Ibn Khaldun: Pioneer Islamic Sociologist

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406 CE) was a great Arab and Muslim historian and a pioneer of the modern disciplines of sociology, demography, and nonreligious philosophy. In fact, he is the founder of sociology.

He is most famous for his book Introduction to Ibn Khaldun, which influenced the Ottoman historians of the 17th century who used theories from the book to analyse the growth and decline of the Ottoman Empire. European scholars of the 19th century also recognised the importance of the book.

Ibn Khaldun is one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages. His life is relatively well documented, as he wrote his autobiography, The Introduction To Ibn Khaldun And His Journey West And East.

His Family and Birth

Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunisia on 27 May 1332. The period in which Ibn Khaldun grew up was marked by the spread of knowledge and the abundance of literature, especially since he received the art of literature from his father.

His father, like the rest of his ancestors, was of scientific and cultural status, and he was his first teacher. However, his father and his mother died during the spread of the plague epidemic in 1348, in addition to a group of his elders and teachers whom he lost for the same reason.

Early Years

Ibn Khaldun memorised the Holy Qur’an from a young age and studied the sciences of the Arabic language from grammar, morphology, and the science of speech and linguistics at the hands of the great teachers in that period. He adhered to their councils until he became knowledgeable in the language of his people. He also studied legal sciences at the hands of a group of sheikhs and judges in his time and learned jurisprudence, hadith and logic.

When Ibn Khaldun reached the age of twenty, he was distinguished by his knowledge, politeness, and genius. Since his youth, Ibn Khaldun occupied several jobs and moved between a number of positions. He held the position of clerk in the court of the Emir of Tunisia and a secretary with the Sultan of Marrakesh. He was later accused of treason to the state and imprisoned.

After his release from prison, with the help of one of the ministers, he became a secretary of the state to Sultan Abi Salem. Later, he moved to Granada and worked in the court until he became prime minister in Bejaia, but the state was invaded, and the ruling changed. So, Ibn Khaldun negotiated with the invader to hand over the city in return for remaining in the ministry, and he succeeded. He later fled the country when the ruler breached his promise.

Then, he moved between many regions and tribes in North Africa, returned to Andalusia, and then to Egypt, where he held several positions and missions, such as working as a teacher of Maliki school at Al-Azhar Mosque, also worked as a judge there for the same school of thought, and was later dismissed because of his strictness. He also participated in the Egyptian campaign against Tamerlane in the Levant in 1400.

Stages of his life according to scholars

Historical scholars divided the stages that the scientist Ibn Khaldun lived through into four stages, namely:

The first stage: This stage refers to the first twenty years of Omar Ibn Khaldun, as he spent in the city of Tunis, and it is the stage in which he collected knowledge and memorized the Qur’an, as it took him fifteen years to memorize it, during which he learned the readings and the rules of intonation, and this stage extended since He was born in 1332 to 1351.

The second stage: This stage extended for twenty-five years, starting from 1351 until 1376, as this stage is characterized by Ibn Khaldun occupying several political and bureaucratic positions in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.

The third stage: Ibn Khaldun wrote in this stage his famous book “Lessons in the Beginner and the News in the Days of the Arabs, the Persians, the Berbers, and their Contemporaries with the Greatest Authority”, which contains in its first section the introduction, and it extended from the end of 1376 to 1384, and this stage is divided It was divided into two parts, the first he spent in Ibn Salama Castle, and the second in the city of Cairo.

The fourth stage: This stage extended for twenty-four years, and it is the stage in which Ibn Khaldun worked in teaching and judicial positions, as he spent it in Egypt from the year 1384 to 1408.

Ibn Khaldun’s Contributions

Ibn Khaldun wrote many books and works whose influence is still present today, perhaps the most famous of which is Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction, which was the reason he is classified as the founder of sociology, based on his arguments and illustrations in this book. In addition to other books in several fields, such as history, arithmetic, logic and wisdom. Perhaps the most prominent and most famous of Ibn Khaldun’s books is the following.

  1. The Lessons And The Diwan Of The Beginner And The News In The Days Of The Arabs, The Persians, And The Berbers, And Their Contemporaries With The Greatest Authority, which is the most famous book among all Ibn Khaldun’s writings, as it contains his famous introduction, Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction. The book comes in seven volumes. The introduction is in the first volume. It is the largest section in the book.
  2. Lubb al-Mahassal fi Usul al-Din, which is a summary of the ideas of scholars and jurists, former and late, of the era of Ibn Khaldun.
  3. Shifa’ Al-Sa’il Lithdheeb Al-Masa’il, which is a book on Sufism, its origin, implications and sections.
  4. Removing Blame from the Rulers of Humans, which is Ibn Khaldun’s message to judges.
  5. Ibn Khaldun’s Journey
  6. The Pursuit of the Pioneers in the Remembrance of the Kings from Bani Al-Wad.

