ʿasabiyya, dissolves into factionalism and individualism, diminishing their capacity as a political unit. Thus, conditions are created wherein a new dynasty can emerge at the periphery of their control, grow strong, and effect a change in leadership, beginning the cycle anew.

Ibn Khaldun also further states in the Muqaddimah that "dynasties have a natural life span like individuals", and that no dynasty generally lasts beyond three generations of about 40 years each. In the first generation, the people who established the civilization are used to "privation and to sharing their glory (with each other); they are brave and rapacious. Therefore, the strength of group feeling continues to be preserved among them". In the second generation, when the dynasty moves from "privation to luxury and plenty", the people "become used to lowliness and obedience ... But many of the old virtues remain" and they "live in hope that the conditions that existed in the first generation may come back, or they live under the illusion that those conditions still exist." By the third generation, the people have forgotten the period of toughness "as if it had never existed ... Luxury reaches its peak among them, because they are so much given to a life of prosperity and ease. They become dependent on the dynasty ... Group feeling disappears completely. People forget to protect and defend themselves and to press their claims ... When someone comes and demands something from them, they cannot repel him."


Nomadic invaders have on many occasions ended up adopting the religion and culture of the civilizations they conquered, which was true for various Circassians, Berber, some of the Crusades and Mongol invaders that invaded the medieval Islamic world and ended up adopting Islamic religion and culture.

According to Khaldun, the Asabiyyah cycle was also true for every other pre-modern civilization, whether in China whose dynastic cycles resemble the Asabiyyah cycles described by Ibn Khaldun, in Europe where waves of barbarian invaders adopted Christianity and Greco-Roman culture, or in India or Persia where nomadic invaders assimilated into those civilizations.

See also


  1. Zuanna, Giampiero Dalla and Micheli, Giuseppe A. Strong Family and Low Fertility. 2004, page 92
  2. Weir, Shelagh. A Tribal Order. 2007, page 191
  3. 1 2 3 4 Tibi, Bassam. Arab nationalism. 1997, page 139


  • The Muqaddimah, translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311–15, 271-4 [Arabic]; Richard Nelson Frye (p. 91). He translated the Arabic word "Ajam" into "Persians".
  • Alatas, Syed Farid (2006), "A Khaldunian Exemplar for a Historical Sociology for the South", Current Sociology, 54 (3): 397–411, doi:10.1177/0011392106063189 
  • Durkheim, Émile, The Division of Labor in Society, (1893) The Free Press reprint 1997, ISBN 0-684-83638-6
  • Gabrieli, F. (1930), Il concetto della 'asabiyyah nel pensiero storico di Ibn Khaldun, Atti della R. Accad. delle scienze di Torino, lxv
  • Gellner, Ernest (2007), "Cohesion and Identity: the Maghreb from Ibn Khaldun to Emile Durkheim", Government and Opposition, 10 (2): 203–18, doi:10.1111/j.1477-7053.1975.tb00637.x 

Further reading

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