Society state and urbanism: Ibn Khaldun's sociological thought
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 Society State And Urbanism
  • Book Author:
Fuad BaaliIbn Khaldun
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  • Chapter 1. The Man and His Background 1
  • l. lbn Khaldun’s Life and Character 1
  • ll. lbn Khaldun’s Work 5
  • Chapter 2. The New Science: llm al-Umran 11
  • l. lbn Khaldun’s New Science 13
  • ll. lbn Khaldun and Comte: Convergencies and 21
  • Divergencies
  • Chapter 3. Society, Culture, and Socialization 27
  • l. Society: Sui generis 28
  • ll. Culture 33
  • lll. Socialization Process 35
  • lV. Social Control 40
  • Chapter 4. Asabiyah (Social Solidarity) 43
  • Chapter 5. The Rise and Decline of the State 53
  • Qualities of Rulership 55
  • Factors for the Decline of the State 59
  • lbn Khaldun and Other Social Thinkers 63
  •  Chapter 6. The Cyclical Pattern: History as a Cycle 69
  • lbn Khaldun and Other Social Thinkers 75
  • Chapter 7. Urbanization and Urbanism as a Mode of Life 83
  •  l. Urbanization 83
  • Requirements for Town Planning 84
  • Size and Density 85
  • ll. Urbanism as a Way of Life 87
  • lbn Khaldun and Other Writers 90
  • Chapter 8. The Khaldunian Typology 95
  • l. lbn Khaldun’s Badawa and Hadara 95
  • ll. Relation to Other Typologies 102
  • Chapter 9. Summary and Conclusion 107
  • Notes 115
  • Bibliography 157

The Man and His Background

I. Ibn Khaldun’s Life and Character

Abu Zaid Abdalrahman ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun Waliad-Din al-Tunisi al-Hadrami was born in Tunis (Tunisia) on May 27, 1332. He was brought up in a family known for its activities in both learning and politics. His Arab ancestors, Banu Khaldun, beginning with Khaldun bin al-Khattab, moved to Andalusia (Spain) in the eighth century and, thus, witnessed the growth and decline of Spanish Muslim power. They left for Morocco just before the fall of Seville in 1248.

Ibn Khaldun’s homeland, fourteenth-century North Africa, was characterized by a depressed intellectual life and continuous political instability. The Arab Muslim Empire had already declined; and, as a result, small states succeeded one another.

Rivalries, intrigues, plots, and upheavals were common features of political life and a fertile arena for ambitious power seekers.

In this environment, the Arab Muslim Ibn Khaldun had his basic education in religion, philology, poetry, logic, and philosophy. The education he received from his teachers seems to have been thorough and scholastic. 1

Ibn Khaldun entered into public life before having attained age twenty. His first position was that of the seal bearer. He said he accepted that post reluctantly because he considered it inferior, for

none of his ancestors had occupied it. His ambitious desire for greater authority and power, e.g., premiership, motivated him to engage in political intrigues and conspiracies, pitting one ruler against another; a behavior that led him to spend two years in prison (13571358).

When Ibn Khaldun regained his freedom, he resumed his political activity. One year later, he occupied the positions of secretary of state and judge. In 1362, he joined the court of the Muslim ruler of Granada. Remembering how useful Ibn Khaldun had been to him and to his prime minister Ibn al- Khatib when they were in Fez (Morocco) as fugitives, the ruler gave Ibn Khaldun a friendly reception.

He was now sent as an ambassador to the court of Pedro the Cruel of Castile to ratify a peace treaty between the two states. The Christian ruler not only honored Ibn Khaldun, but also tried to win him over to his side by offering him the former estates of the Khaldun family in Seville.

Ibn Khaldun declined. In Granada, however, Ibn al-Khatib was

displeased with Ibn Khaldun’s increasing power in the court. At that time, Ibn Khaldun was happy to receive, and to accept, an offer from the North African Hafside ruler to be his prime minister.

After having changed sides from ruler to ruler, Ibn Khaldun felt tired of political adventures. He abandoned politics and sought refuge among the Banu Arif tribe. It was there he composed his famous Muqaddimah, his Prolegomena to History.

