Ibn Khaldun’s Posthumous Travels to Turkey and the West

Currently I am working on a book about Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt. Periodically, I will be posting updates on the research I have done. In this blog post, I provide an overview of both Ottoman and Western interest in Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406). Also, some recent research is briefly presented. Subsequently I intend to post one last blog post in this series, where I give a general overview of his theories.

Introduction

Ibn Khaldun was one of the most important intellectuals in Islamic history and undoubtedly the leading light of his era. Despite this fame, he seemed to many 19th and early 20th century historians to have been neglected by the Muslim world at large. In 1941, one of the most notable scholars of Ibn Khaldun, Enan, in writing that the West had “the highest opinion of Ibn Khaldun,” continued by saying that Western thinkers knew of Ibn Khaldun before Muslim scholars.[1]

Muslim ignorance of Ibn Khaldun was a widely held opinion at the time when Enan wrote these words, and was even believed to be true for a few decades afterwards, but this view was undermined by subsequent research. Today, it has been discredited. Contrary to the preceding wisdom, a great deal was written about Ibn Khaldun by Muslim scholars in the centuries following his death, and his political impact was far from negligible. Nevertheless, Enan’s evaluation of Western scholarly opinion remains broadly true and Ibn Khaldun is considered an intellectual par excellence in the non-Muslim world. It is even a distinct possibility that Ibn Khaldun may become a pivotal thinker in the centuries to come.

1. Ibn Khaldun in the Muslim World

Following his death in 1406, the legacy of Ibn Khaldun was passed on to pupils of his like al-Magrizi (1364-1442) and Ibn Hajar (1372-1449) and then to others who had never met him like as-Sakhawi (1428-1497) and al-Andalusi (1428-1491). Something of a school of Khaldunian thought flourished in the 15th century although it by no means swept the Islamic world. At this stage, inrerest in Ibn Khaldun appears to have been largely academic.[2]

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Katib Çelebi

However, in later centuries, Ibn Khaldun’s writings stimulated the interest of intellectuals attached to the Turkish sultanate[3] and here there was the opportunity to apply Ibn Khaldun in a practical setting because the Tunisian’s speculations were tailor-made for a great Empire such as the Ottomans. Katib Çelebi (1609-1657) and Na’ima (1655-1716) were two of the most prominent intellectuals who meditared and innovated on the theories of Ibn Khaldun. Given that the Ottomans were in a state of decline when they interacted with Ibn Khaldun, these neo-Khaldunians sought to both stem, and manage, the eclipsing of Turkish power. Rosenthal says the following about the role these intellectuals and their use of Ibn Khaldun played in Ottoman history:

Their activities … constitute an important segment of Turkish intellectual history … Nor should we forget the men, often little known or anonymous, who brought numerous manuscripts of Ibn Khaldun’s work to Turkey and had them copied for their own study.[4]

When Ibn Khaldun’s theories were distilled by the Ottoman intellectuals, there was an emphasis on order and authority, as opposed to law, and there were even measures proposed to strengthen blood-ties and group-feeling. In his absence, Ibn Khaldun became less of an impartial judge of history and culture, and more of an activist who vicariously propped up a once-great Empire.[5]

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Ibn Khaldun emerged as a particularly important thinker for the Ottomans in one crucial dispute of paramount importance that took place in the Islamic world, that of the Caliphate. Within Islam, the Caliphate has historically played a pivotal role. The Caliph is the voice for Muslims worldwide, and in some ways conceptually similar to that of the Pope within Catholicism. However, the analogy shouldn’t be strained and unlike the Pope, there is a far greater political weight resting on the Caliph’s shoulders.

Legally the Caliphate was the inheritance of the tribe of Quraysh. The Prophet Muhammad came from this tribe (it has often historically been a claim to legitimacy for Muslim rulers to trace ancestry from the Prophet’s family or from the Quraysh). The link between the office of Caliphate and Quraysh was not a problem for the first three hundred or so years of Islamic history, but as the power of the Quraysh waned this stipulation became burdensome. Theologians like al-Baqillani (950-1013) adopted a rational approach to the question of Quraysh pre-eminence. He concluded that if someone from the Quraysh could not fulfil important functions of the role – political power an obvious one – then authority could, out of necessity, pass instead to a non-Quraysh contender for the position of Caliph.

Ibn Khaldun also concurred with this view and synthesized the opinions of earlier theologians with his own sociological insights. The Tunisian argued that since the Quraysh no longer had the energy and strong political ties necessary to fulfil the role of Caliph, other hands could take hold of this vital position of authority in Islam.

