Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Works

Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun, the well known historian and thinker from Muslim 14th-century North Africa, is considered a forerunner of original theories in social sciences and philosophy of history, as well as the author of original views in economics, prefiguring modern contributions. In the following detailed and documented article, Muhammad Hozien outlines the bio-bibliography of Ibn Khaldun and presents insights into his theories, especially by comparing his analysis with that of Thucydides, and by characterizing Ibn Khaldun's view on science and philosophy.

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by Dr Muhammad Hozien*

Table of contents

1. General biography of Ibn Khaldūn

1.1 Childhood and early years
1.2 Tunisia and Morocco
1.3 Escape from Morocco to Spain
1.4 From Spain to Tunisia
1.5 Adventures in North Africa
1.6 To Egypt
1.7 Meeting Tamerlane
1.8 Final days in Egypt

2. Al-Muqaddima: Ibn Khaldūn's magnum opus

3. Selected views of Ibn Khaldūn's theories

3.1 Ibn Khaldūn and Thucydides
3.2 Ibn Khaldūn's view on Science and Philosophy

4. Notes

5. Bibliography

image alt textFigure 1:Front cover of a descriptive list of the bibliographical materials by, and on, Ibn Khaldūn held at the Tunisian National Library: Ibn Khaldūn min khilāl nafā’is al-Maktabah al-Watanīyh: fihris bibliyughrafī = Ibn Khaldoun dans les trésors de la Bibliothéque Nationale: catalogue bibliographique [Ibn Khaldūn within the treasures of the [Tunisian] National Library: a bibliographic catalog]. Edited by Sāmiyah Qamartī. [Tunis]: Ministery of Culture, The National Library, 2006. Source

1. General biography of Ibn Khaldūn

1.1. Childhood and early years

He is ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan b. Jābir b. Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Ibn Khaldūn. According to Ibn Khaldūn, his ancestors originated in Ḥaḍramawt, Yemen. He also traced his ancestry (through another genealogy, as supplied by Ibn Hazm in his book Jamharat ansāb al-‘arab) back to Wā‛il b. Ḥajar, one of the oldest Yemeni tribes. These genealogies point to his Arab origin, although some scholars question the authenticity of these reports because of the political climate at the time of the reports.[1]

Ibn Khaldūn was born in Tunis on 27 May 1332 /1 Ramaḍān 732.[2] He received a traditional education that was typical for one of his family’s rank and status. He learned first at the hands of his father, who was a scholarly person, and not involved in politics like his ancestors. He memorized the Qur’an, learned grammar, jurisprudence, ḥadīth, rhetoric, philology, and poetry. He reached a certain proficiency in these subjects and received certification in them. In his autobiography, he mentions the names of the scholars with whom he studied.[3]

Ibn Khaldūn continued his studies until the age of nineteen, when the great plague swept over the lands from Samarqand to Mauritania. It was after this plague that Ibn Khaldūn received his first public assignment, marking the start of his political career, and forever changing his life.[4]

1.2. Tunisia and Morocco

Ibn Tafrakin, the ruler of Tunis, called Ibn Khaldūn to be the seal-bearer of his captive, Sultan Abū Isḥāq. It is here that Ibn Khaldūn had a firsthand look at the inner workings of court politics and the weakness of the government. Before long he had the opportunity to leave Tunis.

In 713/1352 Abū Ziyad, the amīr of Constantine, marched on Tunis. Ibn Khaldūn accompanied Ibn Tafrakin with the forces that warded off Abū Ziyad’s attack. Tunis was defeated and Ibn Khaldūn escaped to Aba, where he lived with the Muwaḥḥidīn (r. 524–668/1130–1269). He moved back and forth through Algeria and settled in Biskra.[5]

At the same time, in Morocco, Sultan Abū ‘Inān, who had recently settled on the throne of his father, was on his way to conquer Algeria. Ibn Khaldūn traveled to Tlemcen to meet the sultan, and mentions that the sultan honored him and sent him with his chamberlain, Ibn Abī ‘Amr, to Bougie to witness its submission to Sultan Abū ‘Inān.

Ibn Khaldūn stayed in the company of the chamberlain while the sultan moved back to the capital, Fez. In 755/1354 Ibn Khaldūn accepted the invitation to join the council of ‘ulamā‛ and moved to Fez. He was eventually promoted to the post of seal-bearer and accepted it reluctantly, as it was inferior to the posts once occupied by his ancestors.

