[EAS] Ibn Khaldun

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Feb 7 23:41:56 EST 2005

Subject:   Ibn Khaldun

NewsScan Daily highlights famous persons under its valuable
"Honorary Subscriber feature.  --PJK

(from NewsScan Daily, 7 February 2005)

     Today's Honorary Subscriber is the Arab scholar and statesman
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who is celebrated as a pioneer in the
philosophy of history. He was one of many Muslim historians who
wrote detailed histories of the world, attempting to synthesize the
knowledge and lore of the ancient civilizations of Persia,
Byzantium, and the Near East.
     Scornful of other historians' blind trust in tradition, Ibn
Khaldun took pains to explain the phenomena that he recorded. He
believed that dynasties have a natural lifetime just like
individuals, because they draw their strength from a sentiment he
called "group solidarity," which is difficult to maintain for more
than three forty-year generations. He noted that a proper
understanding of events can be achieved only by comprehending human
society in its different manifestations, distinguishing the nomadic
from the sedentary, and studying the effects of geography and
climate on them. 
     His masterful history of the world, "The Book of Lessons and
Archive of Early and Subsequent History," which contains his
theories of history and society, was called by English historian
Arnold Toynbee "the most comprehensive and illuminating analysis of
how human affairs work that has been made anywhere."
     Because he took a scientific view of the rise and decay of
human societies, arguing that such changes followed empirically
verifiable laws, his analyses are not without relevance to modern
problems. His scholarly output encompassed today's disciplines of
history, sociology, anthropology, folklore, geography, linguistics,
economics and political science
     Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunis to a family with roots in the
aristocracy of Seville, Spain. In 1352 he entered the service of the
Sultan of Fez, but in 1356 he was imprisoned for two years under
suspicion of political disloyalty. After spending some years in
Granada, Spain, he returned to Africa and entered the service of the
Sultan of Tiemcen. After various vicissitudes, including further
imprisonment and a period of residence in a monastery, he obtained
employment with the Sultan of Tunis. After visiting Mecca in 1384,
he was appointed grand qadi in Cairo, Egypt, an office from which he
was removed and reinstalled no fewer than five times. He died in
Cairo in 1406.
     As an example of his writing, we include the following
quotation on economics (anticipating the Laffer curve), taken from
the Wikepedia Web site:
     "In the early stages of the state, taxes are light in their
incidence, but fetch in a large revenue...As time passes and kings
succeed each other, they lose their tribal habits in favor of more
civilized ones. Their needs and exigencies grow...owing to the
luxury in which they have been brought up. Hence they impose fresh
taxes on their subjects...[and] sharply raise the rate of old taxes
to increase their yield...But the effects on business of this rise
in taxation make themselves felt. For business men are soon
discouraged by the comparison of their profits with the burden of
their taxes...Consequently production falls off, and with it the
yield of taxation."

[To find a library copy of Michael Brett's "Ibn Khaldun and the
Medieval Maghrib" visit RLG's RedLightGreen service at
-- or to purchase a copy of M.A. Enan's "Ibn Khaldun: His Life and
Work" go to: 
     Note: We donate all revenue from our book recommendations to
adult literacy programs.]

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