Ibn Khaldun

Ibn Khaldūn (13321406) was a famous Arab historiographer and historian born in present-day Tunisia, and is sometimes viewed as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology and economics. He is best known for his Muqaddimah "Prolegomena".


On the Arabic languageEdit

  • All the sciences came to exist in Arabic. The systematic works on them were written in Arabic writing.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p.432, Princeton University Press, 1981.

On the Bedouin ArabsEdit

  • Bedouin Arabs dominate only of the plains, because they are, by their savage nature, people of pillage and corruption. They pillage everything that they can take without fighting or taking risks, then flee to their refuge in the wilderness, and do not stand and do battle unless in self-defense. So when they encounter any difficulty or obstacle, they leave it alone and look for easier prey. And tribes well-fortified against them on the slopes of the hills escape their corruption and destruction, because they prefer not to climb hills, nor expend effort, nor take risks. Whereas plains, when they can reach them due to lack of protection and weakness of the state, are spoils for them and morsels for them to eat, which they will keep despoiling and raiding and conquering with ease until their people are defeated, then imitate them with mutual conflict and political decline, until their civilization is destroyed. And Allah is capable of their creation, and He is the One, the Victorious, and there is no other lord than Him.

On economicsEdit

  • Businesses owned by responsible and organized merchants shall eventually surpass those owned by wealthy rulers.
  • When civilization [population] increases, the available labor again increases. In turn, luxury again increases in correspondence with the increasing profit, and the customs and needs of luxury increase. Crafts are created to obtain luxury products. The value realized from them increases, and, as a result, profits are again multiplied in the town. Production there is thriving even more than before. And so it goes with the second and third increase. All the additional labor serves luxury and wealth, in contrast to the original labor that served the necessity of life.
    • On economic growth [1]

On the GreeksEdit

  • The sciences of only one nation, the Greeks, have come down to us, because they were translated through Al-Ma'mun's efforts. He was successful in this direction because he had many translators at his disposal and spent much money in this connection.
  • Eventually, Aristotle appeared among the Greeks. He improved the methods of logic and systematized its problems and details. He assigned to logic its proper place as the first philosophical discipline and the introduction to philosophy. Therefore he is called the First Teacher.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p.39 and p.383, Princeton University Press, 1981.

On the JewsEdit

  • (Unlike Muslims), the other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty to them, save only for purposes of defence... They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people. This is why the Israelites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority for about four hundred years. Their only concern was to establish their religion... The Israelites dispossessed the Canaanites of the land that God had given them as their heritage in Jerusalem and the surrounding region, as it had been explained to them through Moses. The nations of the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Armenians, the Edomites, the Ammonites, and the Moabites fought against them. During that time political leadership was entrusted to the elders among them. The Israelites remained in that condition for about four hundred years. They did not have any royal power and were harassed by attacks from foreign nations. Therefore, they asked God through Samuel, one of their prophets, that he permit them to make someone king over them. Thus, Saul became their king. He defeated the foreign nations and killed Goliath, the ruler of Philistines. After Saul, w:David became king, and then Solomon. His kingdom flourished and extended to the borders of the land of the Hijaz and further to the borders of Yemen and to the borders of the land of the Byzantines. After Solomon, the tribes split into two dynasties. One of the dysnaties was that of the ten tribes in the region of Nablus, the capital of which is Samaria(Sabastiyah), and the other that of the children of Judah and Benjamin in Jerusalem. Their royal authority had had an uninterrupted duration of a thousand years.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, pp.183-184, Princeton University Press, 1981.

On the PersiansEdit

  • As Ibn Khaldun suggests, it is a remarkable fact that with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs:
"Thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, 'If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it"…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91). He translated the Arabic word "Ajam" into "Persians."