Ibn Khaldūn used his stay in Fez to further his studies. At this time, Fez was a capital of Morocco and enjoyed the company of many scholars from all over North Africa and Andalusia. Ibn Khaldūn was an ambitious young man and, at this point of his life he began to engage in court politics. He was promoted from one position to another.[6] He also conspired with Abū ‘Abdallāh Muḥammad, the dethroned ruler of Bougie who was captive in Fez at that time. Abū ‘Abdallāh was from the Banū Ḥafṣ, who were patrons of Ibn Khaldūn’s family. Sultan Abū ‘Inān found out about the conspiracy and imprisoned Ibn Khaldūn. Abū ‘Abdallāh was released from prison and Ibn Khaldūn was held for another two years. Sultan Abū ‘Inān fell ill and died before fulfilling his promise to release Ibn Khaldūn. The wazīr, al-Ḥassan b. ‘Umar, ordered the release of Ibn Khaldūn, who was then restored to his former position.[7]

1.3 Escape from Morocco to Spain

The political climate was tense and Ibn Khaldūn again tested his fate and conspired against the wazīr with al-Manṣūr. This loyalty was short-lived as well. He conspired with Sultan Abū Sālim, who overthrew al-Manṣūr. Ibn Khaldūn took the position of secretary (literally, “repository of secrets,” amīn al-sirr).[8] In this, Ibn Khaldūn excelled in his position and composed many poems. He occupied the position for two more years and was then appointed Chief Justice. He showed great ability in this position, but, as a result of constant rivalry with high officials, he lost favor with the sultan.[9]

This, however proved unimportant, as a revolt took place and Sultan Abū Sālim was overthrown by the wazīr, ‘Umar. Ibn Khaldūn sided with the victors and was reinstated to his post, with higher pay. Ibn Khaldūn was as ambitious as ever, and wanted a higher position—namely that of chamberlain. For reasons unknown (perhaps he was not trusted), he was refused the position. This upset him enough that he resigned his position, and he, in turn, upset the wazīr. Ibn Khaldūn asked to leave Fez and go back to Tunisia and was refused. It was then that he asked the wazīr’s son-in-law to intercede on his behalf, that he be allowed to go to Andalusia.[10]

1.4 From Spain to Tunisia

Sultan Muḥammad al-Aḥmar, the King of Granada, was deposed by his brother Ismā‘īl, who was supported by his brother-in-law. Sultan Muḥammad was a friend of Sultan Abū Salim, who had helped Ibn Khaldūn when he was deported to Andalusia by Sultan Abū ‘Inān. When Sultan Abū ‘Inān died and Sultan Abū Sālim became ruler, that friendship was rekindled. Furthermore, when Ismā‘īl al-Aḥmar was declared King of Granada in a palace revolt, Sultan Muḥammad took refuge in Morocco with Sultan Abū Sālim. They were welcomed with great fanfare, and Ibn Khaldūn was present at the festivities. Among Sultan Muḥammad’s party was his wise wazīr, Ibn al-Khaṭīb, who developed a close friendship with Ibn Khaldūn.[11]

Sultan Muḥammad attempted to restore his throne in Granada through an agreement with Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile. Pedro delayed the execution of the agreement upon hearing of Sultan Abū Sālim’s death. Sultan Muḥammad appealed to Ibn Khaldūn for assistance from the wazīr, ‘Umar. Ibn Khaldūn used his influence to help him, and Ibn Khaldūn was even entrusted to care for Sultan Muḥammad’s family in Fez. The wazīr granted Sultan Muḥammad the city of Ronda and the surrounding country. Sultan Muḥammad continued his efforts and recaptured his throne in 736/1361. He then recalled his wazīr Ibn al-Khaṭīb.[12]

When the relationship between Sultan Muḥammad and Ibn Khaldūn soured, he became uncertain, and turned toward Andalusia. He was welcomed and honored by Sultan Muḥammad, who admitted him to his private council. In the following year, Sultan Muḥammad sent Ibn Khaldūn on an ambassadorial mission to Pedro, the King of Castile. Ibn Khaldūn concluded the mission and peaceful terms were established between them. Pedro offered Ibn Khaldūn a position in his service and the return of his family’s former estate at Castile. Ibn Khaldūn declined the offer.[13]