Having written The Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun grew tired of the seclusion. To break the monotony of retirement, he aspired to return to Tunis, his birthplace. He wrote the Tunisian ruler an emotional letter, explaining why (some ten years earlier) he had incited tribes against his rule. Ibn Khaldun pleaded for the sultan’s forgiveness and asked for his permission to let him come to Tunis to do some scholarly work.

The sultan consented.

The tranquility which Ibn Khaldun enjoyed in his old home did not last long. Some of his friends intrigued against him. In addition, the sultan ordered the thinker to accompany him in fighting some insurgents. Ibn Khaldun began to resent these dangerous missions and decided to go on a pilgrimage. He left Tunis in 1382, for Alexandria, Egypt. To continue his journey to Mecca he had to go to Cairo, a city that previously impressed him enormously.

In Cairo, Ibn Khaldun adopted a teaching role. Students crowded his “mosque-circle” and were enchanted by his eloquent explanations of social phenomena. 2 Afterwards, and after hesitation, he accepted an appointment as a judge; but he did not go back to his old habit of exploiting public offices to further personal ends. He proceeded in his judicial practices with strict honesty and great integrity.3

It seems, however, that his impartial administration made him many enemies. In 1384, he resigned his post after the sad news reached him that his family, who were coming from Tunis to join him, had become the victims of a shipwreck near Alexandria.

Ibn Khaldun turned again to teaching and accepted an appointment as professor of jurisprudence at the Egyptian Zahiriyah College.

In 1387, he finally was able to go to Mecca. After the pilgrimage, he was appointed president of Baybars Institute in Egypt, a post he had to relinquish soon after he and some legal authorities had issued a proclamation against the sultan of Egypt. In 1389, he became a Malikite (religious) judge for the second time. During this period, he had an opportunity to visit Palestine.

In 1400, the Tatar army under the leadership of Timur (Tamerland) invaded Syria. The ruler of Egypt hastened with his army to move against the invaders. He asked Ibn Khaldun to accompany him on this expedition. When they arrived in Syria, the sultan learned about a plot to dethrone him.

 He quickly returned to Egypt, leaving Ibn Khaldun in the besieged Damascus to recommend negotiations with the Tatar leader. The latter wanted to see Ibn Khaldun, and accordingly a meeting was arranged.

They had a long discussion about political affairs during which the Arab thinker was asked to write a treatise about North Africa, which he did. Afterwards he returned to Egypt, where he wrote a detailed account of his meetings with Timur, and a copy of this work was sent to the sultan of Tunis.

Ibn Khaldun died on March 16, 1406, shortly after his sixth nomination for the judgeship. He was buried in the Sufi (Sufite) cemetery in Cairo.

Ibn Khaldun seemed to be the only writer in the history of Islam who, with an amazing frankness, wrote a detailed book about his secular activities. In his Autobiography, he flatly and without any apology told of the flattering and fickleness of his political life.

In this respect, the Autobiography was considered an astonishing and inexplicable phenomenon to his contemporary fellow writers. Until now, no one has been able to explain fully why Ibn Khaldun dared to write this candid book about himself. 4

Ibn Khaldun appeared to be an admirer of the pharisaical wisdom that “where all are at fault, none is at fault.” He was not ashamed of his behavior because he believed that all men are fickle and flatter in one way or another.

Schmidt erred when he said that to the end of his life Ibn Khaldun “continued to use the mammon of unrighteousness to further personal ends.”5 Several writers have defended Ibn Khaldun by pointing out that even his bitterest enemies in Egypt acknowledged his honesty as a judge.

 Al- Sakhawi, one of Ibn Khaldun’s most severe critics, declared that Ibn Khaldun ”was well-known by the maintenance of justice.”6 In contrast to Schmidt, von Wesendonk believed that the whole life of Ibn Khaldun, from the beginning to the end, was sincerely devoted to the search for knowledge; he was always an honest, sincere, and high-principled man.7 Schmidt and von Wesendonk each appeared to concentrate upon a different part of Ibn Khaldun’s life and overlooked the other part. The fact is that Ibn Khaldun was both fickle and sincere fickle before the withdrawal (seclusion among Banu Arif tribe), sincere after it.

