Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldun

ibn khaldun, muqaddimahThe Muqaddimah (An Introduction), or The Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun (Arabic: مقدّمة ابن خلدون) is a book written by the North African historian Ibn Khaldun in 1377 which records an early Muslim view of universal history. Many modern thinkers view it as the first work dealing with the philosophy of history and the social sciences of sociology, demography, historiography, and cultural history, and as one of the forerunners of modern economics in ancient times. The work also deals with Islamic theology and the natural sciences of biology and chemistry.

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:

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
7. The most important is the ignorance of the laws governing the transformation of human society.

Against the seventh point (the ignorance of social laws) Ibn Khaldun lays out his theory of human society in The Muqaddimah.

In the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun warned of seven mistakes that he thought that historians regularly committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural difference of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to feel the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past.

Ibn Khaldun often criticized "idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data." As a result, he introduced a scientific method to the study of history, which was considered something "new to his age", and he often referred to it as his "new science", now associated with historiography. His historical method also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history, and he is thus considered to be the "father of historiography" or the "father of the philosophy of history".

Ibn Khaldun's influence on the subject of history, philosophy of history, sociology, political science and education has remained paramount ever since his life. His books have been translated into many languages, both in the East and the West, and have inspired subsequent development of these sciences. For instance, Prof. Gum Ploughs and Kolosio consider Muqaddimah as superior in scholarship to Machiavelli's The Prince written a century later, as the forrner bases the diagnosis more on cultural, sociological, economic and psychological factors.

Ibn Khaldun (Abd al-Rahman Ibn Mohammad) was born in Tunisia in 1332 C.E. His parents, originally Yemenite Arabs, had settled in Spain, but after the fall of Seville, had migrated to Tunisia. He entered the service of the Egyptian ruler Sultan Barquq. His thirst for advanced knowledge and a better academic setting soon made him leave this service and migrate to Fez. This was followed by a long period of unrest marked by contemporary political rivalries affecting his career. This turbulent period also included a three year refuge in a small village Qalat Ibn Salama in Algeria, which provided him with the opportunity to write Muqaddimah, the first volume of his world history that won him an immortal place among historians, sociologists and philosophers. The uncertainty of his career still continued, with Egypt becoming his final abode where he spent his last 24 years. Here he lived a life of fame and respect, marked by his appointment as the Chief Malakite Judge and lecturing at the Al-Azhar University, but envy caused his removal from his high judicial office as many as five times.