According to Ibnu Khaldun, a sedentary life is a condition of life that is opposite to the nomadic way of life. In fact, he contrasted his idea between the two lifestyles and expressed that he somehow preferred the nomadic lifestyle rather than the sedentary one. He preferred the nomadic life because from his point of view, the nomads were living a healthier lifestyle by doing all the chores for living like taking care of the cattles, do the farming, hunting and all other chores. Besides, he said that the nomads who were not living in luxury, they could cope better with hard situations then those living in a sedentary lifestyle. They are considered as stronger than the people from sedentary lifestyle with the help of outside forces from living with raw substances for diets, and are exposed to constant physical exercises in their daily routine unlike the sedentary people who eat highly processed foods and partake of very little physical activity.
Ibnu Khaldun also compared the two lifestyles according to the amount of pleasure that the people would receive by living in any of them. For those in the nomadic lifestyle, they would receive less entertainment and pleasure that would make their life easier. As such, their life would mostly circulating around surviving and providing food for the family. It is undeniable that the people in the nomadic lifestyle did receive some pleasure, but it was not like those in sedentary life. The people in sedentary life received more pleasure and sometimes exceeding their needs. They have great supply of food, money and other luxuries that would distract them from living an exemplary lifestyle.
To assume the living state as a Muslim, the sedentary people might be having more tendency to be astray and get away from the right path of the religion. According to Ibnu Khaldun's view, these kind of people who live in luxury would be less religious it would be quite hard for them to live in a divine worship life to be compared to those of the nomads. Based on the living condition also, Ibnu Khaldun pointed out that the sedentary people are lacking in the ability of thinking and generally, he referred them as being stupid for never facing a real hardship situation in life to cope with.
Moreover, the sedentary people are also considered as being dependent. They could not survive by their own self. They need other people in duty to protect them and to help them survived; a situation contradicting to the independent nomads. In relation to his previous view concerning the lack of thinking ability of the sedentary people, they are also not equipped with proper knowledge and skills to survive. That was why they need others with skills to help them survive. The experience living in the hot desert, and the way of living by their own family, the nomads, are well equipped with every skill to trust themselves and this would make them survive the hard life ahead of them. For Ibnu Khaldun, the nomads always value independent life and freedom so that they could move around freely.
As from the normal description of the nomads, they are living in the deserts. In the vast area of the desert, these nomads would constantly moving from one place to another in order to make sure they always have enough food and water supply. Furthermore, Ibnu Khaldun mentioned that the nomads might be the first tribal form of the Arab tribal culture since before the coming of the farming age. It was the moment when the nomads realized that they could just settled down while growing their own sources for survival. By doing this, they could provide enough living supply for their family with less risks from going outside from their community.
These nomads who have settled down would then change their lifestyles. They are now living in towns and cities. They are now modern and living in sedentary lifestyle. In this new lifestyle, they have more free time to spend and they have less hard works to do. However, these people have problems to face due to their past experience living in the desert. Why? It is because when they were living in the desert, they did not get proper education and training to live in a sedentary lifestyle. As a result, the society could not expand their tribal societies in order to survive in the new life condition. For some reasons, these once nomadic people are now considered as the people who are used to laziness and pleasure. They are no longer nomads that go out hunting and tough.
So, the question is how did Ibnu Khaldun considered sedentary life as an example of civilized life? According to his work, he subscribed to the cyclical theory of civilization; which refers to the rise and fall of civilizations.Yes, in this theory we can conclude that somehow a sedentary life means a civilized lifestyle or has something to do with the formation of a civilization.However, he expressed that a sedentary lifestyle is actually the last stage of the cyclical civilization stage. It is a civilization's period of decaying and the turning point into failures. In this view, when a society turns to be sedentary, they will lose their own unique identity just like the nomads. They are influenced by those condition around them and they started to extinct from their own civilization. Just like the nomads who lose their own identity as being 'nomads' by living in a sedentary lifestyle.
Besides, by living in this civilized life, family ties becomes not that important anymore. They could simply lose their own societal structure and culture to give in to the new one. In this new lifestyle, the issue of lineage purity is not that important anymore. They could marry and associate with people from different tribes, and sometimes they could associate with even the non-Arabs people. They have this opportunity because they are no longer living as nomads, so there is no reason for the people to resist them for what they are now. However, all this matters is actually highlighting that the former nomads are actually losing their own family unity to the new sedentary life they are living.
Another problem came when the nomads are living in a sedentary life. They could not adapt well with the situation for example in the matter of providing the family with enough wages. Those who are already living in sedentary life since they were born might engage themselves in some arts and commerce. But, those who came from the nomadic family were actually living far worse than their original state. They could not expand their lifestyle as they were not really educated into it and some of them just continue to make rugs, pillows and other handcrafts products to sell them while they are living in a sedentary life.
Ibnu Khaldun is actually referring this situation based on his theory of asabiyyah or the group sentiment among the nomads. While the nomads are trying to adapt with their new culture and the change of societal hierarchy, their own sense of identity will slowly began to disappear through time. Moreover, when the sense of identity disappear, the value of the group sentiment will also perished. The people will start to disintegrate and will no longer willing to live in tribal traditions. In the end, when the feeling of asabiyyah comes to extinction, so thus the civilization, which will follow later.
1. The Good Life, by Yi-Fu Tuan.
2. The Islamic Quarterly, vol32, by Islamic Cultural Centre.
3. Ibn Khaldun: The Mediterranean in the 14th Century: Rise and Fall of Empires, by Abdesselam Cheddadi
Keith Syakil, IIUM'16