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Muqaddimah Ibnu Khaldun Imam Khairul Annas.JPG
AuthorIbn Khaldun
Original titleمقدّمة ابن خلدون‎

The Muqaddimah, also known as the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun (Arabic: مقدّمة ابن خلدون) or Ibn Khaldun's Prolegomena (Ancient Greek: Προλεγόμενα), is a book written by the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun in 1377 which records an early view of universal history. Some modern thinkers view it as the first work dealing with the social sciences of sociology,[1][2][3] demography,[2] and cultural history.[4] The Muqaddimah also deals with Islamic theology, historiography,[5] the philosophy of history,[1] economics,[6][7] political theory, and ecology.[8][9] It has also been described as a precursor or an early representative of social Darwinism,[10] and Darwinism.[clarification needed][11]

Ibn Khaldun wrote the work in 1377 as the introduction chapter and the first book of his planned work of world history, the Kitābu l-ʻibar ("Book of Lessons"; full title: Kitābu l-ʻibari wa Dīwāni l-Mubtada' wal-Ḥabar fī ayāmi l-ʻarab wal-ʿajam wal-barbar, waman ʻĀsarahum min Dhawī sh-Shalṭāni l-Akbār, i.e.: "Book of Lessons, Record of Beginnings and Events in the history of the Arabs and Foreigners and Berbers and their Powerful Contemporaries"), but already in his lifetime it became regarded as an independent work on its own.


Muqaddimah (مقدمة) is an Arabic word used to mean "Prologue" or "The Introduction", to introduce a larger work



The concept of "ʿasabiyyah" (Arabic: "tribalism, clanism, communitarism", or in a modern context, "nationalism") is one of the best known aspects of the Muqaddimah. As this ʿasabiyyah declines, another more compelling ʿasabiyyah may take its place; thus, civilizations rise and fall, and history describes these cycles of ʿasabiyyah as they play out.[12]

Ibn Khaldun argues that each dynasty has within itself the seeds of its own downfall. He explains that ruling houses tend to emerge on the peripheries of great empires and use the unity presented by those areas to their advantage in order to bring about a change in leadership. As the new rulers establish themselves at the center of their empire, they become increasingly lax and more concerned with maintaining their lifestyles. Thus, a new dynasty can emerge at the periphery of their control and effect a change in leadership, beginning the cycle anew.


Statue of Ibn Khaldun in Tunis

Ibn Khaldun wrote on economic and political theory in the Muqaddimah, relating his thoughts on ʿasabiyyah to the division of labor: the greater the social cohesion, the more complex the division may be, the greater the economic growth:

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.[13]

Ibn Khaldun noted that growth and development positively stimulate both supply and demand, and that the forces of supply and demand are what determine the prices of goods. He also noted macroeconomic forces of population growth, human capital development, and technological developments effects on development. Ibn Khaldun held that population growth was a function of wealth.[13]

He understood that money served as a standard of value, a medium of exchange, and a preserver of value, though he did not realize that the value of gold and silver changed based on the forces of supply and demand.[13] Ibn Khaldun also introduced the labor theory of value. He described labor as the source of value, necessary for all earnings and capital accumulation, obvious in the case of craft. He argued that even if earning "results from something other than a craft, the value of the resulting profit and acquired (capital) must (also) include the value of the labor by which it was obtained. Without labor, it would not have been acquired."[6]

Ibn Khaldun describes a theory of prices through his understanding that prices result from the law of supply and demand. He understood that when a good is scarce and in demand, its price is high and when the good is abundant, its price is low.

The inhabitants of a city have more food than they need. Consequently, the price of food is low, as a rule, except when misfortunes occur due to celestial conditions that may affect [the supply of] food.[14]

His theory of ʿasabiyyah has often been compared to modern Keynesian economics, with Ibn Khaldun's theory clearly containing the concept of the multiplier. A crucial difference, however, is that whereas for John Maynard Keynes it is the middle class's greater propensity to save that is to blame for economic depression, for Ibn Khaldun it is the governmental propensity to save at times when investment opportunities do not take up the slack which leads to aggregate demand.[15]

Another modern economic theory anticipated by Ibn Khaldun is supply-side economics.[16] He "argued that high taxes were often a factor in causing empires to collapse, with the result that lower revenue was collected from high rates." He wrote:[17]

It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.

Laffer curve[edit]

Ibn Khaldun introduced the concept now popularly known as the Laffer curve, that increases in tax rates initially increase tax revenues, but eventually the increases in tax rates cause a decrease in tax revenues. This occurs as too high a tax rate discourages producers in the economy.

Ibn Khaldun used a dialectic approach to describe the sociological implications of tax choice (which now forms a part of economics theory):

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.

