Ḳabīla EI [1]


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abīla Denotes a large agnatic group, the members of which claim to be descended from one common ancestor; this word is generally understood in the sense of tribe. It derives from the Arabic root -b-l , of which the form ābala signifies to meet, to be face to face with. The definition given by al-Nūwayrī ( Nihāya , ii, 269), the only one, we believe, which refers to its morphology, refers specifically to this etymology: “the abīla was so named because its component parts are placed face to face and in equal numbers”. Its structure seems indeed to be connected with that of the skull, in which the four bones, also denoted by the word abīla , are placed opposite to one another ( LA , root -b-l ). This term is often found in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry. Curiously enough, it is there employed almost exclusively in the plural, abā il ʾ ( Ag ̲ h ̲ ānī , ed. Beirut , ii, 81, vii, 285; al-Balād ̲ h ̲ urī , Ansāb al-as ̲ h ̲ rāf , i, Cairo 1959, 19, 41, 50; al-Sūwaydī, Sabā ik ʾ al-d ̲ h ̲ ahab fī ma rifat ʿ abā il ʾ al- Arab ʿ , Cairo n.d., 104). The ur ān ʾ uses it only once: “We have established you in peoples ( s ̲ h ̲ u ūb ʿ ) and tribes ( abā il ʾ ) so that you may know one another” (XLIX, 13). On the strength of its inclusion in the ur ānic vocabulary, this substantive has been the subject of various ʾ explanations. Unfortunately, these are at once imprecise, contradictory and unsatisfactory. As examples of abīla , al- al as ̲ h ̲ andī (i, 308) cites the Rabī a and Mu ʿ ar groups, which others regard as s ̲ h ̲ u ūb ʿ ; the tribe would in that case include a considerable number of divisions and sub-groups. Al-Bay āwī ( Anwār al-tanzīl , Istanbul 1303, ii, 453) and al- abarsī ( Mad ̲ j ̲ ma ʿ al-bayān tafsīr al- ur ān ʾ , Beirut 1961, xxvi, 96) consider it to be of more modest size. According to the former writer, the Kināna would belong to this type of group, while the latter names the Bakr. In the story of Antar, the ʿ Banū Abs ʿ are described as a abīla , which is thereby reduced to a very limited size. In reality, such examples are valid only when placed in precise historical perspective. An endogamous group, of unilineal descent, does not retain either the same size or the same rank in the social hierarchy throughout its existence . Thus the urays ̲ h ̲ , a mere branch of the Kināna in about the middle of the 6th century A.D., after some decades had become a powerful tribe. It would therefore be difficult to accept the models suggested by the classical authors. All that can be deduced from them with certainty is that the abīla is a smaller group than the s ̲ h ̲ a b ʿ , which is made up of several tribes, and larger than the as ʿ ̲ h ̲ īra ([ q.v. ] cf. ur ān; ʾ IX, 24; LVIII, 22). The
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This note was uploaded on 06/02/2008 for the course ARA 101,102 taught by Professor Molouk,gavenpocken during the Spring '08 term at American University of Sharjah.

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