Muslims have played a significant role in the writing of history, which is one of the vital sources of knowledge transformation. The first verse revealed of the Holy Quran emphasizes the importance of Qalam, the Pen, which is a vital instrument of knowledge transformation. How many of us know the origin of history and its methodology of recording the incidences and contributions of past civilisations?
Ibn Khaldun, a great historian of the 14th century, has introduced some methods of recording social and political events. Before Ibn Khaldun, some Arab historians had documented historical incidents of war in the prophetic era. Kitâb Al-Târîkh wa Al-Maghâzî [History and Campaigns] by Al-Wâqidî (c. 130 – 207 AH; c. 747 – 823 CE) is one of the famous books which covers war stories during the Prophet’s time. Kitâb Futûḥ Al-Buldân [Arab Conquests and Early Islamic Historiography] by Al-Balâdûrî (d. 278-279 AH/ 892 CE) and other books were written by Islamic scholars discussing the subject matter of history. Ibn Khaldun has compiled the events of history in a methodical, modern scientific way.
Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun born on 27th May 1332 CE [corresponding 1st Ramadhan 732 AH] in Tunisia. His name was Wali al-Din Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad Ibn Khaldun. By lineage, he was an Arab. His family had settled in Seville in Spain soon after the Islamic conquest of Spain in 93 AH, but again, they migrated back to Tunisia before Christians re-captured Seville in 1248 CE.
Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun received his early education at home under the guidance of his father who was a notable scholar of his time. He memorised the Holy Quran, learned Arabic grammar, jurisprudence, hadith, rhetoric, philology and poetry under the supervision of the best teachers of their time. He learned mathematics, logic and philosophy from the great mathematician and philosopher Al-Abili of Tlemcen [Algeria]. In a nutshell, he attained high proficiency in these subjects and became a master within a short span of times. Some historians believed that Ibn Khaldun had completed his traditional studies by the age of 19.
Ibn Khaldun worked in a range of capacities in various countries as judge, administrator, lawyer, teacher and government advisor.
Political backgrounds and relationships with kings and various governments meant that he could not stay peacefully for long in one place. Throughout of his life, he travelled from one place to another. His writing reflects that he had travelled Europe, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula extensively. His book Muqaddimah is an outcome of his personal experience and observation. It seems he spent his life in jeopardy: he was imprisoned and several times he was expelled from his position although he was dedicated to his mission. Ibn Khaldun spent his last years in Egypt, where he took last breath on 17th March 1406 CE. Most of his research work was conducted in Egypt while he was serving as a judge in the Maliki Court. This great historian and philosopher influenced millions of people.
He started his writing work at the age of 30. Many historians believe that the Muqaddimah [Prologue] was the first book he wrote and completed it in six months. The first volume of the book is Muqaddimah whose literal meaning is ‘introduction.’ It is the first part of his seven volume set, Kitāb al-ʻIbar wa-Dīwān al-Mubtadaʼ wa-l-Khabar fī Taʼrīkh al-ʻArab wa-l-Barbar wa-Man ʻĀṣarahum min Dhawī ash-Shaʼn al-Akbār (“Book of Lessons, Record of Beginnings and Events in the History of the Arabs and the Berbers and Their Powerful Contemporaries”). Though Muqaddimah is the first part of his book, it got the status of a complete book. Muqaddimah was the first major attempt to analyse human society in regard to its geography, anthropology, history, sociology, religion, culture, society, economy, science, arts, crafts and psychology. The Muqaddimah is organized as six sections as follows.
- Human Society
- Rural Civilizations
- Government and Institutions
- Society and Urbanization
- Economic Modules
- Science and Humanity
Kitab Al-CIbar subsequent to the Muqaddimah discusses the various issues of civilisation, government, administration and the cultures of some nations. Volumes II, III, IV and V discuss the history of mankind till the time of Ibn Khaldun. Volumes VI and VII discuss the history of the Berber people and the Maghrib [the west coastline of North Africa]. This part is considered to be one of the authentic and significant sources for the history of Berber Civilisation. Besides Kitabu Al-CIbar, he wrote several books on a variety of subjects crucial to understanding a full range of social structure.
Discussing the various aspects of sociology, Ibn Khaldun conceived the theory of conflict. He propounded the theory of dichotomy of sedentary life verses nomad life, the concept of generation and loss of power.
Ibn Khaldun developed a theory of civilisation, the theory of political economy, the theory of a business cycle, the theory of taxation, the theory of social cohesion [Caṣabiyyah] and tribalism. In addition to these theories, Ibn Khaldun propounded a number of other modules and ideas which later on would become the object of interest and citation for western scholars and social scientists.
Arthur Laffer, the founder and chairman of an economics global investment-research firm providing services to institutions and corporations, credits Ibn Khaldun in the development of the Laffer Curve. The Laffer Curve deals with the heavy-duty levy of tax on production and agriculture. In his theory, Ibn Khaldun had suggested that the government reduce the level of taxation. He pointed out that the excess levy on the public may discourage business, reduce production levels in the economy and reduce the revenue to the government. It may also lead to supply-side inflation in the economy which is known in modern economic literature as “cost-push inflation.”
Ibn Khaldun also emphasized Islamic monetary theory and the management of currency. He was in favor of minting gold or silver coins. He suggested establishing an equilibrium between the intrinsic and face values of the currency. His analysis of cause, nature, effects and consequences of civilisation has evoked great admiration in the world.
Clearly, for Ibn Khaldun, history included much more than dates, names and events; it included all of what we today call the social sciences. The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee termed the Muqaddimah “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.”