Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times

Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times

Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times

Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times


Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) is one of the most influential and important Muslim thinkers in history. Ibn Khaldun has inspired at least as much interest among modern scholars as his immediate contemporaries. Legions of sociologists, anthropologists and historians have studied his philosophy of history, treating the Muqaddimah as a timeless piece of philosophy. Most studies of Ibn Khaldun ignore the fascinating story his own life and times. Rejecting portrayals of Ibn Khaldun as a modern mind lost in medieval obscurity, Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times demonstrates how Ibn Khaldun's ideas were shaped by his historical context and personal motivations. Relying on original Arabic sources, most importantly Ibn Khaldun's unique autobiography, this is the first complete, scholarly biography of Ibn Khaldun in English. While previous studies dismissed Ibn Khaldun's autobiography as lacking in psychological depth, Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times challenges this view. Demonstrating the rich and complex nature of Ibn Khaldun's memoirs, Ibn Khaldun: Life and Times not only tells the life story of Ibn Khaldun in an accessible way, it also introduces readers to the fourteenth-century Mediterranean world. Seen in the context of a politically tumultuous and religiously contentious fourteenth century Mediterranean, Ibn Khaldun's ideas about tribalism, identity, religion and history are even more relevant to pressing, modern concerns.


… [M]an is not born every day. He was born with a specific historical setting
with specific historical priorities.

Carl Jung

On January 10, 1401, a world historical figure and a world historian were seated across from each other in a Mongol tent pitched outside the city walls of Damascus, Syria. Ibn Khaldun, one of the greatest historians of all time, and Timurlane the Conqueror, one of the most powerful, and most vicious, rulers in history, had a civilized discussion about the underlying patterns of human history.

Ibn Khaldun described his visit with Timurlane in his detailed memoirs, an extraordinarily rich autobiography for the period. Although justifiably afraid of the terrible conqueror, Ibn Khaldun wrote about Timurlane with the wide-eyed fascination of a scientist who has just discovered a seemingly conclusive piece of evidence that proved a life-long theory. In order to avoid detection by the besieged citizens of Damascus who still refused to surrender, he was lowered over the city walls in the middle of night and made his way to the conqueror's tent. After showing deference to the great Sultan, Ibn Khaldun exclaimed rather cryptically, ‘May God help you sir! It has been today thirty or forty years since I have hoped for this encounter.’

Obviously puzzled and intrigued, since Ibn Khaldun could not have known about him so long ago, Timurlane asked, ‘For what reason?’

‘For two reasons,’ Ibn Khaldun responded, ‘The first, is that you are the Sultan of the world, the King of the earth; I have never known a king since the creation of Adam who is comparable to you.’ . . .

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