Course: Islamic System of Education(6505) Semester: Autumn, 2022 Level: MA/M.Ed.
Q.1 Discuss salient features of teachers and teaching in early stages of Islam?
n my 22 years of teaching and writing about Arabic and Islamic Studies, I have probably heard every kind of naive and uninformed comment that can possibly be made in the West about Islam and Muslims. Such remarks are not necessarily all due to ill will; most of the time, they express bewilderment and stem from an inability to find accessible, informed sources that might begin to address such widespread public incomprehension. Add that to the almost daily barrage of news and media commentary concerning violence in the Middle East and South Asia, two regions viscerally connected with Islam and Muslims. With hopes deflating in the wake of the Arab Spring, and barbaric ISIS members continuing to inflict terror wherever they rule, Muslims seem to be descending into a spiral of violent nihilism. These days, Islam appears as nothing more than a spent force, incapable of regenerating itself.
This is a narrative that has considerable staying power, drawing its strength from a pervasive Western media that frequently reinforces such perceptions. With selective reporting on Muslim-majority societies, the journalistic bar for news reporting is usually very low; sensationalism is an essential criterion. What goes on in the daily lives of ordinary people is almost completely occluded. The diversity of voices and opinions that continue to characterize Muslim-majority societies, as well as the rich spiritual and intellectual resources available within the Islamic tradition (both as a religion and civilization), receive little attention.
Contrary to popular belief, Muslims are firmly a part of the modern world and are grappling with the challenges of modernity in myriad ways. Many of them are navigating modernity’s sometimes uncharted waters with creativity and imagination, re-engaging with their tradition and revisiting their history, as many non-Muslims are doing with their respective traditions and histories in similar contexts. Muslim academics, thinkers, and social activists are spearheading hermeneutic and revivalist projects, mostly occurring below the global radar, that are shaping and being shaped by modernity (or, more accurately, modernities). For there is more than one way of being modern, each being pegged to a society’s particular historical trajectory and cultural specificity. This realization is fundamental in appreciating the different paths to modernity that various societies can and do take. Here, the Western paradigm of secular modernity is hardly a universal one. It is, rather, a parochial model spawned during the specific concatenations of historical events in the European past. Other societies and civilizations are “indigenizing” modernity in ways that are compatible with their own lived, historical experiences and sociocultural institutions.
Muslims, both men and women, are as engaged in the process of negotiating modernity as anyone else, often insisting (against great external pressure) that they do so on their own terms. Many of them are rereading their religious texts for guidance in this process of negotiation; for religion, in their experience, is an ally, not an enemy of the modern world. Sometimes this process entails questioning specific provisions of classical Islamic law, erroneously dubbed Sharia. The Sharia cannot be reduced to legal rulings that are the product of human rational deliberation. The Sharia is the repository of eternal, universal principles that prod humans into being the best they can be—principles that need to be interpreted and reinterpreted through time to allow for human growth and flourishing in changing circumstances.
Islamic feminism is a consequence of this re-engagement with the Sharia, as well as its primary component, the Qur’an, which, according to Muslims, is the record of God’s final revelation to humankind. Muslim scholars, through an egalitarian, non-gendered lens, are studying the Qur’an holistically and challenging some of the time-bound, culturally-inflected, gender-discriminatory regulations that many male jurists came up with in the pre-modern period. In the process, these modern scholars are establishing the Qur’anic foundations of gender egalitarianism and female social empowerment that are bound to resonate in Muslim-majority societies. One such society is Malaysia, where women activists within the organization called Musawa (equality) are already having quite an impact based on their re-readings of critical verses in the Qur’an that cogently undermine gender inequality. Muslim women intellectuals and social reformers are shaping their societies in a number of transformative ways that often go unheralded in the world press, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan being a prominent exception.
