Ibn Khaldun

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North Africa
Medieval era
Ibn Khaldun
Name: Ibn Khaldun
Birth: 27 May, 1332/732 AH
Death: 19 March 1406/808 AH
School/tradition:
Main interests: Sociology, economics
Notable ideas: Asabiyah
Influences:
Influenced: Al-Maqrizi

Ibn Khaldūn or Ibn Khaldoun (May 27, 1332/732AH to March 19, 1406/808AH) was a famous historiographer and historian born in present-day Tunisia, and is sometimes viewed as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology and economics. He is best known for his Muqaddimah "Prolegomena".

Contents

Name

Ibn Khaldūn full name Arabic: ابو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي‎, Abū Zayd ‘Abdu r-Raḥman bin Muḥammad bin Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī;

Biography

Ibn Khaldūn's life is relatively well-documented, as he wrote an autobiography التعريف بإبن خلدون ورحلته غربا وشرقا (Al-Taʕrīf bi Ibn-Khaldūn wa Riħlatuhu Gharbān wa Sharqān, published by Muħammad ibn-Tāwīt at-Tanjī, Cairo 1951) in which numerous documents regarding his life are quoted word-for-word. However, the autobiography has little to say about his private life, so that little is known about his family background. Generally known as "Ibn Khaldūn" after a remote ancestor, he was born in Tunis in 1332 C.E. (732 A.H.) into an upper-class Andalusian family, the Banū Khaldūn. His family, which held many high offices in Andalucia, had emigrated to Tunisia after the fall of Seville at the end of the Reconquista, around the middle of the 13th century. Under the Tunisian Hafsid dynasty some of his family held political office; Ibn Khaldūn's father and grandfather however withdrew from political life and joined a mystical order.

In his autobiography, Ibn Khaldun traces his descent back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad through an Arab tribe from Yemen, specifically the Hadhramaut, which came to Spain in the eighth century at the beginning of the Islamic conquest. In his own words: "And our ancestry is from Hadhramaut, from the Arabs of Yemen, via Wa'il ibn Hajar, from the best of the Arabs, well-known and respected." (p. 2429, Al-Waraq's edition). However, the biographer Mohammad Enan question his claim, suggesting that his family may have been Berbers who pretended to be of Arab origin in order to gain social status. In any case, his writings however express contain a great deal of uncomplimentary commentary on Arab culture:

  • Arabs dominate only of the plains, because they are, by their savage nature, people of pillage and corruption. They pillage everything that they can take without fighting or taking risks, then flee to their refuge in the wilderness, and do not stand and do battle unless in self-defense. So when they encounter any difficulty or obstacle, they leave it alone and look for easier prey. And tribes well-fortified against them on the slopes of the hills escape their corruption and destruction, because they prefer not to climb hills, nor expend effort, nor take risks.'[1]

Khaldun on the other hand expresses a great admiration for the Persians. .

"Thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works... The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts" [2]

Education

His family's high rank enabled Ibn Khaldun to study with the best North African teachers of the time. He received a classical Arabic education, studying the Qur'an and Arabic linguistics, the basis for an understanding of the Qur'an and of Islamic law, Hadith and Fiqh. The mystic, mathematician and philosopher Al-Abili introduced him to mathematics, logic and philosophy, where he above all studied the works of Averroes, Avicenna, Razi and Al-Tusi. At the age of 17, Ibn Khaldūn lost both his parents to an epidemic of the plague which hit Tunis.

Following family tradition, Ibn Khaldūn strove for a political career. In the face of a constantly changing political situation in contemporary North Africa, this required a high degree of skill, developing alliances and dropping them appropriately, to avoid being sucked under by the demise of rulers who at times held power only briefly. Ibn Khaldūn's autobiography, in which he spends time in prison, gains the highest offices and enters exile, at times reads like an adventure story.

