Khaldounian ‘Umran

Khaldounian ‘Umran*

By: Saleh ibn Taher Mashoush

Ibn Khaldun’s choice of the term ‘Umran (anthroposphere) as the title of his science increases its authenticity and consistency with the knowledge deduced from the Divine Revelation.

After an almost thorough reflection on the texts of Muqaddimah (The Introduction), it is obvious that the usage of the concept of ‘Umran has different contextual meanings. In fact, using the term ‘Umran in divergent and convergent contexts as a keyword to explain many phenomena, such as politics, economy, science, education, morality and architecture, gives this term the semantic and cognitive effectiveness necessary for gaining a significance which is not less than that of the concept of “Human”; the centre according to the monotheistic cosmic vision.

According to the Muqaddimah, the usage of the term ‘Umran is associated with a set of issues sharing similar subjects, connotations and relationships. Yet, they can be divided, according to their nature, into positive and negative issues. First, the positive issues reflects positive characters and conditions, such as succession, urban life, honour, multitude, socialization, crafts and sciences, livelihood, interest, protection and civilization and other concepts which are mentioned throughout Muqaddimah. Despite their positivity, there are some negative consequences, such as decline, fluctuation, shortage, humiliation, savagery, conflicts, backwardness, inferiority, stillness, ruin, corruption, change, disposal, defeat, disparity, luxury, imbalance, and transition.

Beside these two categories, we can deduce another category of the absolute concepts which relates to the concept of ‘Umran that makes it a comprehensive effective cognitive tool in the field of theoretical analysis and interpretations. This conceptual structure, in which Ibn Khaldun was really interested, represents one of the practical steps to achieve his goal which is transforming history into a science and using the laws of ‘Umran as a refinement tool. This is because he believed that when science understands the nature of ‘Umran it is the best and most authentic way to verify reports; distinguishing between the false and true. In fact, this step should be carried out before the stage of verifying different narrations1. In the light of the cognitive connotation of the concept of ‘Umran in Muqaddimah, it is possible to assign a network of supporting concepts among which are: characters or nature, conditions, incidents, hidden causes, reasons, conditions, the beginnings and the quantity. All these concepts are subsidiary as they form, along with the concept of ‘Umran, practical issues and concepts that help in analyzing the phenomenon to know its sources, possibilities, impossibilities, the fixed and variable, its conditions and its relationship with other phenomena.

Ibn Khaldun classified the concept of ‘Umran into three patterns of human societies which include: natural, Bedouin and civilized congregation. He also set some important bonds to determine the chronological order of the transition from one pattern to another. This is obvious through his interpretation of the emergence of kingdoms and the establishment of states as political entities.

Due to the Islamic background of Ibn Khaldun’s scientific approach, questions are raised around the relationship between his concepts and methodology and the sources of Revelation. In fact, raising those questions is among the methodological attempts which participated in paving the way towards new domains beyond the classical materialistic and secular interpretations. In fact, this step helps the researcher to explain many controversial issues such as the issue of the modernity of Ibn Khaldun’s thought and the validity of his six hundred years old interpretations in addressing contemporary issues.

Calling for studying this relationship is based on the fact that Ibn Khaldun depended on fixed and certain laws resulting from research that did not only depend on his observations, contemplations and deductions but mainly depended on the Divine texts to discover these laws and conclusions, determine their forms and concepts and explain their applicability. This direct benefit from the sources of Revelation is the independent variant that explain the validity of many issues discussed by Ibn Khaldun. This should not be only in the light of real-life; its nature, conditions and changes, but also in the light of the sources of Revelation; the spring of truthfulness, certainty and continuation.