Muslim-majority societies are also experimenting with democracy, sometimes against great odds. There are forces of obscurantism in their midst, occasionally violent, that will have none of this. Isn’t the caliphate good enough for them, especially as an antidote to democracy, which is, after all, a foreign invention? Except that poll after poll convincingly shows that Muslims want representative, accountable governments that they choose themselves through the ballot box. All this is deemed consistent with the principles of the Sharia, which call for the adoption of consultative processes (shura) in administrative matters. A majority of Muslims are therefore clearly on record as wanting democracy and Sharia, both of which they understand to have been embodied in the earliest caliphate of the four Rightly-Guided rulers that came into being after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. Thus, when ISIS proclaims its sham caliphate, there is a basic reason why mainstream Muslims jeer at it. The Rightly-Guided caliphate is, after all, remembered by them as having been based on justice, law, and order consented to by the people—the very antithesis of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ersatz caliphate. Graeme Wood and other journalists may mistake the ostensible trappings of Islamic history for Islam itself, but most Muslims know better. It is a genealogy of ethics and morality that connects them to their pious forebears, not a genealogy of similarly-named institutions that are emptied of such moral content.
And what about jihad, the ultimate scary word that conjures up unprincipled violence for most Westerners? Again, early history and its sources come to the rescue. Jihad (struggle; striving) has many components in the Qur’an, the most important of which is sabr, or patient forbearance to be constantly exercised in the middle of life’s vicissitudes. Jihad also includes qital, fighting in self-defense when attacked by an enemy that refuses peaceful overtures. One would be forgiven for thinking that jihad meant killing non-Muslims because they stubbornly refuse to convert to Islam; this is, after all, how many extremists portray it, and how it is represented in the mass media. The internal contestations within Muslim communities over time, particularly as they struggle to define the legitimate parameters of the military jihad, are left out of such simplistic accounts. As a result, such accounts permanently sully a concept that ultimately requires of Muslims to strive to promote what is good and right, and to prevent wrongdoing without causing harm to others.
Finally, the conversations that some Muslims are having today with some of their non-Muslim sojourners in the global village they cohabit never make it to the front page of our major newspapers. And yet knowledge of such interfaith and intercultural encounters helps undermine the “clash of civilizations” thesis that is predicated on implacable hostility between a reified Islam and a reified West. Both right-wing Western Islamophobes and militant western-phobic Islamist groups subscribe to the “clash” theory, meaning that each is a mirror image of the other. The hate-mongering of these groups has resulted in incalculable harm, which is evident in the terror-stricken world we inhabit today. However, stalwart individuals of good will, endowed with an unshakeable faith in the ultimate goodness of humanity, strive to rise above the fray and create channels of communication that help establish common ground and inter-religious solidarity. In the United States, interfaith groups have stared down bigots when they tried to scuttle the founding of the Park 51 Community Center in New York. In Egypt, a Muslim-Christian coalition has stood up to militants when they attacked churches belonging to minority Copts there. Such encounters produce hope and create an alternate narrative that focuses on shared values and goals, ultimately undermining the notion of an inevitable civilizational clash.
Q.2 Critically analyse the objectives of education given by Allama Iqbal.
For any meaningful discussion on Iqbal’s educational philosophy it is essential that we should first try to understand his views on man’s nature, and his ultimate destiny. According to Iqbal, the “essential nature of man, then, consists in will, and not intellect or understanding”. He regards human will as “a germ of infinite power, the gradual enfoldment of which must be the object of all human activity”. In his view, “a strong will in a strong body is the ethical ideal of is Islam”. Criticizing the educational system of his times he says very emphatically:
“I venture to say, that the present system of education in this country is not at all suited to us as a people. It is not true to our genius as a nation, it tends to produce an un-Muslim type of character, it is not determined by our national requirements, it breaks entirely with our past, and appears to proceed on the false assumption that the ideal of education is the training of ‘human intellect rather than human will.”
The key point in Iqbal’s educational philosophy, therefore, is the training of human will.
