Part 16

The Crafts are perfected only in a large and perfect sedentary civilization

January 27, 2022

As long as sedentary civilization is incomplete and the city not fully organized, people are concerned only with the necessities such as obtaining of food.

Then, when the city is organized and the (available) labor increases and pays for the necessities and is more than enough (for the inhabitants), the surplus is spent on luxuries.

The crafts and sciences are the result of man’s ability to think, through which he is distinguished from the animals. (His desire for) food, on the other hand, is the result of his animal and nutritive power. It is prior to sciences and crafts because of its necessary character. (The sciences and crafts) come after the necessities. The (susceptibility) of the crafts to refinement, and the quality of (the purposes) they are to serve in view of the demands made by luxury and wealth, then correspond to the civilization of a given country.

A small or Bedouin civilization needs only the simple crafts, especially those used for the necessities, such as (the crafts of) the carpenter, the smith, the tailor, the butcher, or the weaver. They exist there. Still, they are neither perfect nor well developed.

They exist only in as much as they are needed, since all of them are means to an end and are not intended for their own sake. When civilization flourishes and the luxuries are in demand, it includes the refinement and development of the crafts. Consequently, (these crafts) are perfected with every finesse, and a number of other crafts, in addition to them, is added, as luxury-customs and conditions demand. Among (such crafts are) those of the cobbler, the tanner, the silk weaver, 82 the goldsmith, and others.

When the civilization is fully developed, these different kinds (of crafts are perfected and refined to the limit. In the cities, they become ways of making a living for those who practice them. In fact, they become the most lucrative activities there are, because urban luxury demands them.

Other such crafts are those of the perfumer, the coppersmith, the bath attendant, the cook, the biscuit baker, the harisah baker, the teacher of singing, dancing, and rhythmical drum beating. There are also the book producers who ply the craft of copying, binding, and correcting books. This (last mentioned) craft is demanded by the urban luxury of occupation with intellectual matters.

There are other similar (crafts). They become excessive when civilization develops excessively. Thus, we learn that there are Egyptians who teach dumb creatures like birds and domestic donkeys 84 who produce marvelous spectacles which give the illusion that objects are transformed, and who teach the use of the camel driver’s chant, 85 how to dance and walk on ropes stretched in the air, how to lift heavy animals and stones, and other things. These crafts do not exist among us in the Maghrib, because the civilization of (Maghribi) cities does not compare with the civilization of Egypt and Cairo.

17. The crafts are firmly rooted in a city (only) when sedentary culture is firmly rooted and of long duration

This is because all crafts are customs and colors of civilization. Customs become firmly rooted only through much repetition and long duration.

Then, their coloring becomes firmly established and rooted in (successive) generations. Once such coloring is firmly established, it is difficult to remove it. Therefore, we find that cities with a highly developed sedentary culture, the civilization (population) of which has receded and decreased, retain traces of crafts that do not exist in other more recently civilized cities, even though they may have reached the greatest abundance (of population).

This is only because conditions in those (cities) with the old civilization had become well established and firmly rooted through their long duration and constant repetition, whereas the (other recently civilized cities) have not yet reached the limit. This is the situation, for instance, in contemporary Spain.

There we find the crafts and their institutions still in existence. They are well established and firmly rooted, as far as the things required by the customs of (Spanish) cities are concerned. They include, for instance, building, cooking, the various kinds of singing and entertainment, such as instrumental music, string instruments and dancing, the use of carpets in palaces, the construction of well-planned, well-constructed houses, the production of metal and pottery vessels, all kinds of utensils, the giving of banquets and weddings, and all the other crafts required by luxury and luxury customs.

One finds that they practice and understand these things better (than any other nation) and that they know well the crafts that belong to them. They have an abundant share of these things and have distinctly more of them than any other city, even though civilization in (Spain) has receded and most of it does not equal that which exists in the other countries of the (Mediterranean) shore. This is only because, as we have mentioned before, 88 sedentary culture had become deeply rooted in Spain through the stability given it by the Umayyad dynasty, the preceding Gothic dynasty, and the reyes de taifas, successors to (the Umayyads), and so on.

Therefore, sedentary culture had reached in (Spain) a stage that had not been reached in any other region except, reportedly, in the ‘Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. There, too, the reason was the long duration of the respective dynasties. Thus, the crafts became well established there.

All the various kinds of crafts were developed and refined to perfection. Their coloring remained in that civilization and did not leave it, until it was totally destroyed. Like a garment’s fast color, (the color held fast until the garment was destroyed).

