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IBN KHALDUN, `ABD AL-RAHMAN (1332-14o6), influential thinker about Arab social structures and processes. Ibn Khaldun was born inTunis, at a time whenNorth Africa, part of the Arab Muslim empire in decline, consisted of small states riddled by rivalries and plots. In this atmosphere, Ibn Khaldun entered public life and held different positions including those of “the seal bearer,” secretary of state, ambassador, and judge. In 1382, he went toCairowhere he taught and served as a judge until his death.

The continuous political instability and depressed intellectual life of the period did not prevent Ibn Khaldfin from pursuing his education. His major works are the Autobiography and the Muqaddimah. The first is a candid evaluation of his career; the second, still used by scholars, traces his thoughts on sedentary and desert populations, dynasties, the caliphate, and gainful occupations. In the Muqaddimah Ibn Khaldfin stated that he had established a new science, `ilm al-`umran (science of social organization), a science that he believed was entirely original. Several social thinkers considered the Muqaddimah a treatise in sociology and, accordingly, regarded him as the founder of sociology.

Ibn Khaldfin emphasized the necessity of observation and careful examination of information as the bases of reliable conclusions. The German scholar Heinrich Simon points out that “Ibn Khaldfin was the first to attempt to formulate social laws.” (Ibn Khalduns Wissenschaft von der Menschlichen Kultur, Leipzig, 1959, p. 9). Ibn Khaldfin studied human society as sui generis. He also stressed the interdependence of the religious, political, economic, military, and cultural spheres of life and, hence, the need for effective social control of human activity.

`Asabiyah (social solidarity) is the core of Ibn Khaldfin’s thought concerning badawah (nomadism-ruralism), hadarah (urbanism), and the rise and decline of the state. Founding a state is the goal of `asabiyah, especially of nomadic `asabiyah. The luxury and leisure of urban life tend to weaken this `asabiyah; if it is lost, significant disintegration starts to take place. Ibn Khaldun’s theory describes and analyzes the rise, development, maturity, decline, and fall of several states. In a sense, `asabiyah, as a unifying force, is analogous to the modern concept of nationalism. Like `asabiyah, nationalism is not a sense of identity alone; aspiration, loyalty, and devotion are also prerequisites for the preservation of the group.

Ibn Khaldfin’s ideas are not void of shortcomings visa-vis present conditions, for example, he had emphasized the superiority of nomadic `asabiyah, but nomadic people today are unable to conquer urban areas. However, his theory is, to some extent, applicable to Arab society and Islamic culture as long as tribal traditions are strong. His observation that tyranny usually leads to ta’alluh (egotism) on the part of autocratic rulers is as conspicuous a phenomenon today as it was in his time. The significance of Ibn Khaldfin’s ideas for understanding Arab society and Islamic thought and culture led A. al-Wardi (Mantiq Ibn Khaldun, Cairo, 1962) to advocate the establishment of a “Khaldunian Sociology.”

Some writers assert that Ibn Khaldfin must be studied against the background of medieval Islam; others emphasize that some of his ideas are astonishingly similar to those of Machiavelli, Vico, Comte, Durkheim, Tonnies, Gumplowicz, Spengler, Oppenheimer, and Wirth and should be analyzed accordingly. These approaches may be combined. Ibn Khaldfin must be studied in the light of his time; yet this method need not prevent one from selecting those aspects of his work that currently appear relevant and can be compared with “modern” and recent thought. This approach precludes exaggeration of Ibn Khaldfin’s ideas and belittlement of modern writings.

[See also `Asabiyah.]


Baali, Fuad. Social Institutions: Ibn Khaldun’s Social Thought.Lanham,N.Y., andLondon, 1992. Also Society, State, and Urbanism: Ibn Khaldun’s Sociological Thought.Albany,N.Y., 1988. Detailed analysis of Ibn Khaldfin’s ideas on social organizations and social life.

Issawi, Charles. An Arab Philosophy of History: Selections from the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun ofTunis.London, 1950. A must-read book for most readers for its excellent introduction and smooth translation.

Mahdi, Muhsin. Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History.Chicago, 1964. Thorough study of Ibn Khaldfin’s contributions.

Rosenthal, Franz. Introduction to Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. 3 vols. Translated by Franz Rosenthal.Princeton, 1957. Very useful analysis of Ibn Khaldfin’s life and work (preceding this complete English version of The Mugaddimah).

Schmidt, Nathaniel. Ibn Khaldun.New York, 1930. One of the first brief studies on Ibn Khaldun.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/ibn-khaldun-abd-al-rahman/

  • writerPosted On: April 5, 2014
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