Personality Man’s personality can be defined as a combination of various wills held together by a unity of directive purposes. To explain more elaborately, the wills constituting the various aspects of human personality can be listed as below:
Personality Aspect Needs Will-Attitudes Biological
- Food Will to be
- Dress Will to live
- Shelter Will to survive Socio-biological
- Marriage Will to survive and pre‑
- Procreation serves species
Personality Aspect Needs Will-Attitudes
Socio-cultural 1. Education Will to acquire knowledge and skill
- Training for economic Will to produce and earn
Psychological 1. Cognition Will to cognition
- Conation Harmony Will to conation
- Affection Will to affection
- Conscious Will to harmonise cons-
- Unconscious Harmony ciousness and unconsciousness
- Knowledge Will to know the Ultimate Reality
- Art Will to transfer world into aesthetic order
- Morality Will to transfer world order into moral order
(a) Communion with God Will to have communion with God
(b) Efficacy of Prayer Will to pray
(c) Yearning to live in Will to love God and eternal conscious co- achieve eternal life presence with God.
- Ideal social order Will to achieve ideal world order
Each of the wills listed above is an energy or force. Human personality can, therefore, be conceived as a combination of these forces which admit of various arrangements.These various arrangements/formations of the wills are referred to as Shākila by the Holy Qur’an which determine the value of man’s actions:
“Every man acteth after his own manner but your Lord knoweth who is best guided in his path'”
One definite arrangement in which the transcendental (more specifically, religious) wills assume the governing or directive role is the real personality of man. Such personality is bestowed on man as his potential nature, the actualization of which must be the highest aim of life and hence the ultimate aim of education. To achieve his real personality man has to make effort and various wills have to be arranged in such a manner that the will to love God becomes the supreme overriding will and all other wills are governed and disciplined by it. When a personality with such will-attitudes is constituted, man takes a new birth. In fact, only such a personality is worth the name of personality as the Holy Qur’an warns:
“And be not ye as those who forgot Allah, therefore He caused them to forget their souls (personalities)”
This verse is the very basis of Iqbal’s concept of the self. His concept of soul, personality, ego or self is, therefore, only that kind of man’s self-consciousness which is aroused and activated by God-consciousness. When God-consciousness becomes the illuminating centre of man’s self-consciousness, he realises his real position in the universe as one of the greatest energies of Nature called upon by God to remake and refashion the universe by conquering the natural environment and bringing an ideal social order into being character. Every educational endeavour should, therefore, aim at carving out of human life a character which Iqbal regards as “the ultimate equipment of man, not only in his efforts against a hostile natural environment, but also in his contest with kind-red competitors after a fuller, richer, ampler life.” It is, therefore, not difficult to understand Iqbal’s utter dissatisfaction and disgust with those educational systems which restrict their function to mere intellectual development of the human self. He favours only that-type of educational system which can bring out characters or Volitional personalities:
“The intellectual self is only one aspect of the activity of our total self. The realization of the total self comes not by merely permitting the wide world to throw its varied impressions on our mind, and then watching what becomes of us. It is not merely by receiving and intellectually shaping the impressions, but mainly by moulding the stimuli to ideal ends and purposes that the total self of man realises itself as one of the greatest energies of nature.”
When the love of God dominates the entire will-hierarchy of man he develops a personality with a Divine taste kindling an insight of looking upon the world of matter as subservient to man in the realization of his social goals struggle. The obstruction of the world of matter in the realisation of human ideals, then, becomes an incentive for struggle and a favourable circumstance in the development of his self. Science is a useful weapon in this struggle. According to Iqbal, “the Universe that confronts us is not bātil. It has its uses.” The world of matter is an indispensable obstruction which forces our being into fresh formations. Its most important use is that, in our efforts to overcome the obstructions offered by it, we “sharpen our insight and prepare [ourselves] for an insertion into what lies below the surface of phenomen coming closer to God. He believes that” it is the intellectual capture of and power over the concrete that makes it possible for the intellect of man to pass beyond the concrete.”
Neomysticism of Science. Thus, according to Iqbal, science is important for two reasons: (i) It bestows power on man which enables him to capture the material world, and (ii) it sharpens his insight for a closer and better appreciation of God.
Science and technology, therefore, assume an extremely important place in Iqbal’s philosophy of education. He regards the scientific observer of Nature as a kind of mystic seeker in the act of prayer; because scientific observation of Nature keeps us in close contact with the behaviour of Reality.”
