(ISLAM AND MODERN AGE)
Recently a book has been published by an American Scholar Graham.E.Fuller titled A World Without Islam. Graham Fuller is a scholar and has worked with CIA for long. It is an interesting book and quite scholarly too. It is worth reading. The author’s point is that even if there were no Islam, world would not have been without violence and war. He has given account of various wars fought much before Islam appeared on the scene.
However, I am not dealing with the contents of Fuller’s book here. The idea of the book itself is quite interesting and I want to deal with it in a different way. The Western powers through its media are maintaining that Islam believes in violence and jihad is a religious obligation and hence violence in the modern world is due only to Islam and if Islam were to be tamed or if it had not come into existence there would not have been violence in the world. Ridiculous though it is, many western scholars seriously believe in it. For them the book is really quite revealing.
However, I propose to deal with this idea on a different way. What our world would have lost if Islam had not come into existence. Would our world have been better or worse without Islam? What would our world have been like without Islam? I would like to make it clear that this can apply to other religions also like Hinduism or Buddhism or Christianity and so on.
Every religion has contributed a lot to enrich our world in the sphere of ethics, morality, creative arts and spirituality. Islam has also created very richly in these spheres though in a different way. Islam’s greatest contribution, in terms of ethics and morality, has been the concept of justice and equality. Both are quite central to Islam. Qur’an equated justice with piety and act of worship. One cannot be pious without being just and one has to practice justice even if it goes against ones own interest or ones own nearest ones.
Also, equality and human dignity was not emphasized as much as in Islamic morality through its pronouncement that all believers are each others brothers and that all human beings have equal dignity and put it in practice. Its prayers system was also devised in a way as to emphasize equality and equal dignity. All believers have to stand in one line before their creators to pray. No distinction could be made between high and low. Also, the words Allahu Akbar (the God is greatest) symbolize this. Only God is the greatest and all other human beings are equally humble before Him.
No one, no ruler also can ever claim any privilege over other human beings (though in practice when feudal rulers came into existence who began to impose their regal authority over other human beings which destroyed this concept of equal humility before God). The early Caliphs maintained this equality and equal accountability including before their slaves.
Islam was not merely a spiritual religion which it undoubtedly was. It was much more than that. It set out to establish a just order in the world. Though certain distortions occurred due to development of monarchy and feudal order Islam as an ethical system asserted itself through other channels, especially that of Sufism. Islam originally was revealed in tribal Arabia which had neither any religion nor any written code of morality and since Mecca, where the Prophet (PBUH) lived, was a centre of trade, had no code of mercantile morality. Lying, cheating and fraudulent deals were common. Qur’an gave them whole code of mercantile morality. It denounced speculation, hoarding, all forms of unfair and unjust dealings. It also stressed just weighing and not giving less and taking more.
The Arabs were just not interested in acquiring knowledge, let alone in science and technology. The Qur’an stressed ‘ilm (knowledge) and that too knowledge of whole universe. The Prophet of Islam said, ‘The first thing which God created was knowledge or reason’ Such was importance of knowledge in Islam. It invited Muslims to reflect on everything in universe, how it was created and what causes behind the natural phenomenon are. Until then everything was thought to be a miracle by Qur’an stressed that there are fixed causes behind phenomena and causes and effects do not change.
This encouraged scientific approach as against superstitious approach then prevalent in the world. No wonder then the Muslims produced great thinkers, philosophers, scientists and mathematicians like Avicenna, Averros, Jabir bin Hayyan, al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Ibn Maskawaih, Ibn Haitham, Ibn Tufail, Ibn Khaldun and so on. It was these great stalwarts who developed sciences and made great discoveries in otherwise dark ages in Europe.
It was through them that Europe learned science and philosophy and but for these great thinkers, scientists and philosophers that Greek knowledge survived and European universities taught them. It was Avicenna who discovered concept of flow of blood, it is he who wrote extensively on philosophy. It was school of Mu’tazila which popularized rationalism and rational way of thinking.