Upon his return from Castile, Ibn Khaldūn offered Pedro’s gift to him to the sultan and in return, the sultan gave him the village of Elvira. Soon Ibn Khaldūn was restless once more and in the following year, 766/1364, when he received an invitation from his friend Abū ‘Abdallāh, who had recaptured his throne at Bougie, Ibn Khaldūn left Granada after asking permission to leave from Sultan Muḥammad.[14]

1.5 Adventures in North Africa

Ibn Khaldūn arrived in Bougie at the age of thirty-two. His plans had finally been realized. The period of imprisonment in Fez did not go to waste. He entered the city as a favorite guest. He accepted the position of ḥājib (chamberlain) for the amīr, Muḥammad. However, his life of power did not last long, as in the following year Abū l-‘Abbās killed the amīr, Muḥammad, his cousin. Ibn Khaldūn handed the city to him and retired to the city of Biskra. He continued his political work in relaying the tribes to the service of this or that amīr or sultan. He continued his practice of shifting loyalties as times and opportunities afforded him and finally retired to a far outpost south of Constantine, Fort Salāma.[15] There, at the age of forty-five, he enjoyed a peaceful existence, and began to write his famous work, the Muqqddima, and the first version of his universal history.

He dedicated his work to the current amīr of Constantine, Sultan Abū l-‘Abbās. But tranquility did not last long for Ibn Khaldūn, as he needed reference works that were not available at his far outpost. He used the occasion of Abū l-‘Abbās’s conquest of Tunisia to go to Tunis. This was the first time he had returned to the town of his birth since leaving it more than twenty-seven years earlier.

There were political forces at work against him once more, and this time, before he fell out of favor, he used a convenient occasion (in 784/1382) to leave North Africa behind, never to return.[16]


Figure 2:Frontispice of the English translation from Arabic of the Muqaddima of Ibn Khaldun in 3 volumes by Franz Rosenthal: The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (New York: Pantheon Books, 1958).

1.6 To Egypt

Ibn Khaldūn was granted permission from Sultan Abū l-‘Abbās to go on ḥajj. He arrived in Alexandria in Shabān 784/ October 1382, at the ripe age of fifty. He spent a month preparing to leave for ḥajj, but was unable to join the caravan bound for the Holy Lands. He turned toward Cairo instead. Here he was warmly welcomed by scholars and students, and it was in Cairo that he lived out his final days. His fame for his writings had already preceded him. He lectured at al-Azhar and other fine schools. When he met Sultan al-Ẓahir Barqūq (r. 784–801/1382–1399), he appointed him to a teaching post at the Kamāliyya school.[17]

He again enjoyed the favors of the sultan. He was appointed a Mālikī judge at the sultan’s whim, and anger. He fared well and tried to fight corruption and favoritism, but again, conspiracies worked against him and he was relieved of duty, just in time to coincide with his family’s disaster. The ship carrying his family and belongings sank in a storm.[18]

Ibn Khaldūn again took permission to go on ḥajj to the Holy Lands. He returned and was well received, and appointed to a teaching position in the newly-built school, Bayn al-Qaṣrayn. He lectured in ḥadīth, particularly Imām Mālik’s Muwaṭṭā‛. He was then appointed to the Sufi khanaqa (school) of Baybars with a generous salary. But soon, the state of affairs of Egypt was disturbed, as a rival of Sultan Barqūq, Yalbughā al-Nāṣarī, organized a successful revolt in 791/1388. Sultan Barqūq staged a counter-revolt and was restored to his former throne. During this period, Ibn Khaldūn lost and then had his position restored with the return to power of the victorious Sultan Barqūq.