All these and other works are still present and circulated to this day, thanks to the important theories they contain in several fields, perhaps the most important of which are in the field of sociology and history, especially in his famous introduction.

His Thoughts

Ibn Khaldun was distinguished from other historians in general and Muslim historians in particular with his vision of history. He did not see in it a mere narration of events but rather a science that must be studied according to a clear methodology, and his vision ended with the discovery of a kind of social philosophy that he called human civilization, which he describes as “an innovation in craft, strange tendencies, and abundantly useful.”

Human Habitation

He believes that this science has many benefits, as it highlights the truth from falsehood in what has been reported by tongues about historical events by looking at human civilization. If we do that, we will come to laws that scrutinize truth from falsehood in the news in a way that leaves no doubt.

Thus, the whole human society is a tool for contemplation and study to consider the history of societies by studying and analyzing the emergence of society, its stability and its transition between weakness and strength, youth and old age, rise and fall, so that we know the characteristics of this society, in addition to elements of its formation and organization.

Objectively, Ibn Khaldun sees human civilization that it is “what is presented in their meeting of the conditions of civilization in possession, earning, science and artefacts with demonstrative aspects, with which the investigation of private and public knowledge becomes clear, and delusions and doubts are repelled by it.” Then he divides this science into six chapters, which are:

  1. Human habitation in general, its types and instalment.
  2. Bedouin architecture and savage tribes and nations.
  3. States, succession, ruling, and the sultanate ranks.
  4. Urbanization, countries and regions.
  5. Industries, living, and earning.
  6. Science, acquisition and learning.

His Historical Methodology

Ibn Khaldun looked at the events that took place in the history of states with intense contemplation, so he saw permanent social phenomena that are not related to time, and these phenomena represent the life of society and link the past to the future. His study of history turned into a belief in history, and he believed that there should be a correct and clear methodology for investigating historical events and social systems.

In order to reach the correct reading of history as a science, historians must avoid falling into three major mistakes. The first is partisanship. Suppose history was narrated according to the point of view of some partisans of a specific Islamic approach. Then, the Umayyad state would have the most odious description without any benign characteristic, similar to the phenomenon of partisanship among historians who exaggerate the flattery of the powerful and others who excessively support a king without considering his disadvantages or regardless of them.

The second mistake is the historian’s acceptance of everything that was narrated before him, so he takes the information without a careful examination, and the most appropriate solution to avoid this error is to scrutiny with a lot of care and contemplation. So, they investigated all the narrations and returned every meaning to its origin until the hadiths became more like dictionaries that one returns to in order to gain information or advice.

Verification Method

There must be history, so everything that is mentioned in it must be verified in order for it to be a lexicon for those who want it. One must pay attention to the number of historians of one incident, as the narration of five historians is closer to authentication than the narration of one historian.

As for the third mistake, which Ibn Khaldun gave great importance, it is ignorance of the nature of conditions in urbanization. The historian is governed by understanding the nature of society and matching them with what agrees with them in terms of urban conditions. If he is unable to do so, he loses the privilege of being able to scrutinize and verify the information.

Ibn Khaldun comments on these three sins, but he gives the third sin great importance, and he believes that historical issues cannot be subjected to wounding and modification except after matching them with the nature of urbanization. In its time, that is, if the narration contradicts the time, place, and circumstances to which the chronicled phenomenon was exposed.

Ibn Khaldun sets an example of this with the journey of the King of India on the day he went out to travel, and before that, he counted the number of the population of his kingdom, including women, men, and children, and gave them a livelihood for six months upon his return. The denial of this incident is because it does not agree with the conditions of urbanization.


In his introduction, Ibn Khaldun exposed many economic and financial ideas. He looked at the standard of living and its proportionality with the number and density of the population, studied the prices of necessities, wages and works, and researched them to understand the rise or fall of their prices according to supply and demand and according to the continuity of cities with urbanization.

Financial Economics

Ibn Khaldun’s analysis of financial affairs was not a history but rather an objective study of economic phenomena. He believed that regulating the state’s finances is one of its most important pillars, “this function is a great part of the monarchy, rather it is its third pillar.” Supervisory through the financial regulatory function.


