Ibn Khaldūn Completes His Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddimah is a foundational and stimulating sociological work, a philosophy of history, and a comprehensive description of the societies, cultures, and politics of Muslim North and Northwest Africa.

Summary of Event

Ibn Khaldūn’s writings were closely intertwined with his personal experiences and stormy political career. Born the son of a scholarly nobleman in Tunisia, he had the advantage of receiving personal instruction by some of the most eminent teachers of the day. [kw]Ibn Khaldūn Completes His Muqaddimah (1377) [kw]Khaldūn Completes His Muqaddimah, Ibn (1377) [kw]Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldūn Completes His (1377) Muqaddimah (Ibn Khaldūn) Ibn Khaldūn Africa;1377: Ibn Khaldūn Completes His Muqaddimah[2920] Cultural and intellectual history;1377: Ibn Khaldūn Completes His Muqaddimah[2920] Historiography;1377: Ibn Khaldūn Completes His Muqaddimah[2920] Ibn Khaldūn

In addition to memorizing the Qur՚ān, he studied rhetoric, mathematics, logic, astronomy, and philosophy. In about 1347, both of his parents died from the Black Death, which devastated much of the Mediterranean region. A few years later, the sultan of Tunis, Ibn Tāfrākīn Ibn Tāfrākīn , appointed the young man as master of the signature, which meant that he helped copy official documents. This position gave him early insight into the inner workings of the government, including the intrigue of court politics.

During Ibn Khaldūn’s time, the Maghreb Maghreb was a prosperous trading region. Politically, however, the region was quite disorderly, with many competing groups—dynastic states, semi-independent towns, and powerful Arab and Berber tribes—fighting constantly for territory and the right to collect taxes. In 1352, when Abū Ziad Abū Ziad , the emir of Constantine, went to war with Tunis, Ibn Khaldūn escaped the turmoil by moving westward. Using his family’s connections, he settled in Fès, Morocco, where the new sultan, Abū ՙInān Fāris Abū ՙInān Fāris , had been establishing a major center of Muslim scholarship.

In Fès Fès , Ibn Khaldūn continued his education and became personal friends with some of the most outstanding historians and philosophers of the day. In this early period, he wrote a textbook about logic and an abridgment of the rationalist writings of Averroës.

For a short time, Ibn Khaldūn served as the sultan’s secretary. In 1357, the sultan, suspecting that Ibn Khaldūn remained loyal to Tunis, had him imprisoned, where he remained until the sultan’s death in 1359. While in prison, he was apparently able to spend his time reading and meditating. After he was released, Fès had a series of weak sultans, with military commanders and civilian leaders competing for power and prestige. Ibn Khaldūn participated skillfully in this dangerous game. The new sultan of Morocco, Abū Sālim Abū Sālim (r. 1359-1361), recognized his abilities and appointed him secretary of state in charge of law enforcement. However, in less than two years, Abū Sālim was murdered, and Ibn Khaldūn decided to flee the increasingly unstable country.

In 1362, Ibn Khaldūn moved to Granada, which was the only remaining Muslim state in Andalusia (now Spain). Already on good terms with Granada’s rulers, he soon acquired a prominent position in the court and even led a diplomatic mission to negotiate a peace settlement with the Christian kingdom of Castile. Ambitious for greater power, he soon accepted an offer to be the governor of Bejaïa Bejaïa (now in northeast Algeria). Within two years, however, the unpopular sultan of Bejaïa was assassinated, and the sultan of Constantine conquered the city. Ibn Khaldūn fled Bejaïa and found refuge with the Dawawida, a powerful Arab tribe.

The following nine years were the most turbulent ones of his career. Entering into a series of temporary alliances with the warring sultans of Tlemcen, Tunis, Constantine, and Fès, his place of residence changed almost every year, and he barely escaped death on several occasions. By establishing very close relations with the Arab tribes of the region, he mediated numerous conflicts and thereby exercised considerable influence as a power broker.

By 1375, having become thoroughly disgusted with the dangers of wars and conflict, Ibn Khaldūn decided to leave politics and devote his energies to historical research and writing. As a result of his active public life, he had acquired a great deal of concrete knowledge about the cultures and political realities of North Africa. Always a contemplative man, he had long been thinking about the reasons for the events that he observed. Thus, he happily accepted an offer to live in a small village with an Arab tribe near what is now Frenda, Algeria. It was here that he completed the first edition of his most celebrated work, Muqaddimah (1375-1379; The Muqaddimah, 1958). Although conceived originally as the first volume of a larger “universal history” (Kitāb al-ՙibar), it became known as an independent book in his own lifetime. He would later modify and make additions to The Muqaddimah, but its basic structure and most important ideas appeared in the 1377 edition.

The Muqaddimah begins with a discussion of the purposes and methods of history, which Ibn Khaldūn conceived to be a systematic science dealing with the social organization of humanity’s past and present. Although he attempted to analyze social and political institutions as universal phenomena, most of his work was actually about the Maghreb. Some of his views were naturally ethnocentric, for his opportunities to learn about Europe and non-Islamic religions were very limited. He wrote about all components of Maghreb culture, including the sciences, the arts, technology, philosophy, commerce, forms of government, and the different ways that people earned their livelihood.

