Contact Us


   In doing so, they record it and preserve it; they analyze historical events and help others learn from them. They may even predict future developments by studying historical methods and patterns. As a result, these men themselves from time to time happen to influence the course of historical development. This can well be said about a person by the name of Wali Al-Din ‘Abd Ar-rahman Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Abi Bakr Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Ibn Khaldun. The following paragraphs present a brief outline of the remarkable life and deeds of this man, who became the greatest Arab historian and philosopher.


Ibn Khaldun’s Upbringing and Early Career

    In the remote summer of 1332, somewhere in Tunis, Wali Ibn Khaldun was born to a high status family – descendants of Khaldun. According to history sources and to Ibn Khaldun’s autobiography, Khaldun was an Arab who migrated to Spain during the first Arab invasions to the Iberian Peninsula. In the 9th century, the Khalduns had made Seville their hometown and advanced to become active in political issues, as they were one of the three most respected families in the region. The success of the Khaldun house lasted on for the next four centuries throughout the rule of the Umayad, Al Moravid, Al Mohad dynasties. The Khaldun family members occupied elevated political and army posts. When European forces regained the Iberian from the Arabs however, in 1248 the Ibn Khalduns, as many other fellow Arabs, fled south over to the neighboring North African coast.

    In their new settings in Morocco and then in Tunis, the Khalduns came to be appointed to important administrative positions as they were of a high-class status and well educated. Unfortunately for still young Ibn Khaldun however, he lost his parents to the Black Death when he was seventeen years old. Nevertheless, he received a solid education. Studying in depth the classics of Arabic literature, he became a good writer himself, which talent he put to good use in attracting influential friends. He also memorized the Quran and examined its commentaries. He studied Prophet Mohammad's Traditions and other fields in Islamic science. These included Dialectical Theology, and Shari'a – the Islamic Law of Jurisprudence, according to the Maliki School. At different periods after this formal education, Ibn Khaldun further developed his knowledge by taking up interest in various fields. On his own, he extensively studied geography, history, and philosophy.

    Ibn Khaldun’s first career step was a position at the Tunis Court for three years. After this, he served as a secretary to the Sultan of Morocco. In the meanwhile, he got married, but unluckily was soon taken a prisoner because he was a suspect of provoking uprising activities. After he was freed about two years later, he left to Granada and then was appointed as a peace broker to Seville. There he oversaw the closure of the peace treaty with Pedro I the Cruel of Castile. When Ibn Khaldun returned to Granada, he felt he was in the presence of unsympathetic individuals. One of them was the Prime Minister Ibn Al Khatib, who might have seen him as a threat and a competitor. Because of this, Ibn Khaldun decided it was best to go back to North Africa.


Studies, Teaching and the Great Al Muqaddimah

    In the next decade, Ibn Khaldun occupied administrative positions and was also appointed Prime Minister at one time. After this period, tired of the busy and routine life of the city and affairs of the state, he decided to retreat to a rural lifestyle with the tribe of Alwad Arif. Ibn Khaldun was welcomed by the tribe. He was offered accommodation for him and his family in the castle of Qalat Ibn Salamah in present day Algeria. Having found relative isolation, he did much of his extensive studies in the following four years. By the end of it, he emerged with his magnum opus –Al Muqaddimah.

    Al Muqaddimah was the introduction to Ibn Khaldun’s book of universal history, which he called Kitab Al Ibar. At the onset of the project, he had only planned to write a universal history of the Arab people. He, however, thought it obligatory to explain the historical method, thus producing the masterful Al Muqaddimah, or Introduction, before composing the book. Somewhat ironically, as already implied, Al Muqaddimah received much more attention than the main book Kitab Al Ibar, which nevertheless became the best source on history of Muslim North Africa. 

    The greatness of the Al Muqaddimah was based on the fact that it was the first-ever analytical survey of historical processes. The focal subject matter of this epic labor distinguished the social, psychological, environmental and economic characteristics responsible for the rise and fall of human civilization and for recurrent historical processes. Ibn Khaldun masterfully examined the features of group relationships and explained how al-'Asabiyya, or group feelings, can result in the rise of a civilization and new political power. Thus, he proposed a solid theory of perpetual recurrence in the progress and decay of human civilization.

