The motivation of the use of history can be discerned in the attitude of the pre-Islamic culture. But from Aristotle to Ibn Khaldun philosophers did not consider history a science and did not mention it as such in their classification of the sciences. [Farabi, 1949:104]
In previous sources were a little or hardly any analyses, synthesis, or operation into the problem. They disclaimed history as a necessary or even useful science. [Ibn Bajja, 1946: 7]
In general Muslim historians used to write their history in the form of chronological tables.
With this knowledge as a background about the major trends of Islamic historical thought we can now examine Ibn Khaldun treatment of history in the light of these remarks.
The first detailed studies on the subject of historiography itself and the first critiques on historical methods appeared in the works of the Arab Muslim historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who is regarded as the father of historiography, cultural history, and the philosophy of history, especially for his historiographical writings in the Muqaddimah and Kitab al-Ibar. [Salahudin, 1999:54] Ibn Khaldun attempted to study Islamic historiography. His book is a history of historical thought. [Mahdi, 1964:160]
He emphasized casual principles in history at a time when providential viewpoints everywhere held sway. [Balli, 1988:86]
He distinguished and classified historians in understanding their method and their attitude to history, and in judging and utilizing the product of their research. Ibn Khaldun after studying previous Muslim historians found that they just transmitted information reaching them from their informants. Thus, he decided to create and present a new science to the judgment of scholars and elite as a result to wash their hands of any blind trust in tradition. Because he believed that blind trust is unwholesome. As a result, he found that it was imperative that he himself write a book to deal specifically with this problem, the theoretical investigation of origins and causes.
In his opinion real history should deal, not with a few individuals, but with the people who make and produce the necessities of life and interact with each other.
What distinguishes it is the fact that sociological studies are not conducted by scientists in their rooms, observatories or laboratories but by members of the society directly. Another feature is the fact that the researchers conducted by other sciences are not conducted on living human beings, but in this case they are.[Faghirzadeh,1982:38]Knowledge of history is essential to general culture; it also furnishes necessary background for a number of professional fields, such as politics, low, literature, religion ,or any systematic study of society. Art, theology, and literature are themselves merely phases of history as part actuality and their particular forms at given periods and places are not to be explained, if explained at all, by history as knowledge and thought. For this reason Ibn Khaldun obtained his facts equally from historical documents as well as personal observation. He devoted a great deal of space to stress the need for checking documents. For him history both as a science and as an art, takes into account a variety of human actions, and seeks a rational explanation for social phenomena. He distinguishes between the external from of history which is the compilation of information about events of particular times and the theoretical investigation of origins and causes of scientific endeavor. In his book Ibn Khaldun is concerned with both the external and internal aspects of history it employs the critical method. [Mahdi, 1967:148]
From the author’s awakening to the necessity of a critical method, writers should not report the historical information about it mechanically. “It takes critical insight to sort out the hidden truth.”[Ibn Khaldun, 1967:9] He criticized many historians who gave inaccurate information in their works. He showed that many past historians merely invented the facts they reported, while others embellished the facts or exaggerated the truth. He noted that if the famous men (Kings, emperors, etc.) or the past were to return, they would certainly deny the events written around them. According to Ibn Khaldun just as children may happily listen to false stories and great lies; so too adults love falsehoods and great lies.
Ibn Khaldun showed that much of the information found in history books are ironic because of false information. In the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun warned of seven mistakes that he thought that historians regularly committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural difference of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to feel the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past. Ibn Khaldun often criticized "idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data." [Ibn Khaldun, 1967:371].
In many places in The Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun criticized scholars who do not examine information critically and do not reject nonsensical stories about human social organization. Specifically, he criticized some of the writings of “thorough scholars, “such as al-Tabari, Ibn Rushed, al-Turtooshi, and al-Masoudi.[Ibn Khaldun,1967:57] Historical writing, as Ibn Khaldun defines it is concerned with natural causes and effects. In this instance according to him scientific historians do not being only with a situation which calls for explanation, but with documents which call for critical examination and analysis. In Ibn Khaldun’s conception, the idea that the history of one’s country is more important than that of others is a fatalistic one and a very easy trap for historians to fall into.
According to him every historian knows that his colleagues have been influenced in their selection and ordering of materials by their biases, prejudices, beliefs, affections, general upbringing, and experience , particularly social and economic; and if he has a sense of propriety, to say nothing of humor, he applies the canon to himself, leaving to exceptions to the rule. What Ibn Khaldun sometimes says is that no historians also can describe the past as it actually was and that every historian’s work – that is, his selection of facts, his emphasis, his omission his organization, his method of presentation- bears a relation to his own personality and the age and circumstances in which he lives.
In Ibn khaldun’s conception there are two kinds of history: (a) actual history which happened in the past, and (b) recorded history which was written during or actual events. He believes that the writing of scientific history should be a recreation of past events. Recognizing that the historian’s recreation of events is not equal to the actual events themselves, Ibn Khaldun arrives at a dynamic conception of the dialectical development of history, and the system of historical methodology necessitated thereby. Facts, multitudinous and beyond calculations are known, but they do not select themselves or force themselves automatically into any fixed scheme of arrangement in the mind of the historian. They are selected and ordered by him as he thinks. No historian has ever been able to array the fullness of history as actuality in any such deterministic order. But under the hypothesis that is possible, historians have chains of causation which explain, to their satisfaction, why succeeding events happen; and they have attributed any resulting shortcoming to the inadequacy of their known data, not to the falsity of the assumption on which they have been operating.
