Ibn Khaldun – The Father of Cultural History and Historiography

Ibn Khaldun

Abu-Zaid Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn-Khaldun
(27 May 1332, Tunis -17 March 1406, Cairo, Egypt)
Nationality: Tunisia
Category: Scientists
Occupation: Historian, Sociologists, Politicians
Unique distinction: The father of cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, demography and sociology. Polymath.
Gender: Male

Ibn Khaldun Quotes:
1. Eventually, Aristotle appeared among the Greeks. He improved the methods of logic and systematized its problems and details. He assigned to logic its proper place as the first philosophical discipline and the introduction to philosophy. Therefore he is called the First Teacher.
2. Businesses owned by responsible and organized merchants shall eventually surpass those owned by wealthy rulers.
3. In the early stages of the state, taxes are light in their incidence, but fetch in a large revenue…As time passes and kings succeed each other, they lose their tribal habits in favor of more civilized ones. Their needs and exigencies grow…owing to the luxury in which they have been brought up. Hence they impose fresh taxes on their subjects…[and] sharply raise the rate of old taxes to increase their yield…But the effects on business of this rise in taxation make themselves felt. For business men are soon discouraged by the comparison of their profits with the burden of their taxes…Consequently production falls off, and with it the yield of taxation.
4. If the soul is impartial in receiving information, it devotes to that information the share of critical investigation the information deserves, and its truth or untruth thus becomes clear. However, if the soul is infected with partisanship for a particular opinion or sect, it accepts without a moment’s hesitation the information that is agreeable to it. Prejudice and partisanship obscure the critical faculty and preclude critical investigation. The results is that falsehoods are accepted and transmitted.
5. Another reason making untruth unavoidable…is ignorance of the nature of the various conditions arising in civilization. Every event (or phenomenon), whether (it comes into being in connection with some) essence or (as the result of an) action, must inevitably possess a nature peculiar to its essence as well as to the accidental conditions that may attach themselves to it.

Achievements and contributions:

Social and professional position: Ibn Khaldun was an Arab historian, Islamic scholar, sociologist, and politician.
The main contribution to (Best known for): Ibn Khaldun is considered by many to be the father of cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, demography, sociology and even of social sciences in general.

Contributions to culture: 

Ibn Khaldun was a North African polymath,  an Arab historian, astronomer, economist, Islamic scholar and theologian, hafiz, jurist, lawyer, mathematician, military strategist, philosopher, social scientist and statesman. He was a forerunner of several social scientific disciplines: cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, demography and sociology.
Ibn Khaldun is considered by many to be the father of a number of these disciplines, and even of social sciences in general. He anticipated many elements of these disciplines centuries before they were founded in the West.
He is regarded by most scientists as possibly the most outstanding figure in the social sciences between Aristotle and Machiavelli. Besides he is considered one of the forerunners of modern economics.
In addition to that, he is best known as the greatest Arab historian, one of the first scientists to devise nonreligious historiography.
Author of the Muqaddimah (Introduction), the first analysis of history by political and social pattern, Ibn Khaldun is regarded as the ‘father of the science of history and one of the founders of sociology.  In his great work, the Kitab al-Ibar (“Universal History”), he attempts to treat history as a science, he examined the nature of society and social change and developed one of the earliest rational philosophies of history, setting forth principles of sociology and political economy.
He is remembered in philosophy principally for a simple version of the cyclical view of history.
He considered the permanent conflict between primitive Bedouins and highly developed urban society as a crucial factor in history. Ibn Khaldun determined it as a central social conflict (“town” versus “desert”).
His thesis that the conquered race will always emulate the conqueror in every way also gained popularity He believed that in a period of about 120 years, a people would pass through the cycle of primitivism, nomadic life, and civilization, the last of which would fall as a new cycle commenced.
He concluded that the progress of history hinged critically on group solidarity, culture and power. In his view, the social nature of man impelled him to form cooperative communities for survival.
Ibn Khaldun introduced a new scientific method to the social sciences, in particular the historical method which laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of the state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history.
In his Magnum Opus Muqaddima, he not only set forth the earliest general theory of the nature of civilization and the conditions for its development, but talked about astronomy, astrology, and numerology. In this book, he discussed chemistry, alchemy and magic in a scientific way.
His Introduction is the greatest legacy that he left for all of humanity and the generations to come.
Major works: “Muqaddimah” (“Introduction”) (1375-1377),  “Kitab al-‘bar”( History of Muslim North Africa) (7 volumes) (1377 -1382), “Autobiography” (1394)

Career and personal life:

Origin: His parents, originally Yemenite Arabs, had settled in Spain, but after the fall of Seville, had migrated to Tunisia.
Education: He received a classical Islamic education and studied the Qur’an, languages, law, logic, mathematics, and philosophy.
Influenced by: Al-Abili of Tlemcen, Averroes, Avicenna.

Career highlights:

At the age of 20, he began his political career at the Chancellery of the Tunisian ruler Ibn Tafrakin. After that, he served Sultan Abu Enan in Fez.
Suspected of plotting against the ruler, he was imprisoned by the Sultan in 1357 for 22 months. Then the court intrigues forced him to go to Spain in 1362.  Ibn Khaldun would be welcomed and honoured well by Sultan Muhammad V. In 1364 Sultan sent him to Seville on a mission to the Moorish king of Granada Peter the Cruel of Castile, who treated him with great respect and generosity.
After retiring from politics in 1375, Ibn Khaldun wrote his masterpiece, the Muqaddimah. In 1379 he again returned to Tunis. Under Abul-Abbas patronage he wrote the history of the Maghreb.  His influence with the ruler and popularity among students again provoked court intrigues, and he left in 1382 for Egypt.
In 1382 he went to Cairo, where enjoying the patronage of the sultans Barquq and Faraj he spent his last 24 years., as appointed professor of law and religious judge. Most of his time in Cairo was devoted to teaching and research.
In 1400 he accompanied the Egyptians in their campaign against Timur (Tamerlane), and after Timur’s victory, he was sent to arrange for the capitulation of Damascus to Timur. Ibn Khaldun spent nearly two months in the company of Timur, who treated him with great respect. His conversations with the world conqueror turned mostly around the political conditions in Egypt and the Maghreb and on the heroes in History and predictions of things to come.

Personal life:

Ibn Khaldun was born on May 27, 1332, in North Africa in present-day Tunis. His parents, originally Yemenite Arabs, had settled in Spain, but after the fall of Seville, had migrated to Tunisia. That is why Ibn Khaldun always felt attached to the cultural tradition of Moslem Spain.
Growing up in Tunis, he received a classical Islamic education. Ibn Khaldun studied the Qur’an which he memorized by heart, grammar, language, law, logic, mathematics, philosophy, natural science, traditions, and poetry.
Among his teachers, he was most impressed by al-Abili, who came to Tunis in 1347 and introduced him to philosophy.
At the age of 17, Ibn Khaldūn lost both his parents to an epidemic of the plague which hit Tunis.
According to some accounts, he was married and had children. His wife and children tragically died during the sea travel.
Ibn Khaldūn spent his last years in Cairo completing his autobiography and his history of the world.
Ibn Khaldun died on March 17, 1406. A Sufi by persuasion, he is buried in the Sufi cemetery near Cairo.
Zest: Ibn Khaldun’s life is relatively well-documented, as he wrote an autobiography in which numerous documents regarding his life are quoted word-for-word. However, the autobiography has little to say about his private life, so little is known about his family background. Ibn Khaldun was first brought to the attention of the Western world in 1697 when a biography of him appeared. His work, in a translation by Silvestre de Sacy, began to be noticed in Europe in 1806.