In this blog, I bring in the past with the present because when we learn about who we were as a society and our impact on history, it can help us understand our present and mold our future. Today, instead of talking about a woman from the past, I am going to summarize some points from our past civilization and discuss what we can learn from them. Please feel free to join me in the discussion. These five points were taken from A Civilization of Faith.
The Field of Religious Belief
Most interestingly, Islam had a major impact on religious reform movements in seventh century Europe until the modern Renaissance. When Europeans were having to submit all their wealth, opinions and labor to the men of clergy and experiencing violent secretarian disputes, Islam starting spreading to the East and West and bringing along with it a simplified belief in the Oneness of God that allowed man to be independent in his worship without the need of the clergy to act as a middle men. People were immediately drawn to a religion that practiced such simple principles of belief. The influence of Islam on some Westerners is evident through history, such as the denouncing of the worship of pictures by some Westerners in seventh century Europe, the denouncing of an intermediary between God and his worshippers as well as the call for independent understanding of the Bible without the supervision of the clergy. Researchers have confirmed that Luther was also influenced from the reading of Muslims scholars on religion, doctrine and revelation; especially since the books of the universities of his time were those of Muslim philosophers that were translated to Latin.
The Field of Philosophy and Science including Medicine, Mathematics, Chemistry, Geography and Astronomy.
The fields of science and philosophy were greatly influenced by the Muslims. In fact, the Muslims were the teachers of Europe for over 600 years. Ibn Sina’s book on medicine, Al Qanun, and Al Razi’s (Rhazes) book Al Hawi, were translated in the 12th and 13th centuries and continued to be the basis of teaching medicine in European universities until the 16th century. Remember the groundbreaking Islamic hospitals?
The books of philosophy were used in Europe much longer and Europe only knew of the works of Greek philosophers through the Muslims. This is because during the Dark Ages when the Church was burning all philosophical works, the Muslims took these books, translated them, and preserved them.
According to the scholar Gustave LeBon, “The translations of the books of the Arabs, especially scientific books, remained virtually the only source of teaching in the universities of Europe for five or six centuries. We can say that the influence of the Arabs on some sciences such as medicine has lasted to this day. For the book of Ibn Sina was still being expounded in Montpellier at the end of the last century. Roger Bacon, Leonard Albeezi, Arnaud Filfofi, Ramon Raul, Saint Thomas, Albertus Magnus and the Spaniard Alfonso the Tenth all relied solely on the books of the Arabs.”
Another European scholar, Sideo, said, “The Arabs alone carried the banner of civilization in the Middle Ages and they defeated the barbarism of Europe which had been shaken by the incursions of the northern tribes. They Arabs drank from the enduring spring of Greek philosophy and, not content with what they had discovered of the Greek legacy, went on to expand on it and add new topics to the study of nature.”
On his book of the universe, Homeld said, “It was the Arabs who for the first time invented the method of chemical preparation of medicines, and it was from this source that sound advice and the procedure of experiments came to us, which were taken up by the School of Saliram and from there after a long time spread to Southern Europe.”
The Field of Language and Literature
The field of language and literature was another great one influenced by the Muslims. Remember the Islamic Libraries? The eloquence of Arabic literature was written not just by Arabs but by Muslims of many nationalities who had learned Arabic to read the Quran and who were eloquent in the language.
The Spanish writer Abaniz wrote, “Europe knew nothing of chivalry and its literature before the Arabs came to Andalusia and their knights and heroes spread throughout the regions of the South.” The stories of imaginary tales, knighthood, metaphor and chivalry came to Western literature through Arabic literature. The Decameron written by Boccaccio was an imitation of Arabian nights (Alf Laylah wa Laylah) which in turn influenced Shakespeare’s All’s well that ends well and German playwright Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. There are critics that say that Dante was influenced by Risalat Al Ghufran by Al Maarri and Wasf Al Jannah by ibn Al Arabi when he wrote The Divine Comedy in which he describes his journey to another world. Dante also knew the story of the Prophet (PBUH) and used to debate with the emperor Fredrick II on the views of Aristotle, which was only known through Arabic sources.