Early years in Tunis and Granada

At the age of 20, he began his political career at the Chancellery of the Tunisian ruler Ibn Tafrakin with the position of Kātib al-'Alāmah, which consisted of writing in fine calligraphy the typical introductory notes of official documents. In 1352, Abū Ziad, the Sultan of Constantine, marched on Tunis and defeated it. Ibn Khaldūn, in any case unhappy with his respected but politically meaningless position, followed his teacher Abili to Fez. Here the Marinid sultan Abū Inan Fares I gave him a position as a writer of royal proclamations, which didn't prevent Ibn Khaldūn from scheming against his employer. In 1357 this brought the 25-year-old a 22-month prison sentence. At the death of Abū Inan in 1358, the vizier al-Hasān ibn-Umar set him at liberty and reinstated him in his rank and offices. Ibn Khaldūn then schemed against Abū Inan's successor, Abū Salem Ibrahim III, with Abū Salem's exiled uncle, Abū Salem. When Abū Salem came to power, he gave Ibn Khaldūn a ministerial position, the first which corresponded with Ibn Khaldūn's expectations.

By contrast, after the fall of Abū Salem through Ibn-Amar ʕAbdullah, a friend of Ibn Khaldūn's, Ibn Khaldūn was disappointed, receiving no significant official position. At the same time, Amar successfully prevented Ibn Khaldūn - whose political skills he was well aware of - from allying with the Abd al-Wadids in Tlemcen. Ibn Khaldūn therefore decided to move to Granada. He could be sure of a positive welcome there, since at Fez he had helped the Sultan of Granada, the Nasrid Muhammad V, regain power from his temporary exile. In 1364 Muhammad entrusted him with a diplomatic mission to the King of Castile, Pedro the Cruel, to sign a peace treaty. Ibn Khaldūn successfully carried out this mission, and politely declined Pedro's offer to remain at his court and have his family's Spanish possessions returned to him.

Statue of Ibn Khaldoun in Tunis
Statue of Ibn Khaldoun in Tunis

In Granada, however, Ibn Khaldūn quickly came into competition with Muhammad's vizier, Ibn al-Khatib, who saw the close relationship between Muhammad and Ibn Khaldūn with increasing mistrust. Ibn Khaldūn tried to shape the young Muhammad into his ideal of a wise ruler, an enterprise which Ibn al-Khatib thought foolish and a danger to peace in the country - and history proved him right. At al-Khatib's instigation, Ibn Khaldūn was eventually sent back to North Africa. Al-Khatib himself was later accused by Muhammad of having unorthodox philosophical views, and murdered, despite an attempt by Ibn Khaldūn to intercede on behalf of his old rival.

In his autobiography, Ibn Khaldūn tells us little about his conflict with Ibn al-Khatib and the reasons for his departure. The orientalist Muhsin Mahdi interprets this as showing that Ibn Khaldūn later realised that he had completely misjudged Muhammad V.

High political office

Back in Africa, the Hafsid sultan of Bougie, Abū ʕAbdallāh, who had been his companion in prison, received him with great cordiality, and made Ibn Khaldūn his prime minister. During this period, Ibn Khaldūn carried out an adventurous mission to collect taxes among the local Berber tribes. After the 1366 death of Abū ʕAbdallāh, Ibn Khaldūn changed sides once again and allied himself with the ruler of Tlemcen, Abū l-Abbas. A few years later he was taken prisoner by ʕAbdu l-Azīz, who had defeated the sultan of Tlemcen and seized the throne. He then entered a monastic establishment, and occupied himself with scholastic duties, until in 1370 he was sent for to Tlemcen by the new sultan. After the death of ʕAbdu l-Azīz, he resided at Fez, enjoying the patronage and confidence of the regent.

Ibn Khaldūn's political skills, above all his good relationship with the wild Berber tribes, were in high demand among the North African rulers, whereas he himself began to tire of politics and constant switching of allegiances. In 1375, sent by Abū Hammu, the ʕAbdu l Wadid Sultan of Tlemcen, on a mission to the Dawadida tribes, Ibn Khaldūn sought refuge with one of the Berber tribes, the Awlad Arif of central Algeria, in the town of Qalat Ibn Salama. He lived there for over three years under their protection, taking advantage of his seclusion to write the Muqaddimah "Prologomena", the introduction to his planned history of the world. In Ibn Salama, however, he lacked the necessary literature to complete the work. As a result, in 1378, he returned to his native Tunis, which in the mean time had been conquered by Abū l-Abbas, who took Ibn Khaldūn back into his service. There he devoted himself almost exclusively to his studies and completed his history of the world. His relationship with Abū l-Abbas remained strained, as the latter doubted his loyalty, especially after Ibn Khaldūn presented him with a copy of the completed history omitting the usual panegyric to the ruler. Under pretence of going on the Hajj to Mecca - something a Muslim ruler could not simply refuse permission for - Ibn Khaldūn was able to leave Tunis and sail to Alexandria.

