Greate Arab Personalities : Ibn Khadun
Hasan A. Yahya, Ph.Ds
Professor of Sociology
Ibn Khaldun was a famous Arab Tunisian historiographer and historian born in Tunisia. He’s also the originator of sociology. He is indeed the one outstanding personality in the history of a civilization whose social life on the whole was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. In his chosen field of intellectual activity he appears to have been inspired by no predecessors, and to have found no kindred souls among his contemporaries, and to have kindled no answering spark of inspiration in any successors ; and yet, in the Prolegomena (Muqaddimah) to his Universal History he has conceived and formulated 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. It was his single brief ‘acquiescence’ from a life of practical activity that gave Ibn Khaldun his opportunity to cast his creative thought into literary shape.
Ibn Khaldun, full name Abu Zayd ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun al-Hadrami (732-84/1332-82), one of the strongest personalities of Arab-Muslim culture in the period of its decline. He is widely acclaimed as a forerunner of modern historiography, sociology and economics. He is best known for his Muqaddimah (Prolegomena).
Ibn khaldun is known primarily for his Muqaddimah and his ‘Ibar, but he wrote other works which have not all survived.
In about his twentieth year, he attempted, under the influence of al-Abili, to make a resume of the theologico-philosophical ‘summa’ of al-Razi entitled Kitab Muhassal afqar al-mutaqaddimin wa ‘l-muta’-akhkhirin min al-’ulama’ wa ‘l-hukama’ wa ‘l-muta-kallimin (Cairo 1905), an outline which is a condensation of all the Arabo-Muslim cultural tradition concerning the problems of dogma and its philosophical repercussions. This resume, entitled Lubab al-Muhassal fi usul al-din (Tetuan 1952: autograph manuscript dated 29 ‘afar 752/28 May 1351, Escorial no. 1614), shows a direction of thought which Ibn khaldun was never to lose completely.
It should also be remembered that Ibn khaldun had stressed in his Ta’rif the studious nature of his period at Fez and at Granada. During this period, that is between 752-65/1351-64, the date at which Ibn al-khatib’s Ihata was finished, he wrote five works: (1) a commentary on the Burda of al-Busiri; (2) an outline of logic; (3) a treatise on arithmetic; (4) several resumes of works by Ibn Rushd; and (5) a commentary on a poem by Ibn al-khatib on the usul al-fiqh.
The wealth of the ideas provided in the Muqaddima has enabled several specialists to find in it the early beginnings of a number of disciplines which have become independent sciences only very recently. Y. Lacoste wrpte: ‘If Thucydides is the inventor of history, Ibn khaldun introduces history as a science’ (Ibn Khaldoun, 187). He has been regarded also as a philosopher, and it is surprising in particular to discover in his Muqaddima a very elaborate system of sociology.
In sociology, his ‘new science’, ‘ilm al-’umran, the discovery of which dazzled even himself, is basically, strictly speaking, nothing but a system of sociology, conceived true as an auxiliary science to history. He considers that the basic causes of historical evolution are in fact to be sought in the economic and social structures. He therefore set himself to analyse them, elaborating as he did so a certain number of new operative concepts, the most pregnant of which is incontestably that of ‘asabiyya It should be mentioned that this concept of ‘asabiyya, and that of ‘umran, have given rise in modern times to many discussions–which cannot be enumerated here–regarding their interpretation. He was interested particularly in the influence of the way of life and of methods of production on the evolution of social groups. In a famous sentence, he states: ‘The differences which are seen between the generations (ajyal) in their behaviour are only the expression of the differences which separate them in their economic way of life’ . This sentence is often compared with an equally famous one of Marx: ‘The method of production in the material matters of life determines in general the social, political and intellectual processes of life’. The similarity is indeed striking, and it is not the only one between them. Thus Ibn khaldun’s thought is often interpreted, particularly in recent years, in the spirit of dialectical materialism. But, in spite of the undoubted similarities, it would be difficult to regard Ibn khaldun as a forerunner of materialism. Moreover the explanation he gives is not exclusively a socio-economic one but also psychological. ‘The Prolegomena do not contain only a general sociology but also a very detailed and subtle social psychology which may be divided into political psychology, economic psychology, ethical psychology and general psychology. The intermingled and closely linked elements of this social psychology and this general sociology form a whole complex which it is difficult to disentangle’.
There have been identified also, in this complex, economic doctrines sufficiently detailed to justify a study devoted to them, and a philosophy of history to which M. Mahdi has devoted an important work. It also provides ethnographic, anthropological and demographic information of real value.
On economics Ibn Khaldun says: “At the beginning of the empire, the tax rates were low and the revenues were high. At the end of the empire, the tax rates were high and the revenues were low. “
In more details, Ibn Khaldun wrote: “In the early stages of the state, taxes are light in their incidence, but fetch in a large revenue…As time passes and kings succeed each other, they lose their tribal habits in favor of more civilized ones. Their needs and exigencies grow…owing to the luxury in which they have been brought up. Hence they impose fresh taxes on their subjects… sharply raise the rate of old taxes to increase their yield…But the effects on business of this rise in taxation make themselves felt. For business men are soon discouraged by the comparison of their profits with the burden of their taxes…Consequently production falls off, and with it the yield of taxation.” (992 words) www.dryahyatv.com
Special Note: Professor Yahya is working now on three books about the great Arab Muslim thinker: Ibn Khaldun, one is introducing al-Muqaddimah and the other under the title: Ibn Khaldun and Modern Sociology: Theeoritical Analysis. In that book, the author will compare social thinkers with Ibn Khaldun and show how much the world owe Ibn Khaldun and his thought. This book was a result of NOT even mentioning Ibn Khaldun in most sociology texts in American Universities. The third, however, will summerize al Muqaddima for normal readers. These books cmoe in the last stage of the author’s life, as decline is starts to work, according to Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of rise and decline of nations. I hope to finish these works before the end of this year 2012.(H. Yahya)