Ibn Khaldun is the most important figure
in the field of History and Sociology in Muslim History. He is one of those shining stars that contributed so richly to the
understanding of Civilization. In order for one to understand and appreciate his work, one must understand his life. He lived
a life in search of stability and influence. He came from a family of scholars and politicians and he intended to live up
to both expectations. He would succeed in the field of Scholarship much more so than in any other field.
CHILDHOOD AND EARLY YEARS:
He is Abdurahman bin Muhammad bin Muhammad
bin Muhammad bin Al-Hasan bin Jabir bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim bin Abdurahman bin Ibn Khaldun. His ancestry according to him
originated from Hadramut, Yemen. He also traced his ancestry through another genealogy as supplied by Ibn Hazem using his
grandfather who was the first to enter Andalusia back to Wail ibn Hajar one of the oldest Yemenite tribe. In either case,
the genealogy points to his Arab origin although scholars do question the authenticity of both reports due to the political
climate at the time of these reports.
Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunis on Ramadan
1, 732 (May 27, 1332). He received a traditional education that was typical of his family’s
rank and status. He learned first at the hands of his father who was a scholarly person who was not involved in politics like
his ancestors. He memorized the Qur’an by heart, learned grammar, Jurisprudence, Hadith, rhetoric, philology, and poetry.
He had reached certain proficiency in these subjects and received certification in them. In his autobiography, he does mention
the names these scholars.
He continued studies until the age
of 19 when the great plague would sweep over the lands from Samarkand to Mauritania. It was after this plague that Ibn Khaldun
would receive his first public assignment. This would start his political career that would
forever change his life.
IN TUNISIA AND MOROCCO
Ibn Tafrakin, the ruler of Tunis, called
Ibn Khaldun to be the seal bearer of his captive Sultan Abu lshaq. It is here that Ibn Khaldun would get first hand look at
the inner workings of court politics and the weakness of the government. It would not be long before he would get an opportunity
to leave Tunis.
In 1352 (713 A. H.) Abu Ziad, the Emir
of Constantine, marched his forces on Tunis. Ibn Khaldun accompanied Ibn Tafrakin with the forces that would ward off Abu
Ziad’s attacks. Tunis was defeated and Ibn Khaldun escaped to Aba, where he lived with al-Mowahideen. He would move
back and forth through Algeria and settled in Biskra.
At that same time in Morocco Sultan
Abu Enan, who had recently settled on the throne of his father, was on his way to conquer Algeria. Ibn Khaldun would travel
to Tlemcen to meet the Sultan. Ibn Khaldun mentions that the Sultan honored him and sent him with his chamberlain Ibn Abi
Amr to Bougie to witness its submission to Sultan Abu Enan.
Ibn Khaldun would stay in the company
of the Chamberlain while the Sultan moved back to the capital, Fez. In 1354 (755 A.H.) Ibn Khaldun would accept the invitation
to join the council of Ulama and would move to Fez. He would eventually be promoted to the post of the seal bearer and would
accept it reluctantly, because it was inferior to the posts once occupied by his ancestors.
Ibn Khaldun would use his stay in Fez
to further his studies. Fez at this time was a capital of Morocco and enjoyed the company of many scholars from all over North
Africa and Andalusia. He was also being promoted from one position to another.
Ibn Khaldun was an ambitious young
man and at this point of his life, he would begin to engage in court politics. Ibn Khaldun would conspire with Abu Abdullah
Muhammad, the dethroned ruler of Bougie who was captive in Fez at that time. Abu Abdullah is from the Banu Hafs which were
patrons of Ibn Khaldun’s Family.
Sultan Abu Enan would find out about
the conspiracy and would imprison Ibn Khaldun. Abu Abdullah would be released from prison and Ibn Khaldun would linger on
for two years. Sultan Abu Enan would fall ill and die before fulfilling his promise to release Ibn Khaldun. The Wazir Al-Hassan
ibn Omar ordered the release of Ibn Khaldun who was restored to his former position.
ESCAPE FROM MOROCCO TO SPAIN
The political climate was tense and
Ibn Khaldun would again test his fate and conspire against the Wazir with al-Mansur. This loyalty
would be short lived too. He would conspire with Sultan Abu Salem who would overthrow Al-Mansur. Ibn Khaldun would get the
position of Secretary and the repository of his confidence (Amin as-Sir).
Here Ibn Khaldun would excel in his
position and would compose many poems. He would occupy this position for two more years and would then be appointed as the
Chief Justice. He would show a great ability in this position. However due to constant rivalry between him and high officials
he would lose favor with the Sultan.
