Rym Aoudia tells us about a Muslim thinker whose thoughts still echo today.
“The goal of civilization is a settled life and the achievement of luxury. But there is a limit that cannot be overstepped. When prosperity and luxury come to a people, they are followed by excessive consumption and extravagance. With that the human soul itself is undermined, both in its worldly wealth and its spiritual life.”
Ibn Khaldun’s quotation makes us appreciate Ibn Khaldun as a thinker who could take a complicated phenomenon, in this case the rise of civilization, and analyze it succinctly and clearly for his readers.
Ibn Khaldun’s full name is Abd Ar-Rahman Ibn Mohammed Ibn Khaldun. He was born in Tunisia on May 27, 1332 C.E. to parents of Yemeni origin. Prior to living in Tunisia, his parents lived in Spain. His family was generally one of politicians and scholars, which developed in Ibn Khaldun an ambitious desire to excel in both fields. In Tunisia, Ibn Khaldun received a fine education, where he became knowledgeable in different subjects and memorized the entire Quran. From a young age, he was active in public service aspiring towards a political career.
In his quest for knowledge, Ibn Khaldun decided to immigrate to Fez in Morocco because political rivalries affected the stability of his career. While on his way to Fez he sought refuge in a small village in Algeria, where he stayed three years. It was during this time that he wrote the first volume about world history, Muqaddimah (Prolegomena) in which he aimed at analyzing historical events. It was with this book that Ibn Khaldun established himself as an eminent scholar, earning the interest and respect of historians, sociologists, and philosophers alike.
The political situation was the reason behind Ibn Khaldun’s unstable career as well as his move to Egypt. He made Egypt his permanent home. These 24 years in Egypt were that of prominence and deference. He was appointed as the Chief Malakite Judge and lectured at Al-Azhar University.
Generally speaking, Ibn Khaldun’s main contribution lies in the philosophy of history and sociology. Unlike previous writers, his interpretation of history was not merely based on political aspects, but also on environmental, sociological, psychological, and economic factors. Ibn Khaldun innovatively analyzed group relationships and identified their role in the rise of a new civilization. He also identified the concept of ‘rise’ and ‘fall’ in human civilization and analyzed its contributing factors.
In addition to the volume of Muqaddimah, his other volume, Kitab Al-I’bar, dealt with the history of Arabs, contemporary Muslim rulers, European rulers, Jews, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Islamic history, North African history, and so forth. Al-Tasrif was his last volume, which was mainly about his life.
With his volumes, Ibn Khaldun is credited to have revolutionized the science of history and set the foundation of sociology. With Al-Tasrif, he initiated a new analytical form of autobiographical writing.
Ibn Khaldun is undoubtedly a prominent social scientist and thinker of profound insight. His writings stand as proof of his brilliance. They have stood the test of time for they are still available for us to read and contemplate today. Surely, Ibn Khaldun is a Muslim whose writings of the past have served the future.