• Book Title:
 The Epistemology Of Ibn Khaldun 2
  • Book Author:
Zaid Ahmad
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This is an analytical examination of Ibn Khald#n’s epistemology, centred on Chapter Six of the Muqaddima. In this chapter, entitled “The Book of Knowledge” (Kit%b al-‘Ilm), Ibn Khald#n sketched his general ideas about knowledge and science and its relationship with human social organisation and the establishment of civilisation.

Zaid Ahmad investigates the philosophical foundation of Ibn Khald#n’s concept of knowledge, the hierarchical order of science and the sociological context in which knowledge and science can be transformed into the force that determines the prosperity of a civilisation.

Zaid Ahmadis Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Civilisational Studies at Universiti Putra Malaysia. He lectures on various key areas in Philosophy, Ethics, Islamic Thought, History and Civilisational Studies. Among his latest publications is “Epistemology and the Human Dimension in Urban Studies”,

in Urban Issues and Challenges, Kuala Lumpur.


Ibn Khald#n is a thinker it is very difficult to classify. He is chiefly known today as a social thinker, and there is no doubt about the perspicacity of his writings on politics and the sorts of rules which we should employ when analysing the state.

What we notice when we examine his political thought is his capacity to balance his theoretical constructions with his practical observations on everyday life, and throughout the Muqaddima we see that sort of balance being established. Here we find Ibn Khald#n in his role as the critic of philosophy, yet using philosophical methods to attack the pretensions of what he sees as an overambitious reliance on reason. In other places, he represents a form of Sufism which eschews the sort of subjectivity and esoteric extravagance of which he so much disapproved.

For him Sufism was only respectable if it was practised firmly within the context of orthodox Islam, in line with the normal rules and institutions of the sunni world. In fact, the very name of this text, the Muqaddima, implies the attempt to lay out a prole- gomenon to something more axiomatic in structure, a volume of principles, based solidly on historical fact, which was in fact a text produced in due course by Ibn Khald#n.

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On the other hand, we should not get too enmeshed in the title of the work which came to be called the Muqaddima, since this is obviously supposed to be more than just a preparatory text. In his historical work Ibn Khald#n produces a careful balance between descriptions of fact and his explanations of the wider principles which those facts exemplify.

and in his Muqaddima he explains how that balance is to be constituted. In a well-known expression, he suggests that human reason, which is appropriate to weigh gold, is often used to weigh mountains.

 A suspicion of theory runs throughout Ibn Khald#n’s work, a suspicion which is based on the idea that we often allow our enthusiasm for a particular form of thought to run away with us. The Muqaddima is intent to put everything in its place, and we see this outlined in the analysis which is presented here of Chapter 6 by Dr Ahmad. It is to be hoped that similar studies will in time be produced of other parts of this key work. Only through the systematic investigation of each aspect of Ibn Khald#n’s Muqaddima will we be able to appreciate the depth of his intellectual work as a whole. Oliver Leaman

It is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to record my thanks to several persons who, directly or indirectly, have been involved in the preparation of this work. First and foremost among them is Professor G. Rex Smith of the University of Manchester, for the generosity with which he shared his most valuable time, knowledge and experience with me.

 I must also record my indebtedness to the late Dr Norman Calder, with whom I worked initially. His thinking was provocative, especially when we were in disagreement, but his supervisory skill was remarkable. His tragic departure, while I was still working on the early stages of this book, was indeed very distressing.

My profuse thanks also go to Professor Oliver Leaman of the University of Kentucky, Professor Ian Richard Netton of the University of Leeds and Lucy Swainson of RoutledgeCurzon for their invaluable assistance in making this book a reality.

I must also extend my gratitude to Dr Colin Imber and the staff of the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Manchester, for their assistance during my academic sojourn in the United Kingdom, and to Professor Jayum A. Jawan and colleagues in the Department of Social Science and Development, Universiti Putra Malaysia, for their consistent support and encouragement. Zaid Ahmad

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