On the 87th anniversary of the destruction of the Khilafah Islam is being discussed and debated by the whole world. Some consider it a menace whilst others view it as a religion which has little to say on public life. After removing the concept from the minds of Muslims the Kufaar have been unable to remove it from history. Many of the arguments by those who harbour hatred against the return of the Khilafah are based upon the Khilafah’s track record. Islam produced a tolerant, visionary and advanced society not a brutal, barbaric and bestial dominion like any other? Islam under the Khilafah produced wondrous achievements which are still with us today. This Rajab the ummah should not just mourn the destruction of the Khilafah but also remember that the Khilafah for centuries was an unrivalled power like no other and it has a track record proving this.
Early Arab society
Drunkenness was rife and men would even swim in alcohol. There was always division, never unity as pride led to terrible wars for generations between tribes over insults to ‘family honour’. Superstition was endemic. People would make idols out of dates, pray then devour what they worshipped. In fact, apart from poetry the area was regarded as useless. There was nothing to redeem the region. The Romans and Persians, superpowers of the day, thought there was no point invading even though it would not have been even moderately difficult to do so. There was no progress there but within two centuries the Islamic civilisation had risen to be unsurpassed as the very highest on Earth. The nature of the Islamic ruling system is recognised as a definite matter by historians. The orientalist Bernard Lewis wrote in his book ‘What Went Wrong?’:
“Islam represented the greatest military power on earth…It was the foremost economic power in the world…It had achieved the highest level so far in human history, in the arts and sciences of civilization…Islam in contrast created a world civilization, poly-ethnic, multiracial, international, one might even say intercontinental.”
The development of Nanotechnology by the US is considered the cutting edge of scientific research. The US by many standards is considered decades ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to technology. However Muslims were once, by some estimates, over two hundred and fifty years ahead of the rest of the world. A simple example will illustrate this superiority. In the year 976CE, the library of Cordoba in Andalus (Muslim Spain), employed five hundred librarians, scribes, physicians, historians, geographers and copyists, contained over four hundred thousand volumes and was backed by a library catalogue of forty-four volumes each twenty sheets long, arranged by subject and order of acquisition.
In contrast estimates of the largest collection of books in non-Muslim Europe at the time vary between four hundred books and just thirty-six. The spirit of learning in the cities of Andalus, such as Toledo, drew many students but various universities had set up in other Muslim lands during the 7th and 8th centuries. Baghdad and Damascus were renowned globally as centres of learning and the world’s oldest university still in operation is Al-Azhar in Cairo built in 971CE. In contrast the university of Oxford was set up late in the 12th century CE, Cambridge in the 13th and even into the 14th century CE, the library at the University of Paris only had around two thousand books.
For five or so centuries after the birth of Isa (AS) the growth of barbarian hoards had led many centres of civilisation to become insular and defensive pockets in a desperate effort to protect themselves. This of course restricted contact between civilisations and the advancement of humanity fell into relative decline.
Attempts to resurrect the vibrancy of the earlier period were limited indeed but the Muslims changed this. With the Islamic civilisation rising in such a resolute manner in the 8th century the Muslims made the decision to initiate and manage the greatest translation project in history resolving to translate the work of the Ancient Greeks into Arabic to preserve them from being lost forever.
The careful and painstaking archive work took time, effort and co-ordination. An institute named Al-Bait ul-Hikmah (literally ‘The House of Wisdom’) was set up and run in Baghdad for this purpose. All of this was at the behest of the Caliph (or overall ruler of the Islamic world) of time. He also had an observatory built there and died in 833CE. Other rulers such as Al-Mansur ordered plentiful resources to achieve the task. Translation became a state industry and the Muslim scholars succeeded in what is still regarded as a truly incredible feat.
