Many countries in the Islamic world and beyond celebrate the 600th anniversary of the brilliant scholar Ibn Khaldun this year, who was one of the world’s most influential figures in sociology and theories related to science. One of the pioneering figures in sociology, his masterpiece, ‘al Muqaddimah’ (Prolegomena or Introduction), was a legendary milestone that was well ahead of its time. The book contributed an immensely incisive and astute description of the structure and role of the state, the sultan, science, religion, the judiciary system, and all other tangential concepts that stem from them.
In fact, anyone taking part in the celebration must feel frustrated and sad for all the attention and care being granted to this occasion by European countries such as Spain, Portugal, England, France and Germany – unlike our countries. The aforementioned countries have held conferences and sessions, given lectures, distributed books and written editorials about Ibn Khaldun, his work and its influence, while in contrast, we see a complete disinterest and disregard for the value of this man in the Islamic and Arab world. Ibn Khaldun is not included in the educational curriculums or in scientific and cultural events; instead, the emphasis lies on other Islamic figures for reasons and justifications that are unconvincing. In comparing the space and importance afforded to other thinkers in the field of debate, for example, the scales undoubtedly tip in favor of the specialists within the area of choice, but this is only a part of a larger picture. Of course this is just one example, however it is most certain that if the scope of the field was widened to include and spread the philosophy of Ibn Khaldun, and other thinkers of the same ilk, that tolerance among people would increase as would a favorable sense of judgment and the flourishing of interactive relationships.
Ibn Khaldun was an Islamic scholar and a man of knowledge who did not restrict himself to fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] only, he was an active contributor to other fields of science and had a significant impact on ancient Greek and Roman studies, offering an impressive thesis that was astoundingly accurate and ahead of its time. Perhaps his most important contribution was his approach to privatization, which is largely a contemporary concept, however he warned of the state’s monopoly of the economy and the ensuing consequences, deeming “trading with the Sultan a big mistake”.
The Islamic world has denied itself the fruits of the minds of many of its intellectuals and scientists through its desire to confine its focus on theology only. Science is an integral whole; dealing with only one aspect or part of it renders it incomplete and disfigures it, which in turn allows for ignorance, extremism and misinformed conjecture to settle in. Today’s Islamic world requires different things; it demands the spread of knowledge and learning, cultural exchange, improving the justice system, tolerance and acceptance, among other things.
Ibn Khaldun, through his genius work, presented an intelligent theory and moral reference for how a Muslim can be a productive and contributing member to his community from a civilized viewpoint that the West has recognized and realized. In the West, his thought is considered to be responsible for providing solutions to the predicaments posed by the Church, which affected the people and the states counteracting the radicalism that spread far and wide.
Ibn Khaldun is no less significant than any of the Arab thinkers and scholars featured in our books, but he was not ascribed the appropriate space through which we could make use of what he had to offer. His contributions remain the living testimony to the importance of his ideology and the perspicacity of his intellectual heritage which the whole world enjoys and benefits from more than the Islamic nation does – which is incredibly ironic.