“The quest after a nameless nothing, as disclosed in Neo-Platonic mysticism—be it Christian or Muslim—cannot satisfy the modern mind which with its habits of concrete thinking demands a concrete living experience of God.”
The education of science thus become a God-seeking, God-appreciating and God-finding activity in the educational system of Iqbal which “disenthralls man from fear giving him a source of power to master his environment”. He, therefore, proposes an educational system in which “Religion and Science may discover hitherto unsuspected mutual harmonies” and are no longer antagonistic. For him science blended with religion is a kind of mysticism most appropriate to the minds of the present generation. He proclaims emphatically that science divorced from religion is nothing but blindness and woefully laments that secular science and technology presently in vogue in our educational system inculcates a forgetful attitude towards God. He, there-fore, raises a clarion call for waging war against Godless science which has polluted the minds of the present generation.?He exhorts the Muslims to create a new world order by integrating science with religion in their educational system so that it gives “a spiritual interpretation of the universe” which is one of the basic needs of humanity today.
Individual’s Spiritual Emancipation. In the training of human will for spiritual emancipation, Iqbal maintains that “the medium of great personality” is essential. For him religion of a people is “the sum total of their life-experiences finding a definite expression through the medium of a great personality”. He believes that the personality of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) is operative in the spiritual emancipation of individuals and all mankind, and will continue to be so for all times to come. Our educational system must, therefore, impart such instruction to its educates as motivates them to follow the life of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) as an ideal of individual spiritual emancipation of the highest order as well as for the creation of a unique society based on the freedom and equality of all the individuals. He says: “in view of the basic idea of Islam that there can be no further revelation binding on man, we ought to be spiritually one of the most emancipated peoples on earth”. He also revered the illustrious personalities of great Muslim saints (mystics) as in their company great transformations of character used to take place and the model of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) shone in their lives in full glory. He greatly admired their role in the society as up bringers. He, however, lamented that such saints are so rare in our times, and it saddened his heart that this great institution of sufism had become so barren. For the revival of this great institution he prescribes neo-mysticism of God-appreciative science. It is now for the Muslim scientists to play the role of mystics and evolve “a method physiologically less violent and psychologically more suitable to a concrete type of mind”.
Spiritual Democracy Iqbal views democracy as the most important aspect of Islam. “Islam,” says he, “has a horror of personal authority. We regard it as inimical to the enfoldment of human individuality.” According to him, the “best form of Government for such a [Muslim] community is democracy, the ideal of which is to let man develop all the possibilities of his nature by allowing him as much freedom as practicable”. He however, confesses that the Muslims with democracy as their political ideal could do nothing for the political improvement of Asia and that their “democracy lasted only for 30 years and disappeared with their political expansion”. He pays rich tribute to the British empire which spread this civilising factor with missionary spirit in the political evolution of mankind. But at the same time he also maintains that democracy in Europe could not fully bloom and soon degenerated into an instrument of exploitation:
“The idealism of Europe never became a living factor in her life, and the result is a perverted ego seeking itself through mutually intolerant democracies whose sole function is to exploit the poor in the interest of the rich.”
Our educational system must, therefore, provide instruction, training and practice in the Islamic concepts of freedom and equality in order to bring about that kind of “spiritual democracy which is the ultimate aim of Islam.”
Conclusion, Briefly speaking, the central theme of Iqbal’s educational philosophy is to produce an Islamic type of personality and character through the training of human will so that they can play their destined role in the world in meeting the challenge of this age. According to him, “humanity needs three things to-day:
[i] A spiritual interpretation of the universe,
[ii] Spiritual emancipation of the individual.
[iii] Spiritual democracy.
For the attainment of these objectives we may recommend for practical purpose that:
(i) Science should be made a God-seeking, God-appreciating and God-finding source of knowledge. For this purpose the concept of Tauhīd should be integrated with scientific teachings.
(ii) The sīrat of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) should find a central place in our educational system so that the students develop an emotional and intellectual attachment with his great personality and practically follow him as a model of ideal character throughout their lives.
