The medieval Islamic cultural and historiographic tradition is rich in various trends of historical writing and production. Some of them include the al-Sirah, a form of an oral epic history that reflects prophetic hadith and performed as folk poems, the Tabaqat, which were biographical prosopographies aiming at recounting the lives and achievements of important persons and, third, the tarikh which was the established form of historical narrative, the chronicography. In the tarikh, the most common historical narration, causality was not included as a historical tool, and it took the form of epic narration of the important historical events in the Islamic world. Abu Jafar al-Tabari’s History of the Prophets and the Kings (tarikh al rusul wa al muluk), written in the first half of the 10th century, was one of the most distinguished historical works of medieval Islam. Nevertheless, the growing political, financial and cultural exchange between the West and the East led to the launch of a more solid attempt of historical documentation, and a transformation in historical writing. These attempts led, firstly, to more globally oriented histories, secondly, to a more socially approached history, and thirdly, to the early professionalization of historical writing, which had the protection of the authorities. These transformations reflected the growing centralization of political power and the augmentation trend of the establishment to produce more robust moral political lessons. The crystallization of these trends can be traced in the work of the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun and his Muqaddimah (Prolegomena), which was probably written in the late 14th century, and for many scholars, including western ones like A. Toynbee, is regarded as one of the greatest historical works ever written.
The gradual construction of nation – states in modern global history and the emergence of nationalistic programmes of state formation led to an idealistic conception of history and the tracing of national bonds in the historical past. One of the major concepts of Ibn Khaldun, ‘asabiyyah, helped to establish and legitimize the political map of modern nation –states in the Middle East, revealing that the social solidarity (‘asabiyyah) between the local tribes, that Ibn Khaldun described, was the origin of the emergence and forging of modern coherent national identities in the region. Ibn Khaldun, explained that ‘asabiyyah was galvanized more in nomads and tribal groups than in the city dwellers, marking, thus, the distinction of rural and urban life and the subsequent nature and the characteristics of labour in each case. The great intellectual turn that brought Ibn Khaldun’s historical narrative, reveals a great influence not only in Arab historiography, but also in European philosophy. Many European intellectuals and historians, like Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Hume and Ranke, presented in western thought the systematic and epistemological study of history and historical schemes that helped enrich historical and sociological thinking. Montesquieu’s notions of climate and environmental characteristics and their influence on the mentality and morals of the individual is probably a loan from Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah.
Ibn Khaldunian idea of causality, urged the philosophy of history of his time and later, to secularize its discourse and try to abandon metaphysical explanations of historical events by concentrating in the ‘worldly’ causes and reasons of the big transformative events. The Tunisian historian, thus, introduces us a hermeneutical tool that, to a great extent, has similarities with what was later described in historical science as historicism. The European historians, such as the German Karl Lamprecht, wrote an analytical and critical history in the positivist trend, but used as a methodological tool the diffused intellectual disposition, in the 19th century Europe, of historical cycles. This analytical scheme is introduced by Ibn Khaldun who recognizes five stages of a dynasty in Arab history that last approximately for three generations, and that ends in the parasitical period of a dynast, before it is replaced by a new one which will have the same end. Ibn Khaldun goes one step further, intellectually conceiving two concepts that the German historian of the 20th century, Reinhart Koselleck, named the ‘field of experience’ and the ‘horizon of expectation’. These two terms reveal the need for knowledge of the origins and motives of states and sects, as well as the social subjects, their declared principles, their regimes of historicity and major events in their histories, in order to understand why the social actors make specific choices and what their motives are.
