The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Talking about my experience reading ‘Al-Muqaddimah’ – much less writing a review – is something that necessitates humility at the very first instance.

This work is so vast, so intellectual, that I found myself consistently in awe and questioning how it was possible for a single man to have so much worldly knowledge and wisdom contained within him. This is less of a review than an attempt to gather my thoughts after finishing this monumental work.

The topics spoken about were wide-ranging, yet familiar enough to any introspective person that reading Ibn Khaldun’s perspective and thoughts on them was both fresh and insightful.

So what is this book about? While Ibn Khaldun talks about everything from taxes, stages of empire, desert toughness, royal authority, the corrupting influence of luxury, dreams, poetry, eloquence, habits, the relationship between a citizen and the state, hunger, the soul (and much more), the book is also peppered with practical, timeless advice on good character and how to deal with people in different scenarios. Although it is undoubtable that much of the nuance of what he is explaining must be lost when reading his work in English as opposed to the original Arabic, the benefit gained from even the English translation is unlike anything I have read prior.

I will admit however, that I had to mentally prepare myself for reading this book. This preparation was nothing short of beginning my reading journey a few years prior. If I had dived into this book even 2-3 years ago, I doubt I would have been able to finish it. It was extremely heavy and it took me a good 200 pages for me to even feel welcome. My personal belief in not giving up on a good book ultimately allowed me to succeed in the completion of this work, though I imagine many would not be able to make it past the first big hurdle. Nonetheless, I am openly bearing witness that overcoming and persevering through the initial hurdle is worth it. Finishing this book will stretch your mind to such limits that it will not be able to return to its original dimensions. Even if we don’t accept all of his conclusions, the work itself is one that cannot be dismissed and which stands proudly amongst the many must-read books in human history.

The main takeaway I gathered from this book is that desert toughness is the first stage to the foundation of a civilisation. Living to one’s maximum level of personal freedom, while being responsible as much as possible for your own security and developing a shared sense of group unity are the fundamental ingredients to ascendency in the land (and God knows best).

It is obvious to the reader that Ibn Khaldun was a master at observing the world around him, at looking past the overlay which wraps itself around everyday life and decoding the patterns behind human behaviour, social structures and political institutions that surround us. I will keep many of his advices, parables and letters as notes to return to in the hopes of extracting benefit from it time after time.

For anyone on the fence about this book, if you have any interest in the nature of man, the structure of society and stages of civilisation then this is a must-read. Prepare yourself to endure long drawn-out sections in order to extract fragrance from its bud. The destination is worth the journey.

It is at this point I humbly end my review with the belief that I simply cannot do this work justice in the words available to me at this time. The fact that this 600+ page book is just the introduction to Ibn Khaldun’s main work is a testimony to the breadth and depth of his wisdom.

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