Friday, June 18, 2010

Ibn Khaldun's Achievements

At the age of 20, he began his political career at the Chancellery of the Tunisian ruler Ibn Tafrakin with the position of Kātib al-'Alāmah, which consisted of writing in fine calligraphy the typical introductory notes of official documents. In 1352, Abū Ziad, the Sultan of Constantine, marched on Tunis and defeated it. Ibn Khaldūn, in any case unhappy with his respected but politically meaningless position, followed his teacher Abili to Fez. Here the Marinid sultan Abū Inan Fares I appointed him as a writer of royal proclamations, which didn't prevent Ibn Khaldūn from scheming against his employer. In 1357 this brought the 25-year-old a 22-month prison sentence. Upon the death of Abū Inan in 1358, the vizier al-Hasān ibn-Umar granted him freedom and reinstated him in his rank and offices. Ibn Khaldūn then schemed against Abū Inan's successor, Abū Salem Ibrahim III, with Abū Salem's exiled uncle, Abū Salem. When Abū Salem came to power, he gave Ibn Khaldūn a ministerial position, the first position which corresponded with Ibn Khaldūn's ambitions.

The treatment Ibn Khaldun received after the fall of Abū Salem through Ibn-Amar ʕAbdullah, a friend of Ibn Khaldūn's, was not to his liking, he received no significant official position. At the same time, Amar successfully prevented Ibn Khaldūn - whose political skills he was well aware of - from allying with the Abd al-Wadids in Tlemcen. Ibn Khaldūn therefore decided to move to Granada. He could be sure of a positive welcome there, since at Fez he had helped the Sultan of Granada, the Nasrid Muhammad V, regain power from his temporary exile. In 1364 Muhammad entrusted him with a diplomatic mission to the King of Castile, Pedro the Cruel, to endorse a peace treaty. Ibn Khaldūn successfully carried out this mission, and politely declined Pedro's offer to remain at his court and have his family's Spanish possessions returned to him.

In Granada, Ibn Khaldūn quickly came into competition with Muhammad's vizier, Ibn al-Khatib, who saw the close relationship between Muhammad and Ibn Khaldūn with increasing mistrust. Ibn Khaldūn tried to shape the young Muhammad into his ideal of a wise ruler, an enterprise which Ibn al-Khatib thought foolish and a danger to peace in the country - and history proved him right. At al-Khatib's instigation, Ibn Khaldūn was eventually sent back to North Africa. Al-Khatib himself was later accused by Muhammad of having unorthodox philosophical views, and murdered, despite an attempt by Ibn Khaldūn to intercede on behalf of his old rival.

In his autobiography, Ibn Khaldūn tells us little about his conflict with Ibn al-Khatib and the reasons for his departure. The orientalist Muhsin Mahdi interprets this as showing that Ibn Khaldūn later realised that he had completely misjudged Muhammad V.

Back in Africa, the Hafsid sultan of Bougie, Abū ʕAbdallāh, (who had been his companion in prison) received him with great enthusiasm, and made Ibn Khaldūn his prime minister. During this period, Ibn Khaldūn carried out a daring mission to collect taxes among the local Berber tribes. After the death of Abū ʕAbdallāh in 1366, Ibn Khaldūn changed sides once again and allied himself with the ruler of Tlemcen, Abū l-Abbas. A few years later he was taken prisoner by ʕAbdu l-Azīz, who had defeated the sultan of Tlemcen and seized the throne. He then entered a monastic establishment, and occupied himself with scholastic duties, until in 1370 he was sent for to Tlemcen by the new sultan. After the death of ʕAbdu l-Azīz, he resided at Fez, enjoying the patronage and confidence of the regent.

Ibn Khaldūn's political skills, above all his good relationship with the wild Berber tribes, were in high demand among the North African rulers, whereas he himself began to tire of politics and constant switching of allegiances. In 1375, sent by Abū Hammu, the ʕAbdu l Wadid Sultan of Tlemcen, on a mission to the Dawadida Arabs tribes of Biskra. Thereafter Ibn Khaldūn returns to the West sought refuge with one of the Berber tribes, in the west of Algeria, in the town of Qalat Ibn Salama. He lived there for over three years under their protection, taking advantage of his seclusion to write the Muqaddimah "Prolegomena", the introduction to his planned history of the world. In Ibn Salama, however, he lacked the necessary texts to complete the work. As a result, in 1378, he returned to his native Tunis, which in the mean time had been conquered by Abū l-Abbas, who took Ibn Khaldūn back into his service. There he devoted himself almost exclusively to his studies and completed his history of the world. His relationship with Abū l-Abbas remained strained, as the latter questioned his loyalty. This was brought into sharp contrast after Ibn Khaldūn presented him with a copy of the completed history omitting the usual panegyric to the ruler. Under pretence of going on the Hajj to Makkah - something a Muslim ruler could not simply refuse permission for - Ibn Khaldūn was able to leave Tunis and sail to Alexandria.

Last years in Egypt

Ibn Khaldun has said of Egypt, "He who has not seen it does not know the power of Islam." While other Islamic regions had to cope with border wars and inner strife, under the Mamluks Egypt experienced a period of economic prosperity and high culture. However, even in Egypt, where Ibn Khaldūn lived out his days, he could not stay out of politics completely. In 1384 the Egyptian Sultan, al-Malik udh-Dhahir Barquq, made him Professor of the Qamhiyyah Madrasah, and grand Qadi of the Maliki school of fiqh (one of four schools, the Maliki school was widespread primarily in West Africa). His efforts at reform encountered resistance, however, and within a year he had to resign his judgeship. A contributory factor to his decision to resign may have been the heavy personal blow that struck him in 1384, when a ship carrying his wife and children sank off the coast of Alexandria. Ibn Khaldun now decided to complete the pilgrimage to Makkah after all.

After his return in May 1388, Ibn Khaldūn concentrated more strongly on a purely educational function at various Cairo madrasas. At court he fell out of favor for a time, as during revolts against Barquq he had - apparently under duress - together with other Cairo jurists issued a Fatwa against Barquq. Later relations with Barquq returned to normal, and he was once again named the Maliki qadi. Altogether he was called six times to this high office, which for various reasons he never held long.

In 1401, under Barquq's successor, his son Faraj, Ibn Khaldūn took part in a military campaign against the Mongol conqueror Timur, who besieged Damascus. Ibn Khaldūn cast doubt upon the viability of the venture and didn't really want to leave Egypt. His doubts were vindicated, as the young and inexperienced Faraj, concerned about a revolt in Egypt, left his army to its own devices in Syria and hurried home. Ibn Khaldūn remained at the besieged city for seven weeks, being lowered over the city wall by ropes in order to negotiate with Timur, in a historic series of meetings which he reports extensively in his autobiography. Timur questioned him in detail about conditions in the lands of the Maghreb; at his request, Ibn Khaldūn even wrote a long report about it. As he recognized the intentions behind this, he did not hesitate, on his return to Egypt, to compose an equally extensive report on the history of the Tartars, together with a character study of Timur, sending these to the Merinid rulers in Fez.

Ibn Khaldūn spent the following five years in Cairo completing his autobiography and his history of the world and acting as teacher and judge. During this time he also formed an all male club named Rijal Hawa Rijal. Their activities attracted the attention of local religious authorities and he was placed under arrest. He died on 19 March 1406, one month after his sixth selection for the office of the Maliki qadi.