Not to mention the large number of Arabic words present in most European languages including English. Some examples in English are cotton, zero, lemon, syrup, jar, and many others. The European professor, Professor Mikheal, said, “Europe is indebted, in its storytelling literature, to the Arab lands and to the Arab peoples living in the Syrian plateau. It is indebted, for the greater part or primarily, to those active forces which made the Middle Ages in Europe different in spirit and imagination.”
The Field of Legislation
One you never really think about is the influence of legislative and juristic ruling. Europe had no proper system or laws until Napolean’s time in Egypt when the book of Maliki Fiqh was translated into French and formed the basis for French civil law.
The Concept of the State and the relationship between the people and the government
A very important influence was relationship between the people and their government. In ancient times, the king was the absolute master and the kingdom his property. The people had no rights whatsoever and were subjected to the commands of the king, which could be as trivial as going to war with another kingdom over a dispute over the inheritance of the throne of a princess. However, Islamic law dictates that the ruler is a hired worker whose job it was to look after the people’s interests with integrity. The people had the right to supervise their rulers and bring them to account for any actions. This was the system of the Caliph. The people neighboring the lands of Andulusia used to see how the Muslims kept a watchful eye on their ruler and the ruler was under the supervision of his people only. They also saw this same trend when they came to Syria during the Crusades. When they compared this treatment of the people to their own submission to their king and the lack of communication between the ruler and the people, they went back to their countries and rebelled. The French Revolution took their freedoms to the same level that the Islamic civilization had proclaimed 12 centuries earlier. The concepts of rights for the people and accountability on heads of state actually originated from Islamic influence, something that is never taught in Western history books.
If we were to categorize a civilization as advanced based only on its technological and material advancements, then as time progresses every society would be more “advanced” than the one before. However, this is a false way of categorizing a society and it is the myth of modernism that we fall into today. This is why many people will tell you that religion is outdated and you can not be religious if you are to fit in to our time today, or that we need to “reform” our religion to our time. The rightful way to categorize the advancement of a society is by its role in the history of human progress, its contribution to the fields of belief, science, ethics, rule, art and literature and its lasting impact on humanity of all people and places. Which is exactly what our umma, no matter how technologically advanced we are, lacks today.
What impresses most people of the West in terms of advancements, freedom and rights, and opportunity were actually all systems that arose from the Islamic civilization and its influence (something we are not taught in our history books). The ethics, professionalism, education, equality, and all other concepts that we admire are actually Islamic concepts and stemmed from our influence. So when you are having trouble blending your religion with your life in this world wherever you live, remember that Islam is a part of everything you do. You work life, your life as a citizen, your family life, and all other aspects of your life have Islamic principles of ethics embedded in them. It is as simple as being the best person that you can be. Be the most educated, the most ambitious, the most professional, the most understanding, the most ethical, the most just, the most knowledgeable person around. Islam was spread not by the sword, but by its utter simplicity.
You see, there has been a lot of anger and frustration in the news lately, but the frustration needs to be at ourselves when we ourselves cannot answer simple questions about our Prophet ﷺ. How can we defend him if we do not even know our own religion and do not know how ethical and simple we are required to be? Instead of looking at others, we need to look at ourselves and say ‘How can I change? How can I grow? What am I lacking?’
In a thousand years (if the Earth still exists) when someone else is writing a blog similar to this, what are they going to say about our civilization today? What type of influence are we going to have on history and development? That starts with individuals. Study what you love, be great at it and take that field to the next level. You don’t need to change an entire Umma when you as a Muslim person can create change around yourself and for yourself.
That is why we need to learn who we were. We need to remember that Muslims were great because of their Islam, which required them to constantly pursue knowledge and teach, and that we can be the same way if only we directed our energy to the pursuit of knowledge.
Sibāʻī, Muṣṭafá. Civilization of Faith: Solidarity , Tolerance and Equality in a Nation Built on Shari’ah : A Journey through Islamic History. Riyadh: International Islamic House, 2005. Print.
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