Episode 4: Ibn Khaldun and Early Muslim Strategic Thought

Professor Malik Mufti, a specialist on the politics and international relations of the Middle East, discusses two medieval Muslim works of exemplary scholarship and erudition.

Like many other Muslim works of the Middle Ages, the two works were greatly influenced by Greek and Roman literature that had become available in translation or, to very educated scholars, in the original texts.

Both the anonymous mid-9th century manual on war and the works of Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) show an aversion to simplistic principles devised for the conduct of war and emphasise the need to tailor responses to each conflict with its own configuration. Ibn Khaldun especially emphasises the need to factor in contingency and unpredictable events, and that, by using their own discernment and reason, the commander must seek to make the best of each situation.

Thus, it is not surprising that both authors have no time for any notion of fate or kismet, but focus instead on the commander’s skills and talents, and on the ability of humans to influence events in the interest of protecting and extending a virtuous Islamic Empire – a tolerant republic modelled on ancient Persia in which multiple civilisations could thrive.

Professor Malik Mufti completed a PhD at Harvard and teaches at Tufts University in the US. He is the author of Sovereign Creations: Pan-Arabism and Political Order in Syria and Iraq (1996), Daring and Caution in Turkish Strategic Culture (2009), and The Art of Jihad: Realism in Islamic Political Thought (2019).

The views or statements expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the podcast does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by RUSI employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of RUSI.


Beatrice Heuser

Senior Associate Fellow

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Paul O’Neill

Senior Research Fellow

Military Sciences

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