The multidisciplinary approach of the great Tunisian historian and philosopher allowed him to have a large monitoring of the multifaceted social transformations both of his time and of the times to come. He acknowledges a huge driving force in historical transformation which is the conflict between the different social classes that constitutes each social fabric. In Muqaddimah he underlines the early division of labour and the way it defines the social identity of the individual and of every class. This acceptance leads many scholars to raise the point that Ibn Khaldun’s approach to history was materialistic, comparing it to the Marxist analysis. In fact, even if this comparison cannot be easily defended, Ibn Khaldunian thesis on labour relations had a great impact on his followers, setting a social and economic analysis based on the modes of production, the labour relations, the surplus value and the accumulation of capital that leads to social and economic inequalities. Furthermore, many social scientists consider Ibn Khaldun’s idea, that the nature of labour actually defines an individual and not he himself, similar to Marx’s economic theory, while at the same time the former’s ‘asabiyyah is largely viewed as the early expression of the German philosopher’s idea of class consciousness. The Arab historian’s interpretation of the economical dynamics in societies resembles much to the Marxist analysis but it could be reckless to compare the theories of the two men, since Marx lived in a period and in a space that experienced an enormous scale of industrialization and an emerging feeling of an organized nationalism.
A late Arab “historiographical turn”?
Ibn Khaldun, according to the dominant manichaeistic discourse, represents a bright Arab mediaeval past by contrast to the dark and ‘immoral’ present, not only of the Arab nations but also of the western societies. By importing rationalism and causality, Ibn Khaldun helped modernizing the way Islamic history was being written and perceived. The Tunisian historian’s theory, even if it is written in the early modern period, is pervaded by two main concepts that we can detect them also in the modern European and global historiography and are still extremely dominant in historical writing and popular culture: first, the concept of the globalized world and the globalization of almost every aspect of social life, such us the globalized markets and the international political scene; second, the powerful notion of modernization theory and the linear fate of the human being to engage himself in progress. This slowly marked the establishment of a unified cultural code that should be recognized ecumenically.
Given the fact that the contribution of Ibn Khaldun’s theory is not static and predefined, re-evaluations and various readings of his works have emerged. This re – evaluation can be ascribed to a wider trend in modern Arab thought that took place since the failure of the nationalist project in the Arab world and the defeat by Zionism. Having as a common denominator historical writing for the “people’s sake”, a different historiographical paradigm emerged, in order to fight these “immoral” times. Under the Cold War lens and the power struggles in the Middle East, many historians made a paradigm shift, and moved towards a religious interpretation of history, marking the use (and misuse) of religious terms, values and practices as notions of political, sociological and anthropological significance. A revealing example of this inclination is the Egyptian thinker Tariq al-Bishri, a leading figure in contemporary Arab historical studies. Al-Bishri analyses the modernization endeavours in the Arab world as insincere as long as Islam is not included. He assesses that Islam is not an obstacle to modernization and development; it is, rather, an integral part of modern Arab identity and heritage and it should be praised as an element of authenticity. The unity of the Arab world, according to al-Bishri, lies in religious coherence (al-mawruth) while the Muslim ‘umma should stand straightforward towards the cunning alienation processes by the globalized western culture (al-wafid), borrowing, thus, the concept of ‘asabiyyah from Ibn Khaldun. This interpretation of the Arab historical consciousness was largely welcomed in the societies of the Middle East, due to two, mainly, reasons: on the one hand the gradual retreat from secular understanding in the Arab societies from a number of renowned intellectuals, such as Hassan Hanafi and Munir Shafiq, and on the other a gradual as well consolidation of an auxiliary Islamic semi-state within the society per se. This semi-state provided basic services, like healthcare, education and even security to marginalized classes and street vendors in slum areas, like in the case of Imbaba in Cairo.
What is interesting about the Islamic historiographical model is that at times it has been more fruitful in discussing the driving forces of historical progress or the historicity of the Arab societies, than the seculars’ or nationalists’ approaches. All in all, it seems that Ibn Khaldun’s tools are often used in a more fertile way by Islamic critics. Despite its eschatological approach and the inexpediency of the “end of history”, Islamic criticism to the Islamic historiography has been articulated throughout the Islamic world, constituting, thus, an important critic “from within”. This critic borrows Ibn Khaldun’s concepts of historicity and the later more solidly articulated concepts of the “field of experience” and the “horizon of expectations”. The target of this critic was, mainly, to move closer to historicizing the revelation and avoid ahistorical interpretations of the past and the present.
