Ibn Khaldun: The impact of his belief on his work

While reading Muqaddimah we observe all the pages going to the end of the book are full of prayers to God; Ibn Khaldun ends even every small section in his book with a prayer, or a verse, or a hadith (the words of The Prophet Mohammad)....

Ibn Khaldun: The impact of his belief on his work

Edip Ibrahim - World Bulletin 

Ibn Khaldun was a Muslim, a member of Islamic community, and lived in an age when Islamic thinking was its highest caliber. While reading Muqaddimah we observe all the pages going to the end of the book are full of prayers to God; Ibn Khaldun ends even every small section in his book with a prayer, or a verse, or a hadith (the words of The Prophet Mohammad). However, this should not lead us to think that we had better to take it for granted, as an indicator of religiosity. The appropriateness of the selected words and verses are worth reflecting on it, but we still cannot claim that Ibn Khaldun is under the impact of his religious beliefs in this scientific book. B. C. Busch, at this issue, says that, “every section (indeed, nearly every long paragraph) concludes with a pious reference to God. The phrases … are followed by a modest apology for any mistakes or omissions and then the sentences”[1] These are a few examples: “God knows better.”[2] “God is wise and knowing.”[3] “God creates whatever he wishes”[4] However, Busch also says that these are of just customs and conventions, mentioned at the end of every section “demanded by the contemporary genre to attest to the author’s piety”[5]. Concomitant with this explanation, Bush states that it is not a right understanding of Ibn Khaldun, by labeling him as deist, and disregarding all the words related to Islam written in the book as ‘‘window-dressing’’ and for the sake of fitting in the valid norms of the Arab society of that period.[6]

It seems, therefore, Nathaniel Schmidt has misunderstood him, saying: “[a]ccording to him, history is the science that deals with the social phenomena of man’s life. By ascribing this discovery to Allah, he obviously did not mean to suggest that it came by special divine revelation, but simply that Allah had ordained that he should make it, since he realized that every science is the result of human observation and reflection”[7]. Contrary to this, Ibn Khaldun believes that God intervenes in our world and to the lives of people. In the Muqaddimah for instance, he states that “[c]auses continue to follow upon causes in an ascending order, until they reach the Causer of causes”. Accordingly, Busch states: “Ibn Khaldun’s own belief forces him to establish reservations, and important ones, to his own general theory. There is no explanation in the Muqaddimah for such events other than that of belief: they are visible evidence of the hand of God at work”[8].  

Asabiyyah, Badawa, Hadara

In the Ibn Khaldunian paradigm, these concepts are of central importance. First, the concept of asabiyyah refers to, roughly, group feeling or party feeling, yet it is translated into English as ‘‘solidarity’’. Here I would use the original version of this concept. Second, the concept of hadara refers to sedentary people, people living cities who gain their livelihood not by agriculture, but arts and crafts. Third, badawa refers to bedouins who do not live any constant region, rather, traveling all around pastures (Turkomen) or deserts (Arabs).  

According to Erwin Rosenthal, Ibn Khaldun describes asabiyyah in this manner: “The effective support of like-minded men, held together by a common bond; in the first place, the ties of blood and family tradition which create a sense of solidarity and mutual responsibility, or a common outlook which shows itself in united action and serves as an important driving force in the formation of states and dynasties.”[9] And the aim of the asabiyyah is mulk, dominion or state. Ibn Khaldun, in the Muqaddimah, tells that “urbanization is found to be the goal of the Bedouin”[10]. In line with this, we can say that “authority … is the goal of group feeling, which gives protection for every type of social activity”[11]. However, after a bedouin nation achieved to be hadara, and they established their state, they, no more, needed asabiyya in order to protect theirselves. Then this stage is followed by the state in which people tend to luxury and glory. This stage is characterized by a pompous life, “by increasing concentration of power in the hands of the ruler, and by a growing estrangement between ruler and subjects, which further weakens the primitive sense of solidarity”[12].

