Part 4

Historical Errors

by Ibn Khaldun Icon

Another illustration of this kind of error is the baseless conclusion critical readers of historical works draw when they hear about the position of judges and about the leadership in war and the command of armies that judges (formerly) exercised.

Their misguided thinking leads them to aspire to similar positions. They think that the office of judge at the present time is as important as it was formerly. When they hear that the father of Ibn Abi ‘Amir, who had complete control over Hisham, and that the father of Ibn ‘Abbad, one of the rulers of Sevilla, were judges, 168 they assume that they were like present-day judges.

They are not aware of the change in customs that has affected the office of judge, and which will be explained by us in the chapter on the office of judge in the first book. 169 Ibn Abi ‘Amir and Ibn ‘Abbad belonged to Arab tribes that supported the Umayyad dynasty in Spain and represented the group feeling of the Umayyads, and it is known howimportant their positions were. The leadership and royal authority they attained did not derive from the rank of the judgeship as such, in the present-day sense that (the office of judge constitutes an administrative rank). In the ancient administrative organization, the office of judge was given by the dynasty and its clients to men who shared in the group feeling (of the dynasty), as is done in our age with the wazirate in the Maghrib.

One has only to consider the fact that (in those days judges) accompanied the army on its summer campaigns and were entrusted with the most important affairs, such as are entrusted only to men who can command the group feeling needed for their execution.

Hearing such things, some people are misled and get the wrong idea about conditions. At the present time, weakminded Spaniards are especially given to errors in this respect. The group feeling has been lost in their country for many years, as the result of the annihilation of the Arab dynasty in Spain and the emancipation of the Spaniards from the control of Berber group feeling.

The Arab descent has been remembered, but the ability to gain power through group feeling and mutual cooperation has been lost. In fact, the (Spaniards) came to be like (passive) subjects, 170 without any feeling for the obligation of mutual support. They were enslaved by tyranny and had become fond of humiliation, thinking that their descent, together with their share in the ruling dynasty, was the source of power and authority.

Therefore, among them, professional men and artisans are to be found pursuing power and authority and eager to obtain them. On the other hand, those who have experience with tribal conditions, group feeling, and dynasties along the western shore, and who know how superiority is achieved among nations and tribal groups, will rarely make mistakes or give erroneous interpretations in this respect.

Another illustration of the same kind of error is the procedure historians follow when they mention the various dynasties and enumerate the rulers belonging to them. They mention the name of each ruler, his ancestors, his mother and father, his wives, his surname, his seal ring, his judge, doorkeeper, and wazir.

They blindly follow the tradition of the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid historians, without being aware of the purpose of the historians of those times. The historians of those times wrote their histories for members of the ruling dynasty, whose children wanted to know the lives and circumstances of their ancestors, so that they might be able to follow in their steps and to do what they did, 171 even down to such details as obtaining servants from among those who were left over from the (previous) dynasty 172 and giving ranks and positions to the descendants of its servants and retainers.

Judges, too, shared in the group feeling of the dynasty and enjoyed the same importance as wazirs, as we have just mentioned. Therefore, the historians of that time had to mention all these things.

Later on, however, various distinct dynasties made their appearance. The time intervals became longer and longer. Historical interest now was concentrated on the rulers themselves and on the mutual relationships of the various dynasties in respect to power and predominance.

The problem now was which nations could stand up (to the ruling dynasty) and which were too weak to do so. Therefore, it is pointless for an author of the present time to mention the sons and wives, the engraving on the seal ring, the surname, judge, wazir, and doorkeeper of an ancient dynasty, when he does not know the origin, descent, or circumstances of its members. Present-day authors mention all these things in mere blind imitation of former authors. They disregard the intentions of the former authors and forget to pay attention to historiography’s purpose. An exception are the wazirs who were very influential and whose historical importance overshadowed that of the rulers. Such wazirs as,-for -instance,- al- Ijajjaj,–the Band Muhallab, the Barmecides, the Banu Sahl b. Nawbakht, Kaffir al-Ikhshidi, Ibn Abi ‘Amir, and others should be mentioned. There is no objection to dealing with their lives or referring to their conditions for in importance they rank with the rulers.

An additional note to end this discussion may find its place here. History refers to events that are peculiar to a particular age or race. Discussion of the general conditions of regions, races, and periods constitutes the historian’s foundation. Most of his problems rest upon that foundation, and his historical information derives clarity from it. It forms the topic of special works, such as the Muruj adh-dhahab of al-Mas’udi. In this work, al-Mas’udi commented upon the conditions of nations and regions in the West and in the East during his period (which was) the three hundred and thirties [the nine hundred and forties]. He mentioned their sects and customs. He described the various countries, mountains, oceans, provinces, and dynasties. He distinguished between Arabic and non-Arabic groups. His book, thus, became the basic reference work for historians, their principal source for verifying historical information.

