View Full Version : causes of the rise and decline of islam

01-03-2010, 11:57 PM
hey , i know its long but have a look, interesting stuff in it:)

By :Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall

The particular cultural aspect of Islam of which all I have
to speak today is its humanity, by which I mean not only
its goodwill and beneficence towards all men, but also,
and especially its world-wide outlook. There is not one
standard and one law for the Muslim and another for the
outsider. In the Kingdom of Allah there are no
favourites. The Sacred Law [Shar'iah] is one for all, and
non-Muslims who conform to it are more fortunate and
confessed Muslims who neglect or disobeyed its

“Lo Allah never changeth the grace He hath
bestowed on any people until they first change
that which is in their hearts . . ." [Qur'an 8:53]

The test, as I have said before, is not the profession of a
creed, but their conduct. All men are judged by their
conduct both in this world and the next.

I suppose all of you have in mind at least an outline of
the course of Muslim History. It may be divided into
three periods - named after the three great nations and
languages of the Muslim World - the Arab, the Persian
and the Turkish. And I suppose everyone of you has
heard it said that Islam was in its early days propagated
by the sword.

The holy Qur'an says,
"Let there be no compulsion in religion. The
right direction is henceforth distinct from
error. And he who rejecteth vain superstitions
and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm
handle which will not give way. Allah is
All-seeing, All-knowing." [Qur'an 2:256]

There are many other texts that I could quote to prove
that Muslims are forbidden to use violence towards
anyone on account of his opinions, and I cannot find a
single text to prove the contrary. Such injunctions were
not likely to be disobeyed in days when the Qur'an was
the only Law. Whatever may have happened later on in
Muslim lands, the Qur'an was obeyed by great and small
with passionate devotion, as the word of God.

The 'wars' of Islam in the Holy Prophet's lifetime and in
the lifetime of his immediate successors were all begun
in self-defence, and were waged with a humanity and
consideration for the enemy which had never been
known on earth before. 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 conversion stands unshaken to this day. It was
their righteousness and their humanity, their manifest
superiority in these respects of other men.

You have to picture the condition of the surrounding
nations, the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Mesopotamians
and the Persians - 90 percent of whom were slaves. And
they had always been in that condition. The coming of
Christianity to some countries had not improved their
status. It was the religion of the rulers and was imposed
upon the rank-and-file. Their bodies were still enslaved
by nobles, and their minds were still enslaved by the
priests. Only the ideal of Christianity, so much of it as
leaked through to them, had made the common people
dream of freedom and another life.
There was luxury among the nobles, and plenty of that
kind of culture which is symptomatic, not of progress,
but of corruption and decay. The condition of the
multitude was pitiable. The tidings of our Prophet's
embassies to all neighbouring rulers, inviting them to
give up superstition, abolish priesthood and agree to
serve Allah only, and the evil treatment given to his
envoys, must have made some noise in all those
countries. Still more, the warlike preparations which
were being made for the destruction of the new religion.
The multitude was no doubt warned that Islam was
something devilish and that the Muslims would destroy
them. And then the Muslims swept into the land as
conquerors, and by their conduct won the hearts of all
those people.

In the entire history of the world until then, the
conquered had been absolutely at the mercy of the
conqueror. No matter how complete his submission
might be [and] no matter if he was of the same religion
as the conqueror. That is still the theory of war outside
Islam. But it is not the Islamic theory. According to the
Muslim Laws of War, those of the conquered people,
who embraced Islam, became the equals of the
conquerors in all respects. And those who chose to keep
their old religion had to pay tribute for the cost of their
defence, but after would enjoy full liberty of conscience
[the freedom to choose one's own religion without any
sort of coercion] and were secured and protected in their

An utterly false interpretation has been given to the
alternatives 'Islam or the Sword' as if the sword meant
execution or massacre. The sword meant warfare, and
the alternatives really were: Islam (surrender, in the
spiritual sense), Islam (surrender, in the ordinary sense)
or continued warfare. The people who did not surrender,
were not fully conquered and were still at war.

