Ibn Khaldun (b. 732/1332–d. 808/1406) is often described as a precursor or ancestor of sociology, although he does not appear to have exerted any constitutive influence on any of the founders of the modern social sciences. He is the author of a voluminous world history, the Kitāb al-ʿibar or Book of Examples, part of which is a chronicle of the various local dynasties, many of them of Berber extraction, in Northern Africa. Another part of this work deals with other Muslim lands, and even with the non-Muslim world, making it one of the first Islamic attempts at world history. By far the most famous part of this book, however, is the Muqaddimah, or introduction, in which Ibn Khaldun formulates the principles of what he himself described as a new science serving as an auxiliary for historiography. This ʿilm al- ʿumran, or “science of civilization” as he called it, attempts to formulate general laws of history, as a principled means of establishing the veracity of historical reports. The most important of these laws is the circular, or pendulum-swing, movement between rural or tribal (badawa) societies and urban civilizations (hadara). Rural societies are bound together and strengthened by a bond of ʿasabiyya (solidarity or group spirit), which also enables them to conquer more refined urban civilizations. Once in power, however, the new dynasty will progressively become weakened by the refinements of urban life, and after several generations it will be overthrown by a new rural group still held together by its ʿasabiyya. Among contemporaries, Ibn Khaldun’s ideas did not generate much interest, but in later centuries he has been read with great interests by both scholars and policymakers, and both inside and outside the Muslim world.
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