All the while, Ibn Khaldūn devoted his time to lecturing and studying, as well as to completing his universal history. After Yalbughā al-Nāṣarī’s revolt, he wrote about ‘aṣabiyya and its role in the rise and fall of states. He applied his theory to the Egyptian theater from the time of Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn.[19]

Fourteen years after leaving the position of chief Mālikī judge, Ibn Khaldūn was reassigned to the post upon the death of the presiding judge. The state again fell into disarray upon Sultan Barqūq’s death and the ascension of his son Faraj (r. 1389–1412). Ibn Khaldūn was not a party to these revolts and asked permission to visit Jerusalem. He joined Sultan Faraj’s caravan on its way back from Damascus, and was relieved of his duties as judge for the second time, again due to political intrigue. This did not matter to him, as he was called upon to accompany the sultan on a perilous journey with fate to Damascus.[20]

1.7 Meeting Tamerlane

During Ibn Khaldūn’s stay in Egypt Sultan Faraj asked him to accompany his expedition to Damascus. News reports had confirmed the movement of Tamerlane’s war party toward Damascus. Sultan Faraj and his army were on their way there, and it seems that Ibn Khaldūn was asked, firmly, to accompany the sultan to Damascus.[21]

The sultan stayed in Damascus just two weeks; he had to leave because of rumors that a revolt was in the works in Cairo. Ibn Khaldūn and several notables were left behind in Damascus. It was up to the leaders of Damascus to deal with Tamerlane. Ibn Khaldūn had suggested that they consider Tamerlane’s terms. It was the task of another judge, Ibn Mufliḥ, to discuss the terms with Tamerlane. When Ibn Mufliḥ returned from Tamerlane’s camp, the terms were not agreeable to the residents of Damascus.

Since it was Ibn Khaldūn’s suggestion to come to terms with Tamerlane, he felt obliged to meet with Tamerlane personally, and so he left Damascus and went to Tamerlane’s camp. It is not clear whether he went on his own or in an official capacity. Ibn Khaldūn took gifts with him for Tamerlane and they were well received; he stayed in Tamerlane’s camp for thirty-five days.

During this period, Ibn Khaldūn had many meetings with Tamerlane, conversing through an interpreter, ‘Abd al-Jabbār al-Khwārizmī (d. 805/1403). Ibn Khaldūn’s account is the only detailed one available; the subjects they discussed were varied and some were unrecorded. Walter Fischel lists six specific topics about which they talked:

1. The Maghrib and Ibn Khaldūn’s land of origin;
2. Heroes in history;
3. Predictions of things to come;
4. The ‘Abbāsid caliphate;
5. Amnesty and security “for Ibn Khaldūn and his companion”;
6. Ibn Khaldūn’s intention to stay with Tamerlane.[22]

Ibn Khaldūn impressed the conqueror enough that he was asked to join Tamerlane’s court. Some biographers have suggested that he did plan to join Tamerlane’s court and that he wrote an eloquent appeal to return to Egypt to settle his affairs, get his books and family, and then join Tamerlane. However, it is more likely that Ibn Khaldūn left on good terms with Tamerlane, and accomplished his mission of extracting favorable terms for the people of Damascus.[23]

Ibn Khaldūn’s parting words lend credence to the fact that he would not be returning to Tamerlane’s service:

“Is there any generosity left beyond that which you have already shown me? You have heaped favors upon me, accorded me a place in your council among your intimate followers, and shown me kindness and generosity which I hope Allah will repay to you in like measures.”[24]

1.8 Final days in Egypt

Upon Ibn Khaldūn’s return to Egypt, he was restored to his position as Mālikījudge. Due to the political situation within the community of Mālikījudges, Ibn Khaldūn was dismissed and reinstated three times during the five-year period. He died while in office on 26 Ramaḍān 808/17 March 1406. He was buried in the Sufi cemetery outside Bāb al-Naṣr, Cairo, at the age of seventy-four.[25]

2. Al-Muqaddima: Ibn Khaldūn's magnum opus

image alt textFigure 3: Autograph of Ibn Khaldun (upper left corner) on a manuscript of the Muqaddima. (Source).

Ibn Khaldūn’s works can be classified in the categories of history and religion. Of his works on history, only his universal history has survived to our day. The history that was written specifically for Tamerlane, as Ibn Khaldūn mentioned in his autobiography, has been lost. His religious books are: Lubab al-maḥṣūl [Summary of the result]; a commentary on an uṣūl al-fiqh poem, and a few works of questionable attribution to him, namely a Sufi tract, Shifā‛ al-sā‛il [Healing of the inquirer].[26]

Ibn Khaldūn’s magnum opus al-Muqaddima can be divided into three parts. The first part is the introduction, the second part is the universal history, and the third part is the history of the Maghrib. In this section, I concentrate on the first part. The second part is similar to the standard histories of Muslim historians, and there does not seem to be much divergence. The third part, which is concerned with the history of the Maghrib, is considered a primary source work.[27] Much of the information in this section is from Ibn Khaldūn’s personal travels and contacts in the area, and is replete with firsthand accounts. An additional work that is not usually considered a part of this book is an appendix, which is an autobiography of the author.

