Ibn Khaldoun

A note on Abdelrahman ibn Khaldoun, who appears as a character in this novel.

An Islamic historian and sociologist, ibn Khaldoun was born in Tunis 1332 and died in Cairo in 1406.

His family was of the Tunisian elite, and he received a thorough education. He served at several courts in the Maghreb (north-west Africa), and was twice imprisoned. While in seclusion in what is today’s Algeria from 1375- 79 he wrote his famous Foreword (muqaddama), the first volume of his celebrated Universal History.

In 1382 he received a chair at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, acting as a judge and a teacher in Islamic law.

His fame was so widespread even in his own days, that he was received as an honoured guest with the Tatar ruler Tamerlane in 1400.

The Universal History is a central source for the history of north Africa, and the Berber people. But it is his Foreword, where he outlines his philosophy of history, where he underlined that dynasties have a tendency of lasting for a period of three generations, where after a new dynasty wipes out the old one.

Behind this is the theory that the first generation of a dynasty still holds on to the hard and demanding life of the countryside, the second generation is the one picking up the culture, while the third generation degenerates, and picks up all commodities from urban life.

The weak third generation had to a large degree lost its capacity to defend itself, and was therefore an easy victim when a new rural dynasty arose.

Ibn Khaldoun lived in a time of changing dynasties, and some of the most famous, like the Almohads and Almoravids, had lasted about one century, or three generations. Needless to say, they did not look kindly on ibn Khaldoun and his theories.

Ibn Khaldoun saw a strong connection between social change, and the climate and the level of economic activity. Societies were held together by social cohesiveness, and according to his theories religion served as a strengthening factor.

 

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