Ibn Khaldun

Ibn Khaldun

(1332 Tunis - 1406 Cairo)

Ibn Khaldun, who received a broad education in Ara-bic, interpretation of the Koran, jurisprudence and poetry, served a number of Arab rulers in Tunis, Fez, Granada, Damascus and Cairo as courtier, jurist and statesman. As a po-litical adviser with an exceptionally broad over-view of different Muslim countries he developed outstanding skills in ob-serving and analyzing the economic, political and social developments of his time. His work has been rediscovered from the be-ginning of the 19th century by Arab and European scholars. Where as many Arabs saw in him a source of inspiration for a new definition of their iden-tity and their relations with the West, we tend to interpret Ibn Khaldun as a shining representative of the rationalistic Islamic traditions and forerunner of economic and sociologi-cal theory.

Some scholars call Ibn Khaldun the real 'father of economics' or 'father of modern social science' and claim that his ideas have been more or less re-invented four centuries later by thinkers like Adam Smith or David Ri-cardo, and later by Karl Marx or John Maynard Keynes. Apart from such a difficult comparison, the depth and analytical strength of his works is certainly most impressive. Especially in his 'Muqad-dima', a sort of Prolegom-ena to his later histo-riographical treatise, Ibn Khaldun develops a theory of labour, including most intersting ideas about the division of labour, a theory of taxa-tion and covers many more areas which come across as very 'modern'.

What makes Ibn Khaldun particularly interesting for Liberals today is his strong case for a free economy and for freedom of choice as the best basis for a stable country, strong by social cohesion and not by political power alone. He also inspires many Liberals in the Mus-lim world who suffer under the prevailing economic and political restrictions. 


F. Rosenthal

The Muqaddimah: An Intro-duction to History. English translation with annotations, New York, Pantheon, 1958