By Ali Unal
Islam completely changes the one who accepts it
The most striking point which strikes the eye concerning Islam and the history of Islam is that Islam completely changes the one who accepts it, however ignorant, rude and ill-mannered, into an embodiment of almost all virtues and human values. The intellectual, religious, cultural, social and economic decadence of the pre-Islamic, nomadic Arabs is known to everybody who has some familiarity with the subject. It was Islam which elevated them into being the guides and teachers of humanity for centuries, and models for every age. The manner displayed by the Muslim envoy to the Commander-in-chief of the Sassanid armies at the battle of Qadsiye, and the speech he made before that commander is enough for one of good reasoning to perceive how Islam changed ‘stones’ into ‘gold or diamond’, a point which is sufficient by itself to prove the Divine origin of Islam.
What was the cause of Muslims?
Rabi’ Ibn ‘Amir, who had been brought up in the dark, polytheistic climate of Arabia, where life was considered to consist of killing and plundering to eat, but, by the blessing of Islam turned into one of the ‘immortal’ guides of humanity, enters the richly ornamented tent of the Sassanid commander. He is in a white, loose garment, wearing a turban and carrying a spear in his hand. He dismounts from his horse in the tent, seizes the pillow upon which the enemy commander is reclining, tears a hole in it and ties to it his horse by the reins. He does not bow before the commander, rolls up the carpet on the ground and sits cross-legged on the bare ground. This is to show the dignity and superiority of Islam over all other pseudo-religions and how Muslims renounce their lives for the sake of their sublime cause. This cause is proclaimed by him in answer to the question of the bewildered commander about their cause:
Our cause is to elevate men from the dark pits of worldly life to the high, boundless realm of the spirit; from the humiliation of worshipping false, and usually man-made divinities to the honor and dignity of worshipping the One God, the only Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and to free them from the oppression and depressions brought about by false religions into the luminous and peaceful climate of Islam.
This is the testimony by one who has experienced the beauties of Islam of how high Islam elevates its adherents culturally, intellectually and spiritually.
Where did Islam turn the course of human thought?
It was Islam which turned the course of human thought from superstition, love for the unnatural and the inexplicable, and monasticism towards a rational approach, love for reality, and a pious, balanced worldly life. It was Islam which inspired the urge for rational and scientific researches and proofs to verify the truth of established convictions. It was Islam which opened the eyes of those who had been accustomed until then to identify God with the natural phenomena. It was Islam which, in place of baseless speculation, led human beings to the path of rational understanding and sound reasoning on the basis of observation, experiment and research. It was Islam which clearly defined the limits and functions of sense-perception, reason, intuition, and spiritual experience. It was Islam which brought about a rapprochement between the spiritual and the material values. It was Islam which harmonized Faith with Knowledge and Action.
Which evils did Islam eradicate?
It was Islam which eradicated idolatry, man-worship, and polytheism in all its forms, and created a firm faith in the Unity of God. It was Islam which showed the path of spiritual evolution, moral emancipation, and attainment of salvation through active participation in the practical affairs of the world in which we live.
Islam brought home to man his true worth and position
It was Islam which brought home to man his 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 by Islam that a human being like themselves having no pretensions to Godhead could become the vicegerent of God on earth. Those who proclaimed and worshipped powerful personages as their gods were made to understand that their false lords were merely ordinary beings and nothing more. It was Islam which stressed the point that no person could claim holiness, authority, or overlordship as his birthright, and that neither was anyone born with the stigma of untouchability, slavery, or serfdom on his person. It was Islam which inspired the thoughts of the unity of mankind, equality of human beings and real freedom in the world. Many principles of good behavior, culture and civilization, purity of thought and deed owe their origin to Islam. The social laws which Islam legislated have infiltrated deep into the structure of human social life, and the basic principles of economics which Islam taught have ushered in many a movement in world history and hold out the same prospect for the future. The laws of governance which Islam formulated continue, and will continue, to exert their influence. The fundamental principles of law and justice which bear the stamp of Islam continue to form a perpetual source of guidance for humanity It was Islam which established the whole framework of international relations for the first time practically, and regulated the laws of war and peace. Islam, for the first time in human history, established an ethical code of war and regulated relations between nations on the ground of common humanity. Islam, as Arthur Leonard says,
in fact, has done a work. She has left a mark on the pages of human history, which is so indelible that it can never be effaced.. that only when the world grows will be acknowledged in full.