Indeed, explaining one of the aspects of the scientific law in Ibn Khaldun’s theories can only be achieved through deeply understanding a principle issue associated with the sources of Revelation which is the role of the Quranic terminology. According to a group of researchers, this role is very distinctive because it belongs to a Divine language different from the common connotations. This is the opinion of Abu Al-Qasem Haj Hamad (D. 2005 AD) who emphasized that the Quranic terminology includes a dominant special meaning that directly controls the semantic relationships that give the text its linguistic, logical and intellectual structure. Dominance, distinctiveness, certainty, constancy or semantic stability and comprehensiveness and specialization are the nature of the “Quranic terminology”. According to Abu Al-Qasem, the Holy Quran is known for its perfect distinctive features. Each word conveys a certain meaning which accepts no similarity or identicalness with another word. Therefore, the Quranic exegesis (Tafsir) is considered to be the most accurate linguistic and cultural process in the history of languages and cultures worldwide. Each word has its distinctive connotation even if it seems to have synonyms or similarity with an another word.2

There are other linguistic tools such as the “structure” in the Quranic composition, hidden evidence (Qarinah), explicit relationships and “spaces in the text” which were thoroughly studied by Tammam Hassan. These methodological concepts help in deducing the macros and explaining the relationships3.

In addition, Malik ibn Nabi, throughout his book Adh-Dhahirah Al-Qur’aniah (The Quranic Phenomenon) (1954), added the concept of “semantic unity” which is somehow similar to the concept of “context” in interpreting the meanings of the texts. This is because it emphasizes that the Quranic concepts represent distinctive semantic units and systems which have in their relationships a set of concepts that cannot be understood apart from the overall frame4.

Furthermore, the word ‘Umran comes in the Quran, with its different derivatives thirty-seven (37) times, conveying many connotations. These concepts show two of the conditions of human action. The first condition represents “Time”. This meaning is explicitly represented through the following Verses وَمَا يُعَمَّرُ مِن مُّعَمَّرٍ وَلَا يُنقَصُ مِنْ عُمُرِهِ إِلَّا فِي كِتَبٍ…”And no one’s life is made long or cut short but is ˹written˺ in a Record. (35: 11)

                                                               “وَلَكِنَّا أَنشَأْنَا قُرُونًا فَتَطَاوَلَ عَلَيْهِمُ الْعُمُرُ…” “But We ˹later˺ raised ˹several˺ generations, and the ages took their toll on them..” (28: 45),

“وَلَتَجِدَنَّهُمْ أَحْرَصَ النَّاسِ عَلَى حَيَاةٍ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُواْ يَوَدُّ أَحَدُهُمْ لَوْ يُعَمَّرُ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ…”

“You will surely find them clinging to life more eagerly than any other people, even more than polytheists. Each one of them wishes to live a thousand years…” (2: 96).

While the second condition is the practical side of human action which is explained through the Saying of Allah:

“وَأَثَارُوا الْأَرْضَ وَعَمَرُوهَا أَكْثَرَ مِمَّا عَمَرُوهَا…”

“…they cultivated the land and developed it more than these ˹Meccans˺ ever have…” (30: 9).

According to the semantic side of the concept of ‘Umran, human action is not absolute. There is another Quranic Verse which set restrictions on it. It introduces practical examples of this action by relating the action of construction and development (‘Imarah or Ta’meer) directly to the Masjid; the place on which man performs the main pillar of worshipping; his purpose of life. Allah Almighty says:

إِنَّمَا يَعْمُرُ مَسَجِدَ اللّهِ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلاَةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَلَمْ يَخْشَ إِلاَّ اللّهَ فَعَسَى أُوْلَئِكَ أَن يَكُونُواْ مِنَ الْمُهْتَدِينَ

“The mosques of Allah should only be maintained by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish prayer, pay alms-tax, and fear none but Allah. It is right to hope that they will be among the ˹truly˺ guided.” (9: 18)

He Almighty also says:

“فَمَنْ حَجَّ الْبَيْتَ أَوِ اعْتَمَرَ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِ أَن يَطَّوَّفَ بِهِمَا وَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَإِنَّ اللّهَ شَاكِرٌ عَلِيمٌ”

“… whoever performs the pilgrimage or minor pilgrimage,[[ Known as ḥajj and ‘umrah to the Sacred Mosque in Mecca.]] let them walk between ˹the two hills˺. And whoever does good willingly, Allah is truly Appreciative, All-Knowing.“(2: 158).