Ibn Khaldun did not use the term tax but rather used the corresponding equivalent in his era, which is collection. He talked about collection in all its forms and explained the reasons for its scarcity, abundance, types, and response to the concept of causation. Taxes differ between countries according to what circumstances require. Ibn Khaldun separated the types of collections according to the nature of government in the state.

If it is an Islamic state, nothing is taken from the population except what is stipulated in Islamic law, i.e. taxes, tribute, and tithes practised by the community, taking into account the nature of the social system experienced by the members of the community. Ibn Khaldun distinguishes between direct and indirect levies that were introduced with the development of states and links between the development of the state and its tax policies.

Tax Collection

Ibn Khaldun was calling for the imposition of taxes with equality and moderation on the subjects.

Government Spending

Ibn Khaldun believes that government spending is an essential factor in the development of urbanization and states in terms that confirm that government demand is the main driver of economic activities and the main developer of society from agricultural to industrial, meaning that the state can contribute through public spending to raising the level of demand for goods and services, and thus motivates individuals to More investments to meet demand.

Ibn Khaldun supported this financial policy during the reign of Al-Ma’mun. He also warned against hoarding by the state and collecting taxes without reinvesting the money, as this would delay growth, increase unemployment and decrease the ability of the population to buy.

The impact of his political experiences on his writings

Ibn Khaldun grew up in a rich and diverse environment. Since he was twenty years old, he was able to occupy several jobs, including writing secrets and planning grievances. He also held several positions, so he experienced the positions of the ministry, the embassy, rhetoric, the judiciary, the veil, and teaching. However, he experienced the luxurious life of palaces.

The harshness of arrest and imprisonment, as he lived under many political fluctuations, some of which he was a party to, and this diversity helped Ibn Khaldun to gain extensive experience and deep knowledge that had an impact on the intellectual and cultural formation of Ibn Khaldun.

He began with his well-known introduction, especially since he moved between several countries in the Islamic world and the borders of Europe, and he was one of the countries he moved between Tunisia, Cairo, Granada, Jerusalem, Damascus, Fez, and Seville, all of which were cities full of science and arts at the time.

Also, the factors that helped open horizons about Ibn Khaldun’s thinking, his communication with a number of scholars from different cultures within the Islamic world, and his babysitting with them and exchanging opinions and ideas among them, prompted him to continue reading and read many books available in public libraries that were available in most of the cities he visited.

In addition to the interruption of Ibn Khaldun in the castle of Ibn Salama, which was the reason for his emptiness and clarity of mind and the accuracy of his opinions, as well as the long period he spent in the city of Cairo, during which he was able to rearrange his book Lessons and add the history of the East to it, He added to his introduction very important information, formulated opinions about ways to reform and developing nations, and discussed the reasons for their collapse.

Ibn Khaldun and the West

Many Western scholars, thinkers, historians, and orientalists were interested in Ibn Khaldun’s ideas, as they showed their great admiration for him, but some of them deliberately stripped him of his Arab origins and denied that he was a Muslim, despite the presence of many scholars who are of equal importance to Ibn Khaldun’s. The likes of Ibn al-Haytham, Ibn al-Nafis, al-Biruni, al-Razai, al-Kindi, Ibn Sina, al-Farbi, and others.

As for Ibn Khaldun, the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega. It explained the philosophical history in the long term, so the Spanish orientalist Ribera is proud of Ibn Khaldun and claims that he belongs to his country, Spain and that the Spanish homeland should be proud of the greatest historical production in Islamic civilization.

As for the field of economics, Stephen Kelso points out that Ibn Khaldun deserves to be at the forefront of modern economists, in addition to being at the forefront of the philosophers of history. As a result of his understanding of the role played by work, property, and wages, and when Professor Nathaniel Schmidt conducted a study on Ibn Khaldun as a social historian and philosopher, he suggested that he put him in the ranks of international historians such as Theodore of Siculus and Nicolas of Damascus.

In addition, the scholar Schmidt explains that Ibn Khaldun was the first to single out history with a special science, and he is the one who discovered the manifestations of real history and explained its nature as he searched for facts and events that fall within the circle of history, and collects social phenomena in human life.

Ibn Khaldun was the first book to be written on the philosophy of history, as he described it, saying: “Ibn Khaldun, despite his Islamic character, is a philosopher like Auguste Comte, Thomas Bekle, and Herbert Spencer.”

If you enjoyed this content why not dive into some more historical eras – check out these articles: Vikings History, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egyptians – The First Woman Pharaoh, Greek Mythology – Medusa, Native American History. Victorian Era or Celts

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