One of the interesting aspects of Ibn Khaldun’s life was his intimate relationship and close friendship with both religious scholars and tribal chieftains. Ibn Khaldun was particularly liked by the tribal leaders and was influential among them. Husri attributed this fact to his penetrating eloquence, which encouraged some rulers to attract him to their side.8 His keen understanding of the values of tribal chieftains was also effective.

Eloquence without understanding and knowledge may give the impression of superficiality and pendantry; it may distract rather than attract an audience. It is amazing, indeed, to find that Ibn Khaldun was able to attract not only tribal chieftains, who spoke the same language as he did, but also Pedro the Cruel, the king of Castile, and Timur (Tamerlane) the Lame.


With the exception of the Introduction and Book One (The Muqaddimah) of the World History (Kitab al-!bar), the rest of Ibn Khaldun’s works are not relevant herein. 9

Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, which is based on his rich experience, seems to generate different and conflicting views. This may be the problem of any work viewed through a perspective different from that of the author, that is, from an angle or a viewpoint with which the author is not familiar.

Truth is a highly complicated phenomenon, impossible to be seen entirely from a single perspective.10 Truth may be likened to a multifaceted pyramid. No one is able to see all of its sides (or triangular faces) at the same time while standing in one place. The truth can be grasped, as Mannheim has pointed out, only through a roundabout fashion, i.e., through a generalized view that synthesizes all the various particular views.11

Hussein’s and de Slane’s complaint about the vagueness of, and the contradictions in, Ibn Khaldun’s writings12 cannot be easily accepted. Ibn Khaldun is far from being contradictory; and his writing is very clear in comparison with that of the other writers of his time and culture.

 The so-called vagueness may be attributed to the fact that de Slane studied Ibn Khaldun from the static viewpoint, whereas Ibn Khaldun looked at social phenomena from the dynamic viewpoint. To Ibn Khaldun, the very same thing can be good and bad, useful and harmful. He praised the Arabian nomads and declared at the same time that they were “savage” people.13

Using Ibn Khaldun’s perspective, then, savageness is a way of life, a way of thinking and behaving; it may not have a bad connotation; it may mean the same as manliness, bravery, liberty, pride, and the like. In his terminology civilization may connote softness, “womanliness,” cowardliness, humiliation, and so on, qualities he considered defects in man.14

Erwin Rosenthal asserts that “Ibn Khaldun was a Muslim, and must be seen against the background of Medieval Islam if we are to understand his teaching.”

He adds that although one can find in Ibn Khaldun’s work striking parallel with ideas of European thinkers from the eighteenth century onward, one must not see in him a precursor of these thinkers, be they Vico, Comte, Hegel, Marx, or Spengler. “If a comparison must be made, we can still think of no closer parallel in matters political than Machiavelli.” 15

In response to this statement it can be said that although Ibn Khaldun was a Muslim, Islam should not be taken as the only determinant of his thought. Some of his generalizations are not necessarily influenced by Islamic thoughtstyles. Even though his main observations were in North Africa and in southern Spain, he nevertheless utilized information on other places and of non-Islamic groups. His emphasis on North Africa is a parallel with the emphasis of Marx, Spengler, Comte, Spencer, and several others on social and economic conditions in industrial European countries that have formed the principal subject matter of Western sociology.16

Does this mean that these thinkers must be seen only against the background of European Christianity if one is to understand their contributions? Moreover, because Plato and Aristotle are frequently compared with modern and contemporary writers, it seems possible, if not “logical,” to compare Ibn Khaldun with Vico, Spengler, Marx, Comte, and others. Furthermore, Ibn Khaldun’s ilm al-umran (Chapter 2) is the study of social organization or civilization that concerns more than just “political” matters. Even if his analysis of political life is studied in relation to society’s structure, one finds that he followed an independent approach.17

 Rosenthal is correct in comparing Ibn Khaldun with Machiavelli. Ibn Khaldun can be rightly considered the Islamic version of Machiavelli. Both thinkers distinguished themselves from their scholastic contemporaries by treating social affairs within a highly realistic frame of reference. Nevertheless, a major difference exists between the two that should not be overlooked. Whereas Machiavelli rejected idealism for realism, Ibn Khaldun acknowledged the validity and importance of both.

