Ibn Khaldun, a short biography

On May 27, 1332, celebrated Muslim scholar, philosopher, sociologist, and historian, Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunis, Hafsid dynasty. Ibn Khaldun moved from city to city and ruler to ruler and served in a variety of administrative and scribal capacities.

Described as the father of the modern disciplines of historiography, sociology, economics, and demography, Ibn Khaldun, in the first half of his life, held various advisory and bureaucratic roles in the service of the Merinid rulers in Fez, the Hafsids in Tunis, the ‘Abd al-Wadids in Tlemcen, and the Nasrids in Granada.

In 1375, he retired to a remote castle in western Algeria where in the course of the next 3-4 years he worked on the first draft of the Muqaddimah, his book on the principles of history and rise and fall of dynasties.

Historian Arnold Toynbee described Ibn Khaldun’s theoretical treatise on history, the Muqaddimah, as ‘undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time or place.’

The philosopher, sociologist, and anthropologist Ernest Gellner declared that Ibn Khaldun was ‘a superb inductive sociologist, a practitioner, long before the term was invented, of the method of ideal types.’

In 1378, he reentered civilization and undertook some teaching in Tunis while consulting its libraries. In 1382, he left for Mamluk Egypt. There he held the office of the chief qadi (judge) of the Maliki rite several times and he continued to work expanding and revising what he had already written.

In 1401, he had an iconic meeting with the greatest Conqueror of his time, Amir Timur, outside the walls of Damascus. After staying in Timur’s camp for a month, Ibn Khaldun left with a profound respect for the great king. Ibn Khaldun was impressed with Timur’s knowledge of history and everything the two discussed during that period. As a result, Ibn Khaldun came to a simple conclusion about Timur:

This king Timur is one of the greatest and mightiest of kings. Some attribute to him knowledge, others consider him a Shi‘ite because they note his preference for the members of the Ahl al-Bayt (family of the Prophet); still others attribute to him the employment of magic and sorcery, but in all this, there is nothing but a rumor. It is simply that he is highly intelligent and very perspicacious, addicted to debate and argumentation about what he knows and also about what he does not know. He is between sixty and seventy years old.

Read full account here: The iconic meeting of Amir Timur and Ibn Khaldun

Amir Timur meets Ibn Khaldun | Photo: Alamy

Ibn Khaldun died in Cairo, Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt on March 17, 1406.

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