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His Life and Work

1332 - 1406 / 732 - 808

Portrait of Ibn Khaldun


Muhammad Hozien

Essay by: Muhammad Hozien



Childhood and his Early Years

In Tunisia and Morocco

In Morocco and Spain

From Spain to Tunisia

Adventures in North Africa

Map of Ibn Khaldun's Travels  (illustration)

To Egypt

Meeting Tamerlane

The world at Ibn Khaldun's time   (illustration)

Final Days in Egypt

The Magnum Opus "al-Muqaddimah"

Facsimile of the cover page of the manuscript in Arabic (illustration)



He is indeed the one outstanding personality in the history of a civilization whose social life on the whole was 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. In his chosen field of intellectual activity he appears to have been inspired by no predecessors, and to have found no kindred souls among his contemporaries, and to have kindled no answering spark of inspiration in any successors ; and yet, in the Prolegomena (Muqaddimat) to his Universal History he has conceived and formulated a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place. It was his single brief 'acquiescence' from a life of practical activity that gave Ibn Khaldun his opportunity to cast his creative thought into literary shape.

A STUDY OR HISTORY. Vol. III. Arnold ]. Toynbee. Royal Institute of International Affairs and Oxford University Press. p. 321-322.


Ibn Khaldun is the most important figure in the field of History and Sociology in Muslim History. He is one of those shining stars that contributed so richly to the understanding of Civilization. In order for one to understand and appreciate his work, one must understand his life. He lived a life in search of stability and influence. He came from a family of scholars and politicians and he intended to live up to both expectations. He would succeed in the field of Scholarship much more so than in any other field.


He is Abdurahman bin Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Al-Hasan bin Jabir bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim bin Abdurahman bin Ibn Khaldun. His ancestry according to him originated from Hadramut, Yemen. He also traced his ancestry through another genealogy as supplied by Ibn Hazem using his grandfather who was the first to enter Andalusia back to Wail ibn Hajar one of the oldest Yemenite tribe. In either case, the genealogy points to his Arab origin although scholars do question the authenticity of both reports due to the political climate at the time of these reports.[1]

Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunis on Ramadan 1, 732 (May 27, 1332)[2]. He received a traditional education that was typical of his family’s rank and status. He learned first at the hands of his father who was a scholarly person who was not involved in politics like his ancestors. He memorized the Qur’an by heart, learned grammar, Jurisprudence, Hadith, rhetoric, philology, and poetry. He had reached certain proficiency in these subjects and received certification in them. In his autobiography, he does mention the names these scholars.[3]

He continued studies until the age of 19 when the great plague would sweep over the lands from Samarkand to Mauritania. It was after this plague that Ibn Khaldun would receive his first public assignment.[4] This would start his political career that would forever change his life.


Ibn Tafrakin, the ruler of Tunis, called Ibn Khaldun to be the seal bearer of his captive Sultan Abu lshaq. It is here that Ibn Khaldun would get first hand look at the inner workings of court politics and the weakness of the government. It would not be long before he would get an opportunity to leave Tunis.[5]

In 1352 (713 A. H.) Abu Ziad, the Emir of Constantine, marched his forces on Tunis. Ibn Khaldun accompanied Ibn Tafrakin with the forces that would ward off Abu Ziad’s attacks. Tunis was defeated and Ibn Khaldun escaped to Aba, where he lived with al-Mowahideen. He would move back and forth through Algeria and settled in Biskra.[6]

At that same time in Morocco Sultan Abu Enan, who had recently settled on the throne of his father, was on his way to conquer Algeria. Ibn Khaldun would travel to Tlemcen to meet the Sultan. Ibn Khaldun mentions that the Sultan honored him and sent him with his chamberlain Ibn Abi Amr to Bougie to witness its submission to Sultan Abu Enan.[7]

Ibn Khaldun would stay in the company of the Chamberlain while the Sultan moved back to the capital, Fez. In 1354 (755 A.H.) Ibn Khaldun would accept the invitation to join the council of Ulama and would move to Fez. He would eventually be promoted to the post of the seal bearer and would accept it reluctantly, because it was inferior to the posts once occupied by his ancestors.[8]

Ibn Khaldun would use his stay in Fez to further his studies. Fez at this time was a capital of Morocco and enjoyed the company of many scholars from all over North Africa and Andalusia. He was also being promoted from one position to another.[9]

Ibn Khaldun was an ambitious young man and at this point of his life, he would begin to engage in court politics. Ibn Khaldun would conspire with Abu Abdullah Muhammad, the dethroned ruler of Bougie who was captive in Fez at that time. Abu Abdullah is from the Banu Hafs which were patrons of Ibn Khaldun’s Family.[10]

Sultan Abu Enan would find out about the conspiracy and would imprison Ibn Khaldun. Abu Abdullah would be released from prison and Ibn Khaldun would linger on for two years. Sultan Abu Enan would fall ill and die before fulfilling his promise to release Ibn Khaldun. The Wazir Al-Hassan ibn Omar ordered the release of Ibn Khaldun who was restored to his former position.[11]


The political climate was tense and Ibn Khaldun would again test his fate and conspire against the Wazir with al-Mansur.[12] This loyalty would be short lived too. He would conspire with Sultan Abu Salem who would overthrow Al-Mansur. Ibn Khaldun would get the position of Secretary and the repository of his confidence (Amin as-Sir).[13]

Here Ibn Khaldun would excel in his position and would compose many poems. He would occupy this position for two more years and would then be appointed as the Chief Justice. He would show a great ability in this position. However due to constant rivalry between him and high officials he would lose favor with the Sultan.[14]

However this would not matter because a revolt would take place and Sultan Abu Salem would be overthrown by Wazir Omar. Ibn Khaldun would side with the victorious and would get his post with higher pay. Ibn Khaldun was ambitious as ever and wanted a higher position, namely that of the Chamberlain. For reasons unknown, perhaps he was not trusted, he was refused. This upset him enough to resign his position. This in turn upset the Wazir. Ibn Khaldun would ask to leave Fez and go back to Tunisia and this request would be refused. It was then that he would ask the Wazir’s son-in-law to intercede on his behalf to be allowed to go to Andalusia.[15]


Sultan Muahmmad al-Ahmar, the king of Granada, was deposed by his brother Ismail who was supported by his brother-in-law. Sultan Muhammad was a friend of Sultan Abu Salem who helped him when he was deported to Andalusia by Sultan Abu Enan. When Sultan Abu Enan died and Sultan Abu Salem became the ruler that friendship was rekindled. Further when Ismail al-Ahmar was declared king of Granada in a place revolt, Sultan Muhammad took refuge in Morocco with Sultan Abu Salem. They were welcomed with great fanfare, Ibn Khaldun was present at the festivities. Among Sultan Muhammad’s party was his wise Wazir Ibn al-Khatib who developed a close friendship with Ibn Khaldun.[16]

Sultan Muhammad would attempt to restore his throne in Granada through an agreement with Pedro the cruel, the King of Castile. Pedro would delay the execution of the agreement upon hearing of Sultan Abu Salem death. Sultan Muhammad would appeal to Ibn Khaldun to get the assistance from Wazir Omar. Ibn Khaldun would use his influence to help him. Further Ibn Khaldun was entrusted to care for Sultan Muhammad’s family in Fez. The Wazir would grant Sultan Muhammad Ronda and the surrounding country. Sultan Muhammad would continue his efforts and recapture his throne in 1361 (763 A. H.). He would recall his Wazir Ibn al-Khatib.[17]

When the relationship between Ibn Khaldun would turn sour and uncertain he would turn towards Andalusia. He would be welcomed and honored well by Sultan Muhammad who admitted him to his private council. In the following year Sultan Muhammad would send Ibn Khaldun on an Ambassadorial mission to Pedro, the King of Castile. Ibn Khaldun would conclude and peaceful terms between them. Pedro would offer Ibn Khaldun a position in his service and to return to him his family’s former estate at Castile. Ibn Khaldun would decline the offer.[18]

Upon his return from Castile, Ibn Khaldun would offer Pedro’s gift to him to the Sultan and in return, the Sultan would give him the Village of Elvira. Soon Ibn Khaldun would be restless once more and in the following year, he would receive an invitation from his friend Abu Abdullah, who had recaptured his throne at Bougie. Ibn Khaldun left Granada in 1364 (766 A.H.) for Bougie after asking permission to leave from Sultan Muhammad.[19]

From Rosenthal's Translation


Ibn Khaldun would arrive in Bougie at the Age of 32 years. His plans have finally been realized. The period of imprisonment in Fez did not go to waste. He would enter the city as favorite guest. He would accept the position of Hajib for Emir Muhammad. This life of power would not last long as in the following year Abul Abbas would kill the Emir Muhammad, his cousin. Ibn Khaldun handed the city to him and retired to the city of Biskra. He would continue his political work in relaying the tribes to the service of this Emir or that Sultan. He would continue his practice of shifting loyalties as the times and opportunities afforded him. He would finally retire to a far outpost south of Constantine, fort Salama.[20]

