HISTORY is a discipline widely cultivated among nations and races. It is eagerly sought after. The men in the street, the ordinary people, aspire to know it. Kings and leaders vie for it.
Both the learned and the ignorant are able to understand it. For on the surface history is no more than information about political events, dynasties, and occurrences of the remote past, elegantly presented and spiced with proverbs. It serves to entertain large, crowded gatherings and brings to us an understanding of human affairs. (It shows) how changing conditions affected (human affairs), how certain dynasties came to occupy an ever wider space in the world, and how they settled the earth until they heard the call and their time was up.
The inner meaning of history, on the other hand, involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of the causes and origins of existing things, and deep knowledge of the how and why of events. (History,) therefore, is firmly rooted in philosophy. It deserves to be accounted a branch of (philosophy).9
The outstanding Muslim historians made exhaustive collections of historical events and wrote them down in book form. But, then, persons who had no right to occupy themselves with history introduced into those books untrue gossip which they had thought up or freely invented, as well as false, discredited reports which they had made up or embellished. Many of their successors followed in their steps and passed that information on to us as they had heard it. They did not look for, or pay any attention to, the causes of events and conditions, nor did they eliminate or reject nonsensical stories.
Little effort is being made to get at the truth. The critical eye, as a rule, is not sharp. Errors and unfounded assumptions are closely allied and familiar elements in historical information. Blind trust in tradition is an inherited trait in human beings. Occupation with the (scholarly) disciplines on the part of those who have no right is widespread. But the pasture of stupidity is unwholesome for mankind. No one can stand up against the authority of truth, and the evil of falsehood is to be fought with enlightening speculation. The reporter merely dictates and passes on (the material). It takes critical insight to sort out the hidden truth; it takes knowledge to lay truth bare and polish it so that critical insight may be applied to it.
Many systematic historical works have been composed, and the history of nations and dynasties in the world has been compiled and written down. But there are very few (historians) who have become so well known as to be recognized as authorities, and who have replaced the products of their predecessors by their own works. They can almost be counted on the fingers of the hands; they are hardly more numerous than the vowels in grammatical constructions (which are just three). There are, for instance, Ibn Ishaq; 10 at-Tabari;11 Ibn al-Kalbi;12 Muhammad b. 'Umar al-Wagidi;13 Sayf b. 'Umar al-Asadi;14 al-Mas'udi,15 and other famous (historians) who are distinguished from the general run (of historians) .
It is well known to competent persons and reliable experts that the works of al-Masudi and al-Waqidi are suspect and objectionable in certain respects.16 However, their works have been distinguished by universal acceptance of the information they contain and by adoption of their methods and their presentation of material. The discerning critic is his own judge as to which part of their material he finds spurious, and which he gives credence to. Civilization, in its (different) conditions, contains (different) elements to which historical information may be related and with which reports and historical materials may be checked.
Most of the histories by these (authors) cover everything because of the universal geographical extension of the two earliest Islamic dynasties 17 and because of the very wide selection of sources of which they did or did not make use. Some of these authors, such as al-Mas'idi and historians of his type, gave an exhaustive history of the pre-Islamic dynasties and nations and of other (pre-Islamic) affairs in general. Some later historians, on the other hand, showed a tendency toward greater restriction, hesitating to be so general and comprehensive. They brought together the happenings of their own period and gave exhaustive historical information about their own part of the world. They restricted themselves to the history of their own dynasties and cities. This was done by Ibn Hayyan, the historian of Spain and the Spanish Umayyads,18 and by Ibn ar-Raqiq, the historian of Ifrigiyah and the dynasty in Kairouan (al-Qayrawan).19
The later historians were all tradition-bound and dull of nature and intelligence, or, (at any rate) did not try not to be dull. They merely copied 20 the (older historians) and followed their example. They disregarded the changes in conditions and in the customs of nations and races that the passing of time had brought about. Thus, they presented historical information about dynasties and stories of events from the early period as mere forms without substance, blades without scabbards, as knowledge that must be considered ignorance, because it is not known what of it is extraneous and what is genuine. (Their information) concerns happenings the origins of which are not known. It concerns species the genera of which are not taken into consideration, and whose (specific) differences are not verified.21 With the information they set down they merely repeated historical material which is, in any case, widely known, and followed the earlier historians who worked on it. They neglected the importance of change over the generations in their treatment of the (historical material), because they had no one who could interpret it for them. Their works, therefore, give no explanation for it. When they then turn to the description of a particular dynasty, they report the historical information about it (mechanically) and take care to preserve it as it had been passed on down to them, be it imaginary or true. They do not turn to the beginning of the dynasty. Nor do they tell why it unfurled its banner and was able to give prominence to its emblem, or what caused it to come to a stop when it had reached its term. The student, thus, has still to search for the beginnings of conditions and for (the principles of) organization of (the various dynasties). He must (himself) investigate why the various dynasties brought pressures to bear upon each other and why they succeeded each other. He must search for a convincing explanation of the elements that made for mutual separation or contact among the dynasties. All this will be dealt with in the Introduction to this work.