Those who study Islam with a view to attacking it and maligning it argue the Muslim world just translated the works of Ancient Greece and no more. They say the Muslims learnt nothing, did nothing and added nothing but if that were true there would be no change from the Greek work of the 4th century to the Greek work in the 16th when it was all returned to them. However one has to ask what explanation could there be for the following?
The compass & astrolabe
Production of cotton
Paper money and cheques
The number 0 (decimals are not possible without it)
Europe had been embroiled in almost constant wars of horrific brutality. Invading hordes and fleeing refugees swamped the continent. In contrast large sections of the Muslim world especially those parts not on the frontiers were serene and tranquil for hundreds of years. In this atmosphere various cities flourished and the story was the same throughout the rest of the Muslim world.
When the Muslims entered Spain in the early 8th century they found people who lived in stone hovels, dirty places with a central hole in the primitive roof to let out the smoke from the small fire they lived around. The inhabitants of these pits would be consumed by soot, tears streaming down their faces. Eye and respiratory diseases were common.
The Spanish would refuse to wash, believing in a form of spirituality that meant they had to avoid an earthly or materialistic life. The animal furs they wore were handed down from generation to generation. The stench was often overpowering particularly as they lived close together in their airless cells. The Muslims, were used to courtyards, canals and gardens. The great city of Damascus in Syria had over a hundred thousand gardens alone so guided by Islam and a vision of the betterment of humanity the Muslims sought to change this. By the 10th century the Spanish city of Cordoba had two hundred thousand homes, over half a million places of worship, nine hundred public baths and libraries containing hundreds of thousands of volumes. Moreover the streets were paved with stone, cleaned, policed and lighted at night. Conduits bought water to the people’s homes and to the city many squares and gardens. Students from all over Europe descended upon the city to learn from the acknowledged master scholars of the age.
By year 1500CE there were no Muslims left in Spain. The Muslims of Spain were attacked, starved and massacred by El Cid and the resurgent Christian forces. The Spanish Inquisition began and people were tortured and forced to convert to Christianity. Jews and Muslims were cooked alive in ovens for failing to convert although Christopher Columbus still insisted on Muslim navigators. Those suspected of not being a Catholic in Spain by the end of the 15th century were spied upon. It was thought that a predilection for washing might indicate Islamic belief and arrests and torture of those who dared to be clean were common.
The Jews fled to the seat of the Islamic Caliphate in Istanbul to live in what many Jews believe was their Golden Age.
Basra vs. London
European towns, cities and settlements built walls to prevent raids from outlaws and armies but were typically vulnerable at four points; the corners.
If enough pressure was applied at any of these points the wall would collapse and troops could flood through the breach. The Muslims solved this problem by building circular cities. Basra, renowned for its canals and orchards, was also a truly circular city with its major arterial roads forming an axis. Whenever a traveller entered through the city gates for the first time there would be no need to ask directions or follow signs since the axis roads would lead directly to the city centre where guesthouses were situated. The Islamic principle of generally segregating men and women in public life meant it would be unfortunate if travellers stumbled upon the private living quarters of the citizenry especially since this is where Muslim women would inevitably be uncovered without hijaab in their homes. To prevent this and for there to be no invitation for a tourist to accidentally leave the broad, wide public roads on the way to and from the centre the lanes branching off were deliberately narrow and constricted to indicate privacy.
At the very centre of the city was the main mosque (masjid); the heart of Muslim community life and where congregational prayers would take place. Government buildings, the courts and the residence of the Wali (governor) would be built nearby to this so the citizens could access them easily and the city hospital could be seen from distance.
Compare this to a large medieval European town for the first time where there would be little chance of finding the way to anything or anywhere without asking directions. Paris had no pavements till the 13th century and London none till the 14th. Both cities were filthy, dangerous and disorganised with no running water. Citizens would empty their toilet pots out of the windows onto the streets below. It was too dark at night to walk the streets safely. Window tax meant people would live in the dark to save money.
