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Ibn Khaldun

Feb 26, 2020

The founder of the social sciences and the greatest Muslim historian,  ‘Abdu-r-Rahman Wali’ud-din Muhammad ibn Khaldun, was born in Tunisia on 27 May 1332. His forefathers had migrated from Hadramawt to Seville (in Spain ) in the ninth century AD and were employed by their rulers as statesmen and administrators over almost four centuries. In the thirteenth century his family was one of the ruling families of Seville. Before the end or the century Seville had been occupied by Christians, and his family had to immigrate to Tunis like most of the other noble families.

His father was a prominent scholar of Islam and so he received his primary education from his father and from other qualified and learned scholars of Islam. From his boyhood his sharp intelligence and philosophical ideas attracted attention. When he was twenty, he was appointed by the Sultan of Fes as his private secretary. Through his service, position and status at the court of the Sultan he became very rich and famous in a very short time, but he fell out of favour and ended up in prison.

He somehow managed to escape from prison and went to Granada to seek asylum under its Sultan, Muhammad. There he was accepted with great honour by the famous historian and politician of Spain, Ibn al-Khatib (1313-74). Ibn al-Khatib was simultaneously a great historian, philosopher, geographer and poet. He wrote more than sixty books, twenty of which are still available. By courtesy of Ibn al-Khatib, Ibn Khaldun became a favourite of the Sultan who gave him the position of State Ambassador and sent him to King Pedro of Castille to draw up a special treaty with the King. King Pedro, seeing his political acumen and diplomatic expertise, asked him to become a Minister in his kingdom, but Ibn Khaldun politely refused the offer.

After having stayed two years in Granada, he went back to North Africa and was involved in solving several political problems and undertook various assignments in the states of North Africa over a period of about ten years from 1364 to 1374. However, despite his untiring efforts, he failed to bring about peace among the small African states and in the end decided to spend a solitary life in a fort in Oran. Here for four years he devoted himself with all his heart to researches on history, planned his seminal book of world history and wrote a material for this book, he roamed from place to place, from library to library and from institution to institution. At last he went to the Zaytun University of Tunis in 1380 and stayed there to complete the writing of his famous Muqaddima.

After two years, he went to Egypt on his way to Makka to perform hajj. In Egypt, Sultan ‘Ali Zahir (1382-1398) received him with great honour and appointed him as principal of the famous Al-Azhar University. After two years he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Maliki madh-hab court. As a justice, he introduced several improvements and amendments in Maliki law, but he had to face severe criticism from several quarters. His opponents even held a court of inquiry against him, but they could not establish any charge. At this time his family was shipwrecked and drowned at sea while coming from Tunis to Cairo. He lost all his children, wife and other relations, and this loss was a very cruel blow to him. He resigned from service and from the world and devoted himself to the worship of Allah. After three years he went to Makka to perform the hajj and then he returned to Cairo to dedicate himself to writing. By 1392 the writing of his famous World History was complete.

Ibn Khaldun became famous as the father of social science. His great book, The History of the World, particularly its Muqaddima, is not only a unique contribution to historical works, but a new chapter and illumination in the world of letters as a whole. His travels from Seville to Samarqand and his experience of administration and politics under different kings and sultans, his important diplomatic assignments to several countries, and above all his persuasive qualities demonstrated by deterring the Tartar Timur from launching an invasion which would have meant the almost certain destruction of Egypt, Syria and other countries, speak of his great personality, acumen and keen intelligence.

The fundamental discovery of the gradual development of human society and judging all events of history according to that discovery is the philosophy of history that Ibn Khaldun propounded. And according to Toynbee this was the greatest contribution of Ibn Khaldun. In the world of economics, knowledge and science he had unprecedented influence. He used to place belief above philosophy. What is not understood by naked reasoning or argumentation is sure to be understood by belief in Allah and in the Hereafter. He discussed this point in great length in one of his original essays, and something of this has also been discussed in his Muqaddima.

When evaluating Ibn Khaldun we must remember that, while sitting in a palace in North Africa five hundred years ago, he contributed to the world of history and to the world as a whole a knowledge and a direction upon which all later historians based themselves. So he is, in truth, the father of the science of history.


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