    As a result, Ibn Khaldun established two complete new sciences. Today, we refer to them as sociology and historiology. It seems the author was aware of his novel methods. In his own words, he has “written on history a book in which I discussed the causes and effects of the development of states and civilizations, and I followed in arranging the material of the book an unfamiliar method, and I followed in writing it a strange and innovative way.” Ibn Khaldun’s insight about human civilization is striking and worth comparing to present day rhetoric on the subject. He firmly believed that historical development is controlled by everlasting universal laws. Going even further, he presented the measure for distinguishing historical fact from fiction. He wrote that “the rule for distinguishing what is true from what is false in history is based on its possibility or impossibility: That is to say, we must examine human society and discriminate between the characteristics which are essential and inherent in its nature and those which are accidental and need not be taken into account, recognizing further those which cannot possibly belong to it. If we do this, we have a rule for separating historical truth from error by means of demonstrative methods that admits of no doubt. It is a genuine touchstone by which historians may verify whatever they relate.”

    A related issue to the rise and decline of civilization is presented as the relationship between sedentary and desert living. Al Muqaddimah examines the effect of both on human nature and the following example helps explain the cycle of civilizations. Ibn Khaldun has an interesting perspective about this. He observes that: “The Bedouins restrict themselves to the bare necessities in their way of life and are unable to go beyond them, while sedentary people concern themselves with conveniences and luxuries in their conditions and customs. The bare necessities are no doubt prior to the conveniences and luxuries. Bare necessities, in a way, are basic, and luxuries secondary. Bedouins, thus, are the basis of, and prior to, cities and sedentary people. Man seeks first the bare necessities. Only after he has obtained the bare necessities does he get to comforts and luxuries. The toughness of desert life precedes the softness of sedentary life. Therefore, urbanization is found to be the goal to which the Bedouin aspires... This is the case with all Bedouin tribes. Sedentary people, on the other hand, have no desire for desert conditions, unless they are motivated by some urgent necessity or they cannot keep up with their fellow city dwellers. Sedentary people are much concerned with all kinds of pleasures. They are accustomed to luxury and success in worldly occupations and to indulgence in worldly desires. Therefore, their souls are colored with all kinds of blameworthy and evil qualities. The more of them they possess, the more remote do the ways and means of goodness become to them. Eventually they lose all sense of restraint. It will later on become clear that sedentary life constitutes the last stage of civilization and the point where it begins to decay. It also constitutes the last stage of evil and of remoteness from goodness. Clearly, the Bedouins are closer to being good than sedentary people.”

    Although the Al Muqaddimah alone is regarded as Ibn Khaldun’s most important work, the volumes of the main book Kitab Al-Ibar were insightful and masterfully presented. They included the history of Arabs and the histories of other peoples such as Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Persians. A large part is also devoted to the history of Islam.

    Ibn Khaldun’s stay in the Qalat Ibn Salamah was ended by a cruel illness, because of which he decided to return to Tunis. He again found himself involved in some tense relationships with rival scholars and the ruler of Tunis. At this time, Ibn Khaldun was fifty, and decided it was time for him to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, which he eventually did. The year was 1382 when he left Tunis, and after sailing for forty days, Ibn Khaldun reached Alexandria where the expedition landed. From here, Ibn Khaldun was soon in Cairo, which had a substantial impact on him as the most affluent and biggest Arabic city. During the course of his stay, Ibn Khaldun was given a professorship at the renowned Islamic university Al-Azhar. Soon, the ruler of Egypt, Barquq, offered him a professorship of jurisprudence at the Quamhiyah college. Within five months, Ibn Khaldun became chief Malakite rite judge, one of the four recognized rites in Sunni Islam.


Significance of Ibn Khaldun’s life and work

    Ibn Khaldun had no worthy predecessors in the history of Muslim thought, and he had no equal successors. He contributed to the study of history in the most innovative and insightful ways. For the first time ever, he examined history through sociological, environmental, and economic factors. He is also praised by scholars as the father of modern sociology. Ibn Khaldun's significance in the sciences of history, sociology philosophy of history, and politics, has remained principal to the present day. No less important are his contributions in educational psychology, in Arabic literary disciplines, and in the composition of autobiography.

    The books of Al Muqaddimah and Kitab Al Ibar have been translated into many languages throughout the world. Indeed, Al Muqaddimah alone is worth all admiration and scientific credit the author deserves. And quite rightfully, like the perpetual course of history, it has secured Ibn Khaldun an everlasting place among the greatest historians, sociologists and philosophers.




| Top | Home | Al Habtoor Group | Metropolitan Hotels | Al Habtoor Automobiles |
Diamond Leasing | Emirates International School |

Designed and maintained by The Backstreet Cafe