However this would not matter because
a revolt would take place and Sultan Abu Salem would be overthrown by Wazir Omar. Ibn Khaldun would side with the victorious
and would get his post with higher pay. Ibn Khaldun was ambitious as ever and wanted a higher position, namely that of the
Chamberlain. For reasons unknown, perhaps he was not trusted, he was refused. This upset him enough to resign his position.
This in turn upset the Wazir. Ibn Khaldun would ask to leave Fez and go back to Tunisia and this request would be refused.
It was then that he would ask the Wazir’s son-in-law to intercede on his behalf to be allowed to go to Andalusia.
FROM SPAIN TO TUNISIA
Sultan Muahmmad al-Ahmar, the king
of Granada, was deposed by his brother Ismail who was supported by his brother-in-law. Sultan Muhammad was a friend of Sultan
Abu Salem who helped him when he was deported to Andalusia by Sultan Abu Enan. When Sultan Abu Enan died and Sultan Abu Salem
became the ruler that friendship was rekindled. Further when Ismail al-Ahmar was declared king of Granada in a place revolt,
Sultan Muhammad took refuge in Morocco with Sultan Abu Salem. They were welcomed with great fanfare, Ibn Khaldun was present
at the festivities. Among Sultan Muhammad’s party was his wise Wazir Ibn al-Khatib who developed a close friendship
with Ibn Khaldun.
Sultan Muhammad would attempt to restore
his throne in Granada through an agreement with Pedro the cruel, the King of Castile. Pedro would delay the execution of the
agreement upon hearing of Sultan Abu Salem death. Sultan Muhammad would appeal to Ibn Khaldun to get the assistance from Wazir
Omar. Ibn Khaldun would use his influence to help him. Further Ibn Khaldun was entrusted to care for Sultan Muhammad’s
family in Fez. The Wazir would grant Sultan Muhammad Ronda and the surrounding country. Sultan Muhammad would continue his
efforts and recapture his throne in 1361 (763 A. H.). He would recall his Wazir Ibn al-Khatib.
When the relationship between Ibn Khaldun
would turn sour and uncertain he would turn towards Andalusia. He would be welcomed and honored well by Sultan Muhammad who
admitted him to his private council. In the following year Sultan Muhammad would send Ibn Khaldun on an Ambassadorial mission
to Pedro, the King of Castile. Ibn Khaldun would conclude and peaceful terms between them. Pedro would offer Ibn Khaldun a
position in his service and to return to him his family’s former estate at Castile. Ibn Khaldun would decline the offer.
Upon his return from Castile, Ibn Khaldun
would offer Pedro’s gift to him to the Sultan and in return, the Sultan would give him the Village of Elvira. Soon Ibn
Khaldun would be restless once more and in the following year, he would receive an invitation from his friend Abu Abdullah,
who had recaptured his throne at Bougie. Ibn Khaldun left Granada in 1364 (766 A.H.) for Bougie after asking permission to
leave from Sultan Muhammad.
ADVENTURES IN NORTH AFRICA
Ibn Khaldun would arrive in Bougie
at the Age of 32 years. His plans have finally been realized. The period of imprisonment in Fez did not go to waste. He would
enter the city as favorite guest. He would accept the position of Hajib for Emir Muhammad. This life of power would not last
long as in the following year Abul Abbas would kill the Emir Muhammad, his cousin. Ibn Khaldun handed the city to him and
retired to the city of Biskra. He would continue his political work in relaying the tribes to the service of this Emir or
that Sultan. He would continue his practice of shifting loyalties as the times and opportunities afforded him. He would finally
retire to a far outpost south of Constantine, fort Salama.
In Fort Salama he would enjoy this
peaceful existence and would begin to write down his famous Muqqddimah and first version of his universal history at the age
of forty-five years.
He would dedicate his work to the current
Emir of Constantine, Sultan Abul Abbas. Tranquility did not last long with Ibn Khaldun, as he needed more reference works
which were not available at this far outpost. He used the occasion of the Abul Abbas’s conquest of Tunisia to go to
Tunis. This would be the first time he would return to the town of his birth since leaving it over 27 years ago.
There would be political forces at
work against him once more and this time before he would fall out of favor he would use a convenient occasion 1382 to leave
North Africa behind never to return.
Ibn Khaldun was granted permission
from Sultan Abul Abbas to go to Hajj. He arrived in Alexandria in October 1382 ( 15th Shabaan 784 A. H.) at the
ripe age of 50. He spent a month preparing to leave for Hajj but was unable to join the Caravan bound for the Holy Lands.