The Muslims intermarried freely with the conquered
people of Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and all
North Africa - something none of their conquerors (and
they had known many in the course of history) had ever
done before. The advent of Islam brought them not only
political freedom but also intellectual freedom, since he
dispelled the blighting shadow of the priest from human
thought. The people of all those countries, except
Persia, now claim Arabic as their native language and, if
questioned as to their nationality, would say, 'we are
sons of the Arabs.' They all still regard the empire of
Islam as the Kingdom of God on earth.

The result was what might be expected from so great a
liberation of people who had never really had a chance
before: a wonderful flowering of civilisation that in the
subsequent generations bore its fruit in works of
science, art and literature. In spite of the incessant wars,
this is the most joyous period in history. In judging it,
you must not take every word literally that you may read
from European writers. You must make allowances for
enemy propaganda then and now.
In my youth, I saw a good deal of the Christian
population of Syria, the descendants of such of the
conquered people of those days as would not embrace
Islam. And they used to speak of the early Muslim
period almost as the golden age, and of the Khalifa Umar
ibn-ul-Khattab almost as a benefactor of their religion.
Folklore is sometimes more enlightening than written
history. Yet even from written history, with a little
research, you will discover that fanaticism towards
Christians is hardly found in Orthodox Islam until after
the Crusades, though the Christians were not always easy
subjects for toleration. Many of them thought it a
religious virtue to insult the religion of Islam in public,
and so court martyrdom from the natural indignation of
the rulers. There were epidemics of this kind of
religious mania at various times in different countries,
and the sensible, calm manner in which the Muslim
rulers dealt with them is one of the great things in
Muslim history.

I shall have to speak to you at length upon the subject of
religious tolerance; so at present I will only read to you
an extract from Whishaw's "Arabic Spain." It runs: "The
epidemic of religious hysteria which occurred at
Cordova in the middle of the ninth century is no doubt
the reason why we have more information about the state
of the church at that date then at any other time during
the Muslim rule. The Christians were forbidden to enter
the mosques or to vilify the Prophet under pain of
conversion to Islam or death. "This," says Florez (a
Spanish writer), "was the most criminal offence of the
martyrs at that time, so that, although they exalted the
faith, the judges remained unmoved until they heard
them speak evil of Mohammed or of his sect."

According to the Cronica general to " martyrs" of the
time, Rogelio and Serviodes, entered the great mosque
of Cordova and began not only "preaching the faith," but
also "the falseness of Mohammed and the certainty of
the Hell to which he was guiding his followers." It is not
surprising to learn that this performance cost them their
lives. Both Muslim rulers and the more sensible of the
Christians do their best to prevent these fanatics from
throwing away their lives, and Recafred, Bishop of
Seville about 851 to 862, was distinguished by his
commonsense in this matter. He forbade Christians to
seek martyrdom when their rulers did not attempt to
make them deny their faith, and imprisoned "even
priests" disobeyed him. Abdur Rahman II appointed him
Metropolitan of Andalusia that he might do the same at
Cordova. And there he imprisoned a number of
Christians, including St. Eulogius and the Bishop of
Cordova doubtless to keep them out of mischief."

Similar outbursts of religious hysteria are recorded in
Eastern countries, which the Muslims bore with even
greater fortitude. The Christians as a rule were treated
with the utmost toleration both in East and West.