This was also the case in Tunis. A sedentary culture had been established there by the Sinhajah (Zirid) dynasty and its successors, the Almohads. The crafts were developed to perfection in every respect, though less so than in Spain.

However, sedentary culture in Tunis has been greatly enriched by sedentary institutions imported from Egypt. The distance between the two countries is short, and travelers from Tunis visit Egypt every year. Also, (Tunisians) often live in Egypt for some time, and then bring back the (Egyptian) luxury customs and technical knowledge they like 8 9 Thus, the situation with regard to (sedentary culture in Tunis) has become similar to that of Egypt, for the reasons mentioned, andalso to that of Spain, because many people from eastern Spain who were exiled in the 13th century settled in Tunis.

Thus, certain aspects of (sedentary culture) have become firmly rooted there, even though the civilization population of (Tunis) at this time is not adequate to them. However, a fast coloring rarely changes, except when its basis ceases to exist. Thus, we also find in al-Qayrawan, in Marrakech, and in Qal’at Ibn Hammad some remnants of such sedentary culture.

All these places, it is true, are nowadays in ruins or destined soon to fall into ruins, and only people who know are able to discern these remnants. They will find, however, traces of the crafts (there) showing what once existed there, like faded writing in a book.

God is “the Creator, the Knowing One.” 9118. Crafts can improve and increase only when many people demand them.

This is because man cannot afford to give away his labor for nothing, because it is his (source of) profit and livelihood 9 3 Throughout his life, he has no advantage from anything else. Therefore, he must employ his labor only on whatever has value in his city, if it is to be profitable to him.

If a particular craft is in demand and there are buyers for it, (that) craft, then, corresponds to a type of goods that is in great demand and imported for sale. People in the towns, therefore, are eager to learn (that particular) craft, in order to make a living through it.

On the other hand, if a particular craft is not in demand, there are no buyers for it, and no one is interested in learning it. As a result, the craft is destined to be left alone and disappears because of neglect. Therefore, it has been said on the authority of ‘Ali= “Every man’s value consists in what he knows well.” 94 This means that the craft he knows constitutes his value, that is, the value realized from his labor, which is his livelihood.

There is another secret to be understood in this connection. That is, that it is the ruling dynasty that demands crafts and their improvement. It causes the demand for them and makes them desirable. Crafts not in demand with the dynasty may be in demand with the other inhabitants of a city. However, that would not be the same thing, for the dynasty is the biggest market. There, everything can be marketed. It does not make any difference whether it is little or much.

Whatever is in demand with the dynasty is of necessity a major article. On the other hand, the demand of the common people for a particular craft is not general, nor is the business that the common people can provide of large volume.

God has power to do what He wishes.19. The crafts recede from cities that are close to ruin.

This is because of what we have explained. The crafts can improve only when they are needed and when they are in demand with many people. When the condition of a city weakens and senility sets in as the result of a decrease of its civilization and the small number of its inhabitants, luxury in the city decreases and (its inhabitants) revert to restricting themselves to the necessities.

The crafts belonging to luxury conditions and which depend on (luxury) become few. The master of (a particular craft) is no longer assured of making a living from it. Therefore, he deserts (his craft) for another, or he dies and leaves no successor. As a result, the institutions of the crafts disappear altogether.

Thus, for instance, painters, goldsmiths, calligraphers, copyists, and similar artisans who cater to luxury needs disappear. The crafts continue to decrease, as long as the city continues to decrease, until they no longer exist.

20. The Arabs, of all people, are least familiar with crafts.

This is because Arabs are more firmly rooted in desert life and more remote from sedentary civilization, the crafts, and the other things which sedentary civilization calls for, (than anybody else).

On the other hand, the non-Arabs in the East and the Christian nations along the shores of the Mediterranean are very well versed in (the crafts), because they are more deeply rooted in sedentary civilization and more remote from the desert and desert civilization (than others).

They do not even have camels, which make it possible for the Arabs to retreat far into the wilderness of the desert, nor do they have pastures for (camels) or sand suitable for their breeding.

Therefore, we find that the homelands of the Arabs and the places they took possession of in Islam had few crafts altogether, so that (crafts) had to be imported from other regions. One may observe the great number of crafts in nonArab countries such as China, India, the lands of the Turks, and the Christian nations, and the fact that other nations imported (their own crafts) from them.

The non-Arabs in the West, the Berbers, are like the Arabs in this respect, because for a very long period they remained firmly rooted in desert life. This is attested by the small number of cities in the (Berber) region, as we have stated before.

