Parts 5-7

Ranks are useful in securing property

by Ibn Khaldun Icon

The person of rank who is highly esteemed is materially more fortunate and wealthier than a person who has no rank.

This is because the person of rank is served by the labor of others. They try to approach him with their labor, since they want to be close to (him) and are in need of (the protection) his rank affords. People help him with their labor in all his needs, whether these are necessities, conveniences, or luxuries.

The value realized from all such labor becomes part of his profit. For tasks that usually require giving some compensation (to the persons who perform them), he always employs people without giving anything in return. He realizes a very high value from their labor.

It is (the difference) between the value he realizes from the (free) labor (products) and the prices he must pay for things he needs. He thus makes a very great (profit). A person of rank receives much (free) labor which makes him rich in a very short time.

With the passing of days, his fortune and wealth increase. It is in this sense that (the possession of) political power (imarah) is one of the ways of making a living, as we have stated before. 36

The person who has no rank whatever, even though he may have property, acquires a fortune only in proportion to the property he owns and in accordance with the efforts he himself makes. Most merchants are in this position. Therefore, (merchants) who have a rank are far better off (than other merchants).

Evidence for this is the fact that many jurists and religious scholars and pious persons acquire a good reputation. Then, the great mass believes that when they give them presents, they serve God. People, therefore, are willing to help them in their worldly affairs and to work for their interests.

As a result, they quickly become wealthy and turn out to be very well off although they have acquired no property but have only the value realized from the labor with which the people have supported them. We have seen much of this in cities and towns as well as in the desert.

People do farm work and business for these men, who sit at home and do not leave their places. But still their property grows and their profits increase. Without effort, they accumulate wealth, to the surprise of those who do not understand what the secret of their affluence is, what the reasons for their wealth and fortune are.

6. Happiness and profit are achieved mostly by people who are obsequious and use flattery.

Such character disposition is one of the reasons for happiness.

The profit human beings make is the value realized from their labor. If someone could be assumed to have no (ability whatever to do any) labor, he would have no profit whatever.

The value realized from one’s labor corresponds to the value of one’s labor and the value of this labor as compared to (the value of) other labor and the need of the people for it. The growth or decrease of one’s profit, in turn, depends on that. We have also just now explained 39 that ranks are useful in securing property. A person of rank has the people approach him with their labor and property.

They do that) in order to avoid harm and to obtain advantages. The labor and property through which they attempt to approach him is, in a way, given in exchange for the many good and bad things they may obtain (or avoid) with the aid of his rank. Such labor becomes part of the profit of (the man of rank), and the value realized from it means property and wealth for him. He thus gains wealth and a fortune in a very short time.

Ranks are widely distributed among people, and there are various levels of rank among them. At the top, they extend to the rulers above whom there is nobody.

At the bottom, they extend to those who have nothing to gain or to lose among their fellow men. In between, there are numerous classes. This is God’s wise plan with regard to His creation. It regulates their livelihood, takes care of their interests, and insures their permanency.

The existence and persistence of the human species can materialize only through the co-operation of all men in behalf of what is good for them. It has been established that a single human being could not fully exist by himself, and even if, hypothetically, it might happen as a rare exception, his existence would be precarious.

Now, such co-operation is obtained by the use of force, since people are largely ignorant of the interests of the (human) species, and since they are given freedom of choice and their actions are the result of thinking and reflection, not of natural (instinct).

They thus refrain from co-operating. Therefore, it is obligatory to make them (co-operate), and there must be some motive forcing human beings to take care of their interests, so that God’s wise plan as to the preservation of mankind can materialize.

This is what is meant by the verse of the Qur’an= “And we placed some of you over others in various grades, so that they might use the others for forced labor. The mercy of your Lord is better than whatever they gather.”

It has, thus, become clear that rank means the power enabling human beings to be active among the fellow men under their control with permission and prohibition, and to have forceful superiority over them, in order to make them avoid things harmful to them and seize their advantages. (They may act) in justice and apply the laws of religion and politics, and (also) follow their own purposes 41 in everything else.

However, the first thing (the just use of rank) was intended by the divine providence as something essential, whereas the second thing (self-seeking use of rank) enters into it as something accidental, as is the case with all evils decreed by God.

Much good can fully exist only in conjunction with the existence of some little evil, which is the result of matter. The good does not disappear with the (admixture of evil), but attaches itself to the little evil that gathers around it. This is the meaning of the occurrence of injustice in the world. It should be understood.

Each class among the inhabitants of a town or zone of civilization has power over the classes lower than it. Each member of a lower class seeks the support of rank from members of the next higher class, and those who gain it become more active among the people under their control in proportion to the profit they get out of it. Thus, rank affects people in whatever way they make their living. Whether it is influential or restricted depends on the class and status of the person who has a particular rank.

If the rank in question is influential, the profit accruing from it is correspondingly great. If it is restricted and unimportant, (the profit) is correspondingly (small). A person who has no rank, even though he may have money, acquires a fortune only in proportion to the labor he is able to produce, or the property he owns, and in accordance with the efforts he makes coming and going to increase it.

This is the case with most merchants and, as a rule, with farmers. It also is the case with craftsmen. If they have no rank and are restricted to the profits of their crafts, they will mostly be reduced to poverty and indigence, and they do not quickly become wealthy.

They make only a bare living, somehow fending off the distress of poverty.

If this has been established and if it further has become clear that rank is widely distributed and that one’s happiness and welfare are intimately connected with the acquisition of (rank), it will be realized that it is a very great and important favor to give away or grant a rank to someone, and that the person who gives it away is a very great benefactor. He gives it only to people under his control.

Thus, giving (rank) away (shows) influence and power. Consequently, a person who seeks and desires rank must be obsequious and use flattery, as powerful men and rulers require. Otherwise, it will be impossible for him to obtain any (rank). Therefore, we have stated that obsequiousness and flattery are the reasons why a person may be able to obtain a rank that produces happiness and profit, and that most wealthy and happy people have the quality (of obsequiousness and use flattery).

Thus, too, many people who are proud and supercilious have no use for rank. Their earnings, consequently, are restricted to (the results of) their own labors, and they are reduced to poverty and indigence.

It should be known that such haughtiness and pride are blameworthy qualities. They result from the assumption (by an individual) that he is perfect, and that people need the scientific or technical skill he offers.

Such an individual, for instance, is a scholar who is deeply versed in his science, or a scribe who writes well, or a poet who makes good poetry. Anyone who knows his craft assumes that people need what he has. Therefore, he develops a feeling of superiority to them.

People of noble descent, whose forebears include a ruler or a famous scholar, or a person perfect in some position, also share this illusion. They are arrogant because of the position their forebears held in their town. They have seen it themselves or have heard about it. They assume that they deserve a similar position because of their relationship to such men and the fact that they are their heirs.

In fact, they cling to something that is a matter of the past, since perfection is not passed on by inheritance 43 The same is the case with people who are skillful, experienced, and versed in affairs. Some of them assume that they are perfect and needed on that account.

All these types (of people) are found to be proud. They are not obsequious and do not flatter people of a higher station. They belittle all others, because they believe that they are better than other people.

One of them may even disdain to beobsequious to a ruler and consider such obsequiousness humiliating, abasing, and stupid. He expects people to treat him in accordance with what he thinks of himself, and he hates those who in any respect fail to treat him as he expects to be treated.

He often gets to feel very anxious and sad, because they fail (to treat him according to his expectations). He always worries much, because people refuse to give him what he considers his due. People, (in turn,) come to hate him, because of the egoism of human nature. Rarely will (a human being) concede perfection and superiority to another, unless he is somehow forced to do so by superior strength.

Such (forcefulness and superior strength) is implied - in rank. Thus, when a haughty person has no rank-and he cannot have any, as has been explained - people hate him for his haughtiness, and he receives no share of their kindness. He obtains no rank from members of the next higher class, because he is hated (by them), and, therefore, he cannot associate with them and frequent their homes.

In consequence, his livelihood is destroyed. He remains in a state of indigence and poverty, or (in a state) that is only a little better. The acquisition of wealth is altogether out of the question for him.

In this (sense), it is widely said among the people that a person who is perfect in knowledge obtains no share (in worldly goods). The knowledge that is given to him is taken into account, and this is set apart as his share (in worldly goods).

This is the meaning of it. Everyone is successful at the things for which he was created 44 God decides. There is no Lord but Him.

In a dynasty, the character quality mentioned may cause disturbances among the ranks. Many people of the low classes come up to fill them, and many people of the higher classes have to step down on that account. The reason is that when a dynasty has reached its limit of superiority and power, the royal clan claims royal and governmental authority exclusively for itself. Everybody else despairs of (getting any share in) it. (All the other people can only) hold ranks below the rank of the ruler and under the control of the government. They are a sort of servant of his.

Now, when the dynasty continues and royal authority flourishes, those who go into the service of the ruler, who try to approach him with advice, or who are accepted as followers by him because of their capability in many of his important affairs, will all be equal in rank in his eyes. Many common people will make efforts to approach the ruler with zealous counsel and come close to him through all kinds of services.

For this purpose, such people make much use of obsequiousness and flattery toward the ruler, his entourage, and his family, so that eventually they will be firmly entrenched and the ruler will give them a place in the total (picture) of his (administration). Thus, they obtain a large share of happiness and are accepted among the people of the dynasty.

At such a time, the new generation of the dynasty, the children of the people who had seen the dynasty through its difficulties and smoothed its path, are arrogant because of the noteworthy achievements of their forefathers. Because of them, they look down on the ruler. They rely on their influence (lasting) and become very presumptuous.

This makes the ruler hate them and keep away from them. He now leans toward those of his followers who do not rely upon any (achievements of the past) and would not think of being presumptuous and proud. Their behavior is characterized by obsequiousness to (the ruler) and flattery (of him) and willingness to work for his purposes whenever he is ready for some undertaking.

Their rank, consequently, becomes important. Their stations become high. The outstanding personalities and the elite 47 turn to them, because they receive so many favors from the ruler and have great influence with him. The new generation of the dynasty, meanwhile, keeps its proud attitude and continues to rely upon the (achievements of the) past.

They gain nothing from that. It merely alienates them from the ruler andmakes him hate them and give preference to his (newly gained) supporters, until the dynasty is destroyed. This is natural in a dynasty, and this is usually at the origin of the importance of its followers.

  1. Persons who are in charge of ices dealing with religious matters, such as judge, mufti, teacher, prayer leader, preacher, muezzin, and the like, are not as a rule very wealthy.

The reason for this is that, as we have stated before, 48 profit is the value realized from labor (products). (This value) differs according to the (varying degrees of) need for (a particular kind of labor). Certain (types of) labor (products) may be necessary in civilization and be a matter of general concern.

Then, the value realized from (these products) is greater and the need for them more urgent (than otherwise).

Now, the common people have no compelling need for the things that religious (officials) have to offer. They are needed only by those special people who take a particular interest in their religion. (Even) if the offices of mufti and judge are needed in case of disputes, it is not a compelling and general need. Mostly, they can be dispensed with.

Only the ruler is concerned with (religious officials) and (religious) institutions, as part of his duty to look after the (public) interests.

  • He assigns (the religious officials) a share of sustenance proportionate to the need that exists for them in the sense (just) mentioned.
  • He does not place them on an equal footing with people who have power or with people who ply the necessary crafts, even if the things that (the religious officials) have to offer are nobler, as they deal with religion and the legal institutions.

He gives them their share in accordance with the general need and the demand of the population (for them). Their portion, therefore, can only be small. Furthermore, because the things (the religious officials) have to offer are so noble, they feel superior to the people and are proud of themselves. Therefore, they are not obsequious to persons of rank, in order to obtain something to improve their sustenance.

In fact, they would not have time for that. They are occupied with those noble things they have to offer and which tax both the mind and the body. The noble character of the things they have to offer does not permit them to prostitute themselves openly. They would not do such a thing. As a consequence, they do not, as a rule, become very wealthy.

I discussed this with an excellent man who disagreed with me. But some stray leaves from the account books of the government offices in the palace of al-Ma’mun came into my hand.

  • They gave information about income and expenditures at that time.

I noticed the salaries of judges, prayer leaders, and muezzins. I called the attention of the person mentioned to it. He realized that I was correct.

He became a convert to my opinion. We were both astonished at the secret ways of God.


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