Open up your mind and your potential reaches infinity…

TINY COUNTRY, HUGE HISTORY


As the situation in Tunisia stays uncertain and their youth refuse to accept anyone at all from among the old faces and demand for ‘real democracy’, we the international community wonder where is Tunisia heading. Honestly speaking I am quite apprehensive that yet another progressive Muslim Arab country is moving towards chaos and anarchy. I hope my apprehensions bite the dust ultimately.

In the meantime I get in touch with my friend Ali Boubakri’s brother residing in Montreal to inquire about my friend and his family, especially about their septuagenarian mom who lives alone in a village and had always sent me my favourite homemade Tunisian cookies made out of millet flour and olive oil. Before I could express my concern over the phone he remarks’
‘”This world may see us as a tiny insignificant country somewhere in Africa, but we have always created history by coming out big ever since the recorded history 3000 years ago.”

For the next 5 minutes or so all he could get from my side was “ Yes”, “True”, “ I know”.
But to tell you the truth I did not know a nit about this place except that it is a pretty destination to go, place from where my ex colleague and friend Ali came from and that Tunisians form a bunch of decent intellectual Arabs. Yes I did know that Carthage, the famous ancient city , was in Tunisia.

As soon as I say to him “Ma’asslaam” and put the phone down my fingers reach to the laptop to Google Tunisian History.

And to my utter disbelief, surprise after surprise unfold of its ‘great glorious ‘ past and the great people this tiny land has produced.

 

Yes , the first and the most widely known historical fact remains that ancient city of Carthage which was built 3000 years ago and was known then as the ‘Shining city’ is located in Tunisia. It was a state that had given tough time to the Roman Empire then ( Roman Empire then being equivalent to what Uncle Sam is now) through three Punic wars. This was the only bit of information of Tunisian history that I knew from before.


The next on my search comes the name HANNIBAL—yes I knew who he was , when I read ‘Glimpses of the World History’ 25 years ago- but he was a Tunisian too like my friend Ali, I didn’t know.

He was a Carthagian military commander who led the Punic Wars against Rome. During the Second Punic War he had marched with elephants (somewhere in 800 BC) all the way from Carthage through the Iberian Peninsula( Spain & Portugal), climbing the Pyrenees and the Alps( as tough as Himalayas) to reach Rome. He had managed to occupy areas of Roman Empire for almost 15 years until he lost in the third war.
Hannibal is included in history in the ranks of Alexander the great and Julius Ceaser. He has been recognised as the greatest military tactician and strategist. Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have called him a ‘gifted strategist’.

His wars with Rome had created a terror in Rome. And it is said that for generations, Roman moms would tell their children brutal tales of Hannibal when they misbehaved. In fact, Hannibal became such a figure of terror that whenever disaster struck, Roman Senators would exclaim “Hannibal arte portas” ( Hannibal before the gates) as an expression of fear.

Next piece of information came as a total surprise to me. The city of KAIROUAN, established in 9th Century is the fourth most important city of Islam after Makkah, Madina and Jerusalem.It has been known in the past as the Citadel of Islam. A city which built the first mosque in Africa, the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba also known as the Great Mosque of Kairouan or the Masjid Al Kabir. Many locals affectionately say that seven pilgrimages to this mosque is considered the equivalent of one pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Great Mosque of Kairouan is considered as one of the most important monuments of Islamic civilization as well as a worldwide architectural masterpiece.
The city is small but has 85 mosques and 101 tombs of Holy men.


Last but certainly not the least aspect of Tunisian history dropped my jaw.
Lo and behold ! Ibn Khaldun, the forerunner of many social science disciplines too was a Tunisian.
( Why the heck didn’t I know this a few years ago when my Tunisian friend Ali nicknamed me ‘Indira Gandhi’ whenever I had a head on argument with my Saudi colleagues on Polygamy, and other issues related to women. Ali was the only male colleague who whole heartedly supported my take on these sensitive issues. I could have nicknamed him Ibn Khaldun in return).
Well, IBn Khaldun (1332AD/732AH-1406AD/808AH) was a Muslim and an Arab polymath.
(A polymath or , “having learned much”, is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas).
Apart from being an Islamic theologian, Islamic jurist, Islamic scholar, a Hafiz Al Quran, he was also an astronomer, a historian, an economist, a mathematician, a nutritionist, a philosopher, a military strategist, and a social scientist. He is considered the pioneer of modern economics sharing the honour with Chanakya ( the ancient Indian genius of Economics).
Ibn Khaldun is considered the father of many Social Science disciplines, like the Philosophy of History, the Demography, Historiography and Sociology.
He is best known for his MUQADDIMAH (known in English as PROLIGOMENON) which was the Volume 1 of the KITAB AL IBAR, his book on universal history.


Unfortunately, like many other great thinkers, Ibn Khaldun’s ideas were far ahead of its time and hence they failed to be understood by his society.
Muslims slipped into dark ages and ignored and lost him for centuries altogether.

Thanks to the Renaissance and after it that the West rediscovered him in the 19th Century as one of the Great philosophers of Islam.

British historian Arnold J. Toynbee called the Muqaddimah “a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place. Much of his own work on world history was inspired by Ibn Khaldun.

The British philosopher Robert Flint wrote the following on Ibn Khaldun: ” As a theorist on history , he had no equal in any age… Plato, Aristotle and Augustine were not his peers.

I still can’t digest the fact that this great person, Ibn Khaldun, was a Tunisian.

No wonder why Tunisians are fighting for real democracy with Hannibal and Ibn Khaldun sitting in their genes.

Things would have been a lot different if we too had such genes.

Ilmana Fasih
21 Jan 2011

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