Al-Mas’udi was succeeded by al-Bakri 173 who did something similar for routes and provinces, to the exclusion of everything else, because, in his time, not many transformations or great changes had occurred among the nations and races. However, at the present time-that is, at the end of the eighth [fourteenth] century-the situation in the Maghrib has taken a turn and changed entirely.

The Berbers were the original population of the Maghrib. They have been replaced by an influx of Arabs that began in the 11th century. The Arabs outnumbered and overpowered the Berbers, stripped them of most of their lands, and obtained a share of those that remained in their possession.

This happened until the middle of the 14th century when both the Eastern and Western civilizations were visited by a destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish.174

It lessened the power of the dynasties and curtailed their influence to the point of annihilation and dissolution.

Cities and buildings were laid waste, roads and way signs were obliterated, settlements and mansions became empty, dynasties and tribes grew weak. The entire inhabited world changed.

The East was similarly visited, though in accordance with and in proportion to (the East’s more affluent) civilization. It was as if the voice of existence in the world had called out for oblivion and restriction, and the world had responded to its call. It changed the whole world as if it were brought into existence anew.

(This restriction is necessitated) by my lack of knowledge of conditions in the East and among its nations, and by the fact that secondhand information would not give the essential facts I am after. Al-Mas’udi’s extensive travels invarious countries enabled him to give a complete picture, as he mentioned in his work.

Nevertheless, his discussion of conditions in the Maghrib is incomplete. “And He knows more than any scholar.” 176 God is the ultimate repository of (all) knowledge. Man is weak and deficient.

Admission (of one’s ignorance) is a specific (religious) duty. He whom God helps, finds his way (made) easy and his efforts and quests successful. We seek God’s help for the goal to which we aspire in this work. God gives guidance and help. He may be trusted.

It remains for us to explain the method of transcribing non-Arabic sounds whenever they occur in this book of ours.

The letters (sounds) of speech are modifications of sounds that come from the larynx. These modifications result from the fact that the sounds are broken up in contact with the uvula and the sides of the tongue in the throat, against the palate or the teeth, and also through contact with the lips.

The sound is modified by the different ways in which such contact takes place. As a result, the letters (sounds) sound distinct. Their combination constitutes the word that expresses what is in the mind.

Not all nations have the same letters (sounds) in their speech. One nation has letters (sounds) different from those of another. The letters (sounds) of the Arabs are twentyeight, as is known. The Hebrews are found to have letters (sounds) that are not in our language.

In our language, in turn, there are letters sounds) that are not in theirs. The same applies to the European Christians, the Turks, the Berbers, and other non-Arabs.

In order to express their sounds, literate Arabs chose to use conventional letters written individually separate, such as ‘, b, j, r, t, etc through all the 28 letters. When they come upon a sound which has no sound in their language, it is not indicated in writing.

This is not a satisfactory way of indicating a letter (sound) but a complete replacement of it. Our book contains the history of the Berbers and other non-Arabs.

In their names and in some of their words, we came across letters (sounds) that did not correspond with our written language and conventional orthography.

We were forced to indicate such sounds (by special signs). We did not find it satisfactory to use the letters closest to them, because in our opinion this is not a satisfactory indication.

In my book, therefore, I have chosen to write such non-Arabic letters (sounds) in such a way as to indicate the two letters (sounds) closest to it, so that the reader may be able to pronounce it somewhere in the middle between the sounds represented by the two letters and thus reproduce it correctly.

I derived this idea from the way the Qur’an scholars write sounds that are not sharply defined, such as occur, for instance, in as-sirat according to Khalaf’s reading. 182 The s is to be pronounced somehow between s and z. In this case, they spell the word with s and - write a z into it. 183 thus - indicate a pronunciation somewhere in the middle between the two sounds. 184

I have indicated every sound that is to be pronounced somehow in the middle between two of our letters (sounds). The Berber k, for instance, which is pronounced midway between our clear k and j (g) or q, as, for instance, in the name Buluggin, is spelled by me with a k with the addition of one dot-from the j-below, or one dot or two-from the q-on top of it. 185 Thisindicates that the sound is to be pronounced midway between k and j (g) or q.

This sound occurs most frequently in the Berber language. In the other cases, I have spelled each letter (sound) that is to be pronounced midway between two letters (sounds) of our language, with a similar combination of two letters. The reader will thus know that it is an intermediate sound and pronounce it accordingly. In this way, we have indicated it satisfactorily.

Had we spelled it by using only one letter (sound) adjacent to it on either side, 185a we would have changed its proper pronunciation to the pronunciation of the particular letter (sound) in our own language (which we might have used), and we would have altered the way people speak.


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