In addition, there are other indications which determine the ways of this development (Ta’meer). For example, another Quranic Verse has the verb ‘Amar; referring to the wide unseen world. Thus, it was used in the context of an unseen fact which is “Al-Bait-ul-Ma‘mūr” mentioned in,

(وَالْبَيْتِ الْمَعْمُورِ)“And by the ˹Sacred˺ House frequently visited.(52:4)

 All different connotations of the Verb ‘Amara, mentioned in the Quran, have one source which is the Divine command. Thus, the source and legality of this action is from Allah alone. For example, Allah Almighty says:

“أَوَلَمْ نُعَمِّرْكُم”

“…Did We not give you lives long enough…” (35:37),

“هُوَ أَنشَأَكُم مِّنَ الأَرْضِ وَاسْتَعْمَرَكُمْ فِيهَا…”

He ˹is the One Who˺ produced you from the earth and settled you on it…” (11: 61).

In this regard, Milkawi, tackled the meanings of the Quranic concept of ‘Umran in the light of four topics which are: (1) human’s lifestyle, (2) residence, accommodation, construction in a certain area, (3) materialistic ‘Umran, and (4) intellectual and cultural ‘Umran.5

      Whereas the concept of ‘Umran chosen by Ibn Khaldun to carry the name of the science he discovered and set its foundations depending on the Quran, it is inappropriate to dismantle it to deduce pure materialistic perspectives like the attempts of many studies. In fact, the concept of Khaldun’s ‘Umran has a cognitive immunity which is taken from its Quranic roots. So, it is protected from being diluted or misinterpreted. Thus, the word ‘Umran, according to Ibn Khaldun’s text, is subjected to two facts: The first one is its heavenly connection with the Divine command, while the second is its earthly relation with vicegerency6. This is understood from the saying of Ibn Khaldun: “….With a Divine command, the water receded in certain areas to allow animals live there and announce mankind as vicegerents on earth, dominant over all creatures…7“.

Whereas the function of the science of ‘Umran is verifying the conformity of the issues with the outside world, the science of vicegerency (Istikhlaf), as Ibn Khaldoun said, aims to verify the conformity of human actions with the Divine command. In fact, all humans are settled on earth by Allah Almighty, but not all humans are vicegerents. A human is a true vicegerent if he acts upon the guidance and Revelation conveyed by the Messenger Muhammad. We now understand the importance of discussing prophecy, Revelation, vicegerency and other topics related to the unseen world in the Muqaddimah.

In addition to the concepts of “‘Umran” and “Istikhlaf” which depend on revelation, Ibn Khaldun added another concept of similar importance which is “‘Ibrah” or “Ibar” (lesson/ lessons). In fact, it is the title of his book on history. This word is mentioned in the Quran with different modifying phrases to convey different connotations, as in: “lesson for people of insight.” (3: 13), “stories- lesson for people of reason” (12:111), “day and night- lesson for people of insight” (24: 44), and “lesson- fearing Allah” (79: 26). The difference between the concept of history and ‘Ibar, (or science of history and science of ‘Ibar) is crystal clear. Moreover, we cannot neglect the reasons which inspired Ibn Khaldun to name his book “Al-‘Ibar” (lessons) instead of “At-Tareekh” (history)8.

Functions of the Science of ‘Umran:

  • Traditional Function

The role set by Ibn Khaldun for the science of ‘Umran is protecting the science of history from the methodological shortcomings resulting from ignorance, and from the historians’ failure to understand the real nature of the historical reports, in addition to the spread of some historians’ attempts to achieve their personal interests by quoting and spreading certain reports without verification or criticism. Ibn Khaldun’s project to reform the methodology of the science of history was a necessity. This is because this science is a centre of information that gathers various domains in the life of both individuals and groups, including savagery, intimacy, solidarity, and the types of dominance among human beings and the resulting monarchies, states, and their authorities besides earnings, livelihood, sciences, crafts and other usual practices.9. All these elements constitute the subject of the science of ‘Umran. By knowing them, political systems and other systems can achieve optimal care for their nations, and thus ensure their stability. This is what Abu Ya’rub Al-Marzouqi referred to in what he called “Two Epistemological Functions” in his definition of the subject of the science of ‘Umran. He said: “The first defines the subject of history and clarifies its limits and content. The second criticizes and verifies the historical reports”10. Returning to the Muqaddimah, it is obvious that the critical scientific tendency which, according to Ibn Khaldun, is one of the principal epistemological functions for which the science of ‘Umran was developed, is represented in these same two steps: Defining the subject of history and seting its limits and content, and criticizing and verifying the historical reports11.

But it does not focus only on “historical reports”, as mentioned by Al-Marzouki. Rather, it includes other types of reports and issues that belong to fields other than history. Through this, the science of ‘Umran can provide other qualitative contributions that place it in the position of the “Science of Science”. Through them, it can criticize the foundations of other sciences, their scientific results, and their practical applications. In other words, if we consider that any information (Al-Khabr) is refutable and that this information is not about history, but rather about nature, society, politics, or art, the science of ‘Umran, through this shift, becomes the main umbrella for many other branches. Thus, it has the ability to provide comprehensive explanations of the major issues under study. In addition, it can abstract its principles forming authenticated universal laws and principles derived from the Revelation (Shar’i sciences or Islamic sciences).

Abu Ya’rub Al-Marzouqi stated that there are four auxiliary sciences established by Ibn Khaldun to support the science of ‘Umran. They are: human biology, science of the humanitarian natural environment, science of human culture, science of sociology12. All of them can be easily deduced from the book of Muqaddimah13.

We can not totally agree with Al-Marzouqi’s coined terms which are somehow similar to terms derived from the Western philosophy known for its non-religious essence (Secularism). Yet, he is right in referring to the existence of these auxiliary sciences in the Khaldunian epistemology theory, but we need to assert that we should not depend on new auxiliary sciences, as suggested by Abu Ya’rub. Rather, we should select sciences already known in the scope of the Islamic sciences.

In addition, these functions that Ibn Khaldun ascribed to the science of ‘Umran are not only limited to those mentioned by Al-Marzouki. They have other fundamentalist functions, like collecting different sciences and reflections, organizing ambiguous pieces of information, and representing the Divine signs with the same order mentioned in Muqaddimah14.

As for the first function, it aims to collect different sciences or build inferential relationships when organizing data and knowledge to pave the way for the mind and develop its capabilities to fully understand the conditions of human civilization (Al-‘Umran Al-Bashri).

Reflecting on this work within its historical context, we will find that the period in which Ibn Khaldun lived was characterized by the abundance of encyclopedic writings which classify informations according to the field of specialization to present knowledge in practical frameworks and publish useful references in the form of: (classes), (history and biography books), (glossaries of countries), (language dictionaries), (medical encyclopedias), and other forms that successfully contributed in collecting and classifying information according to its category. However, the process meant by Ibn Khaldun in this scope is another stage of compilation. It is the stage which links more than one systematized knowledge, collecting sciences in a complex and coordinated methodological mode.

This is what we find clearly in the science of ‘Umran, which tried to benefit not only from the available wide information obtained by Ibn Khaldun but also from the scientific methods applicable in different scientific fields. In other words, one of the objectives of the compilation process, for the science of ‘Urman, is uniting several sciences under one methodological vision. This vision guides the researcher to build his main perceptions depending on the monotheistic vision dominating every piece of knowledge mentioned in the book of Muqaddimah.

As for the second function, it organizes different knowledge under a comprehensive theoretical framework in which the science of ‘Umran plays the role of the regulator (An-Nadhem). In fact, this process reflects the true essence of the compilation adopted by Ibn Khaldun. As the process of cumulative compilation shows only the first stage previously mentioned, the notion of the “regulator” in the second stage means to reach a comprehensive deep understanding of ideas, in which the human mind tries to find a common logic uniting various issues in the subject under study and systematically benefit from the scientifically credible achievements in other sciences. Due to the significance of this notion, some Muslim thinkers, such as Abu Al-Qasim Haj Hamad, tried to revive this notion by coining the term “Methodological Regulator” (An-Nadhem Al-Manhaji) in his attempt to establish the philosophy of the method in determining the relationship between Revelation and various humanitarian sciences15.

  • Ideological Function

The ideological function, of the science of ‘Umran, refutes all the materialistic and secular interpretations widely promoted by Orientalist schools and their Arab followers. In fact, they attached to it various sorts of materialistic thought, such as dialectical materialism, utilitarianism, positivism, and other philosophies. They, then, compared Ibn Khaldun to the founders of these Western tendencies. But this approach just reflect their own scientific and cultural backgrounds. Moreover, a lot of phrases in the Muqaddimah contains many Islamic values and perceptions deeply rooted in Ibn Khaldun’s knowledge. They represent the hidden light which guided Ibn Khaldun in his research and explanations about humans and ‘Umran. They also prove Ibn Khaldun’s proficiency, as he exerted his utmost effort to connect human, ‘Umran and knowledge with monotheism, prove this relationship, and explain its role in human civilization and knowledge. In fact, this is among the most important achievements of Ibn Khaldun, although this view was also adopted by most Muslim scholars who firmly believe that knowledge is just a tool to get closer to Allah by knowing the secrets of His creatures and His signs manifested in all His creatures.

  • Development Function

Regarding the science of ‘Umran, knowledge and conclusions are not as abstract as those of the Greek philosophy severely criticized by Ibn Khaldun throughout Muqaddimah. Ibn Khaldun‘s science of ‘Umran is a practical science that addresses the real-life of every Muslim in order to change it according to the fixed principles of Revelation. To assert the importance of this objective, Ibn Khaldun expanded the scope of the Hisbah theory (a system managing the order of social life) by criticizing many types of people living in the Islamic society, such as rulers, scholars, and jurists (Fuqahaa’). The emergence of this theory in Ibn Khaldun’s thought clearly proves the practicality of the science of ‘Umran16.

The reflection on the possible role of the science of ‘Umran on the contemporary Muslim; his lifestyle and thought, is influenced by the dominant scientific ideology which controls the terminology system and determines the ways of its usage. Some of these attempts considered Muqaddimah, directly or indirectly, a reference for the sociology of “developing” or “backward” countries. Muhammad Ahmad al-Zu’bi, for example, believes that benefiting from Muqaddimah is possible under certain conditions: Medieval social classes, the most prominent manifestations of backwardness, should exist. Ibn Khaldun’s world can still be found in the countries of the Third World with different degrees. Real phenomena still existing, forms a link between this era and the era of Ibn Khaldun, represented – according to the opinion of the author of the article- in Bedouin life, pastoral economy, social and economic tribalism, communalism, tribal solidarity, religious solidarity, sectarian solidarity, and so on17.

In order to avoid these one-sided reflections, we should focus on explaining the expected positive roles of the science of ‘Umran in addressing the current problems and challenges of the Muslim society. This process is not based on the belief that studying a backward society should be through a backward method which is the backward science of ‘Umran, as understood from the interpretation of Muhammad Ahmad al-Zu’bi. Rather, because the science of ‘Umran is an authentic Islamic knowledge, due to its monotheistic view, it has the ability to interpret and explain all phenomena in the Islamic world. On the contrary, the imported sciences could not achieve this, and the failure of different imported projects to reform Muslim societies is a good example.

When discussing these functions, we should draw attention to an important point, which is the possibility of expanding the scope of specialization of this science by applying it to fields that were not clear during Ibn Khaldun’s era; when he established its rules and designed its subject. Ibn Khaldun referred to this idea in the last paragraph of Muqaddimah. He called for the expansion of the scope of the science of ‘Umran; its issues and fields of application. He wrote: “Perhaps whoever comes after us, who is supported by Allah by granting him a sound mind and wide knowledge, will exceed us by thoroughly studying its issues. Indeed, the master of any art does not have to tackle all its issues, but he has only to establish its pillars. Then, the next generations should gradually study issues on his light until it is completed18.

