Profile of Ibn Khaldun, Philosopher and Historian

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Ibn Khaldun is an important figure in Medieval History.

Key Facts

Other Names: Ibn Khaldun was also known as Abu Zayd 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun.

Notable Achievements: Ibn Khaldun was noted for developing one of the earliest nonreligious philosophies of history. He is generally considered the greatest Arab historian as well as the father of sociology and the science of history.


  • Philosopher
  • Writer & Historian
  • Diplomat
  • Teacher

Places of Residence and Influence:

  • Africa
  • Iberia

Important Dates

Born: May 27, 1332
Died: March 17, 1406 (some references have 1395)

Quotation Attributed to Ibn Khaldun

"He who finds a new path is a pathfinder, even if the trail has to be found again by others; and he who walks far ahead of his contemporaries is a leader, even though centuries pass before he is recognized as such."

About Ibn Khaldun

Abu Zayd 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun came from an illustrious family and enjoyed an excellent education in his youth. Both his parents died when the Black Death struck Tunis in 1349.

At the age of 20, he was given a post at the court of Tunis and later became secretary to the sultan of Morocco in Fez. In the late 1350s, he was imprisoned for two years for suspicion of participating in a rebellion. After being released and promoted by a new ruler, he again fell out of favor, and he decided to go to Granada. Ibn Khaldun had served the Muslim ruler of Granada in Fez, and Granada's prime minister, Ibn al-Khatib, was a renowned writer and a good friend to Ibn Khaldun.

A year later he was sent to Seville to conclude a peace treaty with King Pedro I of Castile, who treated him with great generosity. However, intrigue raised its ugly head and rumors were spread of his disloyalty, adversely affecting his friendship with Ibn al-Khatib. He returned to Africa, where he changed employers with unfortunate frequency and served in a variety of administrative posts.

In 1375, Ibn Khaldun sought refuge from the tumultuous political sphere with the tribe of Awlad 'Arif. They lodged him and his family in a castle in Algeria, where he spent four years writing the Muqaddimah. 

Illness drew him back to Tunis, where he continued his writing until difficulties with the current ruler prompted him to leave once more. He moved to Egypt and eventually took a teaching post at the Quamhiyyah college in Cairo, where he later became chief judge of the Maliki rite, one of the four recognized rites of Sunnite Islam. He took his duties as judge very seriously -- perhaps too seriously for most of the tolerant Egyptians, and his term did not last long.

During his time in Egypt, Ibn Khaldun was able to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and visit Damascus and Palestine. Except for one incident in which he was forced to participate in a palace revolt, his life there was relatively peaceful—until Timur invaded Syria.

The new sultan of Egypt, Faraj, went out to meet Timur and his victorious forces, and Ibn Khaldun was among the notables he took with him. When the Mamluk army returned to Egypt, they left Ibn Khaldun in besieged Damascus. The city fell into great peril, and the city leaders began negotiations with Timur, who asked to meet Ibn Khaldun. The illustrious scholar was lowered over the city wall by ropes in order to join the conqueror.

Ibn Khaldun spent nearly two months in the company of Timur, who treated him with respect. The scholar used his years of accumulated knowledge and wisdom to charm the ferocious conqueror, and when Timur asked for a description of North Africa, Ibn Khaldun gave him a complete written report. He witnessed the sack of Damascus and the burning of the great mosque, but he was able to secure safe passage from the decimated city for himself and other Egyptian civilians.

On his way home from Damascus, laden with gifts from Timur, Ibn Khaldun was robbed and stripped by a band of Bedouin. With the greatest of difficulty, he made his way to the coast, where a ship belonging to the Sultan of Rum, carrying an ambassador to the sultan of Egypt, took him to Gaza. Thus he established contact with the rising Ottoman Empire.

The rest of Ibn Khaldun's journey and, indeed, the rest of his life was relatively uneventful. He died in 1406 and was buried in the cemetery outside one of Cairo's main gates.

Ibn Khaldun's Writings

Ibn Khaldun's most significant work is the Muqaddimah. In this "introduction" to history, he discussed historical methods and provided the necessary criteria for distinguishing historical truth from error. The Muqaddimah is considered one of the most phenomenal works on the philosophy of history ever written.

Ibn Khaldun also wrote a definitive history of Muslim North Africa, as well as an account of his eventful life in an autobiography entitled Al-ta'rif bi Ibn Khaldun.

More Ibn Khaldun Resources


  • Ibn Khaldun His Life and Work by M. A. Enan
  • Ibn Khaldun: Historian, Sociologist & Philosopher by Nathaniel Schmidt

Philosophical and Sociological Works

  • Ibn Khaldun: An Essay in Reinterpretation (Arabic Thought and Culture) by Aziz Al-Azmeh
  • Ibn Khaldun and Islamic Ideology (International Studies in Sociology and Social Anthropology) edited by B. Lawrence
  • Society, State, and Urbanism: Ibn Khaldun's Sociological Thought by Fuad Baali
  • Social Institutions: Ibn Khaldun's Social Thought by Fuad Baali
  • Ibn Khaldun's Philosophy of History - A Study in the Philosophic Foundation of the Science of Culture by Muhsin Mahdi

Works by Ibn Khaldun

  • Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun; translated by Franz Rosenthal; edited by N. J. Dowood
  • An Arab Philosophy of History: Selections from the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis (1332-1406) by Ibn Khaldun; translated by Charles Philip Issawi
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Snell, Melissa. "Profile of Ibn Khaldun, Philosopher and Historian." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Snell, Melissa. (2020, August 26). Profile of Ibn Khaldun, Philosopher and Historian. Retrieved from Snell, Melissa. "Profile of Ibn Khaldun, Philosopher and Historian." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 7, 2023).