But for Mu’tazilite thinkers whole theology would have remained prisoner of superstitions. Again it was Ikhwanus Safa who produced encyclopedia of philosophy and composed epistles on mathematics, music and astronomy. And it was Qur’an which developed inductive logic as against Aristotle’s deductive logic and science develops with inductive logic.
But for Qur’an medieval ages would have remained ages of darkness and it was because of Muslims that Greek knowledge survived. The Abbasids realized the importance of knowledge and paid for Greek books in gold and precious jewels. Camel loads of gold were exchanged with camel loads of gold from Greek authorities. The Abbasids in Baghdad and Fatimids in Cairo enriched world of knowledge beyond ordinary persons’ imagination.
And who produced Ibn Khaldun? He was great philosopher of history and great sociologist. In a way he was counterpart of Marx in the east that too in medieval ages. In no way Ibn Khaldun’s contribution to history of philosophy and sociology can be underrated. His Muqaddimah is considered a masterpiece of introduction to history. Muslims also contributed to what is called ‘ilm al-kalam i.e. rational theology.
The world would have been much poorer but for these thinkers who blended Islamic teachings with the best knowledge then available in the world and enriched the world through their contribution. They neither practiced violence nor ever talked of violence. Why then the west only attributes of violence to Islam? Is it not politically motivated? It is deliberately done to denounce Islam and glorify west as the only civilized region of the world. This began from colonial era itself. It was done to hide their own greed, lust for power and wealth and violence they used to achieve all that.
But for Islam would the world have seen Sufis like Rumi and Ibn Arabi? Maulana Rum (popularly known as Rumi) was philosopher of love and peace. When he died his coffin was accompanied by Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. They were wailing and beating breasts in sorrow and reciting from their respective holy books and saying today our prophet has died. He was so tremendously popular among all communities. He was perfect model of Muslim.
He was one who said my only identity is love. And world would have been poorer without sufi like Ibn Arabi who said my Din and Sharia is love and he contributed richly through his scholarly works. These Sufis believed in conquering inner world than outer one and hence shunned violence in all forms and instead subjugated their selfish desires and controlled their lust.
They remained in the world and yet were not of the world. They did not renounce the world as Islam does not permit it but were never absorbed in it. They were not conquered by the world but they conquered others’ hearts and souls. They did not live in borrowed world but created world of their own which was more spiritual than material. Among these Sufis was Junaid who is said to have become restless when he saw in his room an ant crawling and became restless lest someone should crush it under the feet until he picked it up gently and put it in a vessel containing wheat flour.
Though Persia had a rich civilization before Islam but once Islam entered Persia it enriched every walk of its life. It produced a syncretic culture much richer than it had before. It produced Hafiz and Sa’di both from Shiraz. The ghazals (love poetry) of both these poets has survived for centuries and would continue to delight humanity for centuries to come. The ghazal poetry of Persia in post-Islamic era is without parallel in the world. These are just two names among hundreds who made great names for themselves.
Also, the world would have been much poorer but for the grandeur of Islamic architecture like Asfahan. It is rightly said that Asfahan nisf jehan i.e. Asfahan is like half the world in grandeur. It’s architecture is indeed without parallel. Than who can ever forget the glory of Taj Mahal. Lovers of whole world desire to once come and see this jewel of architecture.
This is not all. There are many more architectural wonders around the Islamic world in Central Asia, especially Tashkent, Bukhara and several other places. Muslims also developed the art of calligraphy to its perfection and hundreds of thousands of books written are delight to readers’ eyes. Also, calligraphy became part of Islamic architecture and several buildings have Qur’anic verses inscribed from Qur’an on these buildings are as beautiful as on paper.
It was Islam in medieval ages which spread the light of knowledge. The Qur’an calls knowledge light and ignorance as darkness. The Prophet (PBUH) said and which is often quoted by Muslims that a scholar’s ink is more sacred than a martyr’s blood. The myth of jihad is exposed by this saying of the Prophet. Jihad never means, as popularized by vested interests a fight with weapons but, as its root meaning suggests, to strive for spreading goodness sincerely. And for Sufis the greatest jihad (jihad-i-akbar) is to suppress ones desires, greed, anger and personal ambitions
If these base sentiments are suppressed where is the question of fighting with sword? Why one fights with weapons? To realize personal ambitions and that is sin, not jihad. Jihad with weapons could be permitted at best for ones own defence as Qur’an strictly forbids Muslims from committing aggression as Allah does not love aggressors. If despite all this one commits aggression it cannot be responsibility of Islam.
