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Yale University Library Launches Ibn Khaldun Exhibition

posted on: Apr 1, 2008

Yale University Library and the Near East Collection has launched the Ibn Khaldun Exhibition from April to May 2008.

bn Khaldun, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad al-Hardrami al-Ishbili (1332-1406), was born in Tunis on 1 Ramadan, 732 H (27 May, 1332 CE). His ancestors migrated from Hadramawt in southern Arabia to al-Andalus (Andalusia, southern Spain) in the early years of the 8th century during the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

The family settled, eventually, in the city of Ishbiliyah (Seville) where they assumed political leadership positions. However, as the power of the Muslims started to crumble, the family had to leave to northwestern Africa, where they had strong connections with the ruling Hafsids, shortly before the fall of the city to the Christians in 1284.

Having been a descendent of a family of scholars and statesmen, Ibn Khaldun was educated by his father and other North African scholars in the traditional Arabic/Islamic sciences. After finishing his education he took several government positions. However, the vicissitudes of politics led to his imprisonment for almost two years (1357-1358). Upon his release from prison he assumed other legal position until 1362 when he decided to leave North Africa and travel to Granada. In Granada he was highly honored by the city’s ruler Muhammad V who sent him in 1364 on a diplomatic mission to Pedro the Cruel in Seville. Hence, Ibn Khaldun had the opportunity to visit the city of his ancestors. After three years, he returned to North Africa in 1365, where he was given several high administrative positions until 1375.

Fed up with the intrigues of politics and the instability of governments, Ibn Khaldun returned to Granada to dedicate himself to his scholarly pursuits but was obliged to return back the same year to Fez by pressures from its Sultan, Abbas al-Marini. He managed, however, to flee to the Arab tribe who gave him and his family refuge in Qal at Ibn Salamah, a castle and a village in the province of Wahran (Oran, Algeria). It was in the tranquility and safety of that castle that he started to write his famous History of the world “Kitab al-Ibar.” The celebrated Muqaddimah, or, “Introduction” to that book was finished in November, 1377. In 1378, Ibn Khaldun left Qal at Ibn Salamah and settled in Tunis where he held a teaching position at the famous Zaytunah Mosque and continued writing his History of the world.

In 1382, Ibn Khaldun left Tunis by sea to Alexandria, Egypt, from whence he intended to go to Mecca for the Hajj (Pilgrimage), but he postponed the pilgrimage for a more suitable time and traveled to Cairo where he started teaching at the famous al-Azhar Mosque. In 1384 he was appointed by Barquq, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt (1340-1399), to the position of Grand Qadi of the Malikyah, a position from which he resigned or was deposed six times (1384 until his death at the age of 74, on March 17, 1406). In October, 1400 he was asked to accompany Faraj, the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt (1399-1405) in his march to confront the armies of the Mongol leader, Tamerlane, who was threatening to invade Syria. In 1401 Ibn Khaldun, at the age of 69, met with Tamerlane in Damascus five times and was asked by him to write him a book about the geography and description of the Maghreb which he did before he returned to Cairo.

The fame of Ibn Khaldun in modern scholarship is due to his writing of the Muqaddimah, or “Introduction” to his History of the world, “Kitab-Ibar.” In the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun laid the foundations of a new science, ‘Ilm al-‘Umran, or, the science of human social organization. He, thus, preceded in his theories those of modern sociologists, philosophers, economists and historians like: Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Comte, Durkheim and even Marx.

The Muqaddimah has been translated into some twenty languages and hundreds of books and articles have been written, and still are, about Ibn Khaldun and his ingenious work. Frantz Rosenthal states in the introduction to his English translation of the Muqaddimah: “ As it is, we can hardly do better than to state simply that here was a man with a great mind, who combined action with thought, the heir of a great civilization that had run its course, and the inhabitant of a country with a living historical tradition—albeit reduced to remnants of its former greatness—who realized his own gifts and the opportunities of his historical position in a work that ranks as one of mankind’s important triumphs”

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