Monday, February 27, 2006

ibn-khaldun on african blacks

The following is a good argument for why Blackamerican Muslims need to be careful to distinguish between what Islam necessarily teaches as a part of the Quran and Sunnah on the one hand, and things which are merely the opinion of certain Muslim scholars on the other. InshaAllah I or one of the group blog members can follow-up with more information about Ibn Khaldun's opinions and how to better contextualize them.
Blogger Abdusalaam al-Hindi on Ibn Khaldun on African Blacks

For somebody who is considered to be the father of sociology, Ibn Khaldun's--for lack of a better word--"racial" characterizations are so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh. Especially of Negroes and Bedouins. Read the following passage on blacks and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Ibn Khaldun says:

"We have seen that Negroes are in general characterized by levity[Defined as: behaviour intended to be amusing and not being serious], excitability, and great emotionalism. They are found eager to dance whenever they hear a melody. They are everywhere described as stupid." [pp 63]

He expresses similar views elsewhere but the above excerpt is a good example.

What's even funnier is his explanation to why it is so. Following is a continuation of the same passage.

"The real reason for these opinions is that, as has been shown by philosophers in the proper place, joy and gladness are due to expansion and diffusion of the animal spirit. [...] A drunken person experiences inexpressible joy and gladness because the vapour of the spirit in his heart is pervaded by natural heat, which the power of the wine generates in his spirit. The spirit, as a result, expands, and there is joy." [pp 63]

That explanation needs an explanation because it made no friggin sense to me.

Even though his views on blacks seem to be so, ah... politically incorrect, to say the least. It seems they are based on a stereotypical observation and not on some sort of racial bias against blacks. And the reason why I say that is because at other places he is actually arguing against the conventionally held racist beliefs of his time about blacks. Here is what I'm talking about:

"Genealogists who had no knowledge of the true nature of things imagined that Negroes were the children of Ham, the son of Noah, and that they were singled out to be black as the result of Noah's curse, which produced Ham's color and the slavery of God inflicted upon his descendants. It is mentioned in the Torah that Noah cursed his son Ham. No reference is made there to blackness. The curse included no more than that Ham's descendants should be the slaves of his brothers' descendants. To attribute the blackness of the Negroes to Ham, reveals disregard of the true nature of heat and cold and of the influence they exercise upon the climate and upon the creatures that come into being in it." [ pp 59]

You notice the same thing when it comes to other groups. At one place he is making outrageously prejudicial claims about a particular group and later in the book he is also admiring them. Bedouins of present day Saudia are another example.

So that's it on this topic. Hope to come across more similarly fascinating stuff as I read further into the book.

4 comments:

Hood said...

"The real reason for these opinions is that, as has been shown by philosophers in the proper place, joy and gladness are due to expansion and diffusion of the animal spirit. [...] A drunken person experiences inexpressible joy and gladness because the vapour of the spirit in his heart is pervaded by natural heat, which the power of the wine generates in his spirit. The spirit, as a result, expands, and there is joy." [pp 63]


Basically what he is saying is that heat permeates the heart and soul, in the same way that alcoholic spirits do. So both cause the same type of joy and glee, which diffuses the animal spirit (here I guess we would say carnal desires now-a-days), and because of these desires laziness, amusement, and joy overtake the person and become his outward traits.

As with most medievel philosophy they type of statements are mainly built on conjecture and outward observation, than empirical methods of collecting info.

So in the end of the day it really doesnt have any importance, becuase islamically positive information should be constantly updated for a proper ruling/observation to be given.

Glad to see this blog updating frequently.

was-salam

Anonymous said...

To add to what Hood said in a round about way, Aristotle's biology is hysterically funny in some ways. For instance, he says that snakes have no penises because they are so very long. Hmm, okay. Luckily, we don't have to rely on the biology for biology, but we did get a few good ideas from the guy. Maybe more closely related are al-Ghazali's horrendous comments on women comparing them to various types of ignoble animals. Lovely stuff. But we still love al-Ghazali for other things and we don't need to take that to take the good stuff. I always get stuck on when someone's work becomes irredeemable. In other words, when do some ideas poison the well such that we should no longer drink from it at all.

salams,

Laury

rabfish said...

wow, fascinating. glad you shared that quote. didn't realize it but it makes sense he had such deeply racialized thinking, given his thinking on women. hmm.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Which comments on women?