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`Asabiyya or asabiyah (Arabic: عصبية, ʕaṣabīya) refers to social solidarity with an emphasis on unity, group consciousness, and social cohesion, originally in a context of "tribalism" and "clanism", but sometimes used for modern nationalism as well. It was a familiar term 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. `Asabiyya is neither necessarily nomadic nor based on blood relations. In the modern period, the term is generally analogous to solidarity. However, the term is often negatively associated because it can sometimes suggest loyalty to one's group regardless of circumstances, or partisanship.


Ibn Khaldun argues, effectively, 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 `asabiyya 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 `asabiyya, 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.

It can be compared to Durkheim's mechanical solidarity as opposed to the organic solidarity which he suggests can be found in modern societies.

Khaldun's central concept of asabiyah, or "social cohesion", seems to anticipate modern conceptions of social capital arising in social networks:

This cohesion arises spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups; and it can be intensified and enlarged by a religious ideology. Khaldun's analysis looks at how this cohesion carries groups to power but contains within itself the seeds - psychological, sociological, economic, political - of the group's downfall, to be replaced by a new group, dynasty or empire bound by a stronger (or at least younger and more vigorous) cohesion.

Interestingly, Khaldun's concept is instinctive and does not involve any social contract or explicit forms of constitution or other instructional capital that would provide a basis for appeals, in law or otherwise.


The Asabiyyah cycle described by Ibn Khaldun was true for nearly all civilizations before the modern era. Nomadic invaders had always ended up adopting the religion and culture of the civilizations they conquered, which was true for various Arab, Berber, Turkic and Mongol invaders that invaded the medieval Islamic world and ended up adopting Islamic religion and culture. The only exception to this general rule was the early Muslim conquests, where it was the religion of the nomadic Arab invaders, Islam, that was adopted by the civilizations they conquered. Beyond the Muslim world, 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. After Ibn Khaldun's time, however, the perfection of the gun in early modern warfare has now made it nearly impossible for tribal nomadic invaders to conquer established states.[1]

See also


  1. Chirot, Daniel (2001), "A Clash of Civilizations or of Paradigms? Theorizing Progress and Social Change", International Sociology 16: 341-360 [349], Error: Bad DOI specified



  • 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, Error: Bad DOI specified
  • Durkheim, Émile, The Division of Labor in Society, (1893) The Free Press reprint 1997, ISBN 0684836386
  • 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