The Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn

The symbol of the Ibn Khaldun Institute

The symbol of the Ibn Khaldun Institute (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Muqaddimah , also known as the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun or the Prolegomena  is a book written by Ibn Khaldun in 1377 which records an early view of universal history. Some modern thinkers view it as the first work dealing with the philosophy of history or the social sciences  of sociology, demography, historiography or cultural history  and economics, The Muqaddimah also deals with Islamic theology, political theory and the natural sciences of biology and chemistry. Ibn Khaldun wrote the work in 1377 as the preface or first book of his planned world history, the Kitab al-Ibar (full title: Kitābu l-ʻibār wa Diwānu l-Mubtada’ wa l-Ħabar fī tarikhi l-ʻarab wa l-Barbar wa man ʻĀsarahum min Đawī Ash-Sha’n l-Akbār “Book of Lessons, Record of Beginnings and Events in the history of the Arabs and Berbers and their Powerful Contemporaries”), but already in his lifetime it became regarded as an independent work.

Ibn Khaldun starts the Muqaddimah with a thorough criticism of the mistakes regularly committed by his fellow historians and the difficulties which await the historian in his work. He notes seven critical issues:

“All records, by their very nature, are liable to error…

  1. …Partisanship towards a creed or opinion…
  2. …Over-confidence in one’s sources…
  3. …The failure to understand what is intended…
  4. …A mistaken belief in the truth…
  5. …The inability to place an event in its real context
  6. …The common desire to gain favor of those of high ranks, by praising them, by spreading their fame…
  7. …The most important is the ignorance of the laws governing the transformation of human society.”

 Laffer curve

The Khaldun-Laffer curve has also been used in Solid State Physics and Chemistry to interpret the dependence of certain macroscopic properties of solids on hydrostatic pressure (e.g. dynamical effective charge, polarizability) .

Ibn Khaldun’ makes the following comments on his scientific historical method in his Muqaddimah:

  1. “History is a science”
  2. “History has a content and the historian should account for it”
  3. “The historian should account for the elements that gather to make the human history”
  4. “He should also work according to the laws of history”
  5. “History is a philosophical science”
  6. “History is composed of news about the days, states and the previous centuries. It is a theory, an analysis and justification about the creatures and their principles, and a science of how the incidents happen and their reasons”
  7. “Myths have nothing to do with history and should be refuted”
  8. “To build strong historical records, the historian should rely on necessary rules for the truth comparison”

The Muqaddimah on Climate theory

The Muqaddimah anticipated the meteorological climate theory of environmental determinism, later proposed by Montesquieu in the 18th century. Like Montesquieu, Ibn Khaldun studied “the physical environment in which man lives in order to understand how it influences him in his non-physical characteristics.” He explained the differences between different peoples, whether nomadic or sedentary peoples, including their customs and institutions, in terms of their “physical environment-habitat, climate, soil, food, and the different ways in which they are forced to satisfy their needs and obtain a living.” This was a departure from the climatic theories expressed by authors from Hippocrates to Jean Bodin. It has been suggested that Ibn Khaldun may have had an influence upon Montesquieu’s theory through the traveller Jean Chardin, who travelled to Persia and described a theory resembling Ibn Khaldun’s climatic theory.

Assessment of various civilizations

While discussing his “new science”, now associated with the social sciences, Ibn Khaldūn states that no other author before him, as far as he was aware, had written about it. However, he was aware that much knowledge of the past had been lost, and thus he was open to the possibility that someone might have anticipated him but that their work had not survived:

Perhaps they have written exhaustively on this topic, and their work did not reach us. There are many sciences. There have been numerous sages among the nations of mankind. The knowledge that has not come down to us is larger than the knowledge that has. Where are the sciences of the Persians that ‘Umar ordered to be wiped out at the time of the conquest? Where are the sciences of the Chaladaeans, the Syrians and the Babylonians, and the scholarly products and results that were theirs? Where are the sciences of the Copts, their predecessors? The sciences of only one nation, the Greeks, have come down to us, because they were translated through Al-Ma’mun’s efforts. He was successful in this direction because he had many translators at his disposal and spent much money in this connection.

Ibn Khaldūn characterized Aristotle as “the First Teacher”, for his having “improved the methods of logic and systematized its problems and details.”

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About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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3 Responses to The Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn

  1. Len Rosen says:

    Ibn Khaldun advanced the science of history, called historiography. Thanks for reminding me of his contributions to the field. Modern historians follow his rules. When I studied Mediterranean cultural and economic history I remember Fernand Braudel, the eminent historian citing Ibn Khaldun as one of his sources of inspiration.


  2. Pingback: Franz Rosenthal | Seit über 10.000 Jahren Erfahrung in Versklavung

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