He turned towards Cairo instead. Here he wold live his final days. He was warmly welcomed by scholars and students. His fame
for his writings had already preceded him. He lectured at Al-Azhar and other fine schools. He would get the chance to meet
with Sultan az-Zahir Barquq who would appoint him to teach at the Kamhiah school.
He would enjoy the favors of the Sultan.
He would be appointed as a Maliki Judge on the Sultans whim and anger. He would fare well and tried to fight corruption and
favoritism. Again conspiracies against him would work its way and he would be relieved of this duty. His relief of duty would
coincide with his family’s disaster. The ship carrying his family and belongings would sink in a storm.
It was then that he would take permission
to go to the Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. He would return and be well received and appointed to a teaching position in the
newly built school (Bein al-Qasrein) He would lecture in Hadith, particularly Imam Malik’s Muwatta. He
would then be appointed to Beibers Sufi institute with a generous salary. The state of affairs of Egypt would be disturbed
as a rival of Sultan Barquq, Yulbugha would organize a successful revolt. Sultan Barquq would stage another revolt and would
be restored to his former throne. Ibn Khaldun during this period would suffer and would have his position restored to him
with the return of the victorious Sultan Barquq to Power.
Ibn Khaldun during this period would
devote his time to lecturing and study as wellas to completing his Universal History. After Yulbugha’s revolt, he would
write about Asabiyah and its role in the rise and fall of states. He would apply his theory to the Egyptian theater
since the time of Salah ad-Din.
After fourteen years since leaving
the position of the Chief Maliki judge Ibn Khaldun would reassigned to the post upon the death of the presiding Judge.
The state would again fall into disarray upon the death of Sultan Barquq’s and his son’s ascension. Ibn Khaldun
would not be a party to these revolts and would ask permission to visit Jerusalem. He would join the Sultan Faraj’s
caravan on its way back from Damascus. Again due to political intrigue he would be relived of his duties as judge for the
second time. This would not matter because he would be called to accompany the Sultan on perilous Journey with fate to Damascus.
During Ibn Khaldun’s stay in
Egypt he would be asked by Sultan Faraj of Egypt to accompany him on his expedition to Damascus. News reports have confirmed
the movement of Tamerlane’s war party towards Damascus. Sultan Faraj with his army were on their way to Damascus. It
seems that Ibn Khaldun was asked firmly to accompany the Sultan to Damascus.
The Sultan would only stay for two
weeks in Damascus, as he had to leave due to rumors that a revolt back in Cairo was in the works. Ibn Khaldun and some notables
were left behind in Damascus. It was now up to the leaders of Damascus to deal with Tamerlane. Ibn Khaldun had suggested to
them to consider the terms of Tamerlane. It was the task of another Qadi, Ibn Muflih, to discuss the terms with Tamerlane.
When Ibn Muflih returned from Tamerlane’s camp, the terms were not agreeable to the residents of Damascus.
Since it was the suggestion of Ibn
Khaldun to come to terms with Tamerlane, Ibn Khaldun felt obliged to meet with Tamerlane personally. Ibn Khaldun would leave
Damascus and go to the camp of Tamerlane. It is questionable whether he went on his own or in an official capacity. Ibn Khaldun
took some gifts with him for Tamerlane and they were well received. Ibn Khaldun would stay in Tamerlane’s camp for thirty-five
Over this period, Ibn Khaldun would
have many meetings with Tamerlane and they would converse through an interpreter, Abd al-Jabbar al-Khwarizmi (d. 1403). Ibn
Khaldun’s account is the only detailed account available. The subjects that they would discuss were varied and some
were unrecorded. W. Fischel lists 6 specific topics which they talked about:
On Maghrib and Ibn Khaldun’s
Land of origin.
On heroes in History.
On predictions of things to come.
On the Abbsid Caliphate
On amnesty and security "For Ibn
Khaldun and his Companion."
On Ibn Khaldun’s intention
to stay with Tamerlane.
Ibn Khaldun impressed the conqueror
enough to ask him to join his court. Some biographers have suggested that he did and written down his eloquent appeal to return
to Egypt to settle his affairs, get his books and family and join Tamerlane. It however is more likely that Ibn Khaldun left
on good terms with Tamerlane and have accomplished his mission of extracting favorable terms for the people of Damascus.
Ibn Khaldun’s departing words lend credence
to the fact that he would not be returning to his service:
"Is there any generosity left beyond
that which you have already shown me? You have heaped favors upon me, accorded me a place in your council among your intimate
followers, and shown me kindness and generosity- which I hope Allah will repay to you in like measures."