The first part, the “Introduction,” is popularly known as al-Muqaddima; Ibn Khaldūn wrote this in a span of five months.[28] It can be divided into six parts as follows:

1. Human society —ethnology and anthropology
2. Rural civilizations
3. Forms of government and forms of institutions
4. Society of urban civilization
5. Economic facts
6. Science and humanity

This impressive document is the essence of Ibn Khaldūn’s wisdom and hard-earned experience. He used his political and firsthand knowledge of the people of Maghrib to formulate many of his ideas and summarized almost every field of knowledge of the time. He discusses a variety of topics, including history and historiography. He rebukes some historical claims with a calculated logic, and discusses the contemporary sciences. He wrote about astronomy, astrology, and numerology; and dealt with chemistry, alchemy, and magic in a scientific way. He freely offered his opinions and well documented the “facts” of other points of view. His discussion of tribal societies and social forces is the most interesting part of his thesis. He illuminated the world with deep insight into the makings and workings of kingdoms and civilizations.

The following quotation describes his philosophy of the historical process of civilizations, including, for example, the role of economics:

“. . . in the field of economics, Ibn Khaldūn understands very clearly the supply and demand factors which affect price, the interdependence of prices and the ripple effects on successive stages of production of a fall in prices, and the nature and function of money and its tendency to circulate from country to country according to demand and the level of activity.”[29]

Ibn Khaldūn is well known for his explanation of the nature of state and society and for being “the founder of the new discipline of sociology”:

“Ibn Khaldūn fully realised that he had created a new discipline, ‘ilm al-’umran, the science of culture, and regarded it as surprising that no one had done so before and demarcated it from other disciplines. This science can be of great help to the historian by creating a standard by which to judge accounts of past events. Through the study of human society, one can distinguish between the possible and the impossible, and so distinguish between those of its phenomena which are essential and those which are merely accidental, and also those which cannot occur at all.”[30]

Ibn Khaldūn’s contributions to the field of history must also be noted.

“He analysed in detail the sources of error in historical writings, in particular partisanship, overconfidence in sources, failure to understand what is intended, a mistaken belief in the truth, the inability to place an event in its real context, the desire to gain the favour of those in high rank, exaggeration, and what he regarded as the most important of all, ignorance of the laws governing the transformation of human society.”[31]

On the development of the state, and the relationship between the state and society, Ibn Khaldūn believed that:

“. . . human society is necessary since the individual acting alone could acquire neither the necessary food nor security. Only the division of labour, in and through society, makes this possible. The state arises through the need of a restraining force to curb the natural aggression of humanity. A state is inconceivable without a society, while a society is well-nigh impossible without a state. Social phenomena seem to obey laws which, while not as absolute as those governing natural phenomena, are sufficiently constant to cause social events to follow regular and well-defined patterns and sequences. Hence a grasp of these laws enables the sociologist to understand the trend of events. These laws operate on masses and cannot be significantly influenced by isolated individuals.”[32]

image alt text
Figure 4:Tarikh ibn Khaldun, edited by Khalil Shahada, 8 vols. Beirut: Dar al-fikr, 2001. To download the volumes in PDF, click on: vol. 1vol. 2vol. 3vol. 4vol. 5vol. 6vol. 7vol. 8. (Source).

Ibn Khaldūn proposed that:

“. . . society is an organism that obeys its own inner laws. These laws can be discovered by applying human reason to data either culled from historical records or obtained by direct observation. These data are fitted into an implicit framework derived from his views on human and social nature, his religious beliefs and the legal precepts and philosophical principles to which he adheres. He argues that more or less the same set of laws operates across societies with the same kind of structure, so that his remarks about nomads apply equally well to Arab Bedouins, both contemporary and pre-Islamic, and to Berbers, Turkomen and Kurds. These laws are explicable sociologically, and are not a mere reflection of biological impulses or physical factors. To be sure, facts such as climate and food are important, but he attributes greater influence to such purely social factors as cohesion, occupation and wealth.”[33]

For Ibn Khaldūn, history is a constantly changing cycle, with essentially two groups of people, nomads and townspeople, with peasants in between. He characterizes each group:

