Past and Future of Islam

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Can you make a general evaluation of the past and future of Islam?

The most striking point of Islam and its history is that Islam completely changes those who accept it, no matter how ignorant, rude, and ill-mannered they were before, into embodiments of almost all virtues and human values. The intellectual, religious, cultural, and socioeconomic decadence of the pre-Islamic nomadic Arabs is known. Islam alone elevated them to be humanity’s guides and teachers for centuries, and models for every age. The manner displayed by the Muslim envoy and his speech to the Sassanid commander-in-chief at the Battle of Qadisiya (636) shows how Islam changed “stones” into “gold” or “diamonds,” a point that by itself proves Islam’s Divine origin.

What has Islam contributed to human life?

Rabi‘ Ibn ‘Amir was brought up in pre-Islamic Arabia’s dark polytheistic climate, where life was considered to consist of killing and plundering to eat. However, his embrace of Islam transformed him into one of the “immortal” guides of humanity. He entered the Sassanid commander’s richly ornamented tent, dressed in a loose white garment, wearing a turban, and holding a spear. Dismounting from his horse in the tent, he seized the pillow upon which the enemy commander was reclining, tore a hole in it, and tied his horse’s reins to it. Not bowing before the commander, he began to roll up the carpet and then sat cross-legged on the ground. He did this to show Islam’s dignity and superiority over all other religions and how Muslims renounce their lives for the sake of their sublime cause.

When the bewildered commander asked about their cause, he replied:

Our cause is to raise humanity from the dark pits of worldly life to the high, boundless realm of the spirit; from the humiliation of worshipping false and usually human-made divinities to the honor and dignity of worshipping the One God, the universe’s sole Creator and Sustainer; and to free humanity from the oppression and depressions brought about by false religions into the luminous and peaceful climate of Islam.

This is the testimony of one who experienced Islam’s beauties and how high Islam elevates its adherents culturally, intellectually, and spiritually.

Islam alone is responsible for major human developments, among them the following:

  • Turning human thought away from superstition, love for the unnatural and inexplicable, and monasticism and toward a rational approach, a love for reality, and a pious and balanced worldly life.
  • Inspiring the urge for rational and scientific research and proofs to verify the truth of established convictions.
  • Opening the eyes of those accustomed to identifying God with natural phenomena.
  • Leading people away from the path of baseless speculation and toward that of a rational understanding and sound reasoning based on observation, experimentation, and research.
  • Defining the limits and functions of sense-perception, reason, intuition, and spiritual experience.
  • Engendering a rapprochement between spiritual and material values.
  • Harmonizing faith with knowledge and action.
  • Replacing idolatry, the worship of human beings, and polytheism with a firm faith in God’s Unity.
  • Showing the path of spiritual evolution, moral emancipation, and salvation through active participation in this world’s daily affairs.
  • Bringing home to all people their true worth and position. Those who acknowledged only a “God-incarnate” or a “son of God” as their moral preceptor or spiritual guide were told that a human being like themselves, one who has no pretensions to Godhead, can become God’s vicegerent on Earth. Those who proclaimed and worshipped powerful personages realized that their false deities were people just like themselves.
  • Emphasizing that no person could claim holiness, authority, or over-lordship as a birthright, and that no one was born with the stigma of untouchability, slavery, or serfdom.
  • Inspiring the thoughts of humanity’s unity, human equality, and real freedom. Many principles of good behavior, culture and civilization, purity of thought and deed owe their origin to Islam. For example, Islam’s social laws have infiltrated deep into human social life, its economic principles have ushered in many movements and continue to do so, its laws of governance continue to exert their influence, and its fundamental principles of law and justice continue to form a perpetual source of guidance for humanity.
  • Establishing a practical framework for all aspects of international relations and regulating the laws of war and peace. This framework, the first of its kind in history,  established an ethical code of war and foreign relations based on the ground of common humanity. Islam, as Arthur Leonard says, has left such an indelible mark on the pages of human history that it can never be effaced … that only when the world grows will it be acknowledged in full.
  • Founding one of the most brilliant civilizations in history. This should come as no surprise, since the first revealed verse of the Qur’an was: Read: In the Name of your Lord Who creates (96:1).
    But why does the Qur’an order read when the local people have almost nothing to read? Because they—and humanity—are to “read” the universe itself as the Book of Creation, of which the Qur’an is the counterpart in letters or words. We are to observe the universe and perceive its meaning and content so that we can gain a deeper knowledge of the beauty and splendor of the Creator’s system and the infinitude of His might. Thus we must penetrate the universe’s manifold meanings, discover the Divine laws of nature, and establish a world in which science and faith complement each other so that humanity can attain true bliss in both worlds. Otherwise, as Bertrand Russell says, “unless man increases in wisdom (and faith) as much as in knowledge, increase of knowledge will be increase of sorrow,”1 and “Science teaches man to fly in the air like birds, and to swim in the water like fishes, but man, without faith, cannot know how to live on the earth.”2