The crafts in the Maghrib, therefore, are few in number and are not well established. Exceptions are the weaving of wool and the tanning and stitching of leather. For, when they settled down, they developed these (crafts) greatly, because they were matters of general concern and (the wool and leather) needed for them were the most common raw materials in their region, on account of the Bedouin conditions prevailing among them.

On the other hand, the crafts had been firmly rooted in the East for a very long period, ever since the rule of the ancient nations, the Persians, the Nabataeans, the Copts, the Israelites, the Greeks, and the Romans (Rum). Thus, the conditions of sedentary culture became firmly rooted among them. It included the crafts, as we have stated before. Their traces have not been wiped out.

Yemen, al-Bahrayn, Oman, and the Jazirah have long been in Arab possession, but for thousands of years, the rule of these areas has belonged to different Arab nations in succession.

They also founded cities and towns there and promoted the development of sedentary culture and luxury to the highest degree. Among such nations were the ‘Ad and the Thamud, the Amalekites and the Himyar after them, the Tubbas, and the other South Arabian rulers Adhwa. There was a long period of royal authority and sedentary culture. The coloring of sedentary culture established itself firmly.

The crafts became abundant and firmly rooted. They were not wiped out simultaneously with (each ruling) dynasty, as we have stated. They have remained and have always renewed themselves down to this time, and they have become the specialty of that area. Such special Yemeni crafts are embroidered fabrics, striped cloth, and finely woven garments and silks.

21. The person who has gained the habit of a particular craft is rarely able afterwards to master another.

A tailor who has acquired the habit of tailoring and knows it well and has that habit firmly rooted in his soul, will not afterwards master the habit of carpentry or construction, unless the first habit was not yet firmly established and its coloring not yet firmly rooted.

The reason for this is that habits are qualities and colors of the soul. They do not come all at once. A person who is still in his natural state has (an) easier (time) acquiring certain habits and is better prepared to gain them. When the soul has been colored by a habit, it is no longer in its natural state, and it is less prepared (to master another habit), because it has taken on a certain coloring from that habit.

As a result, it is less disposed to accept (another) habit. This is clear and attested by (the facts of) existence. One rarely finds a craftsman who, knowing his craft well, afterwards acquires a good knowledge of another craft and masters both equally well. This extends even to scholars whose habit has to do with thinking. (The scholar) who has acquired the habit of one particular science and masters it completely - will rarely achieve the same mastery of the habit of another science, and if he were to study (another science), he would, except under very rare circumstances, be deficient in it.

The reason lies in the significance attaching, as we have mentioned, to preparedness and the fact that he becomes colored by the color that the soul receives from the habit it acquires.

22. A brief enumeration of the basic crafts.

The crafts practiced by the human species are numerous, because so much labor is continually available in civilization. They are so numerous as to defy complete enumeration. However, some of them are necessary in civilization or occupy a noble (position) because of (their) object.

We shall single these two kinds out for mention and leave all others. Necessary (crafts) are agriculture, architecture, tailoring, carpentry, and weaving. Crafts noble because of (their) object are midwifery, the art of writing, book production, singing, and medicine.

Midwifery is something necessary in civilization and a matter of general concern, because it assures, as a rule, the life of the new-born child. The object of (midwifery) is newborn children and their mothers. Medicine preserves the health of man and repels disease. It is a branch of physics. Its object is the human body.

The art of writing, and book production, which depends on it, preserve the things that are of concern to man and keep them from being forgotten. It enables the innermost thoughts of the soul to reach those who are far and absent. 103 It perpetuates in books the results of thinking and scholarship.

It makes four 104 out of the (three) orders of existence (as it constitutes a special order of existence) for ideas. Singing is the harmony of sounds and the manifestation of their beauty to the ears.

All these three crafts call for contact with great rulers in their privacy and at their intimate parties. Thus, they have nobility that other (crafts) do not have. The other crafts are, as a rule, secondary and subordinate. (The attitude toward them, however,) differs according to the different purposes and requirements.

23. Agriculture

Agriculture leads to foodstuffs and grains. People must undertake to stir the earth, sow, cultivate the plants, see to it that they are watered and that they grow until they reach their full growth, then, harvest the ears, and get the grain out of the husks.

They also must understand all the related activities, and procure all the things required in this connection. Agriculture is the oldest of all crafts, in as much as it provides the food that is the main factor in perfecting human life, since man can exist without anything else but not without food. Therefore, this craft has existed especially in the desert, since, as we have stated before, it is prior to and older than sedentary life.

Thus, it became a Bedouin craft which is not practiced or known by sedentary people, because all their conditions are secondary to those of desert life and their crafts, thus, secondary and subsequent to (Bedouin) crafts.