I make a living teaching old books, and constantly try to persuade my students that things written more than a week ago remain meaningful and "relevant." Yesterday, this passage from Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah provoked an interesting discussion:
When people (who have a religious coloring) come to have the (right) insight into their affairs, nothing can withstand them, because their outlook is one and their object one of common accord. They are willing to die for (their objectives). (On the other hand,) the members of the dynasty they attack may be many times as numerous as they. But their purposes differ, in as much as they are false purposes, and (the people of the worldly dynasty) come to abandon each other, since they are afraid of death. Therefore, they do not offer resistance to (the people with a religious coloring), even if they themselves are more numerous. They are overpowered by them and quickly wiped out, as a result of the luxury and humbleness existing among them, as we have mentioned before.
This happened to the Arabs at the beginning of Islam during the Muslim conquests. The armies of the Muslims at al-Qadisiyah and at the Yarmuk numbered some 30,000 in each case, while the Persian troops at al-Qadisiyah numbered 120,000, and the troops of Heraclius, according to alWaqidi, 400,000. Neither of the two parties was able to withstand the Arabs. (The Arabs) routed them and seized what they possessed.
Another illustration is the Lamtunah (Almoravid) and Almohad dynasties. In the Maghrib, there existed many tribes equaling or surpassing them in numbers and group feeling. However, their religious organization doubled the strength of their group feeling through (their) feeling of having (the right religious) insight and (their) willingness to die, as we have stated, and nothing could withstand them.
Without editorializing (that’s not my job in the classroom), I noted that true religion was also understood by Saint Augustine as the only basis of genuine community.