Teaching Module

Education in the Middle East

Ibn Khaldun's Study of History (1377 CE) [Literary Excerpt]

Annotation

Statesman, jurist, historian, scholar, and philosopher Ibn Khaldun was born in Tunis on May 27, 1332. Ibn Khaldun is an exemplary example of product of the Islamic education that children and youth received. He received a traditional early education of Qur'an, jurisprudence, and Arabic grammar. In his early 20s traveled to Fes to complete his education with the eminent scholars of his day. Ibn Khaldun wrote The Muqaddimah in 1377 as the preface and first book of his world history volume. It is regarded as the earliest attempt made by any historian to discover patterns in changes in political and social organization and it represents a departure from traditional historiography that merely chronicled events. The majority of the volume was prepared in the form of academic lectures to be read aloud. The text often appears repetitive, but this makes sense in light of Ibn Khaldun's new terminology the fact that he wrote before the invention of printing.

Ibn Khaldun was remarkably modern and scientific in his thinking. At the same time, he was very much a part of his age in that he based his rational views on unquestioned religious, physical, and geographical assumptions. For example, in this selection, Ibn Khaldun criticizes the traditional pedagogy of rote memorization that was practiced in Islamic societies for teaching children and youth. However, he later goes on to explain that inhabitants of the eastern parts of Islamic civilization have accrued superior intelligence because of their sedentary culture (the western region consisted largely of nomadic Berber tribes). This document brings up the question of how effective memorization is as a pedagogical technique for teaching children and youth.

Source

Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, translated by Franz Rosenthal, edited and abridged by N.J. Dawood (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 340–1. Annotated by Heidi Morrison.

Primary Source Text

The easiest method of acquiring the scientific habit is through acquiring the ability to express oneself clearly in discussing and disputing scientific problems. This is what clarifies their import and makes them understandable. Some students spend most of their lives attending scholarly sessions. Still, one finds them silent. They do not talk and do not discuss matters. More than is necessary, they are concerned with memorizing. Thus, they do not obtain much of a habit in the practice of science and scientific instruction. Some of them think that they have obtained (the habit). But when they enter into a discussion or disputation, or do some teaching, their scientific habit is found to be defective. Their memorized knowledge may be more extensive than that of other scholars, because they are so much concerned with memorizing. They think that scientific habit is identical with memorized knowledge. But that is not so.

How to Cite This Source

Heidi Morrison, "Education in the Middle East," in Children and Youth in History, Item #459, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/459 (accessed November 1, 2014).