On black peopleEdit

  • The only people who accept slavery are the Negroes, owing to their low degree of humanity and proximity to the animal stage. Other persons who accept the status of slave do so as a means of attaining high rank, or power, or wealth, as is the case with the Mameluke Turks in the East and with those Franks and Galicians who enter the service of the state [in Spain].
    • Ibn Khaldun as quoted in Bernard Lewis, Race and Color in Islam, Harper and Row, 1970, quote on page 38. The brackets are displayed by Lewis.
  • "Beyond [known peoples of black West Africa] to the south there is no civilization in the proper sense. There are only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings. They live in thickets and caves, and eat herbs and unprepared grain. They frequently eat each other. They cannot be considered human beings."
    • Muqaddimah
  • "Therefore, the Negro nation are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because [Negroes] have little [that is essentially] human and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated."
    • Muqaddimah

On the Qu'ranEdit

  • Arabic writing at the beginning of Islam was, therefore, not of the best quality nor of the greatest accuracy and excellence. It was not (even) of medium quality, because the Arabs possessed the savage desert attitude and were not familiar with crafts. One may compare what happened to the orthography of the Qur’an on account of this situation. The men around Muhammad wrote the Qur’an in their own script which, was not of a firmly established, good quality. Most of the letters were in contradiction to the orthography required by persons versed in the craft of writing.... Consequently, (the Qur’anic orthography of the men around Muhammad was followed and became established, and the scholars acquainted with it have called attention to passages where (this is noticeable). No attention should be paid in this connection with those incompetent (scholars) that (the men around Muhammad) knew well the art of writing and that the alleged discrepancies between their writing and the principles of orthography are not discrepancies, as has been alleged, but have a reason. For instance, they explain the addition of the alif in la ‘adhbahannahU "I shall indeed slaughter him" as indication that the slaughtering did not take place ( lA ‘adhbahannahU ). The addition of the ya in bi-ayydin "with hands (power)," they explain as an indication that the divine power is perfect. There are similar things based on nothing but purely arbitrary assumptions. The only reason that caused them to (assume such things) is their belief that (their explanations) would free the men around Muhammad from the suspicion of deficiency, in the sense that they were not able to write well. They think that good writing is perfection. Thus, they do not admit the fact that the men around Muhammad were deficient in writing.
    • Muqqadimah, ibn Khaldun, vol. 2, p.382

On Religious propagandaEdit

  • 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... This happened to the Arabs at the beginning of Islam during the Muslim conquests. The armies of the Muslims at al-Qadisiyah and at the Yarmuk numbered some 30,000 in each case, while the Persian troops at al-Qadisiyah numbered 120,000, and the troops of Heraclius, according to al-Waqidi, 400,000. Neither of the two parties was able to withstand the Arabs, who routed them and seized what they possessed.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p.126, Princeton University Press, 1981.

On The Black PlagueEdit

  • Civilization both in the East and the West was visited by a destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish. It swallowed up many of the good things of civilization and wiped them out. It overtook the dynasties at the time of their senility, when they had reached the limit of their duration. It lessened their power and curtailed their influence. It weakened their authority. Their situation approached the point of annihilation and dissolution. Civilization decreased with the decrease of mankind. Cities and buildings were laid waste, roads and way signs were obliterated, settlements and mansions became empty, dynasties and tribes grew weak. The entire inhabited world changed. The East, it seems, was similarly visited, though in accordance with and in proportion to [the East's more affluent] civilization. It was as if the voice of existence in the world had called out for oblivion and restriction, and the world responded to its call. God inherits the earth and whomever is upon it.
    • Michael W. Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East, Princeton University Press, 1977, p. 67.

About Ibn KhaldunEdit

  • While it is true that many Muslim scholars who composed their works in Arabic, both in the religious and in the intellectual sciences, have been of non-Arab descent, Ibn Khaldūn's use of the term Arab in his history seems to indicate a class of people and not a group. Most scholars believe that, in many instances, Ibn Khaldūn uses the name Arab to mean bedouin. Other scholars, such as Mohamed Chafik, deny this.
  • From late 'Abbasid times onwards the word Arab reverts to its earlier meaning of Bedouin or nomad, becoming in effect a social rather than an ethnic term. In many of the Western chronicles of the Crusades it is used only for Bedouin, while the mass of the Muslim population of the Near East are called Saracens. It is certainly in this sense that in the sixteenth century Tasso speaks of 'Altri Arabi poi, che di soggiorno, / certo non sono stabili abitanti;'
    • Gerusalemme Liberata, XVII 21.
  • The fourteenth-century Arabic historian Ibn Khaldūn, himself a townsman of Arab descent, uses the word commonly in this sense.

Some text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica


  1. a b Muqaddimah 2:272–73 quoted in Weiss (1995) p 30

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Last modified on 17 April 2014, at 22:39