Ibn Khaldun

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Ibn Khaldun Life-size bronze bust sculpture of Ibn Khaldun that is part of the collection at the Arab American National Museum (Catalog Number 2010.02). Commissioned by The Tunisian Community Center and Created by Patrick Morelli of Albany, NY in 2009. It was inspired by the statue of Ibn Khaldun erected at the Avenue Habib Bourguiba (built in 1932) in Tunis.

Ibn Khaldūn (Arabic: أبو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي‎, Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī; May 27, 1332March 17, 1406) was an Ifriqiyan (North Africa) Arab Muslim historiographer and historian, regarded to be among the founding fathers of modern sociology, historiography, demography, and economics. He is best known for his book, the Muqaddimah ("Prolegomena").


  • Civilization both in the East and the West was visited by a destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish. It swallowed up many of the good things of civilization and wiped them out. It overtook the dynasties at the time of their senility, when they had reached the limit of their duration. It lessened their power and curtailed their influence. It weakened their authority. Their situation approached the point of annihilation and dissolution. Civilization decreased with the decrease of mankind. Cities and buildings were laid waste, roads and way signs were obliterated, settlements and mansions became empty, dynasties and tribes grew weak. The entire inhabited world changed. The East, it seems, was similarly visited, though in accordance with and in proportion to [the East's more affluent] civilization. It was as if the voice of existence in the world had called out for oblivion and restriction, and the world responded to its call. God inherits the earth and whomever is upon it.
    • Quoted in Michael W. Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East, Princeton University Press, 1977, p. 67.
  • 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, as is the case with the Mameluke Turks in the East and with those Franks and Galicians who enter the service of the state [in Spain].
    • As quoted in Bernard Lewis, Race and Color in Islam, Harper and Row, 1970, quote on page 38. The brackets are displayed by Lewis.
  • Indeed, you should not desire to weigh with the intellect the issues of Tawhīd and the Hereafter; the reality of Prophethood; the reality of divine attributes and every other thing beyond the scope of the intellect, for such a desire is futile. An example of this would be a man who has a scale used for weighing gold suddenly desiring to weigh mountains with it! This does not mean that the scale is wrong in its measures; rather, the intellect has a limit it cannot surpass and a boundary it cannot transcend.
  • When civilization [population] increases, the available labor again increases. In turn, luxury again increases in correspondence with the increasing profit, and the customs and needs of luxury increase. Crafts are created to obtain luxury products. The value realized from them increases, and, as a result, profits are again multiplied in the town. Production there is thriving even more than before. And so it goes with the second and third increase. All the additional labor serves luxury and wealth, in contrast to the original labor that served the necessity of life.
    • Muqaddimah, 2:272–73 quoted in Weiss (1995) p 30
  • The sciences of only one nation, the Greeks, have come down to us, because they were translated through Al-Ma'mun's efforts. He was successful in this direction because he had many translators at his disposal and spent much money in this connection.
  • Eventually, Aristotle appeared among the Greeks. He improved the methods of logic and systematized its problems and details. He assigned to logic its proper place as the first philosophical discipline and the introduction to philosophy. Therefore he is called the First Teacher.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p. 39 and p. 383, Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • Businesses owned by responsible and organized merchants shall eventually surpass those owned by wealthy rulers.
    • Muqaddimah, 2:272–73 quoted in Weiss (1995) p 30
  • Royal authority is a noble and enjoyable position. It comprises all the good things of the world, the pleasures of the body, and the joys of the soul. Therefore, there is, as a rule, great competition for it. It rarely is handed over (voluntarily), but it may be taken away. Thus, discord ensues. It leads to war and fighting, and to attempts to gain superiority.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p. 123, Princeton University Press, 1958.
  • (Unlike Muslims), the other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty to them, save only for purposes of defence... They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people. This is why the Israelites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority for about four hundred years. Their only concern was to establish their religion... The Israelites dispossessed the Canaanites of the land that God had given them as their heritage in Jerusalem and the surrounding region, as it had been explained to them through Moses. The nations of the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Armenians, the Edomites, the Ammonites, and the Moabites fought against them. During that time political leadership was entrusted to the elders among them. The Israelites remained in that condition for about four hundred years. They did not have any royal power and were harassed by attacks from foreign nations. Therefore, they asked God through Samuel, one of their prophets, that he permit them to make someone king over them. Thus, Saul became their king. He defeated the foreign nations and killed Goliath, the ruler of Philistines. After Saul, w:David became king, and then Solomon. His kingdom flourished and extended to the borders of the land of the Hijaz and further to the borders of Yemen and to the borders of the land of the Byzantines. After Solomon, the tribes split into two dynasties. One of the dysnaties was that of the ten tribes in the region of Nablus, the capital of which is Samaria(Sabastiyah), and the other that of the children of Judah and Benjamin in Jerusalem. Their royal authority had had an uninterrupted duration of a thousand years.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, pp.183-184, Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • Thus, the founders of grammar were Sîbawayh and, after him, al-Fârisî and Az-Zajjâj. All of them were of non-Arab (Persian) descent. They were brought up in the Arabic language and acquired the knowledge of it through their upbringing and through contact with Arabs. They invented the rules of (grammar) and made it into a discipline (in its own right) for later (generations to use). Most of the ḥadîth scholars who preserved traditions for the Muslims also were Persians, or Persian in language and upbringing, because the discipline was widely cultivated in the 'Irâq and the regions beyond. Furthermore all the scholars who worked in the science of the principles of jurisprudence were Persians. The same applies to speculative theologians and to most Qur'ân commentators. Only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus, the truth of the following statement by the Prophet becomes apparent: 'If scholarship hung suspended in the highest parts of heaven, the Persians would attain it.'
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, vol. 1, pp. 429-430, Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • All the sciences came to exist in Arabic. The systematic works on them were written in Arabic writing.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p. 432, Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • Arabic writing at the beginning of Islam was, therefore, not of the best quality nor of the greatest accuracy and excellence. It was not (even) of medium quality, because the Arabs possessed the savage desert attitude and were not familiar with crafts. One may compare what happened to the orthography of the Qur’an on account of this situation. The men around Muhammad wrote the Qur’an in their own script which, was not of a firmly established, good quality. Most of the letters were in contradiction to the orthography required by persons versed in the craft of writing.... Consequently, (the Qur’anic orthography of the men around Muhammad was followed and became established, and the scholars acquainted with it have called attention to passages where (this is noticeable). No attention should be paid in this connection with those incompetent (scholars) that (the men around Muhammad) knew well the art of writing and that the alleged discrepancies between their writing and the principles of orthography are not discrepancies, as has been alleged, but have a reason. For instance, they explain the addition of the alif in la ‘adhbahannahU "I shall indeed slaughter him" as indication that the slaughtering did not take place ( lA ‘adhbahannahU ). The addition of the ya in bi-ayydin "with hands (power)," they explain as an indication that the divine power is perfect. There are similar things based on nothing but purely arbitrary assumptions. The only reason that caused them to (assume such things) is their belief that (their explanations) would free the men around Muhammad from the suspicion of deficiency, in the sense that they were not able to write well. They think that good writing is perfection. Thus, they do not admit the fact that the men around Muhammad were deficient in writing.
    • Muqqadimah, ibn Khaldun, vol. 2, p. 382
  • It should be known that at the beginning of a dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p. 355, Princeton University Press, 2020.
  • Religious propaganda gives a dynasty at its beginning another power in addition to that of the group feeling it possessed as the result of the number of its supporters... This happened to the Arabs at the beginning of Islam during the Muslim conquests. The armies of the Muslims at al-Qadisiyah and at the Yarmuk numbered some 30,000 in each case, while the Persian troops at al-Qadisiyah numbered 120,000, and the troops of Heraclius, according to al-Waqidi, 400,000. Neither of the two parties was able to withstand the Arabs, who routed them and seized what they possessed.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p. 126, Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • On account of their savage nature, the Bedouins are people who plunder and cause damage. They plunder whatever they are able to lay their hands on without having to fight or to expose themselves to danger. They then retreat to their pastures in the desert. They do not attack or fight except in self-defence. Every stronghold or (locality) that seems difficult to attack, they by-pass in favour of some less difficult (enterprise). Tribes that are protected by inaccessible mountains are safe from their mischief and destructiveness. The Bedouins would not cross hills or undergo hardship and danger in order to get to them. Flat territory, on the other hand, falls victim to their looting and prey to their appetite whenever they (have the opportunity of) gaining power over it. Then they raid, plunder, and attack that territory repeatedly, because it is easily (accessible) to them. Eventually, its inhabitants succumb utterly to the Bedouins and then are pushed around by them in accordance with changes of control and shifts in leadership. Eventually, their civilization is wiped out. God has power over His creatures.
    • Muqaddimah, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, p. 118, Princeton University Press, 1981.

