Among the important names in Sociology, like Marx, Durkheim and Weber, there is one name that is particularly special. Being the godfather of sociology and having a big influence in both geography and history, Ibn Khaldun has been rightly called to have a brilliant mind.
Ibn Khaldun (1332, Tunis – 1406, Cairo) was born into a rich Andalusian family. He spent years as a student to the best teachers in the Maghreb. At the age of 17, he was already mastering the classical understanding of the Quran, arabic linguistics, fiqh, sharia, hadith, math, logical thinking, philosophy, and had studied all the works by renowned scholars such as Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Razi and Tulsi.
At a young age, Ibn Khaldun held important positions in society: he was given a position in the court of Tunis and ended up later as the Sultan’s secretary. Later, Ibn Khaldun had to flee for his life, spend time in jail and get into trouble because of his views during his political career. Eventually he left Spain and found peace in Algeria.
Al-Muqaddimmah, a scientific milestone
In 1377, Ibn Khaldun introduced the world to one of his finest historical, sociological and geographical works which to this day is still overwhelmingly relevant. In this work Al-Muqadimmah, he covers the various aspects in one’s life, making it a true masterpiece: from history, philosophy, culture, politics and religion to historical review, chemistry, biology, natural science, Islamic theology and Islamic law.
Ibn Khaldun distinguished himself from other historians with his specific way of approaching the study of the nature of society. This approach would eventually lead to a new way of methodology, making himself the godfather of modern sociology.
Another important technique he introduced was the scientific method, in which he would check the sources of other historians. This method is now incorporated in any credible research work and is absolutely needed to call any work ‘scientific’. His historical research led to the methods we now use to research the role governments, propaganda and communication played in the writing of history.
In the Maghreb, especially in Andalusia and Tunisia, Ibn Khaldun is widely celebrated. His statues adorn the cities and his name is on money, streets and museums. His works have been translated after their introduction in Europe and are heavily praised. The English historian Arnold Toynbee proclaimed Ibn khaldun’s work as the most significant of its kind in philosophy and history. Even though its main focus was to tell the history of the Berber and Arabic people, Ibn Khaldun managed to leave us with a masterpiece and ideas that are still relevant to us all.
The dark side of Ibn Khaldun
Unfortunately, as is the general case with many of the enlightened minds a few centuries ago, a hint of racism can be seen in his ideas. Ibn Khaldun’s ideas about the black Sub-Saharan Africans is disappointing to say the least. He believed that, to cite him, “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, …” .
This idea was later on found in a lot of works by European scholars who defended slavery and colonialism with the same mindset. Unfortunately, ibn Khaldun missed an important thing the prophet had said: “A white person is not superior to a black person, nor a black person superior to a white – except through piety and good deeds.”
Nevertheless, Ibn Khaldun was a great mind that can inspire us all!