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The State and Al Dawl

There’s an interesting book, which is a bit too ideologically Islamic for me, called  Turath Al Arab Wal Muslimin fi Al Alaqat al Kharijiya.

The first chapter by Mustafa Manjood has an interesting discussion on the concept of the state in Arabic.

Manjoud points out that “Dawla” in Arabic derives from the root “Dawl” from which we also derive “Tadawul” “Dulab” etc… Linguistically the word Dawl has many meanings. It refers to the use of money and war, where Dawla with a fatha refers to war, aldawla with a damma on the d refers to money (think of tadawul).The Dawla has also been refered to as that which regulates the laws (Mulk) particularly of ownership, and the laws in general (sunan). (50)

At root however Dawla ultimately means that which changes one condition to another, or that which revolves, either to a new situation or returning to an old situation. As far as I understand it, the closest term in English is the Transact, where transact is not a verb but a noun. This is the way Ibn Khaldun uses the word to refer to political units, in Arabic these are ever changing, unstable, and do not remain the same. Ibn Khaldun’s use also implies change which has a pace different from the pace of individual life and death.

The emphasis on change – be it the state being that which changes the world, or the state being that which changes – is interesting when contrasted to the Latin word which is the state. In the Latin conception, the political unit is described as a condition that exists, this emphasizes stasis and existence rather than transformation. Manjood argues that we can see this in western philosophy, in the emphasis on the glorification of the state and the concern with its durability. In contrast Muslim philosophers understand the state as transient.

I’m not a fan of explaining current political behavior based on old (or even current) texts which no one reads, and in this case I still wouldn’t use this to explain politics in the Arab world, but it’s still really interesting, if only to deepen our historical understanding of the state historically.

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