FINAL DAYS IN EGYPT :
Upon Ibn Khaldun’s return to
Egypt, he was restored as the Malikite Qadi. Due to the political situation within the community of Malikite Qadis
Ibn Khaldun would be dismissed and reinstated three times during the five-year period. Finally, he died while he was in office
on Wednesday March 17th 1406 (25th of Ramadan 808). He was buried in the Sufi Cemetery outside Bab
an-Nasr, Cairo at the age of seventy-four years.
THE MAGNUM OPUS "AL-MUQADDIMAH"
He would his write his Introduction
to his book of universal history in a span of five months. This impressive document is a gist
of his wisdom and hard earned experience. He would use his political and first had knowledge of the people of Maghrib to formulate
many of his ideas. This document would summarize Ibn Khaldun’s ideas about every field of knowledge during his day.
He would discuss a variety of topics. He would discuss History and Historiography. He would rebuke some of the historical
claims with a calculated logic. He would discuss the current sciences of his days. He would talk about astronomy, astrology,
and numerology. He would discuss Chemistry, alchemy and Magic in a scientific way. He would freely offer his opinions and
document well the "facts" of the other point of view. His discussion of Tribal societies and social forces would be the most
interesting part of his thesis. He would illuminate the world with deep insight into the workings and makings of kingdoms
and civilizations. His thesis that the conquered race will always emulate the conqueror in every way.
His theory about Asbyiah (group feeling) and the role that it plays in Bedouin societies is insightful. His theories
of the science of Umran (sociology) are all pearls of wisdom. His Introduction is his greatest legacy that he left
for all of humanity and the generations to come.
- Ibn Khaldun, Abdurahman M., Mokaddimat Ibn Khaldoun, Ed. Darweesh al-Jawydi, al-Maktaba
al-Asriyah, Sidon-Beirut, 1995.
- Al-Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Ad-Dorar al-Kaminah fi ‘Ayan al-Miah al-Thamina,[the Hidden
Jewels in the notables of eight century] a Photostat copy of the Hyderabad edition (1929-1930). Dar Ihya al-Torath al-Araby,
- Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, An Introduction to History, Tr. Franz Rosenthal, Bollingen
Series XLIII. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1967 3 Vols.
- Fischel, Walter J., Ibn Khaldun in Egypt: His public functions and his historical research
(1382-1406) A study in Islamic Historiography, University of California Press, Berkeley 1967.
- Enan, Mohammad A., Ibn Khaldun: His life and Works, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 1979.
- Mahdi, Muhsin, Ibn Khaldun’s philosophy of History: A study in the philosophic foundation
of the science of culture, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1957.
- Issawi, Charles, An Arab Philosophy of history: Selections from the prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun
of Tunis (1332-1406), the Wisdom of the East Series, John Murray, London, 1950.
- Lacoste, Yves, Ibn Khaldun: The birth of history and the past of the third world. Tr.
David Macy. Verso, London, 1984.
- Lawrence, David, Ed., Ibn Khaldun and Islamic Ideology, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1984.
- Ibn Khaldun on the Web. (a springboard to links Ibn Khaldunia).
- Ibn Khaldun a web biography.
- Enan, Mohammad A., Ibn Khaldun: His life and Work, P. 3. The author questions Ibn Khaldun’s Arab origin. Although he
does admit that he came from an influential family, which was politically active in Andalusian affairs. He also admits that
the Arabs were the ones who held the authoritative positions while the Berbers were the ones who bore the grunt of the battles.
Thus admitting that he is of Arab origin. The author does reluctantly admit to this but seems to leave it up to the reader
to assume so. See: p. 4-5. Enan does raise two points to support his claim that Ibn Khaldun is not an Arab. One in which some
Berber tribes used false Arab Identity to gain political favor and positions. The second point is the attacks of Ibn Khaldun
against Arabs in his history. The false identity would be valid however at the time that Ibn Khaldun’s ancestors left
Andulsia 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. The second point
would be true if Ibn Khaldun only attacked Arabs and Arabs in general. He however attacked the destabilizing elements which
in his case were Arab tribes that were used by the Fatimids to destabilize the Maghrib. Even if one was to criticize his own
people that would not make him an outsider. Ibn Khaldun throughout his life had sought stability and power to achieve that
stability no matter what it cost him. His attacks on the Arab rabble rousers is an attack on those who would cause instability.
- Ibid. P. 2.
