Ibn Khaldun was born May 27 1332 in Tunis, the capital city of present-day Tunisia. Raised and educated in a family of scholars and politicians, Khaldun came across as a gifted thinker right from his young age.
Although his first job as a calligrapher in Tunis was uninspiring, he evolved into a major intellectual giant. He was introduced to mathematics by his master Al Abili of Tlemcen, a city in Algeria. While studying with the fine and brightest minds of North Africa, Khaldun slowly gained expertise in the fields of philosophy, economics and social sciences.
At the age of 45, he wrote his groundbreaking book called “The Muqaddimah” in 1377. The book focussed on universal history. Several modern thinkers consider The Muqaddimah as the first academic work which deals with social sciences, demography and cultural history.
Since the contribution of Muslim scholars in the fields of science has largely been ignored by the world, Khaldun’s work is also underrepresented. Many famous Western thinkers, who were inspired by books like The Muqaddimah, emulated Khaldun’s ideas and propounded them as their own in later centuries. But the name of Khaldun was never included in Western textbooks.
To get a sense of how influential Khaldun has been to shape the academic discourse of modern-day philosophy, economics and sociology, TRT World spoke to several prominent academics.
Professor Recep Senturk, the founder of the International Ibn Khaldun Society, told TRT World Khaldun’s legacy as a social scientist offers a viable alternative to the hegemonic Eurocentric and positivist social sciences.
“He is usually presented as a pioneer for the modern positivist social sciences such as sociology, economy and political science. I disagree with this. In my view, he is not the precursor but the alternative of the present positivist social sciences,” Senturk tells TRT World.
Senturk explained that calling him a precursor is not praising as it indicates that he has been “surpassed by the later generations and that today his value is only historical like an item in the museum.”
“Secondly, arguing that Ibn Khaldun was a precursor for people like Marx or Durkheim means one doesn’t thoroughly understand their theories and methods, in particular their worldviews, epistemologies and methodologies,” Senturk said.
“Such judgements reflect a superficial, partial and biased understanding of Ibn Khaldun as well as his western counterparts. This is because Ibn Khaldun was a Muslim thinker who belonged to the Ash’ari school of theology, Maliki school of law,”.
To make a distinction between Khaldun’s worldview and that of modern thinkers, Senturk said that Khaldun, as all other Muslim scholars, subscribed to the multiplex (multi-layered, stratified) worldview (known in Arabic marâtib al-wujûd) which accepts that there are three main levels of existence: material-visible world, nonmaterial-invisible world and the divine world.
“Likewise, Ibn Khaldun used a multiplex epistemology (known in Arabic as marâtib al-ulûm) which accepts reason, senses, divine revelation and spiritual unveiling (kashf) as sources of knowledge. How can such a multiplex scholar and thinker be presented as a pioneer for the reductionist or uniplex social scientists who accept only one level of existence (material or ideal) and only one source of knowledge such as observation or interpretation while explicitly rejecting divine revelation and spiritual epistemology?” Senturk said.
The biggest merit of Khaldun lies in his revolutionary methodological thinking, he adds, since he completely rejected the methodology of his ancestors, which made him the first social scientist in the strictest meaning of that term.
According to Esref Altas, an associate professor at Istanbul Medeniyet University, Khaldun was a good observer who saw the outer face of historical social events.
A strong philosopher who theorizes the inner face of historical events, Altas said he was also a good sociologist who described the social sphere.
“In his book Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun considers the field of historical social existence as an independent field of study. This is the first time in the history of science and philosophy. Secondly, he considers the historical social space not normative, that is, not around the question of what should be, but around the question of what is happening,” Altas told TRT World.
Khaldun discarded the academic practice of focussing on the ideal but encouraged students to examine their concepts with scientific and rational thinking. He believed in reaching conclusions on the basis of evidence and reasoning and argued that these methods allow thinkers to separate fact from fiction. Therefore, by investigating “human social organization” with “a sound yardstick”, he said, one can successfully analyse society instead of accepting absurd stories of historians.
He highlighted in his writings that this is a completely new, original and independent science, which hadn’t existed before.
With the exception of Joseph A. Schumpeter, who discovered Ibn Khaldun’s writings only a few months before his death in January 1950, Joseph J. Spengler and Charles Issawi, the two major modern economists, traced the theory of value to Adam Smith and David Ricardo because Smith and Ricardo attempted to find a reasonable explanation for the paradox of value.