The main hospital in Cairo, Egypt had eight thousand beds with separate wards for fevers, opthalmic work, dysentery and surgery all with segregated spaces for male and female patients in line with Islamic thinking while London was closed in 1349CE. The Thames was overflowing with dead bodies. The graveyards were full. No-one dared enter to sell or deliver food. The people were stuck in a ghost town, waiting to die. The plague had arrived. While Sultan Mohammed celebrated the building of the largest cannon on Earth a few decades later scientific advancement was clearly not a priority in London.
When Great Fire of London ravaged the city in 1666 the people were happy about it. The filth was burnt away and reports tell us the explosion from methane emanating from the collected faeces was both visible and audible from a great distance.
The houses could be remade and the city re-planned but even as late as the 16th – 17th century there were highwaymen on the roads, pirates on the seas, vermin in the clothing and beds, people were hungry and the bubonic plague still chronic. Wars were endless and married women in England had no right to own property till 1882.
Islam transformed a collection of largely illiterate desert tribes into a unified civilisation with a firm view upon how the world should be. After taking the Arabian peninsula the Muslims engaged both of the nearest superpowers of the day, the Persians and Romans, crushing both and establishing governance according to the principles of Islam. Soon a relatively small number of original companions of the Prophet of Islam had spread the message wide and Islamic rule encompassed lands from Spain in the West to India in the East by 711CE. This could only have been achieved if others had joined in spreading the message to those nearest them. Later a succession of wars with other powers, notably the Crusaders and the Mongols, left the Muslims unable to focus on further expansion for some time. However they eventually pushed deep into Europe at various points occupying what is now known as Moscow, besieging Vienna and plunging into French territory till the white cliffs of Dover were visible across the English Channel.
The Muslims had a long Golden Age where the scholars were many and the discussion was challenging. The rest of the world looked to the Muslims for advancement and learning and there was no doubt in the eyes of historians of the period that the Islamic civilisation led the world for hundreds of years. It is clear we still owe a great debt to the Muslims of this period.
The strength of the Islamic civilisation stemmed from the implementation of Islam and the high level of understanding of the way of life held by many, many individual Muslims. For a number of reasons over the following centuries Muslims began to neglect the factors that lead to their intellectual strength. The Arabic language and the process of ijtihad when combined meant an Islamic view or rule could be derived for any issue at any time. Once these had gone and a widespread desire for learning had faded those who were leaders in their fields of Islamic sciences were often so distant from each other they could not engage and lift each other. Soon the majority of Muslims were only able to imitate not initiate new thought. They were followers, unable to comprehend the depths of Islamic thought and as the Muslim world faced the age of European colonialism there were too few Muslims able to withstand the cultural onslaught. Confronted with a barrage of questions Muslim were left unable to answer or respond. The scholars who had shied away from new ideas and thoughts and no longer masters of ijtihad were left helpless. They could not approach the texts of the shari’ah directly and their answers were increasingly defensive. This led directly to masses of Muslims losing confidence in them and subsequently the Islamic solutions.
The conquest, partition and colonisation of the Muslim world was accompanied by the installation of new educational curricula and a realignment of the founding principles of each of the newly formed principalities. Gone was an adherence to the shari’ah and in was a requirement rule by other means. Soon Muslims were bouncing aimlessly from solution to solution, ideology to ideology. Pan-Arabism, Marxism, Ba’athism (Arab socialism) and a form of secular democracy without the liberalism have all been attempted and found wanting.
Today Muslims have turned full circle and are increasingly calling for Islamic solutions in their lives particularly in governance. The War on Terror is a consequence of ordinary Muslims losing faith in western nations such the US as honest brokers, a rejection of the interference of intergovernmental bodies like the UN and a wholesale denunciation of the Muslim rulers. Today Muslims increasingly look to non-state actors, groups and political parties for answers for the Muslim world especially those who call for a return to, and revival of, the Islamic civilisation in light of the fact that Islam really has done a lot for the world.
Islam track record speaks for itself.