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Ibn Khaldun, a short biography

Ibn Khaldun, a short biography

Sarim Ashrafi

Ibn Khaldun, whose full name was Abu Zayd ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun, was a prominent Muslim scholar, historian, philosopher, and sociologist born in the 14th century. He was born on May 27, 1332, in Tunis, present-day Tunisia, and is considered one of the greatest Muslim thinkers in history.

Ibn Khaldun meeting Amir Timur, 1401

The life of Ibn Khaldun

Ibn Khaldun, in the first half of his life, held various advisory and bureaucratic roles in the service of the Merinid rulers in Fez, the Hafsids in Tunis, the ‘Abd al-Wadids in Tlemcen, and the Nasrids in Granada.

In 1375, he retired to a remote castle in western Algeria where in the course of the next 3-4 years he worked on the first draft of the Muqaddimah

In 1378, he reentered civilization and undertook some teaching in Tunis while consulting its libraries. In 1382, he left for Mamluk Egypt. There he held the office of the chief qadi (judge) of the Maliki rite several times and he continued to work expanding and revising what he had already written.

In 1401, he had an iconic meeting with the greatest Conqueror of his time, Amir Timur, outside the walls of Damascus. After staying in Timur’s camp for a month, Ibn Khaldun left with a profound respect for the great king. He was impressed with Timur’s knowledge of history and everything the two discussed during that period.

Read the full account here

Ibn Khaldun’s intellectual contributions

Ibn Khaldun is best known for his groundbreaking work in the field of historiography and social sciences. His most renowned work is the Muqaddimah (also known as the “Prolegomena” or “Introduction”), which serves as an introduction to his larger historical work, Kitab al-‘Ibar (Book of Lessons).

In the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun laid the foundation for the philosophy of history and social sciences. He introduced several revolutionary concepts, including the idea of social cohesion and group solidarity (known as ‘Asabiyyah), cyclical patterns of the rise and fall of civilizations, and the importance of economic factors in shaping societies.

Ibn Khaldun emphasized the role of geography, climate, and social organization in the development of societies and argued that the rise and decline of civilizations occur due to a combination of factors, including cultural, economic, and political changes. His work challenged the prevailing views of his time and continues to influence fields such as sociology, economics, and history.

Historian Arnold Toynbee described Ibn Khaldun’s theoretical treatise on history, the Muqaddimah, as ‘undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time or place.’

The philosopher, sociologist, and anthropologist Ernest Gellner declared that Ibn Khaldun was ‘a superb inductive sociologist, a practitioner, long before the term was invented, of the method of ideal types.’

Beyond his contributions to historiography, Ibn Khaldun held various governmental and diplomatic positions throughout his life. He served as a judge, a diplomat, and an advisor to several rulers in North Africa and Andalusia. His experiences in politics and governance further enriched his understanding of human societies and influenced his historical analysis.

Ibn Khaldun inspires the West

Ibn Khaldun’s work had a lasting impact on subsequent scholars and thinkers in both the Islamic world and the West. His ideas were later rediscovered during the European Renaissance, and his theories on the rise and fall of empires influenced thinkers such as Machiavelli.

Ibn Khaldun passes away

Ibn Khaldun passed away on March 17, 1406, in Cairo, Egypt, leaving behind a significant intellectual legacy that continues to shape our understanding of history, sociology, and the dynamics of human societies.

Recommended readings:

The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History – Abridged Edition

Last updated on May 27th, 2023 at 07:05 pm

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