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Ibn Khaldun – Father of Sociology

Muslims had a pioneering role in humanities and philosophical thinking, as they innovated high-level sciences that are of great importance to the human social side.

They also innovated sciences that are of great importance, particularly to the Islamic Shari’ah and the Arabic language.

Definition of Sociology

The dictionary of social sciences terms defines Sociology as follows:

“It is the science whose object is to study, describe and compare human societies as they are conditioned by their temporal and spatial frameworks in an attempt to find out evolution laws to which these human societies are influenced in their progress and change.”

Subject Matter of Sociology

Sociologists say the subject matter of Sociology is social phenomena, which appear to people living together in societies and their interaction and engagement in interrelations and creating what is called a common culture in which they agree on certain methods to express their ideas, certain values and certain methods in economy, governance and morality etc.

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Social phenomena start when two or more people interact and get engaged in social relations. When these relations last and go on, social groups are formed. Social groups are one of the subject matters of Sociology.

Another subject matter of Sociology is social processes such as conflict, cooperation, competition, agreement, social stratification and social mobility. Change of culture and social structures are also major subject matters in Sociology. Social systems- the governed methods that regulate social behavior- and personality- the factor that shapes and is shaped by culture- are also subject matters of Sociology.

Ibn Khaldun, Founder of Sociology

Despite the fact that social thinking is as old as man himself, however, the study of human communities has not become a topic for a science until a later stage. The concepts, subject matters and aims of Sociology were first identified by Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun, who put the basics of this new science and innovated it.

Ibn Khaldun said in clear-cut sentences that he has explored an independent science that no one of his ancestors had talked about. He says: “Such is the purpose of this first book of our work. (The subject) is in a way an independent science. (This science) has its own peculiar object- that is, human civilization and social organization. It also has its own peculiar problems- that is, explaining the conditions that attach themselves to the essence of civilization, one after another. Thus, the situation is the same with this science as it is with any other science, whether it be a conventional or an intellectual one.”

And also adds: “The subject here is different from that of these two disciplines which, however, are often similar to it. In a way, it is an entirely original science. In fact, I have not come across a discussion along these lines by anyone. I do not know if this is because people have been unaware of it, but there is no reason to suspect them (of having been unaware of it). Perhaps they have written exhaustively on this topic and their work did not reach us.”

He further says: “Perhaps some later (scholar) aided by the divine gifts of a sound mind and of solid scholarship, will divulge into these problems in greater detail than we did here. A person who creates a new discipline does not have the task of enumerating (all) the (individual) problems connected with it. His task is to specify the subject of the discipline and its various branches and the discussions connected with it. His successors, then, may gradually add more problems, until the (discipline) is completely (presented).”

In addition to this, Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah included, at least, seven branches of our modern sociology, which he discussed very clearly.

Despite all this, and in spite of famous Austrian sociologist Ludwig Gumplowicz saying that: “We wanted to prove that before August Comte, and even Giambattista Vico who the Italians wanted to make of him the first European sociologist, a pious Muslim came and studied social phenomena with a balanced mind and reached in this subject matter well-esteemed opinions. What this Muslim scholar has reached is called nowadays Sociology. ”

History remembers French August Count as the founder of this science and totally ignores the real founder of this science, who made it clear that he was the first one to explore this science.

Despite all this, tracing back the history of Sociology stops at French August Count as the founder of this science and ignores the real founder of it, who clearly alerted that he was the first forerunner to explore it.

Just observers have testified that August Count had driven many of his theories and opinions from Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah. Ibn Khaldun is considered a turning point in writing the human history through innovating Sociology. He shook the global human thinking with this exploration, as he put a new plan and put forward fresh ideas or rather new laws that can be applied on all human societies out of his belief that man cannot live except in a society and if he lives in a society, he should live with people and if he lives with people, they should all live on a piece of land.

For this relation to exist between those people, tribes or human groups, a ruler should organize these relations. The form of governance ranges between a simple governor (chieftain) to an absolute ruler. This absolute ruler managed to exploit all the means offered to him by this human conglomeration to become an absolute ruler and establish his own state. If this ruler establishes the state as prescribed in Ibn Khaldun’s theory and this state goes through different stages, these stages will prove to be right in real life.

Ibn Khaldun’s Biography

It is important in this context to shed some light on Ibn Khaldun, the founder of this science. He is Abu Zayd Abd Al-Raman Bin (Khaldun) Khalid Al-Hadrami, born in North Africa present-day Tunisia on 1st of Ramadan (AD/732 AH). He moved to Fez, Granada, Tlemcen, and Andalusia and also Egypt where he was honored by its Sultan Adh-Dhahir Barquq and made the grand jurist of the Maliki school of fiqh (one of four schools in Islamic Jurisprudence). He stayed in Egypt about 25 years (784-808 AH) where he died and was buried at the age of 76 years.

Ibn Khaldun was brought up in a high-rank family and memorized the Quran when he was very young. His father was his first teacher. He was also taught by the famous scholars of his time. He strove for a public post after the majority of his teachers died in an epidemic of the plague which hit Tunis. He began his political career Chancellery of the Tunisian ruler Ibn Merin. However, unhappy with the job, he left to Fez (Moroccan city). Here the Marinid sultan Abu Inan Fares I, appointed him as a member in his scientific council. He was then able to start classes at the hands of scholars and men of letter who fled Tunisia, Andalusia and Al-Maghreb to Fez.

Later, Ibn Khaldun moved to Granada leaving his family behind in Fez. Afterwards, he left to Wahran in Algeria to settle with his family in Ibn Salama castle. He started his early writings with his book Kitabu Al-ibar wa Diwan A-Mubtada’ wa Al-Khabar fi Ayyam Al-Arab wa Al-Ajam wa Al-Barbar wa man A’sharahum min Dawiu Al-Sultan Al-Akbar “Book of Evidence, Record of Beginnings and Events from the Days of the Arabs, Persians and Berbers and their Powerful Contemporaries”, whose introduction the Muqaddimah is considered the first to introduce sociology and its affairs and laws. In this preamble, he dealt with what we call now social manifestations or what he called human civilization or human social organization.

Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah

Ibn Khaldun simplified in his Muqaddimah all he had of knowledge. So, this introduction is very precious and pretty much advanced when looking at the era it was written in. It includes six chapters as follows:

Chapter One: Human civilization: It is tantamount to public sociology. Ibn Khaldun studied phenomena in human societies and the rules they follow.

Chapter Two: Bedouin civilization. He studied Bedouin civilization, revealing its characteristics and that it is the origin and ancestor of urban civilization.

Chapter Three: On dynasties, royal authority, the caliphate. It is tantamount to political sociology. He explains in this chapter the rules of governance, religious systems, … etc.

Chapter Four: On sedentary civilization or what we call now urban sociology. In this chapter, Ibn Khaldun explains all urban-related phenomena, origins of civilization and that civilization is the goal of urbanism.

Chapter Five: On crafts and ways of making a living or what we call now economic sociology. He explains the influence of economic conditions on society’s conditions.

Chapter Six: On sciences, their acquisition and study or what we call now sociology of education. In this chapter, Ibn Khaldun explains educational phenomena and ways to acquire knowledge and classification of sciences. Ibn Khaldun also studied sociology of religion and law, linking politics to values.

In fact, no one before Ibn Khaldun studied social phenomena in an analytical way that yielded results such as those produced by Ibn Khaldun, particularly because this Muslim thinker received these social phenomena from sound, credible historical sources as scientists study physics, chemistry, mathematics and astronomy nowadays.

He is considered the first to make these social phenomena subject to scientific, empirical method that led to reaching many facts that look like laws. Thus, what Ibn Khaldun has reached, including theories, remain a pioneering work in the field of social studies in the march of human philosophy.

(From Discovering Islam archive)