The University at Cordoba attracted students from all over the then known world and was acknowledged as the world’s leading seat of learning. Compendiums, which stand as the basis of modern science and learning, were developed and given to the world by Muslims through the study of the Holy Quran.
Muslims established vast libraries most of which were destroyed in the infamous Spanish Inquisition, when more than four hundred thousand volumes of the most valuable literature were burnt, in reprisal against the Muslims. The entire population of Muslims and that of the Jews were obliterated in that infamous Inquisition, through either death, forcible conversion to Catholicism or being enslaved and banished to the new world to serve the Spanish overlords.
It may not be out of place to mention that the first person to spot land in the New World was a Morisco, a former Spanish Muslim, who later returned to Spain and fled to North Africa where he subsequently reconverted to Islam.
In his dissertation, Islam in the New World, Charles Truxillo of the University of New Mexico points out:
Through Islamic Spain Christian Europe was stimulated culturally by contact with a more civilized society that had maintained and advanced the Mediterranean civilization of the Greeks and Romans and even the more ancient heritage of Egypt and Babylonia. From alcohol to algebra, to name a few terms, the knowledge of Europeans was advanced by stimulus. The tradition of romantic love has its origins in the poetic conventions of Hispano-Arabic poetry.
Max Domont, in his monumental work, Jews, God and History, wrote glowingly about the civilization brought by Islam through the Holy Prophet:
The improbable but true story of a camel driver’s establishment of a world empire in the name of Allah, wherein the Jews rose to their golden age of creativity, only to be plunged into a dark age with the eclipse of the crescent and the ascent of the cross.
Domont, observed that the growth of the Jewish golden age in the Muhammedian civilisation marched in parallel with the growth of the Islamic Empire and the disintegration of that empire was soon followed by the collapse of the Jewish golden age.
This is the (Islamic) civilization which divine wisdom caused to flow; one in which freedom and tolerance was enjoyed by every citizen and where righteousness and intellectual fortitude were honoured. The propulsion for this drive of Islamic civilisation may be gauged from this Quranic quotation:
In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Those who remember Allah while standing, sitting and lying on their sides and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord, Thou hast not created this in vain. (Quran 3:190-191).
This Quranic statement, and many more, impelled Muslims to explore the scientific phenomena inherent in the universe.
Less than a hundred years after the death of the Holy Prophet of Islam, Muslims made rapid strides in science. The teachings of Islam were the factors which caused Muslim nations to leave no stone unturned to acquire knowledge. In their quest, they translated most of what they learnt into Arabic and other languages. The Holy Quran lays great emphasis on the pursuit of knowledge:
Allah will exalt those who believe from among you and those to whom knowledge is given, to degrees of rank. (Quran 58:11)
The Holy Prophet instructed Muslims to seek knowledge. The knowledge he referred to, is the knowledge of arts and science. He said:
The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.
The seeking of knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim – male and female. For them who follow the path for seeking knowledge, Allah will ease the way to paradise.
The creative period of Muslims extended for many centuries. Their contributions have been absorbed greatly in the West, and the golden age of Islamic dominance is today the basis on which modern endeavours are built. An in-depth study of Islamic scientific achievements and the civilisation which they developed and gave forth to the world reveal that many of the principles projected as Western ingenuity were enunciated by Muslims. Briffault made this point in his work Making of Humanity.
Professor Dr Abdus Salaam, the distinguished scientist and Muslim scholar, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics made similar observations as did George Sarton. He wrote:
The age of their dominance in the field of learning lasted with an unbroken chain with the likes of Jabir, Khwarizmi, Razi, Masudi, Abu’ls Wafa, Al Beiruni, Omar Khayyam, Ibn-i-Sina (Avecenna), Ibunul Haitham from 750 to 1100 as pointed out by George Sarton in his epoch-making “History of Science.” The Muslims shared with their Western counterparts who, for the first time, entered the field, that unique honour for another 250 years and the names of that era which readily come to mind are Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Nasir-ud-din Tusi and Ibn Nafis.
He pointed out that what made Islam unique is the fact it cut across geographic barriers, race, profession, and nationality.
Wherever the Muslims went, be it Baghdad or Constantinople, Cairo, or Agra, they dazzled the world with newer forms of civilization. The Islamic civilisation brought through the Holy Prophet was not by chance. Our attention has been prophetically drawn to this by the Holy Quran:
You are the best people raised for the good of mankind; you enjoin what is good and forbid evil. (Quran 3:110)
This is a clear indication that the perfection which is promised shall be in all aspects. Hence Islamic civilisation, which was the culmination of Biblical prophecy, had rightly won its place as the highest civilisation.