Ibn Khaldun denounced the lack of curiosity and method in his predecessors, and set out the rules for good and sound criticism based separated and apart from the examination of evidence, on the criterion of conformity with reality. Ibn Khaldun expects the historians to be able to trace back all narratives to their origin. He stresses that the historian should preserve a watchful attitude, using his mind, insight, and intuition to distinguish between what is national and irrational and reject what falls outside of the bounds of possibility. For Ibn Khaldun the law of similarity is based upon the fact that there are events in the present which resemble those of past. For this reason Ibn Khaldun believes that if the recorder is familiar with the nature of events and the changes happening in the world and the conditions governing such happenings, he will be better able to clarify any record and distinguish truth from falsehood. When conditions change entirely, people also change, almost as if they constituted new generation. Moreover in Ibn khaldun’s conception if the writer has dramatic imagination, the past seems to be directly present to the reader.
According to Ibn khaldun’s view, research in history should not be an egoistic pleasure for the researcher. That is to say the attitude of the reporter is a filter that may change the actual events to another form. Ibn Khaldun believed that one must make an external and internal critical analysis when reading reported history. He believes that the ability as well as willingness to tell the truth is very important for historians. He criticizes the historians who do not pay attention to the changes in human affairs resulting from social changes taking place from one generation to another. Ibn Khaldun feels that it is essential for the historian to record also the general conditions of the various ages, nations and countries.
According to Ibn Khaldun, “the easiest method of acquiring the scientific habit is through acquiring the ability to express oneself clearly in discussing and disputing scientific problems”. [Ibn Khaldun, 1967:429]If a scholar finds an error in writings of other scholars, even if they are well known for their contributions, he should indicate his objection in writing so that future students of knowledge may know the difference. Even if a discipline as a whole is incomplete and suffers shortcomings, scholars are duty-bound to correct such “problems – leaving no room for deficiency in it.” [Ibn Khaldun, 1967:285] Scholars also should expose those guilty of plagiarism and deception. Thus, a critical investigation of information is essential in order to see whether the reported facts could have possibly happened. The normative method for distinguishing right from wrong is to investigation human social organization. In fact, this is the purpose of The Muqaddimah, to show that information about human social organization can be corrected, extended, and refined so that we can arrive at accurate theories. [Ibn khaldun, 1967:77]
Ibn Khaldun thought that the way out of the dilemma presented by the inadequacy of the traditional method of expert historians lay in the investigation of the nature of man and society. History ascertains external events while the science of culture explains the nature and causes of these same events. Therefore, in the art of historian, history and the new science should be combined. Ibn Khaldun also states explicitly that the primary end of the new science is to serve as a tool for use in the rectification of historical reports. The new science will attempt to demonstrate its conclusions through the exploration of the true causes of the essential modes of human association. [Mahdi, 1964:299]
He intended to learn from history and not merely to pass through it. He intended to interpret history and reveal its secrets through comparison, theoretical comprehension, and the analysis of the nature and causes of historical events. In approaching history in this fashion, the external events were no longer the main aim or end of his research. They merely supplied the ‘matter’ from which the general laws that lay behind them were to be derived. These laws in turn explained the events by showing their nature and causes, a movement from the externals of history to its internal nature. Ibn Khaldun thought that the attempt to study history in this manner was new and that he had originated it. [Mahdi, 1964:70]
"Muslim historiography has at all times been united by the closest ties with the general development of scholarship in Islam, and the position of historical knowledge in Muslims education has exercised a decisive influence upon the intellectual level of historical writing....The Muslims achieved a definite advance beyond previous historical writing in the sociological understanding of history and the systematization of historiography. The development of modern historical writing seems to have gained considerably in speed and substance through the utilization of a Muslim Literature which enabled western historians, from the seventeenth century on, to see a large section of the world through foreign eyes. The Muslim historiography helped indirectly and modestly to shape present day historical thinking.”[Rosenthal, 1968:68].
General Conclusion. As a result Ibn Khaldun was the first to see the need for a systematic approach to history, he introduced a scientific method to the study of history, which was considered something "new to his age", and he often referred to it as his "new science", now associated with historiography. Ibn Khaldun opens a new chapter in the study of history. Ibn Khaldun was a unique figure in Islamic historiography. Also he noted that history must also have a critical element. The ultimate test of Ibn Khaldun was the truth of his reports. He criticized the mistakes of his predecessors. He listed the factors for error. Thus, the new critical approach to history reached its height in the 14th century in his work. He mentioned that the historian ought to get back to the documents. His investigations were of interest not only to other historians but other specialists.
- Balli, Foad.1988. Society, State and Urbanism: Ibn Khaldun’s sociological thought, State University of New York Press, Albany . P.194.
- Faghirzadeh, Saleh.1982. Sociology of sociology. The soroush Press. Tehran.
- .Farabi. 1985. on the perfect state, a revised text with introduction, translation and commentary by Richard Walzer, Oxford U.P.
- Ibn Bajja. 1946. Tadbir al-mutawahhid. Edition M.Asin Palacios. Madrid.
- Ibn Khaldun. 1967 .The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Trans. By Franz Rosenthal (Princeton: Princeton University Press)
- Mahdi, Muhsin.1964. Ibn Khaldun The philosophy of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Rosenthal, Franz.1968. A History of Muslim Historiography, Leiden, E .J. Brill , P.669
- Salahudin, Ahmad. 1999. A Dictionary of Muslim Names. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers.