Qalat Ibn Salama and Ibn Khaldun

The ancient fortress of Qalat Ibn Salama is situated on a hill near present-day Tiaret, south-west of Algiers, the capital city of Algeria. As a military fortress, Qalat Ibn Salama no doubt served the purpose of protecting the people in the area from foreign invaders. However, the historical fact that Qalat Ibn Salama is most recognize for is that Ibn Khaldun took shelter there between 1375 and 1379. It was during these four years that he began to compose his renowned Muqaddimah – the first volume of his book on the subject of universal history.

Ibn Khaldun was a famous scholar, historian, theologian and statesman who was born in Algeria’s neighboring country Tunisia in the year 1332. Ibn Khaldun stood out among his peers as a forward thinker with regard to sociology, demography, historiography, cultural history, the philosophy of history and modern economics. Ibn Khaldun anticipated many elements of these disciplines, especially relating to social sciences, centuries before they were founded or put into practice. This has led to many learned people considering him to be the true pioneer, or “father”, of these disciplines.

Ibn Khaldun was born into an Andalusian family, which was considered to be socially upper class. Around the middle of the 13th century his family immigrated to Tunisia, where some of his family members held political office. Ibn Khaldun states in his autobiography that he was able to trace his descent through an Arab tribe, specifically the Hadhramaut, from Yemen right back to the time of Muhammad. His family’s high social rank gave him the opportunity study with the best teachers in North Africa at the time.

Ibn Khaldun pursued a political career, as many of his family had before him. In the politically volatile climate of North Africa at the time, he soon developed the art of diplomacy, learning to interpret political changes and adapt swiftly to changing circumstances. His political skills, along with the good relationships he had forged with the Berber tribes, made Ibn Khaldun valuable to the North African rulers, but after a time he began to tire of the volatility of the political scene. In 1375 he was sent on a mission to the Dawadida tribes by Abu Hammu, the Sultan of Tlemcen. He sought refuge with the Awlad Arif Berber tribe in Qalat Ibn Salama, in central Algeria. He remained there for close on four years, enjoying the protection of his hosts. He took advantage of this time to write the Muqaddimah, but lacking the texts he needed to complete the work, in 1378 he returned to Tunisia, where he devoted himself to completing his history of the world.

Certainly Ibn Khaldun’s autobiography has all the ingredients of high adventure, complete with political glory, imprisonment, and exile. Should you have the opportunity to visit Qalat Ibn Salama in Algeria, take some time to reflect on some of the history relating to the ancient stone walls.