- Ibid. P. 8. He would later write a detailed autobiography (Ta’reef) while in Egypt which is
part of his book of "Universal History" Kitab al-’Ibar wa-Diwan al-Mubtada’ wa-l-Khabar fi Ayyam al-’Arab
wal-’Ajam wal-Barbar wa man ‘asarahum min dhawi as-Sultan al-Akbar. See: Fischel, Walter J. Ibn Khaldun in Egypt,
- Ibid. P. 9.
- Ibid. P. 10.
- Ibid. P. 12.
- Ibid. P. 17.
- Ibid. P. 17.
- Ibid. P. 18. Here Ibn Khaldun would be promoted to the position of Secretary and a member of his
private council despite his youth. Even though he was well treated that did not stop him from conspiring against the Sultan.
- Ibid. P. 19.
- Ibid. P. 20. He would write a poem that would finally convince the Sultan to release him, however
he would die before fulfilling the promise to do so.
- He is Mansur bin Sulaiman a decedent of Yaacoub ibn Abd al-Haq. Ibid. P. 20.
- Ibid. P. 22.
- Ibid. P. 24.
- Ibid. P. 25-27. Wazir Omar bin Abdullah is the son-in-law of Sultan Abu Salem, his father was the
former Wazir in the court of Banu Mareen. Ibn Khaldun was refused permission to go to Tunisia for fear that he might meet
the enemies of Wazir Omar in Tlemcen.
- Ibid. P. 28-32. Sultan Muhammad remained in Fez for sometime and developed quite close relationship
with Ibn Khaldun. When Sultan Muhammad would attempt to regain his throne he would leave Ibn Khaldun in charge of his family
- Ibid. P. 33.
- Ibid. P. 34. He rightly declined the offer for who could trust Pedro.
- Ibid. P. 35. The gift was a magnificent Mule with saddle and bridle adorned with gold.
- Ibid. P. 36 - 49.
- Ibid. P. 51.
- Ibid. P. 55 - 56.
- Ibid. P. 57.
- Ibid. P. 63 - 67.
- Ibid. P. 69 -72.
- Ibid. P. 72 - 74.
- Ibid. P. 75.
- Ibid. P. 78 - 79.
- Fischel, Walter J. Ibn Khaldun in Egypt. 1967 P. 42.
- Ibid. P. 44. Ibn Muflih is a Hanbalite Qadi of Damascus. Ibn Khaldun mentions that Tamerlane had
asked about him personally. Ibn Khaldun was advanced in age at this time and was famous. It was also Tamerlane’s style
to seek scholars so his name might have been mentioned as one of those scholars who are in Damascus. Fischal mentions that
Tamerlane made use of spies and agents working for him throughout the lands that he would conquer. Fischal also merinos that
Ibn Khaldun went in a personal capacity to meet with Tamerlane. This could be so, it could also be that the Leaders of Damascus
have wanted it to be known to Tamerlane that Ibn Khaldun is acting upon his own will just in case he fails in diplomacy. The
gates of Damascus were not opened and he had to be lowered by rope. (P.46)
- Ibid. P. 46 -48.
- Ibid. P. 49.
- Ibid. P. 65. Hajji Khalifah, the author of Kashf az-Zunun and Ibn Arabshah do suggest that Ibn Khaldun
promised to serve in Tamerlane’s court contingent on his return to Cairo to get his books which he spent his entire
life compiling them. Hajji Khalfiah goes so far as to suggest that Ibn Khaldun died in Samarkand. P. 62 -64.
- Ibid. P. 65. Ibn Khaldun mentioned this statement in asking for his return for his mule. Note that
Ibn Khaldun’s mastery of courtly mannerism. This is a result of years of experience with a variety of courts Muslims
- Ibid P. 67-68. There were some who it was in their interest to have the position of the chief Malikite
Qadi, they conspired with their contacts close to the Sultan Faraj to have Ibn Khaldun dismissed. It would seem that Ibn Khaldun
also had some influence in which he would be restored to the position.
- The author says at the end of his introduction: "I completed the composition and draft of this first
part, before revision and correction, in a period of five months ending in the middle of the year 779 [November, 1377]. Rosenthal,
The Muqaddimah, P. 481, Vol. 3, also Mokaddimat Ibn Khaldoun P. 416.
- due to the fact that they believe that the conqueror is superior to them in every way. Thus in order
for them to succeeded where they failed they must emulate them in every detail down to the dress and mode of behavior. See
Rosenthal, The Muqaddimah, P. 299-300, Vol. 1.