On Being Ibn Khaldun

Fromherz Allen James

in Ibn Khaldun

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print March 2010 | ISBN: 9780748639342
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748653201 | DOI:
On Being Ibn Khaldun

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As this autobiography has shown, Ibn Khaldun had an unusually individualistic character. Hence, it is ironic that Ibn Khaldun's view of history did not seem to allow much room for the agency of free will and determinism of the individual. For Ibn Khaldun, even the charisma of an individual leader must be sanctified by divine prophecy. Although he described the lives of chiefs, sultans, prophets and mahdis in great detail, there was rarely the sense in his philosophy of history that individuals could break through inevitable patterns and cycles. Unlike several previous historians who strung together biographies of great rules and personalities and called it history, Ibn Khaldun saw events systematically. Individuals were subjected to events, and events were subjected to social or tribal solidarity to abisayya, to divine inspiration and to the irreversible cycle of the rise and fall of dynasties. In contrast to this determinism, Ibn Khaldun's autobiography contrasted with this wider view of history as an inevitable social process. It was as his life as an individual literary moved concurrently and parallel to the text of his philosophy. This chapter discusses the autobiography of Ibn Khaldun. Ibn Khaldun's biography tells of relative freedom. While he knew that dynasties must rely on the tribal solidarity, a rudimentary form of social freedom outside the boundaries of despotism, so too could Ibn Khaldun, the individual, think and act, even if that thinking and acting was ultimately controlled by God. His autobiography too was not of the typical Arabic biography. While in some aspects he did follow the tradition of tarajim, as a whole his autobiography betrayed a great deal sense of personal information and psychological awareness, even if that information was hidden between the lines in the letters, or in his poetic verse dispersed throughout the work. Unlike, many previous autobiographies that centred on personal praise, Ibn Khaldun was of remarkable depth of description and self-reflection. He did not avoid shameful and difficult events in his life. These events made his autobiography a remarkable document, intended not to praise its own subject but to show the trials and tribulations of public life. While his life was of apparent contradictions, these contradictions did not paralyze him. Instead, these very contradictions added yet more richness and complexity to the life of a person who reflected his own period of history, a person who wrote a history of the world, and also a history of his own life in the world.

Keywords: autobiography; Ibn Khaldun; free will; determinism; abisayya; tarajim; tribal solidarity; history

Chapter.  5830 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture

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