 To Ibn Khaldun, what ought to be is as valid as what is, but they should be separated, each to be placed in its special realm and prevented from interfering with the other.

Now Ibn Khaldun’s connection with philosophy and history is discussed. Was Ibn Khaldun a disciple of classical and Islamic philosophies? Mahdi asserts that the Arab-Muslim thinker attempted to develop a science of social organization “within the framework of traditional philosophy and based on its principles,” and that he “sided with the purely philosophic tradition of Islamic thought, the tradition of Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes.” 18 Simon also believes that the ties that unite Ibn Khaldun with predecessors are strong and determine his basic philosophical position, for he shows a clear agreement with the Muslim Aristotelians, especially Averroes.19

The preceding statements cannot be accepted in their entirety. It is a truism that Greek philosophy had a great impact upon Islamic thought. It is also true that Ibn Khaldun rejected the abstract, speculative philosophy:

There are certain intelligent representatives of the human species who think that the essences and conditions of the whole of existence, both the part of it perceivable by the senses and that beyond sensual perception, as well as the reasons and causes of these essences and conditions, can be perceived by mental speculation and intellectual reasoning. They also think that the articles of faith are established as correct through intellectual speculation and not through tradition because they belong among the intellectual perceptions. Such people are called “philosophers.” . . . It should be known that the opinion the philosophers hold is wrong in all its aspects. . . . The insufficiency

lies in the fact that conformity between the results of thinking which, as they assume, are produced by rational norms and reasoning and the outside world, is not unequivocal.20

According to philosophers, Ibn Khaldun added, logic enables “intellectual speculation to distinguish between true and false.”21 However, “logic is not adequate to achieve the avowed intentions of the philosophers.” It “cannot be trusted to prevent the commission of errors, because it is too abstract and remote from the sensibilia.”22 Ibn Khaldun did not ignore the fact that logic has merit, in that it helps one present orderly proofs and arguments; but this traditional logic was a useful tool of attack and defense in the hands of conflicting groups.

Furthermore, logic does not produce knowledge. 23 Had he followed the rules of the Aristotelian logic, he would not have been able to develop his “science of social organization” (ilm al-umran), which accepts only the actual logic of the events themselves, i.e., the logic that can be verified. (See Chapter 2.) This explains why he tried to find the actual laws which govern societal processes.24

 The question that must be answered here is: Where and how did Ibn Khaldun find the starting point of his social theory? According to some writers, Ibn Khaldun was a Ghazzalian;25 according to others, he was a Rushdian.26 This may sound strange considering that al-Ghazzali and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) were opposed to each other in their philosophical orientation. While Ibn Rushd was the most ardent student and admirer of Aristotle in Islam, al-Ghazzali was his most bitter enemy.27 We believe that Ibn Khaldun can be regarded as Ghazzalian and Rushdian at the same time. He adopted from al- Ghazzali his hostility toward Aristotelian logic, and at the same time adopted Ibn Rushd’s (Averroes’) favorable attitude toward the masses.28

Simon admits that Ibn Khaldun “does not consider himself a philosopher at all,”29 and that he “separates himself from subjective idealism on one hand, and from speculative rationalism on the other.”30 In fact Simon believes that “with the exception of his agreement with the Aristotelian view of man as a political being, Ibn Khaldun did not rely on the authority of any of his predecessors in the development and explanation of his theory.”31

Briefly, Ibn Khaldun was not satisfied with philosophy and its logical deductions that frequently do not correspond with his actual observations of human social organization and social change.32 Indeed, one can find in his new science, ilm al-umran, some philosophic ideas and concepts. This is also true of Comte’s Positive Philosophy and of sociology in general. The interrelation of some sciences is expected and should not hamper the status of any of them.

