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Ḥaḍārah

By:
M. A. J. Beg, Richard Gauvain
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Ḥaḍārah

In Ibn Manzūr's (d. 1312) Lisān al-ʿArab (Arab dictionary), ḥadārah denotes a sedentary lifestyle. Modern dictionary definitions are broader and include “civilization,” “culture,” “settledness,” “sedentariness,” and “urban life,” while everyday contemporary usage of the term equates most closely to “civilization.” Within these parameters, Muhammad Beg observes that recent Arabic works on ḥaḍārah encompass a broad range of topics including, but not limited to, the rise and fall of states, the founding of capitals and garrison towns (amṣār), the aesthetic values of art and architecture, economic life, the development of education and science, and spirituality.

In his Muqaddimah (Introduction to History), Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406) provides the first theoretical analysis of ḥaḍārah. There, Ibn Khaldūn describes ḥaḍārah as synonymous with ʿumrān (civilization), a state of being that is distinct from, yet firmly rooted in, the (former) state of badāwah (nomadism). According to this theory, each nomadic tribe, though characterized by its tawahush (wild and destructive nature), also forms a closely-knit society united under the authority of a single shaykh. The tribe's formation is such that it generates a powerful cohesive force, which Ibn Khaldūn labels ʿaṣabīyah (tribal solidarity). ʿAṣabīyah is capable, he argues, of transforming a tribe into a political dynasty or state (dawlah). In other words, ʿaṣabīyah leads to the formation of institutions that eventually contribute to the development of ḥaḍārah. Interestingly, while his understanding of the “uncivilized” nomad is less admiring than the later European construction of the “noble savage,” Ibn Khaldūn is not unsympathetic towards the Bedouin.

Its identification with city rather than rural living inevitably has rendered ḥaḍārah a tool for criticism. Contesting Ibn Khaldūn, the Ottoman writer Münif Efendi (d. 1910), the former teacher of Ibrāhīm Pasha of Egypt, finds nothing positive in the character of the Bedouin. Instead, he describes all nomads as backward, lazy, and lawless precisely because they lack the attributes of ḥaḍārah, for which Efendi substitutes the term medeniyet (civilization; Ar. madanīyah). The Bedouin are also the targets of Rifāʿah al-Ṭahṭāwī (d. 1873), the Egyptian Azharī scholar best known for his reflections on Europe following a five-year sojourn in Paris. Al-Ṭahṭāwī distinguishes among three stages of human development: on the first level, there languish the mutawahhishūn, or “savages” (black Africans); on the second level, there are the barbarī, or “raw barbarians” (the Bedouin and others); while to the third and highest stage, al-Ṭahṭāwī elevates the peoples of “civilization” (madanīyah or ḥaḍārah). Interestingly, while Ṭahṭāwī is able to appreciate the benefits of Western culture and science, there is still no sense of an East-West dichotomy in his writings. Civilization (whether signified by ḥaḍārah, madanīyah, or a third option, tamaddun) was a universal quality—its mark apparent on anyone of education, refinement, and breeding, regardless of race or religion.

Since the nineteenth century, however, discussions over the meanings of ḥaḍārah have been increasingly influenced by developments in the sociopolitical relationship between the Middle East and the West. In these discussions, in which race and religion often do play a part, scholars have puzzled over the supposedly declining levels of civilization in Arab and Muslim societies and the role of the West in this process. Here the writings of the Algerian Malik Bennabi (d. 1973) and the Egyptian Sayyid Quṭb (d. 1966) deserve particular mention. According to the former, ḥaḍārah (civilization) stands as both the product of human values and as a force that directs human energies toward these values. All societies, Bennabi contends, pass through different stages of ḥaḍārah. Yet Muslim society currently languishes moribund because its peoples have forsaken the creative and ethical values demanded of them by genuine Islamic civilization. In contrast to Quṭb and in spite of his upbringing in colonized Algeria, Bennabi studiously avoids blaming the West for the decline of Muslim civilization. He concludes that Muslims should refrain from wholesale imitation of the West and use only what is beneficial from Western thought and science in trying to reform Muslim ḥaḍārah.

Unlike Bennabi, Sayyid Quṭb explicitly blames the West for the problems of Muslim countries. According to Quṭb, there are only two types of society: the Islamic and the jāhilī (ignorant). Ḥaḍārah (civilization) comes not through industry and science, but rather through an acceptance of Islamic principles and an adherence to Islamic law (sharīʿah). While in Quṭb's view many nominally Muslim societies are not deserving of the label, a truly Muslim society is by definition more civilized than (and therefore superior to) a non-Muslim society.

In sum, though originally denoting a settled rather than nomadic existence, ḥaḍārah has accrued various shades of meaning, among which the notions of civilization, urbanity, and modernity appear prominent. For obvious political reasons, recent works on ḥaḍārah are often shaped by the authors’ understanding of Western culture and values and the impact of these on Muslim environments. Here, the reader is directed toward a recent collaborative treatise on the meaning of ḥaḍārah in the Arab world, entitled al-Mashrūʿ al-ḥaḍārī al-ʿArabī bayn al-turāth wa-al-ḥadāthah(The Project of Arabic Civilization between Legacy and Modernity). For many, such as Bennabi, the challenge is to describe an Arab or Muslim ḥaḍārah that is neither determined by, nor self-consciously at odds with, Western culture. Likewise, secularist writers such as Ṭāhā Ḥusayn (d. 1973) consider values prioritized in the West—for example, freedom (ḥurrīyah) and independence (istiqlāl)—as desirable, but not necessarily as the ultimate goals of an ideal Egyptian civilization. This future ḥaḍārah, Ḥusayn argues, should be based on science (ʿilm) and Arab culture (thaqāfah) in order to create a reality that matches the glorious past.

Of relevance to the above discussion is Samuel Huntington's controversial “clash of civilizations” thesis. According to this, future global conflicts will tend to be along “cultural and civilizational lines”: Judeo-Christian Western civilization is, therefore, culturally opposed to the Muslim Eastern civilization, and continuing conflict between the two is inevitable. Important correctives to Huntington's theory, noting the long history of peaceful interactions between the two religious communities and the growing presence of Muslims in traditionally non-Muslim countries, have been offered by Tāriq Ramadān and Richard Bulliet, among others.

See also BENNABI, MALIK; CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS; ḤUSAYN, ṬāHā; IBN KHALDūN, ʿABD AL-RAḥMāN; MODERNIZATION AND DEVELOPMENT; and QUṭB, SAYYID.

Bibliography

  • Beg, Muhammad Abdul Jabbar. Islamic and Western Concepts of Civilization. 3rd rev. ed. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1982.
  • Huntington, Samuel P.“The Clash of Civilizations?”Foreign Affairs72, no. 3 (Summer 1993): 22–49.
  • Ibn Khaldūn, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. 3 vols. Translated by Franz Rosenthal. New York, 1958.
  • Karakī, Khālid al-, et al.Al-Mashrūʿ al-ḥaḍārī al-ʿArabī bayna al-turāth wa-al-ḥadāthah. Edited by Fahmī Jadʿān. Amman, Jordan, 2002.
  • Stenberg, Leif, and Birgit Schabler, eds.Globalization and the Muslim World: Culture, Religion, and Modernity. Syracuse, N.Y., 2004.
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