Should it be regarded as strange that Islam founded almost the most brilliant civilization in human history?
That Islam founded almost the most brilliant civilization in human history should not be regarded as something strange since the Qur’an begins with the injunction, “Read: In the Name of your Lord Who creates”. The Qur’an orders man to read at a time when there was nothing yet to read, this means he is commanded to read the universe itself as the book of creation of which the Qur’an is the counterpart in letters or words. Man has to observe the universe and perceive its meaning and content, and as he perceives this he comes to know more deeply the beauty and splendor of the Creator’s system and the infinitude of His might. Thus, it is incumbent upon man to penetrate into the manifold meanings of the universe, discover the Divine laws of nature and found a world where science and faith complement each other so that man will be able to attain true bliss in both worlds. Otherwise, as Bertrand Russel says, “unless man increases in wisdom (and faith) as much as in knowledge, increase of knowledge will be increase of sorrow.” (Impact of Science on Society, p.121) “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.,” (Quoted by Joad in Counter Attack from the East, p.28}
What are the purposes of the Qur’an?
The Sublime Creator has referred in His Book, the Qur’an, to everything that He has allowed man to learn and made a means to his material and spiritual progress. The first aim of the Qur’an is to make God known to man, to open the way to faith and worship, and organize man’s individual and social life, thus guiding man to perfect happiness in both worlds. Thus the Qur’an makes references to many things and makes use of them in order to achieve this aim. It mentions each thing proportionally to its significance with respect to this aim: the more significant a thing is, the greater right it has to be mentioned in the Qur’an. Thus the Qur’an, while elaborately explaining the pillars of faith, fundaments of the religion, and the foundations of human life and essentials of worship, it hints at some other things according to their significance for human life. The meaning of a verse may be compared to a rosebud: It is hidden by successive layers of petals. A new meaning is perceived as each petal unfolds.
Does the Qur’an allude to scientific developments?
For example, it hints at technological advances and marks their final development by mentioning the miracles of the Prophets. It encourages man to fly in the air and alludes implicitly to the fact that one day man will be able to make spaceships and aircrafts by the verse, “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 also invites man to search for the remedy of every illness in this verse, “(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 man will one day be able to cure every illness and thus gives the impression that as if death would no longer overtake him. By the verse, “Said he who possessed knowledge of the Book, ‘I will bring it (the throne of the Queen of Yemen) to you (to Solomon in Quds) before ever your glance returns to you’” (27:40) the Qur’an foretells that one day images or even the things themselves will be transmitted in a moment through knowledge of the Divine Book of the universe just as a man who possesses knowledge of the Book of Divine Revelation is able to bring things from a long distance before one’s glance returns to him. The Qur’an also symbolically informs us that it might be possible to identify the killer of a person by some cells taken from his body at the time of death by narrating that the killer of a person was found out in the time of the Prophet Moses by smiting the slain man with part of a cow which the Children of Israel were ordered to slaughter by God (2:71-72). There are many other examples in the Qur’an of allusions to the scientific and technological advances to be made by mankind in future, but these instances suffice to give an indication of the matter.
The Qur’an, being the book for every age and every person until the Day of Judgement, has great depths of meaning; it is an infinite ocean in which every person of knowledge and ability can dive deeply, and according to his capacity find its pearls and its coral. Its scientific wisdom is, as it were, rejuvenated with the passage of time. Every generation discovers its wisdom anew, and its secrets continue to be revealed with the passage of time.
In the verse about the creation of the universe, “Then, He turned to the heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth, ‘Come willingly or unwillingly.’ They said: ‘We come willingly” (40:11) the Qur’an indicates that there is a difficulty in the cooperation between the earth and heaven. As is known, the molecules and atoms in the atmosphere try to escape into space while the earth tries to attract and captivate them. For the formation of an atmosphere, the motions leading to the escape of molecules have to be counterbalanced by the gravitational attraction of the earth. This is an almost impossibly difficult condition to fulfill. From the standpoint of Geophysics, these extremely difficult conditions require the preservation of three important balances: (i) atmospheric temperature, (ii) proportionate gravitational attraction on the part of the earth, and (iii) the non-violation of this balance by various radiant energies arriving from space. The Qur’an expresses all these facts by the phrases “Then He turned to the heaven.. and said to the heaven and the earth: Come willingly or unwillingly”. That the almost impossible conditions are fulfilled only by God’s power is indicated by the phrase, “They said: ‘We come willingly.’”
The verses 75 and 76 of the Chapter ‘The Fearful Event’, “No, I swear by the positions of stars; and if you but knew, that is indeed a mighty oath” are interpreted by modern scientists to allude to the ‘star locations’ or ‘black holes’ and ‘white holes (quassars)’. 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 with the warning that God Himself is beyond being involved in any duplication, any likeness or equal, proceeds with telling of the existence of created things in pairs, this existence indicates opposition simultaneously with similarity. The scientific definition of the creation in pairs implies ‘similar opposites’. The Qur’an gives three examples of existence in pairs: (i) Pairs produced by the earth (positron-electron, antiproton-proton, antineutron-neutron; pairs that differ in their physical and chemical characteristics, e.g. metals and nonmetals; biologically opposed pairs: male and female sexes of plants and animals, and physically opposed pairs.) (ii) Pairs of their selves (man and woman, personality traits such as cruel - compassionate, generous - mean, and traits which are similar but subject to opposed value judgments such as hypocrisy - consideration..) (iii) Pairs we do not know about. The discovery of the positron and ‘parity’ (creation in pairs) may be regarded as a turning point in contemporary Physics, a fact which was mentioned fourteen centuries ago by the Qur’an.
The verse “He is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, and all that lies between them; He is the Lord of the easts” (37:15) indicates the spherical shape of planets and their rotations. Because the concept of the ‘Easts’ introduces infinite dimensions, and differs for each location on the earth. A point on the earth is in the east with respect to its western regions, therefore the ‘East’ concept is different at every point on earth, and these form an ensemble of easts. Besides, there are 180 points of sunrise, that is, the Sun rises at one place for only two days in the year so there are 180 ‘easts’. Therefore, this verse is also indicative of meridians as well as of infinite dimensions, and of the relativity of space and the spherical shape of planets as well as the rotation of the earth.
The French scientist Jacques Cousteau has discovered that the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean differ in terms of their chemical and biological constitution. Captain Cousteau conducted various undersea investigations at the Straits of Gibraltar in order to explain this phenomenon, concluding that “unexpected fresh water springs issue from the Southern and Northern coasts of the 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.” Subsequent to this assessment, Cousteau was amazed upon being shown the Qur’anic verse “He has let forth the two seas, that meet together. Between them a barrier, they do not overpass” (55:19-20). This verse further invites our attention to the plankton composition of the seas, and to the flora and fish distributions that change with variations in temperature. There are many other verses in the Qur’an which shed light upon scientific facts, and it invites everyone to study it: “Now We made the Qur’an easy for reflection and study. Is there any that will study and reflect?”
The book of Revelation and the book of creation
Muslims, obeying the injunctions of the holy Qur’an, studied both the Book of Divine Revelation, that is, the Qur’an, and the book of creation, that is, the universe, and founded a magnificent civilization. Scholars from all over the ‘old’ world benefited from the centers of higher learning at Damascus, Bukhara, Baghdad, Cairo, Fez, Qairvan, Zeitona, Cordoba, Sicily, Isfahan, Delhi and other great cities throughout the Muslim World. Historians liken the Muslim World of the ‘Middle ‘Ages’, dark for Europe but golden and luminous for Muslims, to a beehive. Roads were full of students, scientists and scholars travelling from one center of learning to another. Many universal figures such as Jabir Ibn Hayyan, Ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, Muhamad Ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, Farabi, Avicenna, Abu'l-Hasan al-Mas’oudi, Ibn al-Haitham, al-Biruni, al-Ghazzali, Nasir al-Din at-Tusi, Abu Bakr ar-Razi and many others were shining like stars in the high sky of sciences. In his monumental Introduction to the History of Science, George Sarton adopted the practice of dividing his work chronologically into chapters, giving each chapter the name of the most eminent scientist of the period in question. For the period from the middle of the eighth century (second century after Hijra) to the middle of the eleventh century, each fifty-year period carries the name of a Muslim scientist; there are seven in all. Thus we have ‘the Time of al-Khwarizmi, the Time of al-Biruni’, etc. Within these chapters we have the names of about one hundred 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. (Quoted by A. Karim in Islamic Contribution to Science and Civilization.)