The Qur’an and scientific developments

The Qur’an contains everything that the Sublime Creator deems necessary for us to make material and spiritual progress. Its most important aims are to make God known to us, open the way to faith and worship, and organize our individual and social life in such a way that we can realize perfect happiness in both worlds. Thus it mentions things in proportion to their significance and uses them to achieve these aims. Such matters as the pillars of faith, which are the fundamentals of Islam as well as the foundations of human life and essentials of worship, are explained elaborately, while other things are only hinted at briefly. The meaning of a verse may be compared to a rosebud: It is hidden by successive layers of petals, and a new meaning is perceived as each petal unfolds.

For example, the Qur’an hints at technological advances and marks their final development by mentioning the Prophets’ miracles. It encourages us to fly by alluding implicitly to spaceships and aircrafts: And to Solomon the wind; its morning course was a month’s journey, and its evening course was a month’s journey (34:12). It invites us to search for cures to all illnesses: (Jesus said:) I also heal the blind and the leper, and bring to life the dead, by the leave of God (3:49), and hints that one day we will reach this goal and thus come to imagine that somehow we are immune to death. The verse: Said he who possessed knowledge of the Book: “I will bring it (the Queen of Yemen’s throne) to you (Solomon in Jerusalem) before your glance returns to you,” (27:40) foretells that one day images or even actual things will be transmitted in a moment through knowledge of the Divine Book of the Universe, just as one with knowledge of the Book of Divine Revelation brings things from a great distance before one’s glance returns to him.

The Qur’an also symbolically informs us that a killer can be identified by some cells taken from the victim’s corpse. Such a case took place during the time of Moses. As recounted in 2:71-73, God told the Children of Israel to slaughter a cow and then place part of it on the corpse. These are just some of the examples of Qur’anic allusions to future scientific and technological advances.

The Qur’an, being the book for every age and person, has great depths of meaning. It is an infinite ocean into which all people with knowledge and ability can dive deeply and, according to their capacity, find its pearls and coral. The passage of time only rejuvenates its scientific wisdom. Every generation discovers its wisdom anew, and its secrets continue to be revealed over time.

In: Then He turned to Heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to Earth: “Come willingly or unwillingly.” They said: “We come willingly” (40:11), the Qur’an indicates that there is some difficulty in such cooperation. We know that the atmosphere’s molecules and atoms try to escape into space, while Earth tries to attract and capture them. But for there to be an atmosphere, the motions leading to the molecules’ escape must be counterbalanced by the Earth’s gravitational attraction.

This is an almost impossible condition to fulfill. From the standpoint of geophysics, these conditions require that three important balances be preserved: atmospheric temperature, Earth’s proportionate gravitational attraction, and the non-violation of this balance by various radiant energies arriving from space. The Qur’an expresses these facts in the verse mentioned above. That the almost impossible conditions are fulfilled only by God’s power is indicated in: They said: “We come willingly.”

Scientists interpret: No, I swear by the positions of stars; and if you but knew, that is indeed a mighty oath (56:75-76) as alluding to star locations, black holes, and white holes (quasars).3 The verse: Glory be to Him, Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces, as well as their own selves, and many other things of which they know nothing (36:36), after beginning by proclaiming that God duplicates nothing, and that He has no likeness or equal, proceeds to say that all things were created in pairs. This type of existence indicates opposition simultaneously with similarity. The scientific definition of creation in pairs implies “similar opposites.” The Qur’an gives three examples:

  • Pairs produced by Earth (positron–electron, antiproton–proton, antineutron–neutron), those with different physical and chemical characteristics (metals and nonmetals); biologically opposed pairs (male and female plants and animals), and physically opposed pairs.
  • Pairs of their selves (man and woman; such personality traits as cruel–compassionate, generous–mean; and traits that are similar but subject to opposed value judgments, such as hypocrisy–consideration).
  • Pairs about which we do not know. The discovery of the positron and “parity” (creation in pairs), mentioned by the Qur’an 14 centuries ago, may be regarded as a turning point in contemporary physics.

The planets’ spherical shape and rotations are indicated in: He is the Lord of the heavens and Earth, and all that lies between them; He is the Lord of the easts (37:15), for the concept of the “easts” introduces infinite dimensions and differs for each location on Earth. A point on Earth is in the east with respect to its western regions. Therefore the concept of east differs at every point on Earth, and these form an ensemble of easts. Besides, there are 180 points of sunrise, which means that the sun rises at one place for only 2 days in the year and thus there are 180 easts. And so this verse also indicates meridians, infinite dimensions, space’s relativity, the planets’ spherical shape, and Earth’s rotation.

French scientist Jacques Cousteau discovered that the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean have different chemical and biological constitutions. After conducting undersea investigations at the Straits of Gibraltar to explain this phenomenon, he concluded that “unexpected fresh water springs issue from the southern and northern coasts of Gibraltar. These water sprouts gush forth towards each other at angle of 45°, forming a reciprocal dam like the teeth of a comb. Due to this fact, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean cannot intermingle.” Afterwards, when shown the verse: He has let forth the two seas, that meet together. Between them a barrier, they do not overpass (55:19-20), Cousteau was amazed.

This verse further draws our attention to the plankton composition of the seas, and to the flora and fish distributions that change with variations in temperature. Many other Qur’anic verses shed light upon scientific facts, and every person is invited to study them: We made the Qur’an easy for reflection and study. Will anybody study and reflect? (54:17).

How did Islam contribute to scientific developments?

Obeying the Qur’an’s injunctions, Muslims studied both the Book of Divine Revelation (the Qur’an) and the Book of Creation (the universe), and founded a magnificent civilization. Scholars from all over Europe and elsewhere benefited from the great Muslim centers of higher learning at Damascus, Bukhara, Baghdad, Cairo, Fez, Qairawan, Zaytuna, Cordoba, Sicily, Isfahan, and Delhi. Historians liken this Muslim golden age, in full flower when Europe was enduring its dark Middle Ages, to a beehive. Roads were full of students, scientists, and scholars travelling from one center of learning to another. Such “Renaissance” men and women as Jabir Ibn Hayyan, Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, Muhammad Ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Abu al-Hasan al-Mas‘udi, Ibn al-Haytham, al-Biruni, al-Ghazzali, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and Abu Bakr al-Razi were shining like stars in the high sky of science.

In his monumental Introduction to the History of Science, George Sarton divided time into chronological chapters and named each chapter after that period’s most eminent scientist. From the mid-eighth century to the mid-eleventh century, each of the seven 50-year period carries the name of a Muslim scientist: “The Time of al-Khwarizmi,” “The Time of al-Biruni,” and so on. Within these chapters we have the names of about 100 important Islamic scientists and their main works.

John Davenport, a leading scientist observed:

It must be owned that all the knowledge whether of Physics, Astronomy, Philosophy or Mathematics, which flourished in Europe from the 10th century was originally derived from the Arabian schools, and the Spanish Saracen may be looked upon as the father of European philosophy.4 

Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher writes:

The supremacy of the East was not only military. Science, philosophy, poetry, and the arts, all flourished… in the Muhammadan world at a time when Europe was sunk in barbarism. Europeans, with unpardonable insularity, call this period ‘The Dark Ages’: but it was only in Europe that it was dark—indeed only in Christian Europe, for Spain, which was Mohammedan, had a brilliant culture.”5 

Robert Briffault, the renowned historian, acknowledges in his The Making of Humanity:

It is highly probable that but for the Arabs, modern European civilization would have never assumed that character which has enabled it to transcend all previous phases of evolution. For although there is not a single aspect of human growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so clear and momentous as in the genesis of that power which constitutes the paramount distinctive force of the modern world and the supreme course of its victory—natural sciences and the scientific spirit... What we call science arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of inquiry; of new methods of investigation, of the method of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of Mathematics in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs.

For the first 500 years of its existence, the realm of Islam was the most civilized and progressive portion of the world. Studded with splendid cities, gracious mosques and quiet universities, the Muslim East offered a striking contrast to the Christian West, which was sunk in the night of the Dark Ages. It retained its vigor and remained ahead of Christian Europe until the terrible disasters of the thirteenth century.6

During the tenth-century, Muslim Cordoba was Europe’s most civilized city, the wonder and admiration of the time. Travelers from the north heard with something like fear of the city that contained 900 public baths and 70 libraries with hundreds of thousands of volumes. Yet whenever the rulers of Leon, Navarre, or Barcelona needed surgeons, architects, dressmakers, or musicians, they applied to Cordoba.61 The Muslims’ literary influence was so vast that, for example, the Bible and liturgy had to be translated into Arabic for the Christian community’s use. The account given by Alvaro, a Christian zealot and writer, shows vividly how even non-Muslim Spaniards were attracted to Muslim literature:

My fellow Christians delight in the poems and romances of the Arabs. They study the works of Muhammadan theologians and philosophers, not in order to refute them, but to acquire a correct and elegant Arabic style. Where today can a layman be found who reads the Latin commentaries on Holy Scriptures? Who is there that studies the Gospels, the Prophets, the Apostles? Alas, the young Christians who are most conspicuous for their talents have no knowledge of any literature or language save the Arabic; they read and study with avidity Arabian books; they amass whole libraries of them at a vast cost, and they everywhere sing the praises of the Arabian world...”7 

How does Islam change people?

If the purpose of education and civilization is to engender a sense of pride, dignity, and honor in individuals so that they improve their state and consequently that of society, Islamic education and civilization have done this. History records many instances when Islam realized this goal in far-flung lands. For example, Isaac Taylor delivered a speech at the Church Congress of England about Islam’s effects and influence on people, at which he said:

When Muhammadanism is embraced, paganism, fetishism, infanticide and witchcraft disappear. Filth is replaced by cleanliness and the new convert acquires personal dignity and self-respect. Immodest dances and promiscuous intercourse of the sexes cease; female chastity is rewarded as a virtue; industry replaces idleness; license gives place to law; order and sobriety prevail; blood feuds, cruelty to animals and slaves are eradicated... Islam swept away corruption and superstitions. Islam was a revolt against empty polemics... It gave hope to the slave, brotherhood to mankind, and recognition to the fundamental facts of human nature. The virtues which Islam inculcates are temperance, cleanliness, chastity, justice, fortitude, courage, benevolence, hospitality, veracity and resignation... Islam preaches a practical brotherhood, the social equality of all Muslims. Slavery is not part of the creed of Islam. Polygamy is a more difficult question. Moses did not prohibit it. It was practiced by David and it is not directly forbidden in the New Testament. Muhammad limited the unbounded license of polygamy. It is the exception rather than the rule... In resignation to God’s Will, temperance, chastity, veracity and in brotherhood of believers they (the Muslims) set us a pattern which we should do well to follow. Islam has abolished drunkenness, gambling and prostitution, the three curses of the Christian lands. Islam has done more for civilization than Christianity. The conquest of one-third of the earth to his (Muhammad’s) creed was a miracle.

Although Islam ruled two-thirds of the old civilized world for at least 11 centuries, the Muslims’ laziness and negligence of what was going on around them caused their civilization to decline. However, Islam itself did not—and cannot—decline. Military victories and a superiority complex induced Muslims to rest on their laurels and neglect further scientific research. They abandoned themselves to living their own lives and reciting the Qur’an without studying its deeper meanings. Meanwhile Europe was making great advances in science, which it had borrowed from Islamic civilization.8 

Western civilization cannot last long, for it is materialistic and does not satisfy humanity’s perennial needs. Western sociologists, among them Oswald Spengler, predict its collapse, saying that it is against basic human nature and values. Islam has been available to humanity for 1,400 years, and the luminous world of the future can be founded upon the firm foundation of its ethics and spirituality, as well as its socioeconomic and administrative structures.

Annotations

1. Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1951), 121.

2. Quoted by C. E. M. Joad in Counter Attack from the East, 28.

3. Black Hole: An area of space–time with a gravitational field so intense that its escape velocity is equal to or exceeds the speed of light, a great void, an abyss. White Hole: A hypothetical hole in outer space from which energy, stars, and other celestial matter emerge or explode.

3. Quoted by A. Karim in Islamic Contribution to Science and Civilization.

4. Pakistan Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 3.

5. Lothrop Stoddard, The New World of Islam (London: Chapman and Hall, 1922). The various disasters are the Mongol destruction of vast swaths of Muslim Central Asia, which culminated in their destruction of Baghdad, at that time the Islamic world’s capital, and its environs (1258) and the Crusades (eleventh century to the present day). When General Allenby arrived in Jerusalem in 1917, he announced that the Crusades had been completed. When the French arrived in Damascus, their commander cried out beside Saladin’s tomb: “Nous revenons [we return], Saladin!” K. Armstrong, Muhammad, A Biography of the Prophet, 40. American president George W. Bush announced the beginning of a new crusade after the event of September 11, 2001. During the thirteenth century, the Crusaders conquered Palestine, Syria, and Cyprus and established a state in Jerusalem.

6. Thomas Arnold, The Legacy of Islam (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1931).

7. Dozy, Reinhart P. (tr.), Indiculus Luminosus.

8. As mentioned earlier, all sciences in reality are the languages of the Divine Book of Creation, another aspect of the religion. Given this, whoever does not study this book will lose in the worldly life. Muslims ignored this truth, and so fell under European domination. Western civilization’s oppression, exclusionism, and imperialism also have contributed greatly to this result.

Bibliography

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