Last years in Egypt

Ibn Khaldun has said of Egypt "He who has not seen it does not know the power of Islam." While all other Islamic regions had to cope with border wars and inner strife, Egypt under the Mamluks was experiencing a period of economic prosperity and high culture. But even in Egypt, where Ibn Khaldūn spent the rest of his life, he could not stay out of politics completely. In 1384 the Egyptian Sultan, al-Malik udh-Dhahir Barquq, made him Professor of the Qamhiyyah Madrasah, and grand Qadi (supreme judge) of the Maliki school of fiqh or religious law (one of four schools, the Maliki school was widespread primarily in West Africa). His efforts at reform encountered resistance, however, and within a year he had to resign his judgeship. A contributory factor to his decision to resign may have been the heavy personal blow that struck him in 1384, when a ship carrying his wife and children sank off the coast of Alexandria. Ibn Khaldun now decided to complete the pilgrimage to Mecca after all.

After his return in May 1388, Ibn Khaldūn concentrated more strongly on a purely educational function at various Cairo madrasas. At court he fell out of favour for a time, as during revolts against Barquq he had - apparently under duress - together with other Cairo jurists issued a Fatwa against Barquq. Later relations with Barquq returned to normal, and he was once again named the Maliki qadi. Altogether he was called six times to this high office, which for various reasons he never held long.

In 1401, under Barquq's successor, his son Faraj, Ibn Khaldūn took part in a military campaign against the Mongolian conqueror Timur, who besieged Damascus. Ibn Khaldūn doubted the success of the venture and didn't really want to leave Egypt. His doubts were vindicated, as the young and inexperienced Faraj, concerned about a revolt in Egypt, left his army to its own devices in Syria and hurried home. Ibn Khaldūn remained at the besieged city for seven weeks, being lowered over the city wall by ropes in order to negotiate with Timur, in a historic series of meetings which he reports extensively in his autobiography. Timur questioned him in detail about conditions in the lands of the Maghreb; at his request, Ibn Khaldūn even wrote a long report about it. As he recognized the intentions behind this, he did not hesitate, on his return to Egypt, to compose an equally extensive report on the history of the Tartars, together with a character study of Timur, sending these to the Merinid rulers in Fez.

Ibn Khaldūn spent the following five years in Cairo completing his autobiography and his history of the world and acting as teacher and judge. During this time he also formed an all male club named Rijal Hawa Rijal. Their activities attracted the attention of local religious authorities and he was placed under arrest. He died on 17 March 1406, one month after his sixth selection for the office of the Maliki qadi.

Works

Unlike most Arab scholars, Ibn Khaldūn has left behind few works other than his history of the world, al-Kitābu l-ʕibār. Significantly, such writings are not alluded to in his autobiography, suggesting perhaps that Ibn Khaldūn saw himself first and foremost as a historian and wanted to be known above all as the author of al-Kitābu l-ʕibār. From other sources we know of several other works, primarily composed during the time he spent in North Africa and Spain. His first book, Lubābu l-Muhassal, a commentary on the theology of ar-Razī, was written at the age of 19 under the supervision of his teacher al-Ābilī in Tunis. A work on Sufism, Sifā'u l-Sā'il, was composed around 1373 in Fez. Whilst at the court of Muhammad V, Sultan of Granada, Ibn Khaldūn composed a work on logic, ʕallaqa li-l-Sultān.

The Kitābu l-ʕibār (full title: Kitābu l-ʕibār wa Diwānu l-Mubtada' wa l-Ħabar fī Ayyāmu l-ʕarab wa l-Ājam wa l-Barbar wa man ʕĀsarahum min ĐawIu s-Sultānu l-Akbār "Book of Evidence, Record of Beginnings and Events from the Days of the Arabs, Persians and Berbers and their Powerful Contemporaries"), Ibn Khaldūn's main work, was originally conceived as a history of the Berbers. Later the focus was widened so that in its final form (including its own methodology and anthropology) it represents a so-called "universal history". It is divided into seven books, the first of which, the Muqaddimah, can be considered a separate work. Books two to five cover the history of mankind up to the time of Ibn Khaldūn. Books six and seven cover the history of the Berber peoples and of the Maghreb, which for the present-day historian represent the real value of the Al-Kitābu l-ʕibār, as they are based on Ibn Khaldūn's personal knowledge of the Berbers.