Other historians, then, came with too brief a presentation (of history). They went to the extreme of being satisfied with the names of kings, without any genealogical or historical information, and with only a numerical indication of the length of reigns.22 This was done by Ibn Rashiq in the Mizan al-'amal,23 and by those lost sheep who followed his method. No credence can be given to what they say. They are not considered trustworthy, nor is their material considered worthy of transmission, for they caused useful material to be lost and damaged the methods and customs acknowledged (as sound and practical) by historians.
When I had read the works of others and probed into the recesses of yesterday and today, I shook myself out of that drowsy complacency and sleepiness. Although not much of a writer,24 I exhibited my own literary ability as well as I could, and, thus, composed a book on history. In (this book) I lifted the veil from conditions as they arise in the various generations. I arranged it in an orderly way in chapters dealing with historical facts and reflections. In it I showed how and why dynasties and civilization originate. I based the work on the history of the two races that constitute the population of the Maghrib at this time and people its various regions and cities, and on that of their ruling houses, both long- and short-lived, including the rulers and allies they had in the past. These two races are the Arabs and the Berbers. They are the two races known to have resided in the Maghrib for such a long time that one can hardly imagine they ever lived elsewhere, for its inhabitants know no other human races.
I corrected the contents of the work carefully and presented it to the judgment of scholars and the elite. I followed an unusual method of arrangement and division into chapters. From the various possibilities, I chose a remarkable and original method. In the work, I commented on civilization, on urbanization, and on the essential characteristics of human social organization, in a way that explains to the reader how and why things are as they are, and shows him how the men who constituted a dynasty first came upon the historical scene. As a result, he will wash his hands of any blind trust in tradition. He will become aware of the conditions of periods and races that were before his time and that will be after it.
I divided the work into an introduction and three books:
The Introduction deals with the great merit of historiography, (offers) an appreciation of its various methods, and cites errors of the historians.
The First Book deals with civilization and its essential characteristics, namely, royal authority, government, gainful occupations, ways of making a living, crafts, and sciences, as well as with the causes and reasons thereof.
The Second Book deals with the history, races, and dynasties of the Arabs, from the beginning of creation down to this time. This will include references to such famous nations and dynasties - contemporaneous with them,25 as the Nabataeans,26 the Syrians, the Persians, the Israelites, the Copts, the Greeks, the Byzantines, and the Turks.
The Third Book deals with the history of the Berbers and of the Zanatah who are part of them; with their origins and races; and, in particular, with the royal authority and dynasties in the Maghrib.
Later on, there was my trip to the East, in order to find out about the manifold illumination it offers and to fulfill the religious duty and custom of circumambulating the Ka'bah and visiting Medina, as well as to study the systematic works and tomes on (Eastern) history. As a result, I was able to fill the gaps in my historical information about the non-Arab (Persian) rulers of those lands, and about the Turkish dynasties in the regions over which they ruled. I added this information to what I had written here (before in this connection). I inserted it into the treatment of the nations of the various districts and rulers of the various cities and regions that were contemporary with those (Persian and Turkish) races. In this connection I was brief and concise and preferred the easy goal to the difficult one. I proceeded from general genealogical (tables)27 to detailed historical information.
Thus, (this work) contains an exhaustive history of the world. It forces stubborn stray wisdom to return to the fold. It gives causes and reasons for happenings in the various dynasties. It turns out to be a vessel for philosophy, a receptacle for historical knowledge. The work contains the history of the Arabs and the Berbers, both the sedentary groups and the nomads. It also contains references to the great dynasties that were contemporary with them, and, moreover, clearly indicates memorable lessons to be learned from early conditions and from subsequent history. Therefore, I called the work "Book of Lessons and Archive of Early and Subsequent History, Dealing with the Political Events Concerning the Arabs, Non-Arabs, and Berbers, and the Supreme Rulers Who Were Contemporary with Them." 28
I omitted nothing concerning the origin of races and dynasties, concerning the synchronism of the earliest nations, concerning the reasons for change and variation in past periods and within religious groups, concerning dynasties and religious groups, towns and hamlets, strength and humiliation, large numbers and small numbers, sciences and crafts, gains and losses, changing general conditions, nomadic and sedentary life, actual events and future events, all things expected to occur in civilization. I treated everything comprehensively and exhaustively and explained the arguments for and causes of it(s existence).
As a result, this book has become unique, as it contains unusual knowledge and familiar if hidden wisdom. Still, after all has been said, I am conscious of imperfection when (I look at) the scholars of (past and contemporary) times.29 I confess my inability to penetrate so difficult a subject. I wish that men of scholarly competence and wide knowledge would look at the book with a critical, rather than a complacent eye, and silently correct and overlook the mistakes they come upon. The capital of knowledge that an individual scholar has to offer is small. Admission (of one's shortcomings) saves from censure. Kindness from colleagues is hoped for. It is God whom I ask to make our deeds acceptable in His sight. He suffices me. He is a good protector.30