This analysis is very similar to the modern economic concept known as the Laffer curve. Laffer does not claim to have invented the concept himself, noting that the idea was present in the work of Ibn Khaldun and, more recently, John Maynard Keynes.[18]


The Muqaddimah is also held to be a foundational work for the schools of historiography, cultural history, and the philosophy of history.[4] The Muqaddimah also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history.[2]

Franz Rosenthal wrote in the History of Muslim Historiography:

Muslim historiography has at all times been united by the closest ties with the general development of scholarship in Islam, and the position of historical knowledge in MusIim education has exercised a decisive influence upon the intellectual level of historical writing....The Muslims achieved a definite advance beyond previous historical writing in the sociological understanding of history and the systematisation of historiography. The development of modern historical writing seems to have gained considerably in speed and substance through the utilization of a Muslim Literature which enabled western historians, from the seventeenth century on, to see a large section of the world through foreign eyes. The Muslim historiography helped indirectly and modestly to shape present day historical thinking.[19]

Historical method[edit]

The Muqaddimah states that history is a philosophical science, and historians should attempt to refute myths.[20] Ibn Khaldun approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural difference of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to feel the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past. Ibn Khaldun often criticized "idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data". As a result, he introduced a scientific method to the study of history, which was considered something "new to his age", and he often referred to it as his "new science", now associated with historiography.[21]: x 

Philosophy of history[edit]

Ibn Khaldun is considered a pioneer of the philosophy of history.[1] Dawood writes on the Muqaddimah:

It can be regarded as the earliest attempt made by any historian to discover a pattern in the changes that occur in man's political and social organization. Rational in its approach, analytical in its method, encyclopaedic in detail, it represents an almost complete departure from traditional historiography, discarding conventional concepts and cliches and seeking, beyond the mere chronicle of events, an explanation—and hence a philosophy of history.[21]: ix 

Systemic bias[edit]

The Muqaddimah emphasized the role of systemic bias in affecting the standard of evidence. Khaldun was quite concerned with the effect of raising the standard of evidence when confronted with uncomfortable claims, and relaxing it when given claims that seemed reasonable or comfortable. He was a jurist, and sometimes participated reluctantly in rulings that he felt were coerced, based on arguments he did not respect. Besides al-Maqrizi (1364–1442),[20] Ibn Khaldun's focused attempt systematically to study and account for biases in the creation of history wouldn't be seen again until Georg Hegel, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche in 19th-century Germany, and Arnold J. Toynbee, a 20th-century British historian.

Ibn Khaldun also examines why, throughout history, it has been common for historians to sensationalize historical events and, in particular, exaggerate numerical figures:

Whenever contemporaries speak about the dynastic armies of their own or recent times, and whenever they engage in discussions about Muslim or Christian soldiers, or when they get to figuring the tax revenues and the money spent by the government, the outlays of extravagant spenders, and the goods that rich and prosperous men have in stock, they are quite generally found to exaggerate, to go beyond the bounds of the ordinary, and to succumb to the temptation of sensationalism. When the officials in charge are questioned about their armies, when the goods and assets of wealthy people are assessed, and when the outlays of extravagant spenders are looked at in ordinary light, the figures will be found to amount to a tenth of what those people have said. The reason is simple. It is the common desire for sensationalism, the ease with which one may just mention a higher figure, and the disregard of reviewers and critics.[21]: 13–14 

Islamic theology[edit]

The Muqaddimah contains discussions on Islamic theology which show that Ibn Khaldun was a follower of the orthodox Ash'ari school of Sunni Islamic thought and a supporter of al-Ghazali's religious views. He was also a critic of Neoplatonism, particularly its notion of a hierarchy of being.

The Muqaddimah covers the historical development of kalam and the different schools of Islamic thought, notably the Mu'tazili and Ash'ari schools. Ibn Khaldun, being a follower of the Ash'ari school, criticizes the views of the Mu'tazili school, and bases his criticisms on the views of Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari, whom he describes as "the mediator between different approaches in the kalam". Ibn Khaldun also covers the historical development of Islamic logic in the context of theology, as he viewed logic as being distinct from early Islamic philosophy, and believed that philosophy should remain separate from theology. The book also contains commentaries on verses from the Qur'an.[22]

Sharia and fiqh[edit]

Ibn Khaldun was an Islamic jurist and discussed the topics of sharia (Islamic law) and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) in his Muqaddimah. Ibn Khaldun wrote that "Jurisprudence is the knowledge of the classification of the laws of God." In regards to jurisprudence, he acknowledged the inevitability of change in all aspects of a community, and wrote:

The conditions, customs and beliefs of peoples and nations do not indefinitely follow the same pattern and adhere to a constant course. There is rather, change with days and epochs, as well as passing from one state to another ... such is the law of God that has taken place with regard to His subjects.[23]

