Islamic Perspectives

What about a world without Islam - i

Recently a book has been published by an American writer, Graham. E. Fuller. It is 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 point the author makes is that even if there were no Islam, the 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 this. For them the book is really quite revealing.

However, I propose to deal with this idea in 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 an 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 near and dear 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 Islam put this 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 rich and poor. Also, the words Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest) symbolize this. Only God is the greatest and all other human beings are equally humble in His eyes.

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 equality 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 a whole code of mercantile morality. It denounced speculation, hoarding, all forms of unfair and unjust trade practices. It also stressed accurate 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 on 'ilm (knowledge) and that too knowledge of the whole universe. The Prophet of Islam said, "The first thing which God created was knowledge or reason" Such was the importance of knowledge in Islam. It invited Muslims to reflect on everything in the universe, how it was created and what the causes were behind natural phenomena. Until then everything was thought to be a miracle. 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 various sciences and made great discoveries in the 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 the concept of flow of blood, it is he who wrote extensively on philosophy. It was the school of Mu'tazila which popularized rationalism and rational way of thinking.

But for Mu'tazilite thinkers 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 developed 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 books 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 a great philosopher of history and great sociologist. In a way he was a counterpart of Marx in the east that too in the 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 violence to Islam? Is it not politically motivated? It is deliberately done to denounce Islam and glorify the West as the only civilized region of the world. This began from the 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 a philosopher of love and peace. When he died his coffin was accompanied by Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. They were wailing and beating their breasts in sorrow and reciting from their respective holy books and saying today our prophet has died. He was so universally popular among all communities. He was a perfect model of a Muslim.

He was one who said my only identity is love. And the world would have been poorer without sufi's 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 rather than outer one and hence shunned violence in all forms and instead subdued 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 a borrowed world but created a 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 crush it under feet until he picked it up gently and put it in a vessel containing wheat flour.
 
To be continued in the next issue

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2011 on page no. 28

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