Mr. G.K. Nariman, the well-known Parsi orientalist, has
proved from his research that the story of the outright
massacre and expulsion of the Zoroastrians from Persia
by the Arab conquerors is without historical foundation.
There are Zoroastrians in Persia till the present day. In
Syria, the Christians used to speak of the times of the
first four Khalifas and of the Omayyad dynasty as the
golden age of Muslim magnanimity, which struck me
then as curious, because the Omayyad's are generally
given a bad name on account of the personal character of
some Khalifas of that house, but especially of the cruel
tragedies which marked its rise to power. But it is the
fact that Islam owes much to Bani Umayya historically.
They preserved the sample, rational character of Islam -
its Arabic characters. They maintained, in Damascus, the
intimate relations between the ruler and the subject
which had characterized the Khilafat of Medina. In their
days, the Khalifa himself climbed the pulpit and
preached the Friday khutba [sermon] in the mosque. The
anxieties of an exceptionally intelligent Khalifa of this
house are depicted in a little anecdote in

"Someone said to a Abdul Malik, 'grey hairs have
come to you very of early.' He answered. 'what has
turned me grey is climbing pulpits with the fear of
making a false quantity in Arabic.' For to make a
mistake in Arabic was with them anything most

They kept back the fanatical, 'ecclesiastic,' faction which
even in those early days began to raise its head, and
allowed time for the formation of a body of opinion
which withstood the creeping paralysis of
ecclesiasticism of scholasticism, and thus upheld the
banner of Islam, for centuries. Next to the
Khulifa-er-Rashidin, as a Khalifa of true Muslim
character, comes Umar ibn Abdul Aziz of the Omayyads.
And a scion of their house who fled westward after their
downfall and massacre, founded a dynasty which made of
Spain for many generations, the most progressive and
enlightened country in the West.

It is important for the student of history to remember
that the Khilafat of Bani'l-Abbas represented a
compromise between the out-and-out Sunnism of the
Omayyads and the out-and-out Shi'ism of the Fatemites.
For the Omayyads, the Abbasids themselves were Shi'a.

When in the Spanish Muslim Chronicles you read of
Shi'as, they are not those whom we call Shi'a but the
people whom we regard as Sunni, the followers of
Bani'l-Abbas, opponents of Bani Umayya. And it is
important also to remember that the Khilafat of
Bani'l-Abbas represents betrayal -- nay, a double
betrayal. On the one hand, if they had persuaded
Ahl-ul-Beyt (i.e., our Prophet's family ) that they would
set them out of the throne of the Khilafat. On the other
hand, they had persuaded many earnest Sunnis, who until
then had been supporters of Bani Umayya, but objected
to the dynastic Khilafat, that they would restore the
original custom of electing the Khalifa from among the
Muslims most distinguished for their public service.
They did neither. They set up their own dynasty, they
massacred the whole house of Bani Umayya, except one
member who fled to Spain, because that house had made
itself beloved throughout Syria, Najd, Egypt and North
Africa. And any member of it left alive would have been
a formidable rival! They persecuted Ahl-ul-Beyt on
account of their standing claim to the Khilafat. It is a
mistake to impute a religious character to the strife
between those factions. It was a tribal quarrel of North
Arabia against South Arabia, dating from pre-Islamic
The simple, rational, Arabic character of Muslim
government passed with the last of the Omayyad's to
Spain. The Khilafat of the East was transferred to
Bani'l-Abbas, who were already under Persian influence,
and the capital was removed from Syria to Mesopotamia.
The city of Baghdad - a much more glorious Baghdad
than the present city - a triumph of town planning,
sanitation, police arrangement and street lighting sprang
into existence. There, and throughout the empire in the
next three centuries, Islamic culture reached its apogee
[climax]. But except in Spain, it had less and less Arab
simplicity and more and more Persian magnificence. In
the words of Mr. Guy le Strange: "at that period of the
world's history, Cordova, Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus
were the only cities in the world which had police
regulation and street lamps. A reverence and a manner of
address which the rightly guided Khalifas and the
Omayyads would have repelled as blasphemous were
accepted at first, and then expected, by the Khalifas of
the house of Abbas.

The strict zenana [The part of the house in which the women
and girls of a family are secluded] system was introduced and
women in the upper class of society, instead of playing
the frank and noble parts which they played among the
earlier Muslims, instead became a tricky and intriguing
captive. There was a tendency to narrow down Islam to
the dimensions of a sect, which the rational Muslims
were able to restrain only by the way of their superior
learning. The Khalifa learned that tendency, because it
flattered him, exalting his position high above its proper
Muslim status.