“Nomads are rough, savage and uncultured, and their presence is always inimical to civilization; however, they are hardy, frugal, uncorrupt in morals, freedom-loving and self-reliant, and so make excellent fighters. In addition, they have a strong sense of ‘asabiya, which can be translated as ‘group cohesion’ or ‘social solidarity’. This greatly enhances their military potential. Towns, by contrast, are the seats of the crafts, the sciences, the arts and culture. Yet luxury corrupts them, and as a result they become a liability to the state, like women and children who need to be protected. Solidarity is completely relaxed and the arts of defending oneself and of attacking the enemy are forgotten, so they are no match for conquering nomads.”[34]

With regard to the political and social cycle, Ibn Khaldūn suggests the following sequence of events:

“Nomads conquer territories and their leaders establish a new dynasty. At first the new rulers retain their tribal virtues and solidarity, but soon they seek to concentrate all authority in their own hands. Increasingly they rule through a bureaucracy of clients—often foreigners. As their former supporters lose their military virtues there is an increasing use of mercenaries, and soldiers come to be more important than civilians. Luxury corrupts ethical life, and the population decreases. Rising expenditure demands higher taxes, which discourage production and eventually result in lower revenues. The ruler and his clients become isolated from the groups that originally brought them to power. Such a process of decline is taken to last three generations, or about one hundred and twenty years. Religion can influence the nature of such a model; when ‘asabiya is reinforced by religion its strength is multiplied, and great empires can be founded. Religion can also reinforce the cohesion of an established state. Yet the endless cycle of flowering and decay shows no evolution or progress except for that from the primitive to civilized society.”[35]

Ibn Khaldūn acknowledges that there are turning points in history. He wrote that in his time, he believed the Black Death and Mongol invasions were turning points, as was the development of Europe. His observations and research focused on the etiology of civilizational decline, “the symptoms and the nature of the ills from which civilizations die.”[36]Ibn Khaldūn’s thesis, that the conquered race will always emulate the conqueror in every way,[37] and his theory about ‘aṣabiyya (group feeling/party spirit) and the role it plays in Bedouin societies is insightful. The genius of this work is his study of the science of human culture, the rise and fall of empires; Ibn Khaldūn termed this the science of ‘umrān (civilization), and it contains many pearls of wisdom. His “Introduction” is his greatest legacy, left for all of humanity and generations to come.

3. Selected views of Ibn Khaldūn theories

3.1 Ibn Khaldūn and Thucydides

A comparative study of Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddima and Thucydides, who is considered the ‘father of history’ was prepared by L. E. Goodman. In it, Goodman reveals the similarities in methods, assumptions, and conclusions, and notes that:

“Both men are naturalists, both empiricists, both exponents of a critical approach to historiography. Yet neither is a reductionist. Both seek a lesson in history, and both believe that the message of history is to be discovered in the careful study of historical laws revealed in the play of forces which are the expression of man’s political and social nature. But beyond similarities of approach, there is a deep congruity of thought between the two authors, for both believe themselves to have glimpsed the pattern, learned the lesson of history. Both Ibn Khaldūn and Thucydides have been led by their study of history to a cyclical, rather than linear view of historical process; both have been led, in developing their concepts of human and political reality, to a qualified relativism, which affords them. . . a cautious but by no means pessimistic historical theodicy.” [38]

Although Goodman finds similarities between some of the historical theories of the two historians, there is little proof that the ideas of Thucydides ever appeared in Arabic. Further, as is the case with Ibn Khaldūn, not many of their ideas have borne fruit, except perhaps in the modern period. Ibn Khaldūn remains a vibrant and original thinker, not only in the field of history, but in sociology as well.

3.2 Ibn Khaldūn’s view on Science and Philosophy

Ibn Khaldūn’s view on science followed the traditional division of sciences, which involves a division into religious sciences and non-religious sciences. The non-religious sciences are further divided into useful and non-useful sciences (mainly the occult sciences such as magic, alchemy and astrology). In the Muqaddima, Ibn Khaldūn reports on all the sciences up to his time, with examples and quotations. He makes it a point to refute magic, alchemy, astrology, and philosophy in his book. His work became a record of the development of sciences in his day.

