Ibn Khaldun: History, Accomplishments and Facts
Arab scholar and philosopher Ibn Khaldun was an influential figure in the formation of modern disciplines such as sociology, economics, demography and historiography. For centuries, the Middle Ages scholar’s works, including his masterpiece the Muqaddimah (“Introduction”), had tremendous influence on many scholars across the world. The famous Florence-born Renaissance author and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli had very positive things to say about Khaldūn, calling him one of the greatest minds of the Middle Ages.
When was Ibn Khaldūn born?
Ibn Khaldun was born in the year 1332 AD in Tunis. His upper-class family was of Arab descent and from Al-Andalus (present-day Spain and Portugal) in the Iberian Peninsula.
Following the fall of Seville to Christian forces in 1248, his family, who occupied a very important status in Seville, migrated to Tunis. In Tunis, the family was treated very well by the Sunni-majority Tunisian Hafsid dynasty (1229-1574), making them one of the most influential families in the city. His father, for example, was an influential administrator in the city before he later committed his life fully to Islamic studies and letters.
Ibn Khaldun was in his mid-teens when both his parents succumbed to the Black Death, a bubonic plague that took the lives of tens of millions of the world’s population.
Education and early life
Owing to his family’s status within the society, he had the privilege of being tutored by some of the best teachers in Tunis. Some of the subjects that he studied include Quran studies, Arabic linguistics and classical Islamic studies. Such was his focus that he memorized the Quran at a very early age.
He also studied mathematics and philosophy under the guidance of Tlemcen philosopher Al-Abili. He immediately took a strong liking to works of famous Arab philosophers and polymaths like Averroes, Razi, and Avicenna. He even wrote his own summaries of books by Averroes.
Ibn Khaldūn’s political career
Seeking to make a big splash in the political arena in Tunis, Ibn Khaldūn studied copiously to gain the skills that would help him navigate the ever-changing political landscape that saw regimes come and go at a very fast pace. His autobiography paints a vivid picture of maze-like political environment that existed in Tunis at the time.
When he was twenty years of age, he secured perhaps his first major job as a seal-bearer (Kātib al-‘Alāmah) in the government of Ibn Tafrakin, then-ruler of Tunisia. Hardly had he began to acclimatize to his new job when the Sultan of Constantine Abu Ziad toppled the rulers of Tunis.
Khaldūn and his tutor left Tunis for Fez (a Moroccan city located northeast of the Atlas Mountains), where the former was appointed to serve as a clerk in the court of Marinid sultan Abu Inan Fares I.
In 1357, he was slapped with more than a year prison sentence for sabotaging the rule of the sultan. However, less than a year later and following the death of Sultan Abu Inan, he was freed from prison by Vizier al-Hasan ibn-Umar.
Sultan Abū Salem’s minister
An ambitious man who would stoop low and scheme against his employers, Khaldun finally had his big break after Sultan Abū Salem handed him a ministerial job. A few years later, he fell out with a number of top officials and migrated to Granada, Andalusia, Spain.
Time in Granada
In Andalusia, the Sultan of Granada, Nasrid Muhammad V, appointed him as a diplomat to the court of Pedro the Cruel (Pedro I), king of Castile. He was tasked to broker a peace deal with the king of Castile, who was extremely impressed with skills of Khaldun. The Castilian king even tried unsuccessfully to secure the services of Khaldun.
Prime minister of Bougie
After getting into a bitter rivalry with the vizier of the Sultan of Granada, Ibn al-Khatib, Khaldun was again on the move. He was driven out of the Granada and sent to North Africa. He settled in the Mediterranean port city of Bougie (present-day Béjia), where he was warmly welcomed by Abu Abdallah, the Hafsid sultan of Bougie, who appointed Khaldun his prime minister.
The passing of Sultan Abu Abdallah resulted in Khaldun pledging allegiance to Abu I-Abbas, the Sultan of Tlemcen.
He was once again thrown into prison following the overthrow of Sultan Abu Abdallah by Abu Faris Abdul Aziz. Once he gained his freedom, he moved to Fez, where he became a close associated of the regent.
Ibn Khadun’s most famous work: the Muqaddimah (“Prolegomena”)
Around 1375, Ibn Khadun had grown very frustrated of the turbulent political climate which required him to constantly switch sides. He decided to focus on scholastic works. It was around this time that he started working on his most famous work, the Muqaddimah.
In 1377, he went back to Tunis, where he believed that he would get the right amount of concentration to carry out his scholastic pursuits. According to his autobiography, he spent about 6 months writing the Muqaddimah. An absolutely insightful work, the Muqaddimah is considered by many scholars today as a pioneer in not just historiography, but also economics, demography, and sociology. To some, Ibn Khaldun’s Prolegomena provides an early view of world history as it attempts to lay down some theories that would later serve as the foundation for Social Darwinism and Darwinism itself.
