Ibn Khaldun: Judge, Scholar, and Diplomat
Ibn Khaldun, the father of social sciences, was an eminent figure who hailed from northern Africa; he lived from 1332 to 1406 A.D. He was born in present-day Tunisia and traveled extensively across North Africa, not to mention a stint in Granada, Spain. He died in Egypt. [Read more: Granada]
As a child, Ibn Khaldun received a classical Islamic education which included memorization of Quran along with a study of Arabic linguistics, Qur’anic and hadeeth sciences, fiqh, and shariah. He was also trained in mathematics, logic, and philosophy. As a young man, he entered politics and remained in the service of numerous rulers of North Africa. His last position was that of Grand Qadi (Judge) of the Maliki school of thought in Egypt.
A judge, university scholar and a diplomat, Ibn Khaldun diligently recorded his thoughts and academic research, leaving behind a rich legacy for centuries to come. His lasting contribution to humanity is the Muqaddimah (also known as Prolegomenon), the first book of his universal history, Kitab al Ibar, which means Book of Lessons.
Ibn Khaldun’s revolutionary approach to writing history
While Kitab al Ibar has a total of seven books, dealing with world history up until Ibn Khaldun’s time, his introductory volume, Muqaddimah, is more of a commentary of history and touches on topics such as politics, urban life, economics and knowledge. [Click here to learn how Islamic banks survived the global financial crisis.]
It is “a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place,” according to British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, whose own works have been influenced by Ibn Khaldun.
Ibn Khaldun employed a revolutionary approach to writing history, rejecting the prevalent notion of history consisting of mere facts. He acknowledged that a documentation of history is directly dependent on who is interpreting it, when, and where. Historians are using this methodology even today. Along with analyzing how the Islamic civilization unraveled over time, he has left a detailed study of nomadic and non-nomadic life, dynasties and caliphates, and society in general.
His analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations has formed the basis of social science, the science of civilization and sociology, according to 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World. Ibn Khaldun was also a forerunner in terms of his economic theory, paving the way for economics as we know it today.