« PreviousContinue »
It is a curious circumstance that the majority of the learned amongst the “ Moslims belonged to a foreign race; very few persons of Arabian descent
having obtained distinction in the sciences connected with the law or in “ those based upon human reason: and yet the promulgator of the law was an
Arab, and the Koran, that source of so many sciences, an Arabic book.” The justness of this observation, made by Ibn Khaldûn in his Prolegomena, will be admitted by those who may have occasion to consult Ibn Khallikân's BIOGRAPHICAL Dictionary: they cannot have failed to remark that many
of the individuals to whom the author has devoted an article are designated by him as mawlas , a term denoting their foreign origin and the precise meaning of which shall be given farther on. The reason assigned by Ibn Khaldûn for this peculiarity may not be completely satisfactory, but it is stated in a manner so highly characteristic of that writer that it cannot fail to interest the Euro
The (Moslim) religion,” says he, “when first promulgated, did not include (the knowledge of either science or art; such was the extreme simplicity of that nomadic civilisation (to which this doctrine was adapted). The articles of the law, or, in other terms, the commandments and
prohibitions of God, were then borne (not in books but) in the hearts of men, “ who knew that these maxims drew their origin from the Book of God * and from the practice (sunna) of the Prophet himself. The people, at that
time, consisted of Arabs wholly ignorant of the mode by which learning “ is taught, of the art of composing works and of the means by which
knowledge is enregistered; for to these points they had not hitherto directed “ their attention. Under the companions of Muhammad and their immediate
successors things continued in the same state; and, during that period, “ the designation of kurrå (readers) was applied to those who, being not
totally devoid of learning, knew by heart and communicated information. “Such were the persons who could repeat the Koran, relate the sayings of " the Prophet, and cite the example of his conduct in different circumstances.
(This was a necessary duty) inasmuch as the articles of the law could only be
known from the Koran and from the Traditions which serve to explain it. “ The blessed Prophet himself said: I leave with you two things which, as long as
you adhere thereto, will preserve you from error; these are, the Book of God and my “ practice (sunna).
But, under the reign of ar-Rashid, this mode of oral transmission, now so long continued, rendered necessary that the traditional) explanation of the “ Koran should be set down in writing, and that the text of the Traditions “ should be secured against alteration, lest they should be corrupted. To
distinguish the authentic Traditions from those of less credibility, an “exact knowledge of the isnâds (1) was found necessary, and a close scrutiny
was directed into the character of those persons through whom traditional · knowledge had passed down.
“ Whilst the maxims of law deduced from the Koran and the sunna rapidly “ augmented in number, the purity of the Arabic tongue underwent a gradual
alteration; it therefore became necessary to fix the rules of grammar; and, " as none of the sciences connected with the law could be mastered till the - mind had acquired the faculties of elicitation, deduction, investigation, and
comparison (the attainment of which depended on a prior acquaintance with the principles of the language, the rules of elicitation, those of comparison, and the arguments by which the dogmas of the faith could be defended), the acquisition of these sciences could not be effected without the previous development of certain mental faculties under the tuition of
(1) See vol. I. Introduction, p. xxii.
“ a master. Hence resulted that these sciences took their place among the
(professional) arts; and, as arts do not flourish but among people settled in “ fixed abodes (a state of civilisation from which the Arabs were, of all " mankind, the farthest removed), science became a product of domiciliation,
and the Arabs were therefore averse to its acquisition. But the domiciled
people consisted, at that time, of Persians, mawlas, and other persons who “ had adopted the Persian habits of settled life; for them, the arts and the “ sciences were a customary occupation, these habits having taken root
among them at the origin of the Persian empire. Thus Sîbawaih (1), the “ master in the art of grammar, al-Fârisi (2), at a later period, and, after them,
ar-Zajjaj (3), were natives of Persia; the majority of those who (to the great
advantage of Islamism) preserved the Traditions (by learning them by heart) " were Persians or naturalised in Persia; all the learned in the fundamentals “ of jurisprudence were Persians, a fact of which the reader is well aware;
so also were the dogmatic theologians and most of the commentators of " the Koran.
The Arabs who were contemporary with this state of civilisation pre“ ferred the customs of nomadic life : under the Abbasides, the exercise of
military command and their occupations in the service of government
diverted their attention from learning and study; attached to the state in " the quality of protectors and (subordinate) rulers, they were withheld by pride “ from engaging in literary avocations, which, as we have just remarked, “ had assumed the rank of arts; and we know that persons accustomed to " command others look upon the arts with scorn. They, in consequence,
left such studies to the Persians and the mixed race (sprung from the intermarriage of the conquerors with the conquered), fully acknowledging their services in the cultivation of science."
The influence of the same principle by which Ibn Khaldûn was guided throughout his Prolegomena is strongly marked in this passage; led away by his passion for generalizing, he examined every question in the abstract ,
(1) See vol. II. page 396. (2) See vol. I. page 379.
(3) Vol. I. p. 28. – Here Ibn Khaldùn has fallen into a mistake; az-Zajjaj was preceptor to al-Fårisi and died at least fifty years before him.
and always assumed that, for one effect, a single cause was quite sufficient. This rule is by no means so certain as he imagined, and its weakness is manifest in the present case. That the Arabs, when once converted into a people of rulers and occupied in the exercise of power, neglected learning and left its culture to foreigners is a fact attested by history; that they were restrained by pride from such a pursuit is natural enough (not however because they considered it in the light of an art, but because it would have betrayed their own ignorance and incapacity), yet it still remains to be explained why foreigners were induced to devote their minds to the study of Moslim law and Arabic literature.
Though it should appear presumptuous to control the judgments of perhaps the ablest philosophical writer which Islamism ever produced, the attempt may be justified in some cases, and this is one of the number. The question which Ibn Khaldûn overlooked admits of an easy solution : learning was the only path by wbich members of the conquered nations could hope to reách a position which might ensure them the respect of their masters; and hy learning we are to understand such branches of knowledge as could serve to elucidate the doctrines of Islamism and develop the principles of the law: they saw the Arab government unable to apply to the new state of things by which it was surrounded those vague and incoherent maxims of jurisprudence which were furnished by the Koran, the Traditions, and the practice of the first Moslims; they felt that the faculties of mind which they had themselves derived from an advanced state of civilisation could be applied with advantage to the task of collecting and discussing the Traditions, clearing up the obscurities of the Koran by the study of Arabic literature, and moulding into a regular system the ordinances of the law. This they undertook and accomplished; labouring to establish their own right to public respect, they gave consistence to Islamism; and the conquests of the Arabs received stability from the more peaceful occupations of the mawlas.
The word mawla (yo) is derived from the verb wala (de to be near); its grammatical form shows it to belong to that class of nouns which are called nouns of place (u bo obow), and serve to designate either the place in which the action indicated by the verb of the same root takes effect, or the subject in which the state of being expressed by that verb has its existence. The signifi