When, in the 15th century, the Ottomans emerged as the powerhouse in the Islamic world, Ibn Khaldun’s theories on the Caliphate were either used explicitly or provided inspiration for advancing arguments on behalf of a non-Quraysh Caliphate. Propaganda in favour of this new opinion was effective and Ottoman control of the Caliphate lasted until just after WWI (when the Caliphate was abolished and never revived). Even up until the dusk of the Caliphate, Ibn Khaldun featured in a battle for legitimacy between the Turks and other pretenders to the Caliphate who traced their lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. During these fractious debates, which took place in the midst of a time when many lands in the Islamic had been colonized, where Imperial powers supported rival claims to Ottoman legitimacy, and where the forces of modernization were corroding the stability of the Ottomans themselves, the importance of Ibn Khaldun cannot be overstated. One Tunisian ex-Chief Justice, Ismail Safayihi, delivered the following justification for the Caliphate which is clearly derived from Ibn Khaldun’s interpretation of this delicate matter:

Although the Qurayshite descent is a precondition for the Caliphate, as stipulated by the majority of the ulema [scholars] … it is not a precondition that is always required … What is necessary is the power that comes from the genealogical strength. . . . In the past, this [power] was found in the Quraysh; [today, it is not]. Therefore … it becomes valid and true for those rulers who lead Muslims after the Quraysh rule—even if they are not from the Quraysh.[6]

Other scholars in the Turkish realm emphasized the wisdom, justice, unifying force, and need to obey rulers in Islam, although this wasn’t the kernel of Ibn Khaldun’s arguments.[7]

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2. Maiden Voyage of Ibn Khaldun to Europe

Seemingly, the first stirrings of Ibn Khaldun in the West was when D’Herbelot included a biography of the Tunisian in his book Bibliotheque Orientale (1697). More serious scholarship would have to wait for over a century, however. This interest manifested itself in spite of the fact that European scholars initially approached Islamic culture as being inferior to that of the West. One Silvestre de Sacy, the founder of French Orientalism, expressed high admiration for Ibn Khaldun when he discovered his work around the turn of the 19th century. De Sacy reproduced many chapters from Al-Muqaddimah and devoted some space to Ibn Khaldun in his work Chrestomathie Arabe (1806). In 1816, de Sacy included both a biography of Ibn Khaldun and a summary of Al-Muqaddimah in Biographie Universelle. Von-Hammer Purgstall, an Austrian scholar contemporaneous with De Sacy, made use of Ibn Khaldun’s theory of the decline of states in a treatise written about the eclipse in Islam’s fortunes after its glorious first three hundred years. Purgstall coined the term “Montesquieu of the Arabs” (lofty praise for the time) for Ibn Khaldun and he also produced a German translation of parts of the Prolegomena (Al-Muqaddimah). Later in the century, William mac Guckin de Slane, a student of de Sacy, was commissioned by the French War Office to translate parts of the Muqaddimah and Kitab al ‘Ibar. France’s military establishment considered his insights useful for their control of Algeria. This translation was completed in 1868 and served as the standard translation of Ibn Khaldun for nearly a century.[8]

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William mac Guckin de Slane

3. Later Opinions of Ibn Khaldun

Towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, Western scholars began to recognize Ibn Khaldun’s immense contribution to sociology. Baron Von Kremer and Ludwig Gumplowicz are just two of the major intellectuals during this period who arrived at this conclusion. Ibn Khaldun’s approach to sociology and history, which wasn’t coloured by his religious devoutness, garnered him praise and admiration. Gumplowicz in particular stressed that Ibn Khaldun preceded both Vico and Comte as the father of sociology.[9]

Maunier, a French scholar, noted the “great mixture of universal laws” which inform the Prolegomena, its “excellent” method and “scientific spirit.”  Ibn Khaldun did not express a “positive ideal” [i.e. propose an ideology or ethical framework], but his ideas are “based on analytical observation of events and are the mirror of facts.”[10] Becker and Barnes, who published a key history of sociology, considered Ibn Khaldun’s ideas to have universal application and relevance far outside his region and epoch.[11] Arnold J. Toynbee, a highly influential British historian who was something of a celebrity around the middle of the 20th century, went so far as to describe Al-Muqaddimah as the “greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any place.”[12] Such praise, while possibly exaggerated, nevertheless attests to the power of Ibn Khaldun’s ideas. Toynbee adopted a quasi-Khaldunian framework for his theories but was critical of other aspects of Khaldunian theory, particularly the identification of historical change with nomadism (this is not exactly what Ibn Khaldun said).[13] Again, one of the foremost Orientalists of the 20th century, the Lebanese-born Philip K. Hitti said about Ibn Khaldun:

As one who endeavoured to formulate laws of national progress and decay, Ibn-Khaldun may  be considered the discoverer – as he himself claimed – of the true scope and nature of history or at least the real founder of the science of sociology. No Arab written indeed no European,had ever taken a view of history at once so comprehensive and philosophic.[14]

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Phillip K. Hitti

Stefano Colosio studied the quite modern economic theories of Ibn Khaldun and noted his advances in political economy, social justice, labour, property and the laws of supply and demand. Colosio lavishes the following praise on Ibn Khaldun:

If the theories of Ibn Khaldun, about the complex life of society, place him foremost among the philosophers of History, his comprehension of the part played by labour, property and wages, places him foremost among the masters of modern Economy.[15]

Yves Lacoste, a Marxist geographer, credited Ibn Khaldun with being the first intellectual to rationalize the historical process and convert it into a science, and this fact alone obviously makes the Tunisian important for any socialist thinker. Ibn Khaldun also adopted a dialectical approach to history, which interested Lacoste. Lacoste was further intrigued because Ibn Khaldun theorized within territories of the ‘Third World.’ Hence, an understanding of the Tunisian was expected to yield insights into the culture of an economically underdeveloped region of the world.[16]

4. Modern Research Trends

Ibn Khaldun’s theories have impressed historians to the extent that speculation has even been fuelled as to whether Hegel, Comte, or Durkheim, were influenced by his writings, or whether they arrived independently at similar conclusions at a much later date. Associations have also led him to be compared with thinkers like Marx and even others like Machiavelli.[17] Some Western thinkers like Adam Smith seem to promote theories virtually identical to Ibn Khaldun, which would lead one to suspect that Smith had access to Al-Muqaddimah, although it’s also possible that similarities arose because both drew on an ancient Greek heritage.[18] Comparisons are made for a variety of reasons. There are attempts to (1) assist us in understanding Ibn Khaldun’s significance, (2) frame Ibn Khaldun within a certain intellectual tradition, or (3) make sincere (albeit not always well-grounded) comparisons. While contrasts and comparisons of Ibn Khaldun with other major thinkers in the Western tradition might be misconceived, it is also the case that the systematic nature of his thought renders him amenable to comparisons with others. Another recent review of his work places him at a crossroads between the classical Greek tradition and modernity.[19]

A scholar of international relations, Robert W. Cox, has found Ibn Khaldun to be of immense value. He wrote about the great thinker during a time of change following the end of the Cold War. On several levels, he found Ibn Khaldun to inform our present-day inter-state dialogue. Cox cited the idea of decline which is evident in Ibn Khaldun’s work, the rise of Islam as a political (if not intellectual) force in the world, the focus on power emanating from the community (as opposed to being firmly concentrated in an entity like the State, which is crucial in understanding a world where the old ideas of sovereignty are being eroded), and the identification by Ibn Khaldun of history as being dependent on contingent causes. Cox was especially concerned with the uncertainty of a post-Cold War and the need for co-existence between states with their own political aims. Nonetheless, Cox suggested that Ibn Khaldun’s theory of history is a pessimistic one and presupposes conflict.[20]

The radical left-wing author George Katsiafacis has noted Ibn Khaldun’s contribution to the theory of human evolution, economics, and sociology.[21] Ibn Khaldun has even found a place within the dialogue surrounding the so-called “Clash of Civilizations” between the West and Islam.[22] There is also a suggestion that Ibn Khaldun and indeed the Islamic tradition from which he sprung may be of critical relevance in a multi-civilizational and interconnected world.[23]

Conclusion

There was a Renaissance that took place surrounding Ibn Khaldun’s theories beginning in the 19th century in Europe. Initially, these investigations portrayed Ibn Khaldun as an alien thinker to the Muslim world whose greatness could only be appreciated by the West. This hypothesis proved to be false and it’s since been demonstrated that Ibn Khaldun was a pivotal intellectual whose writings informed the Islamic world’s last great surge of military might, political power, and culture.

While there is a consensus surrounding the immense contribution of Ibn Khaldun to fields such as historiography and sociology, practical application of the Tunisian’s theories are few and far between. He generally is studied more as a legendary figure for the ages, rather than as someone who can make a contribution to present-day discourse. We might listen to him, but we don’t heed his voice. However, it is possible that this will change, particularly in light of the increasingly multi-polar and uncertain world we find ourselves in.

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My next post in this first series of articles on Ibn Khaldun will summarise his key theories. Any suggestions or corrections to this blog post are welcome.

Note: This post was updated on 03/12/2016

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Footnotes

[1] Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; p. 168.

[2] El-Rayes, W. (2008). The political aspects of Ibn Khaldun’s study of culture and history (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Maryland; pp. 4-5; Alatas, S. F. (2007). The Historical Sociology of Muslim Societies: Khaldunian Applications. International Sociology, 22(3), 267-288.

[3] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from http://scribd.com; p. 845.

[4] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from http://scribd.com; p. 845.

[5] Alatas, S. F. (2007). The Historical Sociology of Muslim Societies: Khaldunian Applications. International Sociology, 22(3), 267-288; Ardiç, N. (2012). Genealogy or Asabiyya? Ibn Khaldun between Arab Nationalism and the Ottoman Caliphate. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 71(2), 315-324.

[6] Genealogy or Asabiyya? Ibn Khaldun between Arab Nationalism and the Ottoman Caliphate. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 71(2); p. 322.

[7] Alatas, S. F. (2007). The Historical Sociology of Muslim Societies: Khaldunian Applications. International Sociology, 22(3), 267-288; Ardiç, N. (2012). Genealogy or Asabiyya? Ibn Khaldun between Arab Nationalism and the Ottoman Caliphate. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 71(2), 315-324.

[8] Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; pp. 169-170; Salama, M. (2011). Islam, orientalism and intellectual history: Modernity and the politics of exclusion since Ibn Khaldūn. London: I B Tauris & Co; pp, 89-90.

[9] Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; pp. 172-178.

[10] Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; p. 179.

[11] Halim, A. A. (n.d.). The application of Ibn Khaldūn’s theory of Aṣabiyyah to the modern period with special reference to the Malay Muslim community in Malaysia (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Birmingham; pp. 147-148.

[12] Ibn Khaldun on Solidarity (“Asabiyah”) – Modern Science on Cooperativeness and Empathy: a Comparison. Philosophia Naturalis, 38; pp. 93-94.

[13] Irwin, R. (1997). Toynbee and Ibn Khaldun. Middle Eastern Studies, 33(3), 461-479; Adem, S. (2005). Ibn-Khaldun as a Modern Thinker. Area Studies Tsukuba, 24, 129-152.

[14] Adem, S. (2005). Ibn-Khaldun as a Modern Thinker. Area Studies Tsukuba, 24; p. 134.

[15] Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; pp. 183-184.

[16] Dale, S. F. (2006). Ibn Khaldun: The Last Greek and the First Annaliste Historian. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 38, 431–451; Halim, A. A. (n.d.). The application of Ibn Khaldūn’s theory of Aṣabiyyah to the modern period with special reference to the Malay Muslim community in Malaysia (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Birmingham; p. 148.

[17] Alatas, S. F. (n.d.). Ibn Khaldun and Contemporary Sociology. SSRN Electronic Journal SSRN Journal; Mohammad, F. (n.d.). Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Change: A Comparison with Hegel, Durkheim and Marx. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 15(2), 25–45; Çaksu, A. (2007). Ibn Khaldun and Hegel on Causality in History: Aristotelian Legacy Reconsidered. Asian Journal of Social Science, 35(1), 47-83; Islam, J. (2016). Contrasting Political Theory in the East and West: Ibn Khaldun versus Hobbes and Locke. International Journal of Political Theory, 1(1), 2371–3321; Adem, S. (2005). Ibn-Khaldun as a Modern Thinker. Area Studies Tsukuba, 24, 129-152; Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; pp. 189-204; Dale, S. F. (2006). Ibn Khaldun: The Last Greek and the First Annaliste Historian. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 38, 431–451.

[18] Ibn Khaldun and Adam Smith: Contributions to Theory of Division of Labor and Modern Economic Thought. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2016, from http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/ibn-khaldun-and-adam-smith-contributions-theory-division-labor-and-modern-economic-thought.

[19] Dale, S. F. (2006). Ibn Khaldun: The Last Greek and the First Annaliste Historian. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 38, 431–451.

[20] Cox, R. W. (1996). Towards a Posthegemonic Conceptualization of World Order: Reflections on the Relevancy of Ibn Khaldun in Cox, R. W., & Sinclair, T. J. (1996). Approaches to world order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[21] Adem, S. (2005). Ibn-Khaldun as a Modern Thinker. Area Studies Tsukuba, 24; p. 136.

[22] Ahmed, A. (2002) Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilizations and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today. Middle East Journal, 56(1), 20–45.

[23] Şentürk, R., & Nizamuddin, A. (2008). The Sociology of Civilisations: Ibn Khaldun and a Multi-Civilisational World Order. Asian Journal of Social Science, 36(3), 516-546.

 

 

 

 

 

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