For sociology it is interesting that he conceived both a central social conflict ("town" versus "desert") as well as a theory (using the concept of a "generation") of the necessary loss of power of city conquerors coming from the desert. Following a contemporary Arab scholar, Sati' al-Husri, it can be suggested that the Muqaddimah is essentially a sociological work, sketching over its six books a general sociology; a sociology of politics; a sociology of urban life; a sociology of economics; and a sociology of knowledge. The work is based around Ibn Khaldun's central concept of 'asabiyah "social cohesion." This cohesion arises spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups; and it can be intensified and enlarged by a religious ideology. Ibn Khaldun's analysis looks at how this cohesion carries groups to power but contains within itself the seeds - psychological, sociological, economic, political - of the group's downfall, to be replaced by a new group, dynasty or empire bound by a stronger (or at least younger and more vigorous) cohesion.

Perhaps the most frequently cited observation drawn from Ibn Khaldūn's work is, in layman's terms, the notion that when a society becomes a great civilization (and, presumably, the dominant culture in its region), its high point is followed by a period of decay. This means that the next cohesive group that conquers the diminished civilization is, by comparison, a group of barbarians. Once the barbarians solidify their control over the conquered society, however, they become attracted to its more refined aspects, such as literacy and arts, and either assimilate into or appropriate such cultural practices. Then, eventually, the former barbarians will be conquered by a new set of barbarians, who will repeat the process.

Assessments of Ibn Khaldūn's Contribution

  • British historian Arnold J. Toynbee called the Muqaddimah "undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place."
  • Abderrahmane Lakhsassi writes: "No historian of the Maghreb since and particularly of the Berbers can do without his historical contribution."

See also

  • Sundiata Keita
  • Egon Orowan
  • Hadith of Persians and belief
  • Fatwa
  • Historical Shi'a-Sunni relations
  • Social cycle theory

Bibliography

  • Fuad Baali. 2005 The science of human social organization : Conflicting views on Ibn Khaldun's (1332-1406) Ilm al-umran. Mellen studies in sociology. Lewiston/NY: Edwin Mellen Press.
  • Walter Fischel. 1967 Ibn Khaldun in Egypt : His public functions and his historical research, 1382-1406; a study in Islamic historiography. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Ibn Khaldun. 1951 التعريف بإبن خلدون ورحلته غربا وشرقا Al-Taʕrīf bi Ibn-Khaldūn wa Riħlatuhu Gharbān wa Sharqān. Published by Muħammad ibn-Tāwīt at-Tanjī. Cairo (Autobiography in Arabic).
  • Ibn Khaldūn. 1958 The Muqaddimah : An introduction to history. Translated from the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal. 3 vols. New York: Princeton.
  • Ibn Khaldūn. 1967 The Muqaddimah : An introduction to history. Trans. Franz Rosenthal, ed. N.J. Dawood. (Abridged).
  • Mahmoud Rabi'. 1967 The political theory of Ibn Khaldun. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
  • Róbert Simon. 2002 Ibn Khaldūn : History as science and the patrimonial empire. Translated by Klára Pogátsa. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. Original edition, 1999.

References

  1. ^. The Muqaddimah, Translated by F. Rosenthal
  2. ^ The Muqaddimah, Translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91).

External links

  • Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of Management and Work
  • Complete Muqaddimah/Kitab al-Ibar in English (without Chapter V, 13)
  • Ibn Khaldun on the Web
  • Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work, by Muhammad Hozien
  • Muslim Scientists and Scholars - Ibn Khaldun
  • Dutch biography
  • Chapters from the Muqaddimah and the History of Ibn Khaldun in Arabic
  • Ibn Khaldūn, from Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History vol. iii, III. C. II. (b), p. 321
  • The Ibn Khaldoun Community Service Award
  • Ibn Khaldun (al-Muqaddimah): Methodology & concepts of economic-socioogy
  • Ibn Khaldun. The Mediterranean in the 14th century: Rise and fall of Empires. Andalusian Legacy exhibition in the Alcazar of Seville

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