Ibn Khaldūn’s view on philosophy is similar to that of al-Ghazālī, in the sense that he attempted to reconcile mysticism and theology. In fact, Ibn Khaldūn, according to Issawi,

“. . . goes further than the latter [al-Ghazālī] in bringing mysticism completely within the purview of the jurisprudent (faqīh) and in developing a model of the Sufi shaykh, or master, as rather similar to the theologian. Philosophy was regarded as going beyond its appropriate level of discourse, in that “the intellect should not be used to weigh such matters as the oneness of God, the other world, the truth of prophecy, the real character of the divine attributes, or anything else that lies beyond the level of the intellect.”[39]

Ibn Khaldūn criticized Neoplatonic philosophy, and asserted that the hierarchy of being and its progression toward the Necessary Being, or God, is not possible without revelation.[40]


Figure 5: Front page of Manuscript of the World History of Ibn Khaldūn: Kitābal-‘Ibar wa-dīwān al-mubtada’ wa-al-khabar fī ayyām al-‘Arab wa-al-‘Ajam wa-al-Barbar. MS >Arabic suppl. 359Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven. 261 leaves, 26.5 x 17.5 cm; written in various hands and copied in 1140 H / 1728. Part of Ibn Khaldūn: An Exhibition at Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University Library, March to May 2008.(Source).