A deeper look at history, however, tells us that it was Ibn Khaldun who wrote about free-market economy and introduced the concept of labour theory of value. Karl Marx came up with the same concept around seven centuries later.
Khaldun’s work on labour theory of value was later picked up by David Hume in his Political Discourses, which was published in 1752.
Moreover, he was first to introduce and ingeniously analyse the interplay of several tools of economic analysis, such as demand, supply, prices, and profits.
According to Associate Professor Altas, Ibn Khaldun dealt with the livelihoods of cities, people’s professions, trade and production relations. In this aspect, he is considered to be the original founder of modern economics, whose name was largely ignored by Western thinkers, while they took many of his ideas and promoted them as their own.
As it is very well known, modern price theory argues that cost is the backbone of supply theory. Again, it was Khaldun who first made an analytical examination of the cost of production on supply and prices. In observing the differences between the price of foodstuffs produced in fertile land and that produced in poor soils, he traced them mainly to the disparity in the cost of production.
“He examines issues such as state, politics, property, and reign. In this aspect he is considered the founder of modern political philosophy. He deals with the material culture of civilizations such as roads, bridges, palaces, shrines, and in this aspect is considered the founder of the history of modern civilization. In society, he addresses issues such as the production of knowledge, the ways of distribution, the Emerging Sciences, in which he is considered the founder of the sociology of knowledge,” Altas told TRT World.
“In short, the mark left by Ibn Khaldun today is not the mark of the sciences, which are referred to as social, human, human science, but directly itself,” he adds.
When it comes to macroeconomics, Khaldun also laid the foundations of what John Maynard Keynes called “aggregate effective demand,” the multiplier effect and the equality of income and expenditure. According to Khaldun, when there is more total demand as population increases, there is more production, profits, customs, and taxes.
Khaldun introduced the pioneering theory of growth based on capital accumulation through man’s efforts. Furthermore, he also contributed to the field of international economics.
Based on his perceptive observations and his analytical mind, he undoubtedly shed light on the advantages of trade among nations. Through foreign trade, Khaldun stated that people’s satisfaction, merchants’ profits, and countries’ wealth are all increased.
Today, if you are studying economics, you will probably be told that Adam Smith is the “father of modern economics”. This idea is one of the most basic facts of Western economics but it doesn’t stack up.
Long before Adam Smith, Ibn Khaldun made a strong case for a free economy and for freedom of choice. In spite of Ibn Khaldun’s overall contribution to the field of economics, it is Adam Smith who has been widely called the “father of economics”.
“Today, the true followers of Ibn Khaldun should go beyond the superficial readings of Ibn Khaldun unearth his authentic thought, his multiplex ontology, epistemology and methodology with the purpose of presenting him as an alternative to the present day hegemonic Eurocentric social science discourse. This is the way for the intellectual independence of social scientists who are discontent with the hegemonic social sciences today,” Senturk said.
500 years before Smith, Khaldun outlined strikingly similar ideas to those of him. Khaldun demonstrated breadth and depth in his coverage of value and its relationship to labour; his analysis of his theory of capital accumulation and its relationship to the rise and fall of dynasties; his perceptions of the dynamics of demand, supply, prices, and profits; his treatment of the subjects of money and the role of governments; his remarkable theory of taxation, and other economic subjects.
Commenting on what Ibn Khaldun means to him personally, although he does not consider Ibn Khaldun as the only one, Altas says Ibn Khaldun is essentially one of the stars in the sky of all modern researchers in the social sciences.
“I, on the other hand, take Ibn Khaldun as an example, because he is a better observer, has an understanding that can determine the unseen causes of events. But more importantly, for me, he is a theorist who has never disconnected from social reality, and he also strongly bases this point of view from a philosophical point of view,” he told TRT World.
Senturk said it’s important to spread the truth about Khaldun and promote him globally.
“If we want to go beyond Eurocentrism, we must revive the authentic heritage of Ibn Khaldun by applying it to actual cases. This is what we have been trying to do as International Ibn Khaldun Society since 2006 by an interdisciplinary group of colleagues from around the world, in particular through the international symposiums we organize every three years”.
Khaldun died while he was in Egypt on March 17, 1406. He was buried in the Sufi Cemetery outside Bab an-Nasr, Cairo, at the age of seventy-four.