Translated by: Rehab Jamal Bakri**


* صالح بن طاهر مشُوش (2012). علم العمران الخلدوني وأثر الرؤية الكونية التوحيدية في صياغته: دراسة تحليلية للإنسان والمعرفة عند ابن خلدون. ط. 1. فيرجينيا: المعهد العالمي للفكر الإسلامي، 2012. ص ص. 126، 135- 137، 179، 185.

Saleh ibn Taher Mashoush was born in Aguemoune, Béjaïa Province, Algeria. He earned his master’s and PhD degrees from the International Islamic University- Malaysia. He also received his BA degree in philosophy from the University of Algiers II – Bouzareah.

1  ابن خلدون، المقدمة، تحقيق: وافي، مرجع سابق، ج1، 330. ص 28.

2 حاج حمد، محمد أبوالقاسم. العالمية الإسلامية الثانية: جدلية الغيب والإنسان والطبيعة، بيروت: دار ابن حزم للطباعة والنشر والتوزيع، ط2، 1996م، مج 1، ص 57.

3 حسّان، تمّام. البيان في روائع القرآن، القاهرة: عالم الكتب، ط2، 200م، ج1؛ ج2.

4 ابن نبي، مالك. الظاهرة القرآنية: نظرية جديدة في دراسات القرآن، القاهرة: مكتبة دار العروبة، 1961م.

5 ملكاوي، فتحي حسن. “العمران في منظومة القيم الحاكمة” (كلمة التحرير)، إسلامية المعرفة، عدد 59 (شتاء 2010).

  • Through his study around the concept of Khalifah (The Caliph) according to the early commentators (Ibn ‘Abbās, Mujāhid and Sufian Ath-Thawrī) [The Term “Khalifa” in Early Execetical Literature], Wadad kadi deduced five principal significations including: Imitation, What is after demolishing or terminating, Housing and Construction and Ruling. See:

Conrad Lawrence (ed.), The Qur’an: Formative Interpretation (Ashgate pub – lishing Company, 1999), pp.392 – 411.

7 ابن خلدون، المقدمة، تحقيق: وافي، مرجع سابق، ج1، ص 340.

8  The word Ibrah was used by other historians such as Imam Adh-Dhahabi (1274-1348 AD) in his book entitled “Al-‘Ibar Fi Khabar man Ghabar” (Lessons from the story of the previous generations) which narrates the events and the historical facts and mentions the obituaries of eminent men and the event of each year from the beginning of the Prophetic era till the end of the year 722 H.

9 ابن خلدون، المقدمة، تحقيق: وافئ، مرجع سابق، ج1، ص 328.

10 المرزوقي، أبويعرب، الاجتماع النظري الخلدوني والتاريخ العربي المعاصر، ص 31 – 32.

11 Ibid., P.31-32.

12  Ibid., P.39.

13 ابن خلدون، المقدمة، تحقيق: وافئ، مرجع سابق، ج1، ص 320.

14 Ibid., Vol.1, P.279.

15 حاج حمد، أبو القاسم. العالمية الإسلامية الثانية: جدلية الغيب والإنسان والطبيعة، بيروت: دار ابن حزم للطباعة والنشر والتوزيع، ط2، 1996م.

16 compare this with:

ابن تيمية، الحسبة، ص61.

17 الزعبي، محمد أحمد. حول الإرث السوسيولجي لابن خلدون: مدخل عام، سلسلة كتب المستقبل العربي (41)، الفكر الاجتماعي الخلدوني: المنهج والمفاهيم والأزمة المعرفية، بيروت: ط1، 2004 م، ص 34 – 36.

18 ابن خلدون، المقدمة، تحقيق: وافي، مرجع سابق، ج3، ص 1365.

** Egyptian Researcher and Translator.

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