Timur sits on a raised chair before the gates of the city. In front of him to the right, Ibn Khaldun sits on a rug with his legs crossed. Slightly farther away, the notables of Damascus stand in audience.
Timur. Praise be to God. I am glad you agree to my terms. I wish to now confirm you all in your offices.
(The Na’ib is brought before him.)
You are the deputy of the city, yes? I have an excellent new position for you. You will now clean the outhouses.
Na’ib. That is humiliating. I refuse!
Timur. Fine then, you will die.
(The Na’ib is led off and the Vizier is brought before him.)
You are the deputy’s adviser? Ah. You will now be the stable keeper.
Vizier. There is already a stable keeper.
Timur. Yes, but the position of vizier is now vacant. The old stable keeper will occupy it, obviously.
(The Vizier departs and the Judges are brought before him.)
You are the Judges? Very good. I have important jobs for each of you. You will be the holder of my assistant’s ink bottle, you the doorkeeper to my deputy’s tent, you the food taster of my concubine. The rest of you will be kitchen washers. Any questions? (They grumble among themselves.) No questions, good.
Judge. We are well trained in the methods of jurisprudence! We can be of much more use to you in our current roles than in these ones you are assigning us!
Timur. Actually you are of no use to me. (Gesturing towards Ibn Khaldun) I already have a judge in my service, as you can see. He is enough to handle all my legal affairs. I do not want to overburden him with work; too many laws make things unnecessarily complicated. (He gives a signal for the notables of the city to depart. He then turns to his engineers.) If we lead off the water flowing around in the city moat, could we discover its ingress?
Chief Engineer. I am not sure. There are a great many technical details—
Timur. —Then discuss them amongst yourselves and find a way.
Chief Engineer. Yes, my Amir.
(Timur makes a signal for them to depart. At this point, a man who has ridden out from the citadel approaches Timur.)
Al-Hakim. I ask you, great Amir, for justice in my cause.
Timur. And what is your cause?
Al-Hakim. I am descended from the caliphs in Egypt of the line of al-Hakim, the Abbasid, whom al-Zahir Baybars had established as caliph there. I am here to claim the position of caliph as it had belonged to my ancestors.
Timur. You were right to come to me, for this is a court of justice. (Gesturing towards Ibn Khaldun) I happen to have a great scholar among my retinue who is well trained in the methods of jurisprudence. He will decide your case. Speak.
Al-Hakim. This caliphate belongs to us and to our ancestors. The prophetic tradition, according to which the authority of the caliphate belongs to the Abbasids as long as the world endures, is legitimate and authentic. I have a stronger claim to the office than the one who currently holds it in Cairo, since my forefathers, whose heir I am, had a just claim to it, while it came to this man without legal support.
Timur. What do you say concerning this tradition, qadi?
Ibn Khaldun. I do not think it valid.
Timur. Then what is it that has brought the caliphate to the Abbasids until this era in Islam?
Ibn Khaldun. May God grant you victory! That is a question I can explain if you will bear with me a moment. The majority of believers have thought it necessary, since the death of the Prophet, to choose a righteous, knowledgeable, and just man from among themselves to direct their spiritual and worldly affairs. But in deciding who this should be, we must look to historical evidence.
Al-Hakim. I am of the fifth generation.
Ibn Khaldun. That poses a problem. (To Timur) You see great Amir, prestige lasts at best four generations in one lineage. As all creation comes into being and decays, so does prestige. In summary, it is like this: the first of the line builds the family’s glory through qualities of diligence and self-sacrifice. Next comes the son, who having had personal contact with the father, learns these qualities from him. He is, however, inferior, as one who learns things through study is inferior to one who learns through experience. The third generation imitates the qualities of the first two and relies heavily upon tradition. The grandson is thus inferior to the son, as one who relies upon tradition is inferior to one who exercises independent judgment. The fourth generation is inferior to all the preceding ones, though. The great-grandson is too satisfied: he has lost all the qualities that preserved the edifice of his house’s glory—even despises these qualities. He forgets about group effort and individual character and imagines that his family possessed special virtue from the mere fact of their descent. He forgets the reason that the people respect him. He keeps away from those in whose group feeling he shares, thinking he is better than they. He trusts his people will obey him because they always have. He has no humility in dealing with others, has no respect for their feelings, and considers them despicable; so they eventually revolt against him, transferring leadership from him and his direct lineage to some other related branch. If the dynasty does not collapse in the fifth generation, it lingers on in a state of decline and decay. So you see great Amir, that even if al-Hakim’s claim to the caliphate is valid, it would have long ceased to be effective, as his lineage has become corrupt. And the corruption of the Abbasid dynasty is the very reason that you have arisen to power, as the astrologers predicted.
Timur. This is very true.
Ibn Khaldun. So I say in conclusion, that the claimant’s tradition is not valid for reasons of dynastic senility.
Timur. The matter is settled, then. As you can see, al-Hakim, my qadi is very wise.
Al-Hakim. Wise? What he said makes no sense!
Timur. Philosophers often do not make sense to fools.
Al-Hakim. But he did not even discuss my claim! No legal evidence has been presented!
Timur. Even so, I found him quite persuasive.
Ibn Khaldun. I am more than happy to continue if the man insists. Though it is unnecessary to offer further proofs, the issue may be examined from another side. If one looks into the matter, a great deal of uncertainty exists surrounding the claim of the first al-Hakim. He came to the caliphate through luck and the chaos surrounding the Mongol invasion. I am sorry to say that he was likely not even a true Abbasid. With the passing of time his lineage had become confused and the original descent forgotten, which allowed this al-Hakim “the First” to claim himself as the distant descendent of a much earlier Caliph from five generations past—so you see that this lineage was already corrupt by the time he came to the throne, and the matter of whether his allegation was true becomes secondary. This first al-Hakim attached himself to a decayed pedigree, so that as it stands now the lineage is doubly senile, if such a thing may be said.
Al-Hakim. You do not know that he was not a true Abbasid! There is no evidence for such an accusation!
Ibn Khaldun. As I said, the matter is ultimately uncertain. It is true that it may be as you say, which is why I have resorted to the less specious evidence of historical cycles. I have examined many of the dynasties that have come and gone in this world, and I have noted certain general tendencies common to them all. So when considering your case, I draw chiefly upon this evidence. I can say with certainty that your lineage is not in its first stage, where all opposition is overthrown and the royal authority of other dynasties is appropriated—as is the case with your dynasty, great Amir. (To Timur) You serve as a model to your people by the manner in which you acquire glory, collect taxes, defend property, and provide military protection. You do not claim anything exclusively for yourself to the exclusion of your people, because your group feeling is strong, and it is that which gives superiority to your dynasty. This al-Hakim, on the contrary, merely wants to appropriate royal authority from within his own senile dynasty. Nor is his lineage in the second stage, in which clients and followers are gained in great numbers, even as the rest of his group is kept from power and group feeling is numbed. Or the third stage, where the fruits of royal authority are enjoyed in leisure and tranquility as traditions are closely followed. Or the fourth stage of contentment and peacefulness, where the memory of the predecessors is clung to even as the reasons behind their glory are forgotten. His is the fifth stage: one of waste and squandering. He will deplete the treasury on amusements, be excessively generous to his inner circle, acquire bad and low-class followers to whom he entrusts matters of state they are not qualified to handle. He will seek to destroy the great clients of his people and followers, spend his soldiers’ allowances on pleasures, and refuse access to his person. If this man occupies the Caliphate, he will utterly ruin the foundations of his ancestors.
Al-Hakim. You know nothing of my personal character! How can you dismiss me so casually in this way? I tell you with truth in my heart that I have no intention of doing those things.
Timur. I am most satisfied with these arguments. You have heard the words of my qadi, and it appears that you have no justification for claiming the caliphate. Will you dismiss my judgment?
Al-Hakim. No…I am not one to question the decision of the great Timur.
Timur. Good. Now you may go the way of your dynasty.
(Al-Hakim bows, then moves to depart.)
Where are you going?
Al-Hakim. Back to the citadel, in accordance with your proclamation.
Timur. But that is not the way of your dynasty. Soldier! Cut off this man’s head.
(A nearby soldier pushes al-Hakim to his knees.)
Timur. (Signaling for the soldier to stop) I am sorry, you are right. That is no way to treat a claimant to the Abbasid Caliphate. Soldier! After you cut his head off, stick it on a spear and display it before the city as dissuasion to further false claimants. (He gives a signal to be lifted and placed on his horse.) Come, qadi.
Ibn Khaldun. I must return to the citadel for now. There is much work to do.
Timur. When you say ‘work,’ I hope you refer to my description of the Maghrib. Don’t let me hear about you attending to any more legal matters—let the former kitchen washers see to those.
Ibn Khaldun. Yes, Amir.