His sociological analysis emphasized the differences between traditional nomadic societies (which he admired) and the developed urban societies (which he criticized as soft and corrupt). He argued that all societies must be held together by a shared sense of social cohesiveness or group spirit (ՙaṣabīyah), which is promoted by the unifying forces of religion, kinship, fear, and perceptions of self-interest.

The Muqaddimah outlined a coherent philosophy of historical change, asserting that the rise and fall of political regimes tends to follow cyclical patterns that can be discovered empirically. Ibn Khaldūn believed that historical outcomes were determined by combinations of variables, including economic conditions, internal rivalries, institutional corruption, the effectiveness of leadership, and the extent of the relevant societies’s cohesiveness. Because many of these variables were intangible and impossible to measure, Ibn Khaldūn did not claim that historical analysis would allow dependable predictions of outcomes in specific instances. Contrary to many religious philosophers, moreover, he never affirmed that the course of human history followed a divine plan or moved toward a definite end.

Probably more than any other medieval historian, Ibn Khaldūn searched for natural causes, attempted to be impartial, and applied rigid criticism of his sources. In discussing what caused events, he usually expressed a skeptical and secular point of view, leading some commentators to conclude that he was influenced by rationalist philosophers. Yet, when he wrote about the Qur՚ān and Islam, he consistently defended religious orthodoxy and refuted the arguments of the skeptics and rationalists.

Apparently, Ibn Khaldūn did not see any contradiction in the two approaches. He frequently encouraged readers to find refuge in religion and to trust the divine revelation given to Muḥammad. His contemporaries reported that he was a devout Muslim and was firmly committed to austere Sufi doctrines.

The Muqaddimah enhanced his reputation as a scholar. In 1382, he was appointed lecturer at the famous Al-Azhar University in Cairo. While there, he revised The Muqaddimah and completed his Kitāb al-ՙibar, of which the last two volumes are especially noteworthy; they are considered the most important primary sources for the history of Arabs and Berbers in North Africa.

Ibn Khaldūn also served several terms as the chief Maliki judge of Cairo. In 1400, he accompanied the Egyptian army in an expedition to Syria in order to resist the invasion of the Mongol conqueror, Tamerlane Tamerlane (1336-1405). He had numerous conversations with Tamerlane, including the negotiation of freedom for civilians caught and held in the siege, before returning to Cairo. He completed his autobiography there a few months before dying in 1406.


Ibn Khaldūn’s enduring fame is primarily due to The Muqaddimah. Prior to this innovative work, most historians and chroniclers had been content to describe the facts of political events, dynastic rulers, and military conquests. Ibn Khaldūn emphasized causation, and he was perhaps the first historian to have looked seriously for underlying causes of events in economic forces and the dynamics of social institutions. In addition, he was the first Muslim historian to give a comprehensive description of the various accomplishments of the Islamic world.

He was almost forgotten after his death, but beginning in the sixteenth century, his writings became very popular among Turkish scholars of the Ottoman Empire. In the nineteenth century, his stature increased as European historians and sociologists discovered that he had anticipated many of their theoretical views.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ahmad, Zaid. The Epistemology of Ibn Khaldūn. New York: Routledge, 2003. Analytical approach to Khaldūn’s epistemology, with a close examination of chapter 6 of the Muqaddimah, in which Khaldūn sketches his thoughts on the relationship and usefulness of science to human civilization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Azmeh, Aziz al-. Ibn Khaldūn: An Essay in Reinterpretation. 1981. Reprint. New York: Central European University Press, 2003. One of the foremost authorities on Ibn Khaldūn reexamines The Muqaddimah. Emphasizes the extent to which his work is a culmination of medieval Muslim literature. Includes a detailed bibliography of works on Ibn Khaldūn in various languages.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baali, Fuad. Social Institutions: Ibn Khaldūn’s Social Thought. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1992. A scholarly study of his theories about social institutions, focusing on the similarities between these theories and those of modern sociologists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dahmus, Joseph. Seven Medieval Historians. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1982. Includes an interesting and succinct chapter devoted to Ibn Khaldūn.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fischel, Walter. Ibn Khaldūn in Egypt: A Study in Islamic Historiography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. Concentrates on Ibn Khaldūn’s career after 1382 and provides a scholarly and readable analysis of all his historical works.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ibn Khaldūn. Ibn Khaldūn and Tamerlane: Their Historic Meeting in Damascus, 1401 A.D. Translated by Walter J. Fischel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952. A short work supplemented with many explanatory remarks and notes. Gives Ibn Khaldūn’s account of his meeting with Tamerlane during the siege of Syria.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ibn Khaldūn. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Translated by Franz Rosenthal. 3 vols. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. The first volume includes the translator’s helpful introduction to Ibn Khaldūn’s life and works.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lacoste, Yves. Ibn Khaldūn: The Birth of History and the Past of the Third World. Translated by David Macey. London: Verso, 1984. An excellent analysis of Ibn Khaldūn’s thought, arguing that his skeptical approach to history did not affect his religious orthodoxy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rosenthal, Franz. Introduction to “The Muqaddimah”: An Introduction to History, by Ibn Khaldūn. Rev. ed. 3 vols. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967. A complete English translation. Rosenthal introduces the first volume with a long and informative section on the life and work of Ibn Khaldūn and the many factors that might have influenced his views.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schmidt, Nathaniel. Ibn Khaldūn: Historian, Sociologist, and Philosopher. New York: AMS Press, 1967. A fifty-page essay that contains a good summary and many perceptive insights.

Categories: History