Part 12

Only those who share in the group feeling can have a 'house' and nobility

by Ibn Khaldun Icon

This nobility is in the basic and real sense. Others will have it only in a metaphorical and figurative sense.

This is because nobility and prestige are the result of personal qualities. A “house” 67 means that a man counts noble and famous men among his forebears. The fact that he is their progeny and descendant gives him great standing among his fellows, for his fellows respect the great standing and nobility that his ancestors acquired through their (personal) qualities.

With regard to their growth and propagation, human beings can be compared to minerals. Muhammad said= “Men are minerals. The best ones in pre-Islamic times are also the best ones in Islam, if they are understanding.” 68 “Prestige” in its proper meaning refers to (family) descent.

The advantage of (common) descent consists in the group feeling that derives from it and that leads to affection and mutual help.

Wherever the group feeling is truly formidable and its soil kept pure, the advantage of a (common) descent is more evident (than elsewhere), and the (group feeling) is more effective. It is an additional advantage to have a number of noble ancestors.

Thus, prestige and nobility become firmly grounded in those who share in the group feeling (of a tribe), because there exists (in them) the result of (common) descent. The nobility of a “house” is in direct proportion to the different degrees of group feeling, because (nobility) is the secret of (group feeling).

Isolated 69 inhabitants of cities can have a “house” only in a metaphorical sense. The assumption that they possess one is a specious claim. Seen in its proper light, prestige means to the inhabitants of cities that some of them count among their forefathers men who had good (personal) qualities and who mingled with good people, and (that, in addition, they) try to be as decent as possible.

This is different from the real meaning of group feeling, as group feeling derives from (common) descent and a number of forefathers. The terms “prestige” and “house” are used metaphorically in this connection, because there exists in this case a number of successive ancestors who consistently performed good deeds. This is not true and unqualified prestige.70

A “house” possesses an original nobility through group feeling and personal qualities. Later on, the people (who have a “house”) divest themselves of that nobility when group feeling disappears as the result of sedentary life. 71 They mingle with the common people. A certain delusion as to their former prestige remains in their souls and leads them to consider themselves members of the most noble houses. 72

They are, however, far from that (status), because their group feeling has completely disappeared. Many inhabitants of cities who had their origins in (noble) Arab or non-Arab “houses” share such delusions.

The Israelites are the most firmly misled in this delusion.

They originally had one of the greatest “houses” in the world, first, because of the great number of prophets and messengers born among their ancestors, extending from Abraham toMoses, the founder of their religious group and law, and next, because of their group feeling and the royal authority that God had promised and granted them by means of that group feeling.

Then, they were divested of all that, and they suffered humiliation and indigence. They were destined to live as exiles on earth. For thousands of years, they knew only enslavement and unbelief 73 Still, the delusion of nobility has not left them.

They can be found saying: “He is an Aaronite”; “He is a descendant of Joshua”; “He is one of Caleb’s progeny”;

“He is from the tribe of Judah.” This in spite of the fact that their group feeling has disappeared and that for many long years they have been exposed to humiliation. 74 Many other inhabitants of cities who hold (noble) pedigrees but no longer share in any group feeling, are inclined to (utter) similar nonsense.

Abul-Walid b. Rushd (Averroes) erred in this respect.

He mentioned prestige in the Rhetoric, one of the abridgments of the books of the first science. 75 He says that prestige belongs to people who are ancient settlers in a town.

But how long a residence in a town can help anyone to gain prestige, if he does not belong to a group that makes him feared and causes others to obey him?

Averroes considers prestige as depending exclusively on the number of forefathers. Yet, rhetoric means to sway the opinions of those whose opinions count, that is, the men in command. It takes no notice of those who have no power.

They cannot sway anyone’s opinions, and their own opinions are not sought. The sedentary inhabitants of cities fall into that category. It is true that Averroes grew up in a generation (group) and a place where people had no experience of group feeling and were not familiar with the conditions governing it.

Therefore, Averroes did not progress beyond his well-known (definition of) “house” and prestige as something depending merely on the number of one’s ancestors, and did not refer to the reality of group feeling and its influence among men.

13. “House” and nobility come to clients and followers only through their masters and not through their own descent

This is because, as we have mentioned before, only those who share in a group feeling have basic and true nobility. When such people take people of another descent as followers, or when they take slaves 78 and clients into servitude, and enter into close contact with them, the clients and followers share in the group feeling of their masters and take it on as if it were their own group feeling.

By taking their special place within the group feeling, they participate to some extent in the (common) descent to which (that particular group feeling belongs). Muhammad thus said, “The client of people belongs to them, whether he is their client as a slave, or as a follower and ally.” 79

His own descent and birth are of no help as regards the group feeling of (the master), since (that group feeling) has nothing to do with (his own) descent. The group feeling that belonged to (his own) family is lost, because its influence disappeared when he entered into close contact with that other family and lost contact with the men whose group feeling he had formerly shared. He thus becomes one of the others and takes his place among them.

In the event a number of his ancestors also shared the group feeling of these people, he comes to enjoy among (these other people) a certain nobility and “house,” in keeping with his position as their client and follower. However, he does not come to be as noble as they are, but remains inferior to them.

This is the case with clients of dynasties and with all servants. They acquire nobility by being firmly rooted in their client relationship, and by their service to their particular dynasty, and by having a large number of ancestors who had been under the protection of (that dynasty). One knows that the Turkish clients of the ‘Abbisids and, before them, the Barmecides, as well as the Bane Nawbakht, thus achieved “house” and nobility and created glory and importance for themselves by being firmly rooted in their relationship to the (‘Abbisid) dynasty. Ja’far b. Yahyi b. Khilid had the greatest possible “house” and nobility. This was the result of his position as a client of ar-Rashid and his family. It was not the result of his own (noble) descent among the Persians. The same is the case with clients and servants under any dynasty.

They have “house” and prestige by being firmly rooted in their client relationship with a particular dynasty and by being its faithful followers. Their original descent disappears (and means nothing), if it is not that of (the dynasty). It remains under cover and is not considered in connection with their importance and glory. The thing that is considered is their position as clients and followers, because this accords with the secret of group feeling which (alone) produces “house” and nobility.

The nobility of a client is derived from the nobility of his masters. His “house” is derived from what (his masters) have built.

His own descent and birth do not help him. His glory is built upon his relationship as client to a particular dynasty, and upon his close contact with it as a follower and product of its education.

His own original descent may have implied close contact with some group feeling and dynasty. If that (close contact) is gone and the person in question has become a client and follower of another (dynasty), his original (descent) is nolonger of any use to him, because its group feeling has disappeared.

The new (relationship) becomes useful to him, because (its group feeling) exists. This applies to the Barmecides. It has been reported that they belonged to a Persian “house,” the members of which had been guardians of the fire temples of the Persians. When they became clients of the ‘Abbasids, their original (descent) was not considered. Their nobility resulted from their position as clients and followers of the (‘Abbasid) dynasty.

Everything else is unsupported and unrealistic delusions prompted 80 by undisciplined souls. (The facts of) existence confirm our remarks.


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