(iii) The Islamic concepts of equality (masāwāt), fraternity (ukhuwwat) and freedom (hurrīyat) should be taught and inculcated in the students so that they are enabled to practice “spiritual democracy” when they start practical life after their education.
Q.3 Discuss the need of Islamization of education in Pakistan
Pakistan’s government is all set to implement a uniform education system across the country, which critics fear could increase Islamization of schools and universities.
The first phase of the implementation involves primary school students in the first through fifth grades. The plan mandates the students to read the entire Quran with translation, learn Islamic prayers and memorize a number of hadith (words, actions and approval of the Prophet Muhammad).
It also stipulates that every school and college must employ a pair of certified Hafiz (a person who has memorized the Quran) and Qari (a Quran reciter) to teach these subjects.
Critics believe that the move will increase the influence of Islamic clerics, sharpen sectarian fault lines and greatly damage the social fabric.
Urdu, English and social studies have been heavily Islamized, Abdul Hameed Nayyar, an Islamabad-based academic, told DW. He added that students will also study the Quran’s 30 chapters and a translation of the entire book at a later stage, besides the book on Islamic studies.
Nayyar said critical thinking was a basic tenet of modern knowledge but the government seemed to be promoting ideas that are antithetical to this through the syllabus.
Kowtowing to Islamic forces
Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, there has been an alliance between the state and Islamic conservatives.
Though Islamization creeped in gradually during the 1950s and ’60s, it picked up pace in the 1970s before intensifying in the ’80s, under the dictatorship of General Zia-ul Haq.
Haq launched a vigorous drive to change the liberal nature of the constitution. He also introduced Islamic laws, Islamized the educational curriculums, opened up thousands of religious seminaries across the country, inducted Islamists into judiciary, bureaucracy and the army and created institutions headed by Islamic clerics to oversee the affairs of the government.
Since his death in 1988, almost all governments have tried to appease the religious forces through Islamization.
The current government, under Prime Minister Imran Khan, has also been accused of kowtowing to the Islamic establishment.
‘Madrassification’ of schools
In 2018, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party promised to introduce a uniform education system.
Many hoped that the new curriculum would emphasize science, arts, literature and other contemporary subjects.
But, in 2019, Khan’s government unveiled its plan, which focused heavily on Islamized syllabus. Implementation has been delayed during the coronavirus pandemic, but is expected to begin this year.
Books for primary school students have already been published, with Islamized content featuring heavily in textbooks for English, Urdu, social studies, and other subjects.
In the next phase, the government intends to introduce the new Islam-heavy syllabus for middle school students and possibly for high school students in the 11th and 12th grades.
Rubina Saigol, a Lahore-based educationist, told DW that the “madrassification” of public schools would have serious ramifications.
“The syllabus is likely to produce students with an Islamic conservative global outlook, who would view women as subservient souls who do not deserve freedom and independence,” Saigol said.
Over 30% more Islamic content
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist based in Islamabad, told DW that the new syllabus could inflict damage upon Pakistan’s education system in a manner never seen before.
“The systemic changes hidden in it go far deeper than the ones conceived and executed by General Zia’s extremist regime,” Hoodbhoy said. A deep analysis of the syllabus shows that “it will impose more rote learning of religious materials on ordinary schools than even madrassas,” he added.
Some have already challenged the proposed changes in the nation’s highest court.
Peter Jacob, a Lahore-based human rights activist, told DW that about 30-40% of the content in compulsory subjects was religious in nature.
“Many people have approached the court because it is against the constitution,” Jacob said. He added that members of minority communities do not believe that such text should be in compulsory subjects.
‘We should learn from Bangladesh’
It is not just liberal academics or minorities’ groups that are voicing concern about the Islamization of the school syllabus. Even some government allies have also expressed reservations.
Kishwar Zehra, a parliamentarian of Muttehida Qaumi Movement, which is part of Khan’s ruling coalition, strongly opposes the Islamization.
“We should learn from Bangladesh, which is promoting secular values,” Zehra told DW, asserting that the current drive to further Islamize the syllabus is aimed at appeasing the Islamic right-wing forces.