Bertrand Russel, 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.” (Pakistan Quarterly, Vol. IV, No.3)
Robert Briffault, the renowned historian, acknowledges in his book 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.
The realm of Islam in its first five centuries
For the first five centuries 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. (L. Stoddard, The New World of Islam) This bright civilization lasted for a long time. Down to the terrible disaster of the thirteenth century A.D. it still displayed vigor and remained ahead of the Christian West. (Ibid)
Cordoba in the tenth century (under Muslim rule) was the most civilized city in Europe, the wonder and admiration of the world. Travelers from the north heard with something like fear of the city which contained 70 libraries with hundreds of thousands of volumes, and 900 public baths, yet whenever the rulers of Leon Navarre of Barcelona needed such things as a surgeon, an architect, a dressmaker or a musician, it was Cordoba that they applied. (T. Arnold, The Legacy of Islam, p.9) The Muslim literary influence was so vast that for example in Spain it was found necessary to translate the Bible and liturgy into Arabic for the use of the Christian community. The account given by Alvaro, the Christian zealot and writer, shows vividly how even the non-Muslim Spanish 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...” (Indiculus Luminosus, translated by Dozy)
The effects on Islam on the peoples who accepted it
If the purpose of education and civilization is to raise a sense of pride, dignity, honor in individuals so that they improve their state and consequently the state of society, Islamic education and civilization then have proved to have done this. There is ample evidence quoted by various writers showing how Islam has succeeded in doing this to various peoples of various regions, e.g. Isaac Taylor, in his speech delivered at the Church Congress of England about the effects and influence of Islam on people, 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.
The reasons for the decay of Islamic civilization
Although Islam ruled two-thirds of the old civilized world for at least eleven centuries, laziness and negligence of what was going on in neighborhood was responsible for the decay of the Islamic civilization, but not of Islam itself. Military victories and a sense of superiority induced Muslims to be content with what they had achieved and to neglect further researches in the sciences. They abandoned themselves to living their own lives, reciting the Qur’an but without ever studying its deeper meanings. Meanwhile the Western World made great advances in the sciences, which they had borrowed from the Islamic civilization. As already mentioned in this book, the sciences are in reality the languages of the Divine Book of creation, which is another aspect of the religion. Therefore, whoever neglects to study this book is destined to lose in the worldly life, and this negligence was the reason why Muslims fell under the domination of the West. The cruelty, oppression, and hedonism, and the imperialistic tendencies of the Western civilization have also made great contributions to this result.
What about tomorrow?
It is impossible that Western civilization will last long since it is materialistic and far from satisfying man’s perennial needs. Western sociologists such as Oswald Spengler and others predict the collapse of this civilization, which is against basic human nature and values. Islam has been available to humanity for fourteen hundred years, and the luminous world of the future can be founded upon the firm foundation of Islamic ethics, spirituality and its socio-economic and administrative structure.
Said Nursi, Sozler (The Words 1, The Words 2), Istanbul, 1958
M. Abdulfettah Sahin, Asrin Getirdigi Tereddutler I (Questions This Modern Age Puts to Islam), Izmir 1990
Haluk Nurbaki, Verses from the Glorious Qur’an and the Facts of Science, 1989
Maurice Bucaille, Kitab-i Mukaddes, Kur’an ve Bilim (Turkish trans.) Izmir, 1981
Mustafa as-Sibai, Some Glittering Aspects of the Islamic Civilization, Lebanon, 1984
Arnold Toynbee, Medeniyet Yargilaniyor (Turkish trans.) Istanbul
Rene Guenon, Modern Dunyanin Bunalimi (Turkish trans.) Ist.1979
A. Ahmad, Garbin Islam’dan Ogrendikleri, Istanbul
A.Y. el-Hassan, D.R. Hill, Islamic Technology, Paris, 1986
T. Arnold, The Legacy of Islam, Oxford, 1960
S. Hussain Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam, London, 1987
Haydar Bammat, Islamiyetin Manevi ve Kulturel Degerleri, (Turkish trans.) Ankara, 1963
Roger Garaudy, Islam’in Va’dettikleri, (Turkish trans.) Ist.1983
Islam’in Yasayanlara Cagrisi (Turkish trans) Ist.1986
Gai Eton, Islam ve Insanligin Kaderi, (Turkish trans.) Ist.1992