If a person distorts meaning of jihad to realize his personal ambitions no fair-minded person will hold Islamic teachings responsible for that. If someone does as western media and a section of politicians have been doing, it is not only utter ignorance but also because of their vested interests. A serious scholar would never buy such cheap propaganda. But unfortunately the lay readers and watchers of media do fall victim to it and develop strong prejudices against Islam and Muslims.
It is interesting to note here that western media changes its colour according to its interests. In seventies of the last century when after war between Egypt and Israel oil became a precious commodity and west could not do without the Arab oil, a month long Islamic festival was organized in London and Islam’s contribution to world civilization was projected in a very positive light and the media carried hundreds of articles praising Islam and its contribution.
However, when Israel emerged as strong and Arab states were controlled thanks to unconditional support of USA, the whole attitude of the US rulers changed and especially so after the collapse of Soviet Union, they need another powerful enemy and so they began to project Islam as an ‘evil’ as earlier communism was an ‘evil’. First they used Osama bin Laden to bring about collapse of Soviet Union and then targeted Osama to portray Islam as an ‘evil’.
So it is all function of ones interest and not any conviction Now that political conditions are changing fast in West Asia one has to see how media portrays Islam. Now it would be difficult for US rulers to get away supporting few despots in that region and will have to deal with common people’s representative. Their unconditional support to Israel may also have to be reviewed.
Islam’s contribution to the world civilization is so great that only very petty minded people can reduce it to Osama’s misguided actions or it is only to serve ones powerful vested interests. No religion, let alone Islam, can be reduced to mere violence. Had it been so how millions of people for centuries will follow it? Political ideologies based on violence may be followed in a period of crisis. The best examples are Nazism and Fascism. Such ideologies also are rejected during normal periods.
However, religion is based on spiritual experience and is meant for inner development. Its eternal basis can only be love and spiritual growth, not violence and destruction. State and violence could go together as state happens to be coercive agency of the ruling classes but religion and violence can never go together. Religion provides succor to discontented soul and helps people overcome their inner crisis. Its very basis is on faith in goodness and higher values.
The ultimate aim of religion is to produce what Sufis refer to as Insan-i-Kamil i.e. perfect human being. Muhammad (PBUH) is considered as such a human being and hence he has been referred to as Rahmatun lil ‘Alamin i.e. Mercy of the worlds. It is mercy, compassion, not hatred which leads a person to perfection. The core values of Islam, like other religions, are truth, compassion, justice and wisdom which made it contribute so richly to world civilization. Violence has no place at all in this rich contribution.
Violence, hatred and destruction go together. Hitler and Mussolini are embodiment of these characteristics. No great religious personality universally respected like Muhammad and others can ever display such characteristics. Osama bin Laden has a destructive personality and all he could ask Muslims was to take revenge from western powers. Islam on the other hand, advises believers to stick to Truth and Patience with wisdom. Qur’an describes wisdom as khayran kathira i.e. goodness in abundance.
Can the two ever match? What politicians do is always based on worldly interests and what prophets, saints and seers seek to achieve is human welfare and inner contentedness and this can be achieved only through sacrifice and giving to others, not by taking from others. A truly religious person is one who gives to others without any expectation and others are indebted to him not he to others.
Jihad can never be for revenge, that is for sure. Revenge is borne out of anger and anger and revenge both are mean and lowly sentiments. A perfect human being has no place for such lowly sentiments. Such a person is in full control of himself/herself. One who contributes to civilization is motivated only by higher values and creative instincts and Islam and Muslims have, as shown above, contributed so richly to world civilization. There is no doubt that the world without Islam would have been certainly a poorer place to live in.