Ibn Khaldun further described Fiqh jurisprudence as "knowledge of the rules of God which concern the actions of persons who own themselves bound to obey the law respecting what is required (wajib), forbidden (haraam), recommended (mandūb), disapproved (makruh) or merely permitted (mubah)".[24]

Natural sciences[edit]


Some of Ibn Khaldun's thoughts, according to some commentators, anticipate the biological theory of evolution.[25] Ibn Khaldun asserted that humans developed from "the world of the monkeys", in a process by which "species become more numerous" in Chapter 1 of the Muqaddimah:[25]

One should then take a look at the world of creation. It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such as herbs and seedless plants. The last stage of plants, such as palms and vines, is connected with the first stage of animals, such as snails and shellfish which have only the power of touch. The word 'connection' with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the newest group. The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man. This is as far as our (physical) observation extends.[26]: 137–138 

Ibn Khaldun believed that humans are the most evolved form of animals, in that they have the ability to reason. The Muqaddimah also states in Chapter 6:

We explained there that the whole of existence in (all) its simple and composite worlds is arranged in a natural order of ascent and descent, so that everything constitutes an uninterrupted continuum. The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them, either above or below them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with palms and vines, (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals. It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection.[26]: 553 

Plants do not have the same fineness and power that animals have. Therefore, the sages rarely turned to them. Animals are the last and final stage of the three permutations. Minerals turn into plants, and plants into animals, but animals cannot turn into anything finer than themselves.[26]: 691 

His evolutionary ideas appear to be similar to those found in the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity. Ibn Khaldun was also an adherent of environmental determinism. He believed that the black skin, practices, and customs of the people of sub-Saharan Africa were due to the region's hot climate, a theory that according to Rosenthal may have been influenced by the Greek geographical ideas expounded by Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos.[26] Ibn Khaldun viewed the Hamitic theory, where the sons of Ham became black as the result of a curse from God, as a myth.[27]


Ibn Khaldun was a critic of the practice of alchemy. The Muqaddimah discusses the history of alchemy, the views of alchemists such as Jabir ibn Hayyan, and the theories of the transmutation of metals and elixir of life. One chapter of the book contains a systematic refutation of alchemy on social,[28] scientific, philosophical and religious grounds.[29]

He begins his refutation on social grounds, arguing that many alchemists are incapable of earning a living and end up "losing their credibility because of the futility of their attempts",[28] and states that if transmutation were possible, the disproportionate growth of gold and silver "would make transactions useless and would run counter to divine wisdom". He argues that some alchemists resort to fraud, either openly by applying a thin layer of gold on top of silver jewelry, or by secretly using an artificial procedure of covering whitened copper with sublimated mercury.

Ibn Khaldun states that most alchemists are honest and believe that the transmutation of metals is possible, but he argues that transmutation is an implausible theory since there has been no successful attempt to date. He ends his arguments with a restatement of his position: "Alchemy can only be achieved through psychic influences (bi-ta'thirat al-nufus). Extraordinary things are either miracles or witchcraft ... They are unbounded; nobody can claim to acquire them."[28]

Political theory[edit]

In the Muqaddimah's introductory remarks, Ibn Khaldun agrees with the classical republicanism of the Aristotelian proposition that man is political by nature, and that man's interdependence creates the need for the political community. Yet he argues that men and tribes need to defend themselves from potential attacks, and thus political communities are formed. The glue which holds such tribes together and eventually forms "royal authority" or the state, according to Ibn Khaldun, is ʿasabiyyah. He argues that the best type of political community is a caliphate or Islamic state, and argues that the neo-Platonist political theories of al-Farabi and Ibn Sina and the "perfect state" (Madinatu l-Faḍīlah) are useless because God's Law, the sharia, has been revealed to take account of public interest and the afterlife. The second most perfect state, Ibn Khaldun argues, is one based on justice and consideration for public welfare in this life, but not based on religious law and so not beneficial to one's afterlife. Ibn Khaldun calls this state blameworthy. Yet the worst type of state, according to Ibn Khaldun, is a tyranny wherein government usurps property rights and rules with injustice against the rights of men. He argues that if that is not possible for a ruler to be both loved and feared, then it is better to be loved, because fear creates many negative effects in the state's population.

Ibn Khaldun writes that civilizations have lifespans like individuals, and that every state will eventually fall because sedentary luxuries distract them, and eventually government begins to overtax citizens and begin injustice against property rights, and "injustice ruins civilization". Eventually after one dynasty or royal authority falls, it is replaced by another, in a continuous cycle.

The British philosopher-anthropologist Ernest Gellner considered Ibn Khaldun's definition of government, "an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself", the best in the history of political philosophy.[30]



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