About 600 years ago Ibn Khaldun [d. 1403] the historian and political scientist in his classic work “Muqaddimah” related a narrative that resonates effortlessly within an African context.


It went something like this, “In the days of King Bahram, a scholar among the Persians, expressed to the King his disapproval of the King’s injustice and its consequences. He did this through a parable, which he placed in the mouth of an owl. The King, hearing the cry of an owl, asked the scholar if he understood what it was saying. The scholar replied: A male owl wanted to marry. The female owl as a condition to consent, asked the male for the gift of twenty villages ruined in the days of King Bahram that she might occupy them. The male owl replied: If the King continues to rule, I shall give you a thousand ruined villages.


The King was stirred and asked the scholar what it meant. The scholar replied: O King, the might of royal authority materializes through religious law, obedience toward God, and compliance with His commands. The religious law persists through royal authority. Royal authority is achieved through men and men persist with the help of property. The way to property is through cultivation. The way to cultivation is through justice and justice is a balance set up among mankind. God set it up and selected an overseer of it, and that is the ruler.


You, O King, went after the farms and took them away from their owners and cultivators. They are the people who pay the land tax and from whom one gets money. You gave their farms to your devotees and to other lazy people.


They did not cultivate the farms and did not heed the consequences. They were leniently treated with regard to the land tax and were not asked to pay it, because they were close to the king. The remaining landowners who did pay the land tax and cultivated their farms had to carry an unjust burden. Therefore, they left their farms and took refuge in lands that were far away. Thus, cultivation slackened, and many farms were ruined. Since there was little money the soldiers and many citizens suffered. Neighbouring rulers coveted the Persian kingdom, because they were aware that the basic materials that sustain the foundation of a kingdom had been cut off.


When the King heard that educated analysis, he took the farms away from his supporters and the loafers and restored it to their owners. They began to cultivate the farms and gained strength. Thus there was money for the land tax. The army was fortified and the enemies’ sources of strength were cut off. When the head of state resumed personal responsibility, his realm was well organized.


This story teaches us that injustice ruins civilization. When an empire is large, the loss from injustice is initially hidden, because it occurs gradually. Also injustice should not be understood to imply only the confiscation of money or property without compensation and without cause. A leader who collects unjustified taxes also commits an injustice. Those who deny people their human rights commit an injustice. It is the kingdom that suffers from these acts, in as much as the civilization, which is the substance of the dynasty, is ruined when people have lost all incentive.


In the words of Julian Assange [Wikileaks} “seeking knowledge is one of the most basic human endeavours”, perhaps if Africa’s leaders were compelled to read Ibn Khaldun, life would be better for all Africans someday.


Cllr Yagyah Adams

Cape Muslim Congress





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