Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406)

Ibn Khaldun was born in 1332 in Tunis, Tunisia and was a notable Muslim scholar and philosopher who made significant contributions to the fields of history and sociology. His most famous work is the “Muqaddimah” or “Introduction,” where he considers the field of historical social existence as an independent field of study which had not existed before.

Source: TRT World

Ibn Khaldun discarded the academic practice of focussing on the ideal but encouraged students to examine their concepts with scientific and rational thinking.  He believed in reaching conclusions on the basis of evidence and reasoning and argued that these methods allow thinkers to separate fact from fiction. Therefore, by investigating “human social organisation” with “a sound yardstick”, he said, one can successfully analyse society instead of accepting absurd stories of historians. 

With the exception of Joseph A. Schumpeter, who discovered Ibn Khaldun’s writings only a few months before his death in January 1950, Joseph J. Spengler and Charles Issawi, the two major modern economists, traced the theory of value to Adam Smith and David Ricardo because Smith and Ricardo attempted to find a reasonable explanation for the paradox of value. 

A deeper look at history, however, tells us that it was Ibn Khaldun who wrote about free-market economy and introduced the concept of labour theory of value. Karl Marx came up with the same concept around seven centuries later.  His work on labour theory of value was later picked up by David Hume in his “Political Discourse)s, which was published in 1752. David Hume was a enlightened philosopher, historian, economist, librarian, and essayist, from Scotland, United Kingdom.

Moreover, Ibn Khaldun was first to introduce  and ingeniously analyse the interplay of several tools of economic analysis, such as demand, supply, prices, and profits. He dealt with the livelihoods of cities, people’s professions, trade and production relations. In this aspect, he is considered to be the original founder of modern economics, whose name was largely ignored by Western thinkers, while they took many of his ideas and promoted them as their own. 

As it is very well known, modern price theory argues that cost is the backbone of supply theory. Again, it was Ibn Khaldun who first made an analytical examination of the cost of production on supply and prices. In observing the differences between the price of foodstuffs produced in fertile land and that produced in poor soils, he traced them mainly to the disparity in the cost of production. 

He examines issues such as state, politics, property, and reign. In this aspect he is considered the founder of modern political philosophy. He deals with the material culture of civilizations such as roads, bridges, palaces, shrines, and in this aspect is considered the founder of the history of modern civilization. In society, he addresses issues such as the production of knowledge, the ways of distribution, the Emerging Sciences, in which he is considered the founder of the sociology of knowledge.

(Esref Altas, an associate professor at Istanbul Medeniyet University, Turkey, 2021)

When it comes to macroeconomics, Ibn Khaldun also laid the foundations of what John Maynard Keynes (English economist and philosopher, 1883-1946) called “aggregate effective demand,” the multiplier effect and the equality of income and expenditure. According to Ibn Khaldun, when there is more total demand as population increases, there is more production, profits, customs, and taxes. 

Ibn Khaldun introduced the pioneering theory of growth based on capital accumulation through man’s efforts. Furthermore, he also contributed to the field of international economics. 

Based on Ibn Khaldun’s perceptive observations and his analytical mind, he undoubtedly shed light on the advantages of trade among nations. Through foreign trade, Ibn Khaldun stated that people’s satisfaction, merchants’ profits, and countries’ wealth are all increased.

Long before Adam Smith (Scottish economist and philosopher 1723-1790 ) who is promoted as the father of economics in the West, Ibn Khaldun made a strong case for a free economy and for freedom of choice. In spite of Ibn Khaldun’s overall contribution to the field of economics, it is Adam Smith who has been widely called the “father of economics”.

Today, the true followers of Ibn Khaldun should go beyond the superficial readings of Ibn Khaldun unearth his authentic thought, his multiplex ontology, epistemology and methodology with the purpose of presenting him as an alternative to the present day hegemonic Eurocentric social science discourse. This is the way for the intellectual independence of social scientists who are discontent with the hegemonic social sciences today.”

(Professor Recep Senturk, the founder of the International Ibn Khaldun Society, 2021)

500 years before Adam Smith, Ibn Khaldun demonstrated breadth and depth in his coverage of value and its relationship to labour; his analysis of his theory of capital accumulation and its relationship to the rise and fall of dynasties; his perceptions of the dynamics of demand, supply, prices, and profits; his treatment of the subjects of money and the role of governments; his remarkable theory of taxation, and other economic subjects. 

Ibn Khaldun’s ideas about social dynamics and the life cycles of civilizations were revolutionary for his time. His impact reached beyond his era, influencing Western thinkers like Auguste Comte (French philosopher, mathematician and writer, 1798-1857 ) and Arnold Toynbee (English historian, a philosopher of history, 1889-1975) in philosophy and sociology.

Source: TRT World, Best – Islamic Scholars in History

Further Reading: The Role and Contribution of Ibn Khaldun In Islamic Sociology and Human Civilization