In Fort Salama he would enjoy this peaceful existence and would begin to write down his famous Muqqddimah and first version of his universal history at the age of forty-five years.[21]

He would dedicate his work to the current Emir of Constantine, Sultan Abul Abbas. Tranquility did not last long with Ibn Khaldun, as he needed more reference works which were not available at this far outpost. He used the occasion of the Abul Abbas’s conquest of Tunisia to go to Tunis. This would be the first time he would return to the town of his birth since leaving it over 27 years ago.[22]

There would be political forces at work against him once more and this time before he would fall out of favor he would use a convenient occasion 1382 to leave North Africa behind never to return.[23]


Ibn Khaldun was granted permission from Sultan Abul Abbas to go to Hajj. He arrived in Alexandria in October 1382 ( 15th Shabaan 784 A. H.) at the ripe age of 50. He spent a month preparing to leave for Hajj but was unable to join the Caravan bound for the Holy Lands. He turned towards Cairo instead. Here he wold live his final days. He was warmly welcomed by scholars and students. His fame for his writings had already preceded him. He lectured at Al-Azhar and other fine schools. He would get the chance to meet with Sultan az-Zahir Barquq who would appoint him to teach at the Kamhiah school.[24]

He would enjoy the favors of the Sultan. He would be appointed as a Maliki Judge on the Sultans whim and anger. He would fare well and tried to fight corruption and favoritism. Again conspiracies against him would work its way and he would be relieved of this duty. His relief of duty would coincide with his family’s disaster. The ship carrying his family and belongings would sink in a storm.[25]

It was then that he would take permission to go to the Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. He would return and be well received and appointed to a teaching position in the newly built school (Bein al-Qasrein) He would lecture in Hadith, particularly Imam Malik’s Muwatta. He would then be appointed to Beibers Sufi institute with a generous salary. The state of affairs of Egypt would be disturbed as a rival of Sultan Barquq, Yulbugha would organize a successful revolt. Sultan Barquq would stage another revolt and would be restored to his former throne. Ibn Khaldun during this period would suffer and would have his position restored to him with the return of the victorious Sultan Barquq to Power.[26]

Ibn Khaldun during this period would devote his time to lecturing and study as wellas to completing his Universal History. After Yulbugha’s revolt, he would write about Asabiyah and its role in the rise and fall of states. He would apply his theory to the Egyptian theater since the time of Salah ad-Din.[27]

After fourteen years since leaving the position of the Chief Maliki judge Ibn Khaldun would reassigned to the post upon the death of the presiding Judge. The state would again fall into disarray upon the death of Sultan Barquq’s and his son’s ascension. Ibn Khaldun would not be a party to these revolts and would ask permission to visit Jerusalem. He would join the Sultan Faraj’s caravan on its way back from Damascus. Again due to political intrigue he would be relived of his duties as judge for the second time. This would not matter because he would be called to accompany the Sultan on perilous Journey with fate to Damascus.[28]

From Rosenthal's Translation


During Ibn Khaldun’s stay in Egypt he would be asked by Sultan Faraj of Egypt to accompany him on his expedition to Damascus. News reports have confirmed the movement of Tamerlane’s war party towards Damascus. Sultan Faraj with his army were on their way to Damascus. It seems that Ibn Khaldun was asked firmly to accompany the Sultan to Damascus.[29]

The Sultan would only stay for two weeks in Damascus, as he had to leave due to rumors that a revolt back in Cairo was in the works. Ibn Khaldun and some notables were left behind in Damascus. It was now up to the leaders of Damascus to deal with Tamerlane. Ibn Khaldun had suggested to them to consider the terms of Tamerlane. It was the task of another Qadi, Ibn Muflih, to discuss the terms with Tamerlane. When Ibn Muflih returned from Tamerlane’s camp, the terms were not agreeable to the residents of Damascus.[30]

Since it was the suggestion of Ibn Khaldun to come to terms with Tamerlane, Ibn Khaldun felt obliged to meet with Tamerlane personally. Ibn Khaldun would leave Damascus and go to the camp of Tamerlane. It is questionable whether he went on his own or in an official capacity. Ibn Khaldun took some gifts with him for Tamerlane and they were well received. Ibn Khaldun would stay in Tamerlane’s camp for thirty-five days.[31]

Over this period, Ibn Khaldun would have many meetings with Tamerlane and they would converse through an interpreter, Abd al-Jabbar al-Khwarizmi (d. 1403). Ibn Khaldun’s account is the only detailed account available. The subjects that they would discuss were varied and some were unrecorded. W. Fischel lists 6 specific topics which they talked about:

    1. On Maghrib and Ibn Khaldun’s Land of origin.

    2. On heroes in History.

    3. On predictions of things to come.

    4. On the Abbsid Caliphate

    5. On amnesty and security "For Ibn Khaldun and his Companion."

    6. On Ibn Khaldun’s intention to stay with Tamerlane.[32]

Ibn Khaldun impressed the conqueror enough to ask him to join his court. Some biographers have suggested that he did and written down his eloquent appeal to return to Egypt to settle his affairs, get his books and family and join Tamerlane. It however is more likely that Ibn Khaldun left on good terms with Tamerlane and have accomplished his mission of extracting favorable terms for the people of Damascus.[33]

Ibn Khaldun’s departing words lend credence to the fact that he would not be returning to his service:

"Is there any generosity left beyond that which you have already shown me? You have heaped favors upon me, accorded me a place in your council among your intimate followers, and shown me kindness and generosity- which I hope Allah will repay to you in like measures."[34]


Upon Ibn Khaldun’s return to Egypt, he was restored as the Malikite Qadi. Due to the political situation within the community of Malikite Qadis Ibn Khaldun would be dismissed and reinstated three times during the five-year period. Finally, he died while he was in office on Wednesday March 17th 1406 (25th of Ramadan 808). He was buried in the Sufi Cemetery outside Bab an-Nasr, Cairo at the age of seventy-four years.[35]

From Rosenthal's translation


He would his write his Introduction to his book of universal history in a span of five months.[36] This impressive document is a gist of his wisdom and hard earned experience. He would use his political and first had knowledge of the people of Maghrib to formulate many of his ideas. This document would summarize Ibn Khaldun’s ideas about every field of knowledge during his day. He would discuss a variety of topics. He would discuss History and Historiography. He would rebuke some of the historical claims with a calculated logic. He would discuss the current sciences of his days. He would talk about astronomy, astrology, and numerology. He would discuss Chemistry, alchemy and Magic in a scientific way. He would freely offer his opinions and document well the "facts" of the other point of view. His discussion of Tribal societies and social forces would be the most interesting part of his thesis. He would illuminate the world with deep insight into the workings and makings of kingdoms and civilizations. His thesis that the conquered race will always emulate the conqueror in every way.[37] His theory about Asbyiah (group feeling) and the role that it plays in Bedouin societies is insightful. His theories of the science of Umran (sociology) are all pearls of wisdom. His Introduction is his greatest legacy that he left for all of humanity and the generations to come.


Note that the Photo of original Manuscript on the cover page is cover sheet from the cover of one of the manuscripts that have Ibn Khaldun’s very own handwriting!. [extremely Cool!] Also note that the map of Ibn Khaldun's travels is also from The Muqaddimah by F. Rosenthal. The Portrait of Ibn Khaldun is from the following site: accessed on 5/21/01. The stamps are from the Tunisian Postal authority website accessed on 6/19/01.

  1. Ibn Khaldun, Abdurahman M., Mokaddimat Ibn Khaldoun, Ed. Darweesh al-Jawydi, al-Maktaba al-Asriyah, Sidon-Beirut, 1995.
  2. Al-Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Ad-Dorar al-Kaminah fi ‘Ayan al-Miah al-Thamina,[the Hidden Jewels in the notables of eight century] a Photostat copy of the Hyderabad edition (1929-1930). Dar Ihya al-Torath al-Araby, Beirut, n.d.
  3. Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, An Introduction to History, Tr. Franz Rosenthal, Bollingen Series XLIII. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1967 3 Vols.
  4. Fischel, Walter J., Ibn Khaldun in Egypt: His public functions and his historical research (1382-1406) A study in Islamic Historiography, University of California Press, Berkeley 1967.
  5. Enan, Mohammad A., Ibn Khaldun: His life and Works, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 1979.
  6. Mahdi, Muhsin, Ibn Khaldun’s philosophy of History: A study in the philosophic foundation of the science of culture, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1957.
  7. Issawi, Charles, An Arab Philosophy of history: Selections from the prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis (1332-1406), the Wisdom of the East Series, John Murray, London, 1950.
  8. Lacoste, Yves, Ibn Khaldun: The birth of history and the past of the third world. Tr. David Macy. Verso, London, 1984.
  9. Lawrence, David, Ed., Ibn Khaldun and Islamic Ideology, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1984.
  10. Ibn Khaldun on the Web. (a springboard to links Ibn Khaldunia).
  11. Ibn Khaldun a web biography. 

Essay by: Muhammad Hozien

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