Ibn-e-Khaldun and other forgotten Muslim heroes

My heart heaved heavily as I realised that my sociology students did not know of Ibn-e-Khaldun or Al-Farabi.

Taimur Arbab April 09, 2012
The other day, I asked my sociology students a question. It was a simple question but one that carried an answer of profound significance.
‘Who is regarded as the father of social sciences by the absolute majority of contemporary academics?’

The answer that I was looking for was Ibn-e-Khaldun. But my class only came up with replies of Durkheim, Marx and Parsons. They were not aware of Ibn-e-Khaldun. They did not know that in the late 13th century, the Berber gave to the world what is today known as the ‘comparative method’; the foundation for contemporary social science.

Khaldun’s work was a definite break from the past as history was no longer merely an account of a king’s glorious conquest, an empire’s leaps in every facet of material civilisation or the magnanimity of individuals.

Contrary to Herodotus, Livy and Tacitus, Khaldun’s achievement was the first critical outlook on human society.

If it weren’t for a western academic by the name of Franz Rosenthal, most of the world today would have forgotten the genius of Khaldun. Rosenthal translated Khaldun’s work from Arabic into English, bringing the world’s attention to one of the most original thinkers of humanity. Bells ringing (think about the translation movement of the Abbasids!)

Muslims, for whom Khaldun should be a hero, are too embroiled in a war against ‘infidels’ to remember Khaldun. Madrassas which produced the likes of Ghazali, Maulana Rumi and Ibn-e-Sina now produce pupils who become chief commanders in virtually all terrorist organisations of the world.

How the wheel of history turns!

My students also did not know about Ibn-e-Sina, Al-Farabi, Al-Masudi, Ibn-e-Kindi, Al-Khwarzami or Ibn-e-Rushd.

My heart heaved heavily.

However, more pain was yet to come.

At the end of class, a student asked,
“Sir, if what you have revealed to us is correct, why is it that only nine Muslims have won the Nobel Prize?

The realisation dawned upon me. These kids are not to be blamed. The fates of Anwar Saadat, Naguib Mahfouz and Abdus Salam crossed my mind in the blink of an eye and I found my misery doubled.

What is there to discuss about the heroes of the past when we have already forgotten those of today?

Read more by Taimur here.
Taimur Arbab A former sub-editor at The Express Tribune, college teacher of Sociology and English Language and a graduate student at Aga Khan Institute for Educational Development, who leans toward the left side of the political spectrum and looks for ideas for his short stories and poems in the everyday happenings of life.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Mawali | 12 years ago | Reply So then what is the answer to the question your unfortunate students posed to you about the nobel prize winners ?With bated breath, i await your response. BTW, Anwar Sadaat was a closed minded, shameless, miserable man. He and his predecessor are responsible to a great extent for the extremist movement in Egypt.
hassan | 12 years ago | Reply The debate between owners of Turkish ancestry and Arabic ancestry is getting stimulating. I am sure people of both Turkish and Arab blood are noble. In the fond hope of finding some heroes, even with dubious merit, I hope they don't ignore the fact that both Turks and Arabs have contributed immensely MORE to the Hall of Shame than to the Hall of Fame. PS: Please, 'beheading', 'belly dancing' and harem, though they are path-breaking, they really don't count as contributions.
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