For centuries, the Muqaddimah was of tremendous influence on many scholars across the world, including the famous Renaissance author Niccolo Machiavelli who revered Khaldun as one of the greatest minds of the Middle Ages.
Time in Egypt
Around the time that he wrote the Muqaddimah, his relationship with the ruler of Tunis Abu I-Abba was a bit on the rocks. Using his trip to Mecca for the Hajj, he was able to flee Tunis and head to Alexandria, Egypt.
Admired for his scholarly knowledge, Ibn Khaldun was made a professor at the Qamhiyyah Madrasah and a senior judge (the grand qadi of the Maliki School of fiqh) by the Egyptian Sultan al-Malik udh-Dhahir Barquq.
As a judge, he described himself as one who always stuck to the merits of the case. He also worked very hard to introduce some reforms in the way justice was administered. For this he incurred the wrath of some court officials.
The death of his wife and children in 1384 rocked his world, forcing him to resign from the Madrasah and take a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Ibn Khaldun and the Mongol Conqueror Timur
In 1400, Sultan Faraj, the successor of Barquq, took Ibn Khaldun along with other advisors to Damascus, Syria, which was being besieged by the Mongol Conqueror Timur. However, the sultan had to return to Egypt take care of internal rife that was brewing. He left Khaldun in charge of negotiating peace deal with the Mongol conqueror as the lives of the inhabitants of the city were slowly crushed by the siege.
Ibn Khaldun asked the city’s officials to gently lower him down the city wall so that he could meet face to face with Timur. According to his autobiography, the Mongolian leader gave him the best of treatment in his camp. Ibn Khaldun and Timur had very productive discussions on a host of issues. Curious of Khaldun’s world in North Africa, Timur asked Khaldun to provide a detailed description of his hometown, caliphate culture and history in North Africa. Timur was certainly pleased when Khaldun presented him with an extensive report on North Africa.
Khaldun and Timur exchanged gifts as the latter gave the people of Damascus enough time to prepare for his army’s seizure of the city.
On March 17, 1406, Ibn Khaldun passed away, aged 73. His body was outside Bāb al-Naṣr, one of Cairo’s main gates.
Major achievements of Ibn Khaldun
The following are some major accomplishments of Ibn Khaldun:
Khaldun wrote his best-known work Muqaddimah in half a year, according to his autobiography.
He turned his famous masterpiece Kitāb al-ʻIbar (“Book of Lessons”) into seven books – including Al-Muqaddimah (‘The Introduction’) as well as others that covered world history and historiography of the Berbers and the Maghreb.
Unlike previous Muslim scholars and historians before him, Ibn Khaldun was extremely good at synthesizing multiple, and sometimes opposing, sources without citations.
Origin and causes of poverty – caused by the disintegration of morality and human values- government is needed
His nonreligious historical works had tremendous influence on Al-Maqrizi, the famous Egyptian Arab historian (1364-1442). He also influenced a great number of Ottoman scholars of the 17th century, including Kâtip Çelebi and Mustafa Naima.
In Europe, his works influenced the likes of French nobleman and linguist Silverstre de Sacy, English orientalist and scholar Reynold A. Nicholson, and Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. Similarly, Scottish philosopher Robert Flint described him as the greatest Arab historian and certainly one of the greatest theorists of history.
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1981 credits Ibn Khaldun as one of the scholars who influenced his views on the supply-side economics, also known as Reaganomics, where taxes and regulations are reduced in order to stimulate growth.
More Ibn Khaldun Facts
We know quite a lot about Ibn Khaldun’s life primarily because of the comprehensive autobiography that he penned down. The autobiography was entitled “Presenting Ibn Khaldun and his Journey West and East” (التعريف بابن خلدون ورحلته غربا وشرقا, at-Taʻrīf bi-ibn Khaldūn wa-Riḥlatih Gharban wa-Sharqan). In his autobiography, he provided detailed story of the events and people who shaped his life. It includes detail of his family tree and major teachers, as well as he meeting with Timur (1336-1405), the famed Mongolian ruler and founder of the Timurid Empire, during the siege of Damascus in 1400.
His full name is Walī al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan Ibn Khaldūn.
Modern scholars regard his views on the Zanj people in Southeast Africa as outright racist.
In honor of his brilliant contributions to scholarly work, the İbn Haldun Üniversitesi was established in 2007 in Istanbul, Turkey.
He had a brother called Yahya Khaldun who was also a famous historian and worked as a histroigographer for the Hafsid dynasty.
Ibn Khaldun was a huge critic of the practice of alchemy. The Muqaddimah explores to some extent the history of alchemy and famous alchemists like Jabir ibn Hayyan.
He was a part of the orthodox Ash’ari school of Sunni Islamic thought and a big admirer of Fakhr al-din al-Razi’s and al-Ghazali’s religious views.
It has been claimed that one of his family’s ancestor could trace their roots to Wail ibn Hujr (also known as Hujr ibn ‘Adi), a trusted companion of Prophet Muhammad.