As for Ibn Khaldun’s connection with history, he saw history as a useful discipline that deals with civilization.33 History is not a mere succession of events but a natural process that explains the continuity of historical development, a view quite different from the customary interpretation of history at his time, and he here anticipated Vico and Turgot.

Like Vico and Comte, Ibn Khaldun’s basic thesis was to interpret history in terms of group changes. Ibn Khaldun criticized tradition- bound historians who “disregard the changes in conditions and in the customs of [people] that the passing of time had brought about.” 34 Some scholars believe that what Ibn Khaldun meant by history is in actuality a philosophy of history.

Although he is considered by Sorokin, Flint, Barnes, Schmidt, de Boer, Simon, Watt, Enan, and Khalife35 the founder of a scientific history, Ibn Khaldun believed that the inner meaning of history “involves speculation . . . and therefore is firmly rooted in philosophy. It deserves to be accounted a branch of philosophy.”36

The New Science: Ilm Al-Umran – SOCIETY STATE AND URBANISM

This chapter proves that some six centuries ago Ibn Khaldun founded a “science of social organization” similar to what is now called sociology. The nature, scope, and methods of this new science are discussed herein in detail. Despite some divergencies, Ibn Khaldun and Comte converge in their methodology and in some other aspects of their writings.

The question of when sociology emerged has engaged the minds of many writers. Three views exist: (1) that sociology, as Small stated, could not and did not emerge in isolation from other related social sciences that faced and solved some of the most crucial problems of sociology before Comte gave it a name; (2) that, as Giddings pointed out, a new sociological approach to studying social phenomena was predicted if not created by Comte; 1 and (3) that sociology did not emerge before the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, and that it “as clearly defined, independent social science is only today coming into existence.”2 This third view does not ignore the contributions of early thinkers, including those of the Middle Ages, to the history of the science.3 The first two views are predominant; they are also pertinent to this chapter.

It is generally acknowledged that Auguste Comte (17981857) is “the father of sociology,” or “the father of modern sociology,”4 which he defined as an abstract science “of society,”5

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“of social phenomena,” 6 of social order (or structure) and social progress (or dynamics).7 He sought sociology’s emancipation from theological and metaphysical conceptions so that it may discover the laws that regulate social phenomena. That is, sociology needs the positive method, which is not necessarily identified with using quantitative techniques. Positivism maintains that concepts and methods used in the natural sciences can be applied to social phenomena. To study social phenomena, four methods may be used: observation, experiment, comparison, and historical procedure.8

Comte’s “positivism”9 was a “science,” and a “religion for humanity,” by which he aimed for a complete reorganization and improvement of human society. He did not define the concept of society, nor did he make a clear distinction between sociology and political science.10 Tönnies believed that ”Comte’s sociology almost immediately turned into philosophy of history”; and that it “reveals his lack of a clear scientific conception.”11 A similar comment was expressed by Durkheim.12

Comte acknowledged the contributions of Montesquieu and Condorcet.13 His intellectual debt to those two thinkers and to Aristotle, Saint-Pierre, and Saint-Simon leads one to the often- debated question of his originality.14 Specifically, his intellectual relationship with Claude Henri de Saint-Simon (17601825) demands some explication. Saint-Simon is considered a utopian social thinker who believed that the welfare of humanity required the reorganization of human society, including the means of production. His 1813 Memoire sur la Science de l’home, published in 1859, specified the positive program long before Auguste Comte

 became his secretary. Their collaboration (18171823) resulted in their treatise, Plan of the Scientific Operations Necessary for the Reorganization of Society. Soon after the publication of this work, their partnership was dissolved. By 1830, Comte had quarrelled violently with the Saint-Simonians, and, as some writers have indicated, “tried to suppress all evidence of the great influence which Saint-Simon had had on his thought.” Saint-Simon’s fundamental doctrines indicate that the sciences must be classified in the order of their increasing complexities, and a new science, la science politique, must be put at the head of the hierarchy. This

science is based

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