According to Ibn Khaldun the childhood of asabiyyah is tribalism, and its adolescence is religion.[13] He explains the rapid conquests of Islam with the increasing asabiyya of the tribe Quraish after Islam came to this tribe. Ibn Khaldun says that “religious propaganda gives a dynasty at its beginning another power in addition to that of the group feeling it possessed as the result of the number of its (supporters)”[14]. As an extension of asabiyyah Ibn Khaldun comes up with the cyclical theory. According to him states had particular lifetimes, like living organisms which, grow, mature, and die. And these stages, more or less, fits every state, even if there are some negligible difference in the length of stages. This theory is pessimistic one, rather that optimistic.[15] This is because, states are doomed to collapse early, or late, but no way out. “Is there, then, no way of staving off the hour of doom? Ibn Khaldun admits one possibility: a thorough reform of the fundamental laws and institutions of the state may give it a new lease of life. But the doom, though postponed, cannot be indefinitely averted.”[16]

Finally, Ibn Khaldun discusses the rule of four generations. He envisions four stages that every state should pass through and says: “the world of the elements and all it contains comes into being and decays”[17]. “Their [dynasties] durations may differ according to the conjunctions. However, as a rule no dynasty lasts beyond the life (span) of three generations.”[18] For him a life span equals to forty years: “the first generation retains the desert qualities, desert toughness…”[19] “Under the influence of royal authority and a life of ease, the second generation changes from the desert attitude to sedentary culture, from privation to luxury and plenty…”[20] Then in the third and final stage, losing their asabiyyah as they are ruled by force, people “forget the period of desert life and toughness, as if it had never existed”[21]. 


[1] Busch, B. C., “Divine Intervention in the ‘Muqaddimah’ of Ibn Khaldun, History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 4. (May, 1968), p. 318

[2] Ibn Khaldun, trans. by Rosenthal F., The Muqaddimah, 2nd edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967, p.  258

[3] Ibid, p. 260

[4] Ibid, p. 261

[5] Busch, B. C., “Divine Intervention in the ‘Muqaddimah’ of Ibn Khaldun, History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 4. (May, 1968), p. 318

[6] Busch, B. C., “Divine Intervention in the ‘Muqaddimah’ of Ibn Khaldun, History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 4. (May, 1968), p. 319

[7] Schmidt, N., Ibn Khaldun, Historian, Sociologist And Philosopher, New York: Ams Press, 1967, p. 17

[8] Busch, B. C., “Divine Intervention in the ‘Muqaddimah’ of Ibn Khaldun, History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 4. (May, 1968), p. 326

[9] Rosenthal, E. I. J., Political Thought in Medieval Islam, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958

p. 87

[10] Ibn Khaldun, trans. by Rosenthal F., The Muqaddimah, 2nd edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967, p. 252

[11] Busch, B. C., “Divine Intervention in the ‘Muqaddimah’ of Ibn Khaldun, History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 4. (May, 1968), p. 320

[12] Issawi, C., An Arab Philosophy of History, London: London W. Press, 1950 p. 12

[13] Goodman, L. E., “Ibn Khaldun and Thucydides”, Journal of the American Society, Vol. 92, No. 2. (Apr. – Jun., 1972), p. 259

[14] Ibn Khaldun, trans. by Rosenthal F., The Muqaddimah, 2nd edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967, p. 320

[15] Busch, B. C., “Divine Intervention in the ‘Muqaddimah’ of Ibn Khaldun, History of Religions, Vol. 7, No. 4. (May, 1968), p. 319

[16] Isaawi, 12

[17] Ibn Khaldun, trans. by Rosenthal F., The Muqaddimah, 2nd edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967, p. 280

[18] Ibid, p. 343

[19] Ibid, p. 344

[20] Ibid, p. 344

[21] Ibid, p. 345

Güncelleme Tarihi: 27 Ocak 2014, 18:15
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