Much of the credit for this phenomenal achievement must be given to the ingenuity of the Arabs. Max Domont acknowledged this when he charted the phenomenal progress the Arabs had made from humble beginnings as desert nomads in the 7th century to world leaders in arts and science in the 9th century.
They succeeded because Arab culture in its pure form was not exploitative of others. It has its genesis in creativity, resourcefulness, and humility. This explains why they had lived harmoniously with the Jews for hundreds of years before the divide was magnified.
The cycle of decline
It has been noted that Muslims brought a dazzling civilization of great magnitude, but one wonders at the state of the Muslim world today.
After having attained the peak of civilisation, their glory started to erode due to jealousy, the quest for personal power and the acquisition of wealth and fame. Tyranny and oppression were the consequences. Dictatorship and fanaticism took the place of justice and freedom. In effect, Muslims took the deep downward plunge. This was the result of turning their backs on the teachings of Islam. The Holy Quran draws our attention prophetically to this fact where it says:
And the Messenger will say, “O my Lord, my people, indeed treated this Quran as a discarded thing”. (Quran 25:30)
The early Muslims are not the ones referred to. We have seen they had exerted themselves to the utmost extremes and made rapid strides in every field of endeavour. The reference is to the future state of Muslims.
Muslims, sat on their laurels and stagnated the advance of civilization and knowledge to the degree that they became dependent on the same people they had taught. This sordid state of affairs led some Western Orientalists and scholars to label Muslims as lackadaisical. William Eton, writing about the Turkish Empire held such a view.
This decline started about a century after Al-Biruni (973-1048 C E). Both Sarton and Domont have made compelling observations on the decline of Islam.
On the same subject, the great scholar Imam Al-Ghazail in his lhyaulum-ud-din (The Revival of Religious Learning) observed around the year 1100 C E that it was a travesty that in defence of Islam, science should be rejected for he saw no contradiction between Islam and science.
This view was not shared by Ibn Khaldun (1332 -1406), who in his book, Al-Muquaddama rejected the relevance of science in Islam and even proposed that Islam should maintain its distance from science.
We also learn from al-Sayuti that Caliph Al-Hadi put to death in Baghdad 5000 scholars to destroy the teaching of science. In 885 AD all professional calligraphers were banned from making copies of textbooks of philosophy which represented the finest contributions by Muslim thinkers. The drying up of this source of knowledge catastrophically blocked further progress. This is the fundamental cause of the decline of Muslim society.
In his book, Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam, Mortimer laid his finger on the core of the problem: Islamic thought had crystallised at least in Sunni Islam at the point that the work of interpreting the Quran and Sunna as positive law was deemed complete. He distinguished it from philosophy which he said provided a more complete system of thought and therefore capable of expansion. The world of Islam he noted had ceased to evolve.
Mortimer was partly right, but it was not the fundamental teachings of Islam that had failed. It was the ossification of Islamic thought that brought about the downfall of Muslim civilisation. The word… ossification began when the concept of divine relation – the bloodline of life – was abandoned and the spiritual link between humans and God was severed. It was the product of convergence of common interests of autocratic political rulers who did not wish to abandon their illegally seized power and the religious scholars who sought a share in that hijacked power by serving the interest of their masters. This phenomenon, common in the history of Islam and other religions, is described by a Pakistani political leader, Asghar Khan, in the introduction to his book, Islam, Politics and the State.
The Industrial Revolution in Europe, which coincided with the political and economic disintegration of Muslim states and societies, was the turning point. The Ottoman and Mughal Empires attempted a futile resistance against the onslaught of a technologically and militarily superior Europe. By the end of the First World War, every inch of Muslim territory was colonised by one of the Western powers.
WALLOWING IN INGLORY
It is not my intention to suggest that the retreat of Muslim society should be attributed entirely to a ruthless stratagem by the West. Political and social analysts point to an unequal contest between an industrial and capitalist West against an agrarian and pastoral house of Islam. Muslim scholars also admit that the decline was caused by the fragmentation of Islam in geo-political terms over the last two centuries as a result of the weakening of central authority, the absence of an institutional framework for Muslim states, the decline in moral and ethical values of the ruling classes and the growth of autocratic and corrupt regimes. The emergence and consolidation of reactionary thought in Muslim society was a significant factor in the rejection of science and the acquisition of modern technology.
When we survey the state of today’s world of Islam, the picture which comes before our eyes is gloomy. The world of Islam, in political, economic, and social terms, is in disarray. A disproportionately high per centage of violent conflicts globally (estimated at 60%) currently takes place in the world of Islam. The world of Islam has been reduced to a playground for political proxy wars. Some countries in the world of Islam have placed themselves entirely in the hands of Western powers to the detriment of their financial and economic independence. And indeed, their defence and foreign policy!
A verse of the poet, Habib Jalib depicts this as giving selfishness priority over safeguarding the house of God.
The consequences from these serious internal tensions and conflicts in the world of Islam are immeasurable. The development process is stalled by the destruction of key infrastructures and by the increasing burden of foreign debts, multiplying populations, foreign exchange shortages and inefficient bureaucracies.
The cascading nature of these violent conflicts has played into the hands of the unscrupulous who seek to link international terrorism and Islam. This is evident from the harrowing events of September 11, 2001, relied upon in some quarters to strengthen the theory of a Clash of Civilisations: A theory which relegates Islam to the abyss and sought to put a poisoned wedge between the West and Islam. Al-Qaeda and the many terrorist organisations linked to it did not represent Islam and the World of Islam roundly condemned their inhumane actions.
The Muslim communities in the West are also not immune from the impact of convulsions in the countries of their origin. This has been compounded by the increased traction associating Islam and Muslims with terrorism. The image of the Muslim is so seriously tarnished by unfair stereo types that Muslim communities in some parts of the West are often associated with violence, poverty, and extremism. This has spurred on the rise of the Far Right against Muslim communities in France, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and India. There is often more intrusive surveillance by law enforcement authorities (in the guise of anti-terrorism legislations) in these Muslim communities in breach of their right to privacy.
Muslim communities in China and Myanmar continue to bear the brunt of State organised inhumane and degrading treatment.
The near apocalyptic outbreak of Covid 19 in 2020 has exposed how the world of Islam is so bereft of advance scientific development (in Pharmacology and Clinical science). The world of Islam was totally depended on vaccines developed and produced under highly confidential laboratory experiments in the West. There was limited information about the vaccine products. Were they Halal? The answer probably is no. Muslim Councils across the world endorsed taking the vaccines as a necessity based on Islamic jurisprudence regarding the sanctity and safety of human life. In some parts of the Muslim world communities were divided whether to take the vaccine or not.
The faith of every Muslim is severely tested as they watch the present state of Islam and wonder whether it can ever recover its past splendour.
In the introduction to his illustrious brothers’ monumental work, In The Shade of The Quran, Professor Muhammad Qutb, one of the most distinguished contemporary writers on Islam gave a vivid description of the present day sorry state of the world of Islam (compare to its earlier generation) and rang the alarm bell against insidious insular Western ideologies that could undermine our society. The consequences are seen in the high levels of psychological illnesses, suicides, alcoholism, drug addiction and crime in the West. What is worse is that deviant philosophical, social, political, and economic doctrines from the west disguised as “modern human civilisation” now dominate the lives of contemporary Muslims.
STEMMING THE TIDE OF DECLINE AND REVIVAL
How can the disarray in the world of Islam be arrested? The simple answer is by being more itself. The remedies of the present ills must be found in the Holy Quran. As Professor Abdus Salaam points out, one eighth of the text of the Holy Quran exhorts believers to study nature and pursue knowledge.
The Quranic rejoinder to Muslims to practise Taqwa or righteousness, calls for the virtues of love and unity. (Quran 3:103-104). The code of conduct of this community is based on justice and equity. (Quran 5:2-3). Within these are: tolerance and forbearance, freedom of conscience, and basic human rights. For the world of Islam, this is a rejection of the Machiavellian concepts of “Might is right” and “The end justifies the means.”
The world of Islam can effectively end all international rivalries that constitute so dangerous a threat to world security. The war in Ukraine comes to mind because its main cause is the tension between NATO members and Russia. And caught in between are Ukrainians over 2 million of whom are Muslims and Russians 15 million of whom are also Muslims. The plight of Palestine must attract the same vigour and urgency as that shown by the international community to Ukraine. We express solidarity with the victims all over. Muslim countries can, by closing ranks, very easily form a power bloc of their own. Because of its excellent geographical positions such a power bloc of Muslim nations would hold the key to the balance of power in the world. Therefore, the work of the OIC must be strengthened because we have seen how (through its support to The Gambia) this small nation in Africa won the legal and moral victory for the Rohingya’s in the International Court of Justice!
What ought we to do for the realization of the ideal Islam sets forth before us? Beside sharing ideas on sustainable development, investments in human capital growth, in science and technology and good governance, the answer is: FAITH.
Faith is the central point of Islamic education and its practical code. Faith is the pivot around which all life turns: the conscience, the intellect, and the practical sense. The Quran provides the practical code which regulates the various aspects of life and establishes the best nation ever raised for humankind.
The Quran describes at length how faith leaves its mark on all human actions. Accepting faith means submission to the Divine Law. It was this very faith that helped the early Muslims; it remains the only force that can help our present generation.
And Allah (SWT) knows best.
And we thank you all for your kind attention.