Ibn Khaldun: The Finest Intellectual (and Thinker) of his Time

Ibn Khaldun: The Finest Intellectual (and Thinker) of his Time
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MUBASHIR IQBAL KITABA

Ibn Khaldun, the talented Muslim Philosopher of history and the greatest intellectual of his age, is one of the most outstanding thinkers that the world has ever produced. History, before Khaldun, was confined to the simple recording of events, without distinguishing between the probables and improbable”
Being the founder of the science of sociology, Ibn Khaldun had the unique distinction of treating history as a science and supporting his facts with reasoning. The great scholar, was born in Tunis on May 27, 1332 AC, where his family had settled, having migrated from Moorish Spain. Ibn Khaldun had a chequered career during his early life, taking active part in the intriguing power politics of the small North African principalities, enjoying alternatively the favor and disfavor of the rulers and, at times, taking refuge in distant Granda. His revolutionary sprit, being fed up with the dirty politics of those times obliged him to take a short respite of about four years in the suburbs of Tunis, where he completed his immortal ‘prolegomena’ in 1377 AC. Thereafter he shifted to Tunis to finish his masterly work ‘Kitab-ul-lbar’ (world History), where he could get reference books in the Imperial Library. After an eventful, adventurous life in North Africa, the great thinker sailed to Egypt in 1382 AC.
His fame and outstanding worth had preceded him in Egypt and he was warmly welcomed in the literary circles of Cairo where he was invited to deliver lectures at the famous Al Azhar Masjid. He was received by the king of Egypt. The celebrated conqueror was highly impressed with the versatility and eloquence of Ibn Khaldun who, on his return, died in Cairo in 1406 AC.
Ibn Khaldun has acquired an immortal place in the glory of historical philosophers. Before him, history was a mere chronicle of events recorded in a haphazard manner without distinguishing between the real and unreal. Ibn Khaldun stands out quite distinct from the rest of historians, because he treated history as a science and not merely a narrative. He wrote history in the light of his new method of explanation and reasoning and developed it as social philosophy. Explaining the art of writing history, Ibn Khaldun says in ‘prolegomena’ it is only by an attentive examination and well sustained application that we can discover the truth, and guard ourselves against errors and mistakes. In fact, if we were merely to satisfy ourselves by reproducing the records transmitted by tradition without consulting the rules furnished by experience, the fundamental principles of the art of government, the nature, events of the particular civilization, or the circumstances which characterize the human society, if we are not to judge of the events which occurred in distant times by those which are occurring under our eyes, if we are not to compare the past with the present, we can hardly escape from falling into errors and losing the way of truth.
Being the originator of sociology, philosophical history and political economy, his works posses striking originality, Kitab-ul-Ibhar including Al Taarif is his immortal historical works which contains ‘prolegomena’ as well as his autobiography. He has divided his work in three parts. The first part known as his famous ‘prolegomena’ deals with society, its origin, sovereignty, birth of towns and villages, trades, means of livelihood and sciences. This is the best part of the book where the writer reaches the summit(s) of creativeness, reviewing diverse subjects like political economy, sociology and history with striking originality and brilliance.
The third chapter dealing with the state and the sovereignty is the best part of the book, where the learned author has propounded his advanced political theories which were later on incorporated in the works of such celebrated political thinkers as Machiavelli and Vico.
The second part of ‘Kitab-al-Ibar which comprises four volumes, namely second, third, fourth, and fifth, deals with the history of Arabs and other Muslims as well as contemporary dynasties, including Syrians, Persians, Turks, Jews, Greeks, Romans and Franks. The real historical work begins with the second volume which deals with Jews, Greeks, Romans and Persians of the pre-Islamic period. The advent of Islam, the life of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and the history of the Caliphate Rashid are dealt with in a special supplement to the second volume. The third volume, deals in detail with all the Caliphate of Ummayah and Abdasids. The fourth contains the history of Fatimides in Egypt and of Moorish Spain up to the time of Banu Ahymer dynasty. The fifth volume refers to the rise and fall of Saljuk power, the crusades and the history of Mamluk dynasty of Egypt up to the end of 8th century AH.
The third part of his great historical work ‘Kitab-al-Ibr’ comprising two volumes, namely sixth and seventh, elaborately deals with the history of Berbers and other neighboring tribes as well as contains the autobiography of the author, known as ‘Al Taarif’. The history of Berbers describes in much detail their origin, greatness, kingdom and dynasties in North Africa. The author, having a firsthand knowledge of the region and its inhabitants, has masterfully dealt with the subject matter which is very factual and precise. Ibn Khaldun has minimized the greatness of Arab achievements both in the domains of conquests and scholarships. On the other hand, he has boosted the qualities of Berbers, as he was born in the land of Berbers and he could not help being partial towards them who were ruled by the Arabs since the 1st century AH. The sixth and the major part of the seventh volume of Khaldun’s book deals with the history of the Berbers.

Kitab-ul-Ibar, has concluded with several chapters written about the authors own life and is known as Al-Taarif (Autobiography). This autobiography, which begins with his birth, continues up to 797 AH. Before him autobiographies were usually written in a diary form.
The autobiography written by Ibn Khaldun is a frank confession of deeds and misdeeds of a dynamic personality expressed in most impressive language. It was during the nineteenth century that the translations of his works in various European languages enabled the West to realize the greatness of the historian and appreciate the vigor and the originality of his thought. “Ibn Khaldun”, writes D Boer, “is undoubtedly the first who tried to explain fully the evolution and progress of society, as being caused by certain causes and factors, climate, the means of production etc. and their effects on the formation of mans mind and sentiment as well as the formation of society. In the march of civilization, he perceives an organized internal harmony”.
The West is therefore immensely indebted to the learned Khaldun for the lead given by him in diverse fields of sociology, historical and political economy which paved the way for fuller development(s) of these sciences.

—The author is a PhD Research Scholar. He can be reached at: mubashirkitaba@gmail.com

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