Definitions

Ibn_Khaldun

Ibn Khaldun

[ib-uhn khahl-doon]

Ibn Khaldūn or Ibn Khaldoun (full name, أبو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون , , (May 27, 1332 AD/732 AH – March 19, 1406 AD/808 AH), was a famous North African Arab polymath—an astronomer, economist, historian, Islamic scholar, Islamic theologian, hafiz, jurist, lawyer, mathematician, military strategist, nutritionist, philosopher, social scientist and statesman—born in North Africa in present-day Tunisia. He is considered the forerunner of several social scientific disciplines: demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology, and modern economics. He is sometimes considered to be the "father" of these disciplines, or even the social sciences in general, for anticipating many elements of these disciplines centuries before they were founded in the West. He is best known for his Muqaddimah (known as Prolegomenon in the West), the first volume of his book on universal history, Kitab al-Ibar.

Biography

Ibn Khaldun's life is relatively well-documented, as he wrote an autobiography التعريف بابن 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 Andalusia, had emigrated to Tunisia after the fall of Seville to Reconquista forces 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 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 questions his claim, suggesting that his family may have been Berbers who pretended to be of Arab origin in order to gain social status. According to Muhammad Hozien, "The false [Berber] identity would be valid however at the time that Ibn Khaldun’s ancestors left Andalusia and moved to Tunisia they did not change their claim to Arab ancestry. Even in the times when Berbers were ruling, the reigns of Al-Marabats and al-Mowahids, et al. The Ibn Khalduns did not reclaim their Berber heritage. This lends credence to Ibn Khaldun being of Arab origin.

Education

His family's high rank enabled Ibn Khaldun to study with the best North African teachers of the time. He received a classical Islamic education, studying the Qur'an which he memorized by heart, Arabic linguistics, the basis for an understanding of the Qur'an, hadith, sharia (law) and fiqh (jurisprudence). He received certification (ijazah) for all these subjects. 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 tumultuous political situation in North Africa, this required a high degree of skill developing and dropping alliances prudently, to avoid falling with the short-lived regimes of the time. Ibn Khaldūn's autobiography is the story of an adventure, in which he spends time in prison, reaches the highest offices and falls again into exile.

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 appointed him 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. Upon the death of Abū Inan in 1358, the vizier al-Hasān ibn-Umar granted him freedom 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 position which corresponded with Ibn Khaldūn's ambitions.

The treatment Ibn Khaldun received after the fall of Abū Salem through Ibn-Amar ʕAbdullah, a friend of Ibn Khaldūn's, was not to his liking, he received 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 endorse 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.

In Granada, 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.

Back in Africa, the Hafsid sultan of Bougie, Abū ʕAbdallāh, (who had been his companion in prison) received him with great enthusiasm, and made Ibn Khaldūn his prime minister. During this period, Ibn Khaldūn carried out a daring mission to collect taxes among the local Berber tribes. After the death of Abū ʕAbdallāh in 1366, 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 "Prolegomena", the introduction to his planned history of the world. In Ibn Salama, however, he lacked the necessary texts 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 questioned his loyalty. This was brought into sharp contrast 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 other Islamic regions had to cope with border wars and inner strife, under the Mamluks Egypt experienced a period of economic prosperity and high culture. However, even in Egypt, where Ibn Khaldūn lived out his days, 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 favor 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 Mongol conqueror Timur, who besieged Damascus. Ibn Khaldūn cast doubt upon the viability 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

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 Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, 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 Fes, Morocco. Whilst at the court of Muhammed 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.

Concerning the discipline of sociology it is interesting to note that he conceived of a theory of social conflict. He developed the dichotomy of "town" versus "desert," as well as the concept of a "generation," and the inevitable loss of power that occurs when desert warriors conquer a city. Following a contemporary Arab scholar, Sati' al-Husri, it can be suggested that the Muqaddimah is essentially a sociological work; six books of general sociology. Dealt with topics include politics, urban life, economics, and knowledge. The work is based around Ibn Khaldun's central concept of 'asabiyyah, which has been translated as "social cohesion", "group solidarity", "blood ties," or "tribalism." This social 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 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. Some contemporary readers of Khaldun have read this as an early business cycle theory, though set in the historical circumstances of the mature Islamic empire.

Interesting also is the precursor to Marx's labour theory of value in Ibn Khaldun's work. Ibn Khaldun puts forward the insight that all value (profit) comes from labour as Marx was later to write. He outlines an early (possibly even the earliest) example of political economy. He describes the economy as being composed of value adding processes, that is labour is added to techniques and crafts and the product is sold at a higher value. This is a powerful insight as one can construct an entire theory of the economy from this fundamental process and inform government policy. He also made the distinction between "profit" and "sustenance", in modern political economy terms, surplus and that required for the reproduction of classes respectively. He also calls for the creation of a science to explain society and goes on to outline these ideas in his major work the Muqaddimah.

Legacy

  • 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."
  • Abderrahmane Lakhsassi writes: "No historian of the Maghreb since and particularly of the Berbers can do without his historical contribution."
  • The British philosopher-anthropologist Ernest Gellner considered Ibn Khaldun's definition of government, "an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself", the best in the history of political theory.
  • Egon Orowan, who termed the concept of socionomy, developed the writings of Ibn Khaldun to forecast an eventual failure of market demand.
  • Arthur Laffer, whom the Laffer curve is named after, credited Ibn Khaldun for the discovery of the Laffer curve.
  • In 2006, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation launched an annual essay contest for Muslin students named in Ibn Khaldun's honor. The theme of the contest is "how individuals, think tanks, universities and entrepreneurs can influence government policies to allow the free market to flourish and improve the lives of its citizens based on Islamic teachings and traditions."
  • In 2006, Spain commemorated the 600th anniversary since the death of Ibn Khaldun.

See also

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.
  • J. D. C. Boulakia, (1971). Ibn Khaldoun: A fourteenth-century economist, J. Politic. Econ., 79, pp. 105-18.
  • 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

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