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Muqaddimah - The Muqaddimah by  Ibn Khaldoun (Arabic مقدّمة ابن خلدون),  Prolegomena in Latin, is the famous introduction to the Kitabu al Ibar, a general history of the world, written about 1377. The introduction was elaborated into a strikingly modern treatise on history, society and science that foreshadowed Western works and concepts of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the invention of the discipline of sociology, an attempt to find lawfulness in history, a labor theory of value, theories of taxation and governance, a scientific critique of the bible and other aspects of modern economics and historiography. The Muqaddimah soon came to be a work in its own right, overshadowing the history that it supposedly introduced.

The plan of the Muqaddimah shows its ambitious scope:

 Chapter I:  Human civilization in general

Chapter II Bedouin civilization, savage nations and tribes and their conditions of life, including several basic and explanatory statements

Chapter III: On dynasties, royal authority, the caliphate, government ranks, and all that goes with these things. The chapter contains basic and supplementary propositions

Chapter IV: Countries and cities, and all other forms of sedentary civilization. The conditions occurring there. Primary and secondary considerations in this connection

Chapter V: On the various aspects of making a living, such as profit and the crafts. The conditions that occur in this connection. A number of problems are connected with this subject

Chapter VI: The various kinds of sciences. The methods of instruction. The conditions that obtain in these connections. The chapter includes a prefatory discussion and appendices

These passages from the prefatory remarks of the Muqaddima give a bit of the relatively modernistic flavor of the work and the approach:

It should be known that history, in matter of fact, is information about human social organization,  which itself is identical with world civilization. It deals with such conditions affecting the nature of civilization as, for instance, savagery and sociability, group feelings, and the different ways by which one group of human beings achieves superiority  over another....

Untruth naturally afflicts historical information. There are various reasons that make this unavoidable. One of them is partisanship for opinions and schools...  Prejudice and partisanship obscure the critical faculty and preclude critical investigation. The result is that falsehoods are accepted and transmitted.

Another reason making untruth unavoidable in historical information is reliance upon transmitters...

Another reason is unawareness of the purpose of an event. Many a transmitter does not know the real significance of his observations or of the things he has learned about orally. He transmits the information, attributing to it the significance he assumes or imagines it to have. The result is falsehood.

Another reason is unfounded assumption as to the truth of a thing. This is frequent. It results mostly from reliance upon transmitters.

Another reason is ignorance of how conditions conform with reality. Conditions are affected by ambiguities and artificial distortions. The informant reports the conditions as he saw them but on account of artificial distortions he himself has no true picture of them.

Another reason is the fact that people as a rule approach great and high-ranking persons with praise and encomiums. They embellish conditions and spread the fame (of great men). The information made public in such cases is not truthful. Human souls long for praise, and people pay great attention to this world and the positions and wealth it offers. As a rule, they feel no desire for virtue and have no special interest in virtuous people.

Another reason making untruth unavoidable - and this one is more powerful than all the reasons previously mentioned is ignorance of the nature of the various conditions arising in civilization...

The sociology of the Muqaddimah and its economic theories presage the dialectics of Marx and Hegel and the analysis of Toynbee. Ibn Khaldoun, like these later western historians, was interested in what moved history, and devised a cyclic theory based on coalescence of al 'Asabbiyah - a group, national or tribal enthusiasm in those who dwell on the periphery of great civilizations. This gave peoples power and energy beyond their numbers and allowed them to conquer the more civilized and effete cities. However, the conquerors in turn were softened by civilization and vulnerable to further conquest.

Ibn Khaldun was fascinated and worried by the problem of the observer in history, and by many other problems of modern historiography.  However, we should take care not to read too much of modern methods and approaches back into the Muqaddimah. His method was often deductive, rational and Aristotelian, not necessarily inductive or empirical. He is preoccupied with essences and substances like any good Aristotelian. For example, he wrote in his preface to the Muqaddimah:

Every event (or phenomenon), whether (it comes into being in connection with some) essence or (as the result of an) action, must inevitably possess a nature peculiar to its essence as well as to the accidental conditions that may attach themselves to it. If the student knows the nature of events and the circumstances and requirements in the world of existence, it will help him to distinguish truth from untruth in investigating the historical information critically. This is more effective in critical investigation than any other aspect that may be brought up in connection with it.

Ami Isseroff

October 11, 2008

Synonyms and alternate spellings: ; Mouqaddimah, Muqadimah

Further Information:  

Ibn Khaldoun.

The Muqaddimah

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