4. Notes

[1.] Mohammad A. Enan, Ibn Khaldūn: His life and Work (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1946), 3–5. The author questions Ibn Khaldūn’s Arab origin, although he does acknowledge that he came from an influential family that was politically active in Andalusian affairs. He also agrees that the Arabs held the authoritative positions while the Berbers bore the brunt of the battles, thus indirectly concurring that Ibn Khaldūn is of Arab origin. Enan raises two points to support his claim that Ibn Khaldūn is not an Arab. One point is that some Berber tribes used false Arab identities to gain political favor and positions. The second point is Ibn Khaldūn’s “attacks” on Arabs in his history. The false identity would be a valid point at the time that Ibn Khaldūn’s ancestors left Andalusia and moved to Tunisia, and did not change their claim to Arab ancestry. Even in the times when Berbers were ruling, during the reigns of Murābiṭūn (r. 454–541/1062–1147) and Muwaḥḥidūn (r. 524–668/1130–1269), Ibn Khaldūn’s family did not reclaim their Berber heritage. The second point would be true if Ibn Khaldūn only attacked Arabs and Arabs in general. However, he criticized them for their tendency to destabilize—in his case this meant Arab tribes that were used by the Fāṭimids to destabilize the Maghrib. Even if he criticized his own people, that would not make him an outsider. Throughout his life, Ibn Khaldūn sought stability and power to achieve that stability, regardless of the cost. His attacks on Arab rabble rousers are attacks on those who would cause instability.
[2.] Enan, Ibn Khaldūn, 2.
[3.] Ibid, 8. He would later write a detailed autobiography (Ta‘rīf) while in Egypt; this is part of his book of universal history: Kitāb al-‘ibar wa-dīwān al-mubtada‛ wa-l-khabar fī ayyam al-‘Arab wa-l-‘ajam wa-l-barbar wa man ‘aṣarahum min dhū al-Sultan al-Akbar. See Walter J. Fischel, Ibn Khaldūn in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967).
[4.] Enan, Ibn Khaldūn, 9.
[5.] Ibid, 10, 12.
[6.] Ibid, 17–18. At this point, Ibn Khaldūn was promoted to the position of secretary, and, despite his youth, became a member of the sultan’s private council. Even though he was well-treated, he did not stop from conspiring against the sultan.
[7.] Ibid, 19–20. He wrote a poem that finally convinced the sultan to release him, however the sultan died before fulfilling the promise to do so.
[8.] He is Manṣūr b. Sulayman, a descendent of Ya‘qūb b. ‘Abd al-Ḥaqq. Enan, Ibn Khaldūn, 20–22.
[9.] Ibid, 24.
[10.] Ibid, 25–27. The wazīr, ‘Umar b. ‘Abdallāh was the son-in-law of Sultan Abū Salim, his father was the former wazīr in the court of Banū Marīn. Ibn Khaldūn was refused permission to go to Tunisia for fear that he might meet the enemies of the wazīr in Tlemcen.
[11.] Enan, Ibn Khaldūn, 28–32. Sultan Muḥammad remained in Fez for some time and developed quite a close relationship with Ibn Khaldūn. When the sultan attempted to regain his throne, he left Ibn Khaldūn in charge of the sultan’s family in Fez.
[12.]Enan, Ibn Khaldūn, 33.
[13.]Ibid, 34. He rightly declined the offer, for he could not trust Pedro.
[14.] Ibid, 35. The gift was a magnificent mule with saddle and bridle adorned with gold.
[15.] Ibid, 36–49.
[16.] Ibid, 51–57.
[17.] Ibid, 63–67.
[18.] Ibid, 69–72.
[19.]Ibid, 72–75.
[20.] Ibid, 78–79.
[21.] Fischel, Ibn Khaldūn in Egypt, 42.
[22.] Ibid, 44. Ibn Mufliḥ was a Ḥanbalījudge in Damascus. Ibn Khaldūn mentions that Tamerlane had asked about him personally; at the time, Ibn Khaldūn was advanced in age and was quite famous. It was also Tamerlane’s style to seek out scholars, so Ibn Khaldūn’s name might have been mentioned as one of those scholars who are in Damascus. Fischel mentions that Tamerlane made use of spies and agents working for him throughout the lands that he conquered, and that Ibn Khaldūn went in a personal capacity to meet with Tamerlane. This could be the case; it could also be that the leaders of Damascus wanted Tamerlane to know that Ibn Khaldūn acted on his own, in case his diplomatic efforts failed. The gates of Damascus were not opened and he had to be lowered by rope (46–49).
[23.] Ibid, 62–65. Ḥajjī Khalīfa, the author of Kashf al-ẓunun, and Ibn ‘Arabshah suggest that Ibn Khaldūn promised to serve in Tamerlane’s court, contingent on his return to Cairo to get his books (which he had spent his lifetime compiling). Ḥajjī Khalīfa went so far as to suggest that Ibn Khaldūn died in Samarqand.
[24.] Ibid, 65. Ibn Khaldūn mentioned this statement in asking for the return of his mule. Note Ibn Khaldūn’s mastery of courtly manners. This is the result of years of experience with a variety of courts, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
[25.] Ibid, 67–68. There were some who were interested in having the position of the chief Mālikī judge, and they conspired with their contacts close to Sultan Faraj to have Ibn Khaldūn dismissed. It would seem that Ibn Khaldūn also had some influence, and this led to his reinstatement.
[26.] See Abderrahmane Lakhassi, “Ibn Khaldūn” in History of Islamic Philosophy, edited by S. H. Nasr and O. Leaman (London: Routledge, 1996), 353.
[27.] See Franz Rosenthal, trans., The Muqaddimah, An Introduction to History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 11–12.
[28.] The author says at the end of his introduction: “I completed the composition and draft of this first part, before revision and correction, in a period of five months ending in the middle of the year 779 [November 1377].” Rosenthal, The Muqaddimah, vol. 3, 481. Also see Darwīsh al-Jawaydī, ed., Muqaddimat Ibn Khaldūn, by ‘Abd al-Raḥmān M. Ibn Khaldūn (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-‘Aṣriya, 1995), 416.
[29.] Charles Issawi and Oliver Leaman, “Ibn Khaldūn, ‘Abd al-Rahman (1332–1406),” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1998), vol. 4, 623–627.
[30.] Ibid.
[31.] Ibid.
[32.] Ibid.
[33.] Ibid.
[34.] Ibid.
[35.] Ibid.
[36.] M. Talbi, “Ibn Khaldūn,” Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed. (Leiden: E. J. Brill).
[37.] This is due to the fact that they believe that the conqueror is superior to them in every way. Thus, in order for them to succeed where they had failed, they must emulate the conqueror in every detail, down to the dress and mode of behavior. See Rosenthal, The Muqaddimah, vol. 1, 299–300.
[38.] L. E. Goodman, “Ibn Khaldūn and Thucydides,“ Journal of the American Oriental Society 92, no. 2 (April–June 1972): 250–270.
[39.] Charles Issawi, An Arab Philosophy of History (Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1987), 3.
[40.] Issawi and Leaman, “Ibn Khaldūn,” 623–627.

5. Bibliography

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~ End ~

* Book Review Editor,The Journal of Islamic philosophy , the only peer-reviewed academic journal solely dedicated to the field.

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