iPlayer Radio What's New?
Listen
On Now : Midweek
Baroness Trumpington, David Adam, Pauline Butcher Bird, James Sawyer
Image for Ibn Khaldun

Listen now 45 mins

Listen in pop-out player

Ibn Khaldun

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 04 February 2010

Melvyn Bragg and guests Robert Hoyland, Robert Irwin and Hugh Kennedy discuss the life and ideas of the 14th-century Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun.

Ibn Khaldun was a North African statesman who retreated into the desert in 1375. He emerged having written one of the most important ever studies of the workings of history.

Khaldun was born in Tunis in 1332. He received a supremely good education, but at 16 lost many of his family to the Black Death. His adult life was similarly characterised by sharp turns of fortune. He built a career as a political operator in cities from Fez to Granada. But he often fared badly in court intrigues, was imprisoned and failed to prevent the murder of a fellow statesman.

In 1375, he withdrew into the Sahara to work out why the Muslim world had degenerated into division and decline. Four years later, he had completed not only a history of North African politics but also, in the book's long introduction, one of the great studies of history.

Drawing on both regional history and personal experience, he set out a bleak analysis of the rise and fall of dynasties. He argued that group solidarity was vital to success in power. Within five generations, though, this always decayed. Tired urban dynasties inevitably became vulnerable to overthrow by rural insurgents.

Later in life, Ibn Khaldun worked as a judge in Egypt, and in 1401 he met the terrifying Mongol conqueror Tamburlaine, whose triumphs, Ibn Khaldun felt, bore out his pessimistic theories.

Over the last three centuries Ibn Khaldun has been rediscovered as a profoundly prescient political scientist, philosopher of history and forerunner of sociology - one of the great thinkers of the Muslim world.

Robert Hoyland is Professor of Islamic History at the University of Oxford; Robert Irwin is Senior Research Associate of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London; Hugh Kennedy is Professor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

  • FURTHER READING

    Ibn Khaldun, ‘The Muqaddimah, An Introduction to History’, trans Rosenthal, Franz, Bollingen Series XLIII (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1967)

    Enan, Mohammad A., ‘Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Works’ (Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 1979)

    Fischel, Walter J., ‘Ibn Khaldun in Egypt: His public functions and his
    historical research (1382-1406); A study in Islamic Historiography’ (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1967)

    Gellner, E., ‘Muslim Society’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1981), chs 1-2

    Hoyland, Robert, ‘Muslims and Others in Early Islamic Society’ (Ashgate: Aldershot, 2004)

    Irwin, Robert, ‘Toynbee and Khaldun’ in Middle Eastern Studies 33 (1997)

    Issawi, Charles, ‘An Arab Philosophy of History: Selections from the
    prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis (1332-1406)’, the Wisdom of the East Series (John Murray: London, 1950)

    Kennedy, Hugh, ‘The Court of the Caliphs: When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World’ (London: Phoenix, 2005)

    Lacoste, Yves, ‘Ibn Khaldun: The Birth of History and the Past of the Third World’, trans David Macy, (Verso: London, 1984)

    Lawrence, Bruce, ed., ‘Ibn Khaldun and Islamic Ideology’ (E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1984)

    Mahdi, Muhsin, ‘Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History: A study in the philosophic foundation of the science of culture’ (George Allen & Unwin: London, 1957)

  • Have your say

    Send in your comments about this edition
  • Melvyn Bragg's Newsletter

    Read Melvyn Bragg's newsletter on this edition

Broadcasts

Featured in...

  • Philosophy archive

    From Altruism to Wittgenstein, philosophers, theories and key themes.

  • History archive

    Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.

  • Medieval

    Browse the Medieval era within the In Our Time archive.

In Our Time Downloads

melvyn-bragg.jpg

Every episode of In Our Time - available to download to listen to when & where you want.

Free downloads

  1. Image for In Our Time Archive: Culture

    In Our Time Archive: Culture

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas as it applies to culture - from literature…

  2. Image for In Our Time Archive: History

    In Our Time Archive: History

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the people, conflicts and events that have shaped the world.

  3. Image for In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of philosophy - from ancient Greek thinkers to the…

  4. Image for In Our Time Archive: Religion

    In Our Time Archive: Religion

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of religious ideas - from the faith systems of…

  5. Image for In Our Time Archive: Science

    In Our Time Archive: Science

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas and the evolution of the sciences - from…

  6. Image for In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas - including topics drawn from philosophy,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.