Detailed account of history writing by Arab historians


Muslim historical traditions first began developing from the earlier 7th century with the reconstruction of Muhammad’s life following his death. Narratives regarding Muhammad and his companions from various sources, it was necessary to verify which sources were more reliable.

In order to evaluate these sources, various methodologies were developed, such as the “science of biography”, “science of habit” and “Sinead” (chain of transmission). These methodologies were later applied to other historical figures in the Muslim world. Ilm ar-Rijal (Arabic) is the “science of biography” especially as practiced in Islam, where it was first applied to the sira, the life of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, and then the lives of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs who expanded Islamic dominance rapidly.

Since validating the sayings of Muhammad is a major study (“Isnad”), accurate biography has always been of great interest to Muslim biographers, who accordingly became experts at sorting out facts from accusations, bias from evidence, etc., and were renowned throughout the known world for their honesty in recording history. Modern practices of scientific citation and historical method owe a great deal to the rigor of the Isnad tradition of early Muslims. The earliest surviving Islamic biography is Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, written in the 8th century.


The “science of hadith” is the process that Muslim scholars use to evaluate hadith. The classification of Hadith into Sahih (sound), Hasan (good) and Da’if (weak) was firmly established by Ali ibn al-Madini (161-234 AD). Later, al-Madini’s student Muhammad al-Bukhari (810- 870) authored a collection that he believed contained only Sahih hadith, which is now known as the Sahih Bukhari.

Other famous Muslim historians who studied the science of biography or science of hadith included Urwah ibn Zubayr (d. 712), Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728), Ibn Ishaq (d. 761), al-Waqidi (745-822), Ibn Hisham (d. 834), al-Maqrizi (1364-1442), and Ibn Hajar Asqalani
(1372-1449), among others. The first detailed studies on the subject of historiography itself and the first critiques on historical methods appeared in the works of the Arab Muslim historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who is regarded as the father of historiography, cultural history, and the philosophy of history, especially for his historiographical writings in the Muqaddimah (Latinized as Prolegomena) and Kitab al-Ibar (Book of Advice). His Muqaddimah also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history and he discussed the rise and fall of civilisations.

In the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun warned of seven mistakes that he thought that historians regularly committed. In this criticism, he approached the past as strange and in need of interpretation. The originality of Ibn Khaldun was to claim that the cultural difference of another age must govern the evaluation of relevant historical material, to distinguish the principles according to which it might be possible to attempt the evaluation, and lastly, to feel the need for experience, in addition to rational principles, in order to assess a culture of the past.

Ibn Khaldun often criticized “idle superstition and uncritical acceptance of historical data.” As a result, he introduced a scientific method to the study of history, which was considered something “new to his age”, and he often referred to it as his “new science”, now associated with historiography. His historical method also laid the groundwork for the observation of the role of state, communication, propaganda and systematic bias in history.


Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838-923) is known for writing a detailed and comprehensive chronicle of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern history in his History of the Prophets and Kings in 915. Abu al- Hasan ‘All al-Mas’udi (896-956), known as the “Herodotus of the Arabs”, was the first to combine history and scientific geography in a large-scale work, Muruj adh-dhahab wa ma’adin al-jawahir (The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems), a book on world history.

Until the 10th century, history most often meant political and military history, but this was not so with Persian historian Biruni (973-1048). In his Kitab ffTahqiq ma I’ll-Hind (Researches on India), he did not record political and military history in any detail, but wrote more on India’s cultural, scientific, social and religious history. Along with his Researches on India, Biruni discussed more on his idea of history in his chronological work The Chronology of the Ancient Nations.

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