Two of the main intellectuals adopting this approach are the Algerian Mohammad Arkoun and the Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, both professors of Islamic studies. Arkoun introduces an insightful interpretation of the dominant Islamic discourse, unveiling the “mythical and prophetic dimensions of the phenomenon of religion”. He argues that Islamic historical writing is subjugated to logocentrism which produces a “regime of truth” that narrows the epistemological mental space. This mental space should be enriched with the elements of historical time, culture, politics and language of the past that help avoiding misconceptions both to the understanding of contemporary politics but also to the religious message itself. In addition, Arkoun proposes a linguistic analysis of the Quran and all its panegyric tributes in an attempt to deconstruct the quranic myth and mark its historicity, underlying that it is a product of its time. This attempt seems to mark an effort to initiate a genuine “linguistic turn” in the Arab and Islamic studies in the 1980s that comes from its own heritage (turath). Abu Zayd, who has been accused of apostasy by al-Azhar for his postulates, moves to the same direction. The Islamist’s perceptions of absolutism of the text, the unique causality deriving from God and the only sovereignty stemming from the Prophet’s revelation attracts his fierce criticism. This religious omnipotence, according to the Egyptian thinker, reduces social and political matters to textual issues. Abu Zayd, furthermore, accuses the rigid Islamic interpretation of history to exclude all the important aspects of human presence in history, such as the determining factors that Ibn Khaldun recognised as effective to historical progress (i.e culture, climate, language, class conflict etc.). Therefore, the Islamic approach denies a renewed epistemological approach to the human condition.
Finally, in Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun recognizes an inclination of mimesis that comes from the weaker politically peoples towards the conquerors. In Ibn Khaldunian philosophy the conquered acknowledge a kind of superiority in the conquerors, be it military, political or cultural. This acknowledgment becomes rooted in the imaginary of the dominated people since it is usually related with more sophisticated political and social institutions as well as technological advance. This procedure leads to mimesis and both secular and Islamist thinkers have postulated the thesis that the mimesis towards western political culture has been one of the main historical driving forces of modern Arab history. This notion finds dialectical correlation with al-Bishri’s and Arkoun’s approaches to al-wafid and al-mawruth and their ideological significance to the Arab world. Both intellectuals have been critical to this mimesis and they acknowledge that the struggle between imported and traditional notions and practices has been a cornerstone in modern Arab history. Nevertheless, what is still a political and a philosophical quest in the Middle East is the equilibrium between these two notions, and whether there should actually be one.
 For the trends in Islamic historiography see Georg G. Iggers, Edward Q. Wang, Supriya Mukherjee, Παγκόσμια Ιστορία της Σύγχρονης Ιστοριογραφίας, Μετ. Πελαγία Μαρκέτου, Αθήνα: Εκδ. Νεφέλη, 2015
 Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015
 Ernest, Gellner, “Cohesion and Identity: the Maghreb from Ibn Khaldun to Emile Durkheim”, Government and Opposition, Vol. 10, Issue 2, April 1975, pp. 203-218
 For a better understanding of the influence of Ibn Khaldun’s ideas see Warren E. Gates, “The Spread of Ibn Khaldûn's Ideas on Climate and Culture”, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 28, No. 3, Jul. - Sep., 1967, pp. 415-422
 Khalid, Chaouch, “Ibn Khaldun, In spite of Himself”, The Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 13, No. 3, Sep. 2008, pp. 279-291
 Georg G. Iggers, Edward Q. Wang, Supriya Mukherjee, Παγκόσμια Ιστορία της Σύγχρονης Ιστοριογραφίας, Μετ. Πελαγία Μαρκέτου, Αθήνα: Εκδ. Νεφέλη, 2015, pp 428-429
 Roel, Meijer, “History, Authenticity and Politics: Tarq al-Bishri’s Interpretation of Modern Egyptian History”, Occasional Paper, No 4, September 1989, p. 19
 Elizabeth Suzanne, Kassab “Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective”, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, p. 175
 Ibid., pp. 176-178
 Ibid., pp. 187
 Roel, Meijer, Ibid., p. 25