Islamic Tradition in Historical Writing- Ibn Khaldun

The Islamic tradition of historical writing cherishes a sense of history even in early times. The rise and spread of Islam, military campaigns and territorial conquests offered exiting themes for historical writing and they strengthen the historical tradition. The life and work of Prophet, their extensive campaigns and the spread of Arab empire inspired the thinkers to write the history. The voyages and travels made them to gain knowledge about the world around. The Persian and Arab historical tradition molded and encouraged the others, particularly the Turks, Mongols and Malays. The early writers used the term, ‘Akhbar’ literally meant story or inspiration for history. The later historians referred history as ‘tarikh’ meant for dates.

         Islamic history can be traced to 8th century AD. In order to record the event Prophet Mohammed and the internal and external administration by which many historians came up. Ibn Shah wrote the Life Sketch of Prophet. Ibn Sa’d prepared the Collected Biographies of the Prophet, Azraqui wrote the ‘History of Mecca,’ Waqidi and Al-Baladhuri wrote on War and conquest of prophet and Caliphs.

Nature of Islamic Writing:

         Since the England of 9th century AD, writing general history instead of biographies became trend in historical writing. Ya’qubi in his World History treated the reign of Caliph as a unit of historical study. The later historians followed these historians and started taking a large unit like decade, the reign of a ruler or a century for their study.

Ibn Khaldun:

         His period is from 1332 to 1406. During his time Islamic writing reached its climax in the medieval times. Born in Tunis and lived in Egypt and traveled a lot to gain knowledge in Geography, History, Economics, Sociology, Politics and Philosophy. The rise and fall of dynasties, systems of their administrations, and works of great men were his theme of writing. He passed away at the age of 74 at Cairo.

          Ibn-Khaldun’s monument work is “Universal History” in 7 volumes. In this work, he examined the influence of civilisation on human beings. He also discusses the science of history and development of society and families.

Nature of Historical Writing

          As an original thinker and a critical historian, he condemned the tendency of court historians, who wrote on to adoration of rulers and to compromise with factual authenticity. He said that the rise and fall of empires is natural. The decay of society came in three stages – (i) by conquest, (ii) urbanisation and (iii) disintegration. The governments were of 3 kinds – primitive, rational and civilised. He examined in this work, the influence of Geography and Religion and Culture influence upon human character and behavior.

Contributions to Historical Writings

           Khaldun gave importance to the link between cause and effect. Taking the world as one unit giving due attention to the developments that were centered on families. In examining the causes and effects, he relied upon the social and economic developments. Hence, he gave socio-economic interpretation to historical developments.


           His contribution to historical writing was the ‘Concept of Universalisation’. He is regarded as most remarkable figure in medieval history of Islamic writing.

Decline of Islamic Writing

             The quality and quantity of Islamic history began to fall with the decline of Arab empire. Some writers were, “History of Damascus” by Ali Hassan, “History of Egypt” by Makrisi, Abul Fazal’s “Akbarnama”.