Instead of increasing religious content, Zehra said, the government should incorporate the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she believes Pakistani students desperately need to know.
The government, however, has so far dismissed the criticism.
Muhammad Bashir Khan, a parliamentarian from the ruling party, said the Islamization of the syllabus is was the right step.
“Pakistan is an ideological Islamic state and we need religious education,” he said. “I feel that even now our syllabus is not completely Islamized and we need to do more Islamization of the syllabus, teaching more religious content for the moral and ideological training of our citizens.”
The Islamization of curricula has not been limited to schools. Recently, the government in Punjab province has also made teaching of the Quran with translation mandatory for all university students.
Q.4 What is internal and external system of enemaluation? Distinguish between them
The word assessment refers to a systematic process of collecting, understanding, and acting upon the data related to a student. Furthermore, this data help in understanding the students learning about what they know and what they do not know. Also, the performance of a student is done on the basis of their educational experience. Besides, internal assessment refers to the evaluation of the performance of students on the basis of their internal performance. On the other hand, external assessment refers to the evaluation of student’s performance by outside persons like boards.
Internal assessment is the process in which the teachers and schools judge the students’ performance on the basis of his performance. Also, this process does not involve any outside person for assessment.
The Need for Internal Assessment
The internal assessment helps to give credit in the final assessment. Also, it reduces the burden and tension related to the final examination. In addition, it acts as a link which provides data related to student’s performance. This gives teachers an opportunity to evaluate the students. Moreover, it helps students in continuous learning.
Principles of Internal Assessment
The subject teacher prepares these assessments. Furthermore, it is continuous and does not replace exams. It is a suitable evaluation technique and tool. Also, they carry a fixed portion of marks for the assessment. Most noteworthy, it gives feedback to teachers so that they can improve their teaching.
On the other hand, it gives students a chance to improve their external assessment grade by seeing internal assessment results. So, that student can improve their learning.
Advantages of Internal Assessment
It reduces the weight age of external assessment. Moreover, students engage themselves in study throughout the year. The students will be more attentive to studying in class. In addition, it reduces the chances of anxiety and nervous breakdown in students.
Disadvantages of internal assessment
There are chances that teacher may misuse it for their own benefit. Also, in the hand of the inexperienced and insincere teacher, it can cause harm to students. Most noteworthy, it will lose its importance due to unfairness, favoring a student, and bias-ness.
Outside persons prepare these assessment methods and they are responsible and involved in it. Besides, it is done to give students the required certificate or degree or diploma for which the student has applied.
Classification of External Assessment
The result of the external assessment is classified into various categories.
- The students who score 33% numbers just pass.
- Also, the score between 36 to 45% is third division passed.
- The score of 46 to 59% is second division passed.
- In addition, the score between 60 to 74% is first division passed.
- And a score of 75% and above is the distinction. Besides in the case of degree the collective marks are considered.
Advantages of External Assessment
The first advantage of external assessment is that it helps students to know their performance. It also helps them to know their knowledge level. In addition, it encourages them to learn and improve their knowledge and grades. Also, it creates a competitive spirit in students. This spirit pushes them to do their level best. For development, building personality and confidence it is very important.
Disadvantages of External Assessment
There are various disadvantages which can cause harm to student life and her/his career. These include the use of unfair means like talking and cheating in the examination hall. Some students just give a paper to only pass the exam to get average marks. In addition, external assessment only covers a part or partial course of study. Most noteworthy, the result is not accurate as it gives an unreliable result.
Q.5 What is the role of scholar in society according to Ibn-i-Khaldoon. What is your opinion about the role of scholar in society?
Ibn Khaldun was an Arab sociologist, philosopher, and historian widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest social scientists of the Middle Ages, who made major contributions in the areas of historiography, sociology, economics, and demography.
His best-known book, the Muqaddimah or Prolegomena (“Introduction”), which he wrote in six months as he states in his autobiography, influenced 17th-century and 19th-century Ottoman historians such as Kâtip Çelebi, Mustafa Naima and Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, who used its theories to analyze the growth and decline of the Ottoman Empire. Ibn Khaldun interacted with Tamerlane, the founder of the Timurid Empire.
Recently, Ibn Khaldun’s works have been compared with those of influential European philosophers such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Giambattista Vico, David Hume, G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Auguste Comte as well as the economists David Ricardo and Adam Smith, suggesting that their ideas found precedent (although not direct influence) in his. He has also been influential on certain modern Islamic thinkers (e.g. those of the traditionalist school), as well as on Reaganomics.
Ibn Khaldun’s life is relatively well-documented, as he wrote an autobiography ( (“Presenting Ibn Khaldun and his Journey West and East”) in which numerous documents regarding his life are quoted word-for-word.
Abdurahman bin Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Al-Hasan bin Jabir bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim bin Abdurahman bin Ibn Khaldun al-Hadrami, generally known as “Ibn Khaldūn” after a remote ancestor, was born in Tunis in AD 1332 (732 AH) into an upper-class Andalusian family of Arab descent, the family’s ancestor was a Hadhrami who shared kinship with Waíl ibn Hujr, a companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. His family, which held many high offices in Al-Andalus, had emigrated to Tunisia after the fall of Seville to the Reconquista in AD 1248. Although some of his family members had held political office in the Tunisian Hafsid dynasty, his father and grandfather later withdrew from political life and joined a mystical order. His brother, Yahya Khaldun, was also a historian who wrote a book on the Abdalwadid dynasty and was assassinated by a rival for being the official historiographer of the court.
In his autobiography, Khaldun traces his descent back to the time of Muhammad through an Arab tribe from the south of the Arabian Peninsula, specifically the Hadhramaut, which came to the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century, at the beginning of the Islamic conquest: “And our ancestry is from Hadhramaut, from the Arabs of Arabian Peninsula, via Wa’il ibn Hujr also known as Hujr ibn ‘Adi, from the best of the Arabs, well-known and respected.” (p. 2429, Al-Waraq’s edition).
However, the modern biographer Mohammad Enan emphasised the unclear origins of Ibn Khaldun relying on the fact that Ibn Khaldun’s criticism of Arabs might be a valid reason to cast doubt on his Arab origin. On the other hand, Ibn Khaldun’s insistence and attachment to his claim of Arab ancestry at a time of Berber dynasties domination is also a valid reason to believe his claim.
His family’s high rank enabled Ibn Khaldun to study with prominent teachers in Maghreb. He received a classical Islamic education, studying the Quran, which he memorized by heart, Arabic linguistics; the basis for understanding the Qur’an, hadith, sharia (law) and fiqh (jurisprudence). He received certification (ijazah) for all of those subjects. The mathematician and philosopher Al-Abili of Tlemcen introduced him to mathematics, logic and philosophy, and he studied especially the works of Averroes, Avicenna, Razi and Tusi. At the age of 17, Ibn Khaldūn lost both his parents to the Black Death, an intercontinental epidemic of the plague that hit Tunis in 1348–1349.
Following family tradition, he strove for a political career. In the face of a tumultuous political situation in North Africa, that required a high degree of skill in developing and dropping alliances prudently to avoid falling with the short-lived regimes of the time. Ibn Khaldūn’s autobiography is the story of an adventure, in which he spends time in prison, reaches the highest offices and falls again into exile.
At the age of 20, he began his political career in the chancellery of the Tunisian ruler Ibn Tafrakin with the position of Kātib al-‘Alāmah (seal-bearer), which consisted of writing in fine calligraphy the typical introductory notes of official documents. In 1352, Abū Ziad, the sultan of Constantine, marched on Tunis and defeated it. Ibn Khaldūn, in any case unhappy with his respected but politically meaningless position, followed his teacher Abili to Fez. There, the Marinid sultan, Abū Inan Fares I, appointed him as a writer of royal proclamations, but Ibn Khaldūn still schemed against his employer, which, in 1357, got the 25-year-old a 22-month prison sentence. Upon the death of Abū Inan in 1358, Vizier al-Hasān ibn-Umar granted him freedom and reinstated him to his rank and offices. Ibn Khaldūn then schemed against Abū Inan’s successor, Abū Salem Ibrahim III, with Abū Salem’s exiled uncle, Abū Salem. When Abū Salem came to power, he gave Ibn Khaldūn a ministerial position, the first position to correspond with Ibn Khaldūn’s ambitions.
The treatment that Ibn Khaldun received after the fall of Abū Salem through Ibn-Amar ʻAbdullah, a friend of Ibn Khaldūn’s, was not to his liking, as he received no significant official position. At the same time, Amar successfully prevented Ibn Khaldūn, whose political skills he knew well, from allying with the Abd al-Wadids in Tlemcen. Ibn Khaldūn, therefore, decided to move to Granada. He could be sure of a positive welcome there since at Fez, he had helped the Sultan of Granada, the Nasrid Muhammad V, regain power from his temporary exile. In 1364, Muhammad entrusted him with a diplomatic mission to the king of Castile, Pedro the Cruel, to endorse a peace treaty. Ibn Khaldūn successfully carried out this mission and politely declined Pedro’s offer to remain at his court and have his family’s Spanish possessions returned to him.
In Granada, Ibn Khaldūn quickly came into competition with Muhammad’s vizier, Ibn al-Khatib, who viewed the close relationship between Muhammad and Ibn Khaldūn with increasing mistrust. Ibn Khaldūn tried to shape the young Muhammad into his ideal of a wise ruler, an enterprise that Ibn al-Khatib thought foolish and a danger to peace in the country. History proved al-Khatib right, and at his instigation, Ibn Khaldūn was eventually sent back to North Africa. Al-Khatib himself was later accused by Muhammad of having unorthodox philosophical views and murdered despite an attempt by Ibn Khaldūn to intercede on behalf of his old rival.
In his autobiography, Ibn Khaldūn tells little about his conflict with Ibn al-Khatib and the reasons for his departure. Orientalist Muhsin Mahdi interprets that as showing that Ibn Khaldūn later realised that he had completely misjudged Muhammad V.
Back in Ifriqiya, the Hafsid sultan of Bougie, Abū ʻAbdallāh, who had been his companion in prison, received him with great enthusiasm and made Ibn Khaldūn his prime minister. Ibn Khaldūn carried out a daring mission to collect taxes among the local Berber tribes. After the death of Abū ʻAbdallāh in 1366, Ibn Khaldūn changed sides once again and allied himself with the Sultan of Tlemcen, Abū l-Abbas. A few years later, he was taken prisoner by Abu Faris Abdul Aziz, who had defeated the sultan of Tlemcen and seized the throne. He then entered a monastic establishment and occupied himself with scholastic duties until 1370. In that year, he was sent for to Tlemcen by the new sultan. After the death of ʻAbdu l-Azīz, he resided at Fez, enjoying the patronage and confidence of the regent.
Ibn Khaldūn’s political skills and, above all, his good relationship with the wild Berber tribes were in high demand among the North African rulers, but he had begun to tire of politics and constantly switching allegiances. In 1375, he was sent by Abū Hammu, the ʻAbdu l Wadid Sultan of Tlemcen, on a mission to the Dawadida Arabs tribes of Biskra. After his return to the West, Ibn Khaldūn sought refuge with one of the Berber tribes in the west of Algeria, in the town of Qalat Ibn Salama. He lived there for over three years under their protection, taking advantage of his seclusion to write the Muqaddimah “Prolegomena”, the introduction to his planned history of the world. In Ibn Salama, however, he lacked the necessary texts to complete the work. Therefore, in 1378, he returned to his native Tunis, which had meanwhile been conquered by Abū l-Abbas, who took Ibn Khaldūn back into his service. There, he devoted himself almost exclusively to his studies and completed his history of the world. His relationship with Abū l-Abbas remained strained, as the latter questioned his loyalty. That was brought into sharp contrast after Ibn Khaldūn presented him with a copy of the completed history that omitted the usual panegyric to the ruler. Under pretence of going on the Hajj to Mecca, something for which a Muslim ruler could not simply refuse permission, Ibn Khaldūn was able to leave Tunis and to sail to Alexandria.