About Ibn Khaldun

  • While it is true that many Muslim scholars who composed their works in Arabic, both in the religious and in the intellectual sciences, have been of non-Arab descent, Ibn Khaldūn's use of the term Arab in his history seems to indicate a class of people and not a group. Most scholars believe that, in many instances, Ibn Khaldūn uses the name Arab to mean bedouin. Other scholars, such as Mohamed Chafik, deny this.
  • Why should you read a book on economic growth? Because the subject is important: it is about the well-being of our societies today and in the future; and because it is beautiful. It carries wonderful ideas, some exposed more than 2000 years ago, spanning all civilizations. You will certainly marvel at Ibn Khaldun’s prescience, at Mo Tzu’s wisdom, at Solow’s depiction of transition phases, at Dorfman’s incredible intuition in solving variational problems.
    • Olivier de La Grandville, in Economic Growth: A Unified Approach (2009), Introduction
  • Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddimah provides insights into his theories on taxation within the broader context of his analysis of societies and civilizations. The Arab historian recognized taxation as a necessary means for funding the operations of the state. Taxes were crucial for maintaining social order, providing public services, and ensuring the security and stability of the kingdom. But Ibn Khaldūn advocated for a tax system that ensured an equitable distribution of the tax burden among the population. He believed that excessive taxation of certain groups or classes could lead to social unrest and undermine the stability of the state.
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