Ibn Khaldun on the History of Post-Classical Philosophy and kalam — What did he not like about it?

By Frank Griffel
Submitted to Session P6470 (New Directions in Islamic Intellectual History, 2021 Annual Meeting
Islamic World;
13th-18th Centuries;
Ibn Khaldūn’s al-Muqaddima is one of the foundational sources during the formation of the academic field of Oriental Studies in the first half of the 19th century and has been read and re-read ever since. It became a particularly important source when the study of Islamic philosophy moved out of the classical period—which had dominated the Western view of Islamic philosophy up to the early 21st century—into the post-classical one. In the Muqaddima’s sixth and last faṣl, Ibn Khaldūn discusses the “fields of knowledge and their divisions” (al-ʿulūm wa aṣnāfuhū). In almost sixty chapters, he presents the history of kalām, Sufism, historiography, philosophy, medicine and many other fields of knowledge. The Muqaddima became a prime witness for the now dominant view that after the 12th century, Islamic philosophy was integrated into the field of kalām. Ibn Khaldūn’s division of kalām in an early period and a “recent one” after al-Ghazālī, where kalām is “mixed” (khālaṭa) with falsafa is now the basis of all further understanding of post-classical intellectual history in Islam.
Yet Ibn Khaldūn also voices a severe dissatisfaction with the state of kalām at his time that makes the chapter on that field of knowledge hard to understand. Early on in the sixth faṣl he divides all human sciences into two branches “the philosophical sciences” (al-ʿulūm al-ḥikmiyya al-falsafiyya) and “the sciences that relate to revelation” (al-ʿulūm al-naqliyya al-waḍʿiyya). The process of “mixing” philosophy and religious sciences by itself does not trigger Ibn Khaldūn’s disapproval; rather it is something that has crept into kalām as a result of that mixing. This paper will offer a close reading of key passages from Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddima and see what new information about the intellectual history of Islam’s post-classical period and the relation of philosophy to kalām can be gleaned from them. My presentation will be supported with evidence from works on kalām and the genre of ḥikma (“philosophy”) in post-classical Islam that clearly display the features Ibn Khaldūn complains about. The presentation will clarify what expectations readers like Ibn Khaldūn carried to the two distinct genres of ḥikma and kalām and how post-classical books in those two genres responded to those expectations. The paper will aim to clarify the relationship of reason and revelation in Ibn Khaldūn’s presentation of post-classical scholarship in Islam.