Research Scholar in Islamic History
Department of Islamic History
Islamic Research Foundation
The Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.)
Birth of Islamic Civilization
Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that you may be witnesses upon mankind.” (The Holy Quran, Surah [2:143]What gives birth to a civilization is a belief system according to which specific ways of life appear in a given polity. These specific ways of life of a large social group, then, produce specific way of organizing social, political and economic activities of that polity; this, in turn, necessitates the establishment of institutions to carry out the various tasks which fulfill the commandments, customs and rites originating from the set of beliefs held sacred by that polity.
With the revelation of Islam, the landmarks of earthly and heavenly lives became clearly distinguished. By divinity, humanity achieved justice, equality, dignity and freedom. Allah alone is worshipped; the Muslim is led and submits to the orders of Allah alone. Allah is also the owner of everything. Islam was neither limited in place, national in scope, restricted to its own followers, nor for a special class. It was rather for all humans, with a broad horizon, establishing human brotherhood.
“O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct”. (49:13)
With the advent of Islam and the spreading of its light over these eastern states, this spirit was bolstered and augmented. It worked to unite individuals of the Islamic State, despite their races and origins. Consequently, Islam, as a religious ideology, an approach to life and a unifying force, managed to establish a human unity based on freedom, equality and tolerance; acting to abolish political barriers between various countries extending over three continents to give them a certain unified form.
Islam was destined to become a world religion and to create a glorious civilization that stretched from one end of the globe to the other. Already during the early Muslim caliphates, first the Arabs, then the Iranians and later the Turks set about to create classical Islamic civilization. Later, in the 13th century, both Africa and India became great centers of Islamic civilization and soon thereafter Muslim kingdoms were established in the Malay-Indonesian world while Chinese Muslims flourished throughout China.
It was not the warlike prowess of the early Muslims which enabled them to conquer half the then known world, and convert half that world so firmly that the conversion stands unshaken to this day. It was their righteousness and their humanity, their manifest superiority in these respects of other men.
The Muslims intermarried freely with the conquered people of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and all North Africa – a thing none of their conquerors had ever done before. The advent of Islam brought them not only political freedom but also intellectual freedom. The result was what might be expected from so great a liberation of peoples who had never really had a chance before – a wonderful flowering of Islamic civilization which in the after generations bore its fruit in works of science, art and literature.
The simple, rational, Arab character of Muslim government passed with the last of the Umayyads to Spain; the Khilafat of the East was transferred to Abbasids, who were already under Iranian influence, and the capital was removed from Syria to Iraq. The city of Baghdad – a much more glorious Baghdad than the present city of the name, a triumph of town planning, sanitation, police arrangement and street lighting – sprang into existence.
By incorporating those conquered peoples, the Abbasid state forged them into an Islamic culture. This unification underlies the striking scientific progress extending from the beginning of the Abbasid state to the end of the fourth Hijri century. Therefore, scientists are unanimous in their assertion of the high position of Islamic civilization among major human civilizations in history. It is one of the most durable civilizations with the greatest impact on the world.
Nominally the Abbasid Khilafat of Baghdad lasted for full five hundred years, but for the last three hundred and fifty years of its nominal duration the real sovereign power had passed already to the Turks. There was change of rulers, but the civilization remained that of the Islam. Indeed it hardly if at all deteriorated and the condition of the common people throughout the Muslims empire remained superior to that of any other people in the world in education, sanitation, public security and general liberty.
Its material prosperity was the envy of the Western world, whose merchant corporations vied with one another for the privilege of trading with it. In other countries, even in Europe, in the same period, the peasantries were serfs bound to the land they cultivated, the artisans had still a servile status, and the mercantile communities were only just beginning, by dint of cringing and of bribery, to gain certain privileges. In the Muslim realm the merchant and the peasant and the artisan were all free men.
No color or race prejudice existed in Islam. Black, brown, white and yellow people mingled in its markets and mosques and places upon a footing of complete equality and friendliness. It was a civilization in which there were differences of rank and wealth, but these did not correspond to class distinctions as understood in the West, much less to Indian Hindus caste distinctions. No man in the cities of the Muslim Empire ever died of hunger or exposure at his neighbor’s gate.
A noble feature of Islamic civilization was its cleanliness at a time when Europe coupled filth with sanctity. In every Muslim town there was a hammam, public hot baths, and public fountains for drinking and washing purposes. A supply of pure water was the first consideration wherever there were Muslims. And frequent washing became so much associated with their religion that in Andalusia[Spain] in 1566 the use of baths was forbidden under severe penalties, because it tended to remind the people of Islam.
The Global Civilization Created by Islam
Islam is a religion for all people from whatever race or background they might be. That is why Islamic civilization is based on a unity which stands completely against any racial or ethnic discrimination. Such major racial and ethnic groups as the Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Africans, Indians, Chinese and Malays in addition to numerous smaller units embraced Islam and contributed to the building of Islamic civilization.
Moreover, Islam was not opposed to learning from the earlier civilizations and incorporating their science, learning, and culture into its own world view, as long as they did not oppose the principles of Islam. Each ethnic and racial group which embraced Islam made its contribution to the one Islamic civilization to which everyone belonged. The sense of brotherhood was so much emphasized that it overcame all local attachments to a particular tribe, race, or language–all of which became subservient to the universal brotherhood of Islam.
The global civilization thus created by Islam permitted people of diverse ethnic backgrounds to work together in cultivating various arts and sciences. Although the civilization was profoundly Islamic, even non-Muslim “people of the book” participated in the intellectual activity whose fruits belonged to everyone.