The people, in a long period of uninterrupted prosperity,
became unwarlike. There were little wars within the
empire now and then, but they did not affect the mass of
the people for reasons which I shall explain when I
address you on the laws of war. Many were the rational
students of the Qur'an who pointed out the danger of this
state of things, but the fanatical "ecclesiastic" faction
flattered the Khalifa to a false sense of security,
declaring that he was especially favoured and protected
by Allah, and that the glory of his realm would last

The defence of the frontier was confined to the fighting
tribes, chiefly the Turks, who also formed the bodyguard
of the Khalifa. These people soon became the masters,
from guardians of the nominal rulers. They were men of
simple, downright brutal character, of energy and
common sense, who did not hide their contempt of the
luxurious and feeble princes who succeeded one another
on the throne of the great Mamun and Harun-ar-Rashid.
One after another, they murdered or put them away with
every circumstance of ignominy, but they did infuse
some manhood into the declining empire, which would
have perished but for them, and keep at least its central
provinces together in good order. Over the outlying
provinces the Khalifa's rule was now purely nominal. As
chief of the Muslims, he sanctioned the appointment of
the local rulers - a ceremony which had religious value
in the people's eyes - and that was all. Persia declared
itself independent. Egypt was conquered by a family
known in history as the Fatemites or Obeydites who
were descended from the holy Prophet, though the
Sunnis of those days denied their claim and said they
were descendants of a to of Karbala. They set up a rival
Khilafat, conquered Palestine and Syria twice, and Hejaz

Nominally, the Abbasid Khilafat of Baghdad lasted for
a full five hundred years, but for the last three hundred
and fifty years of its nominal duration, the real sovereign
power had passed to the Turks already, and its political
prestige was that of Turkish chiefs ( first of the
Seljuks-Toghrul Beg and Alp Arslan, and Malik Shah)
then of the Zenghis (Imad-ud-din and his son
Nur-ud-din), and then of the Ayubis (Salah-ud-din -- the
Saladin of the Crusading period), Malik Adil, Malik
Kamil and the rest. There was change of rulers, but the
civilisation remained that of the Abbasids. Indeed it
hardly, if that all, deteriorated and the condition of the
common people throughout the Muslim empire
remained superior to that of any other people in the
world in education, sanitation, public security and
general liberty.

It's material prosperity was the envy of the Western
world, whose merchant corporations vied with one
another for the privilege of trading with it. What that
prosperity must have been in its prime, one can guess
from the casual remark of a modern English writer with
no brief for Muslims, with regard to Christian Spain:
"Notwithstanding the prosperity which resulted from her
privileged trade with the New World in the 16th century,
her manufactures, and with them her real prosperity,
began to decline under the Catholic kings, and continued
to do so in fact, if not in appearance, until the expulsion
of the Moriscoes," - i.e. the last remaining Muslims - "by
Philip III, completed the destruction begun by Isabel in
the supposed interest of religion."

In other countries, and even in Europe, in the same
period, the peasantry were serfs bound to the land they
cultivated. The artisans still had 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 merchants and the peasant and
the artisan were all free men.
It is true that there were slaves, but the slaves were the
most fortunate of people. For the Holy Prophet's
command to "clothe them with the clothes ye
yourselves wear and feed them with the food which
ye yourselves eat, for the slaves who say their
prayers are your brothers" was literally obeyed, and so
was the divine command to liberate them on occasions
of thanksgiving, and as a penalty for certain breaches of
the Sacred Law [Shari'ah]. This was so that slavery
would earlier have become extinct but for the spoils of
war. Also there was no such thing as a condition of
perpetual or hereditary servitude. The slave was regarded
as a son or daughter of the house, and in default of heirs
inherited the property. In the same way, the slaves of
kings have often in Islam inherited a kingdom. It was not
unusual for a man who had no male descendant to marry
his daughter to his slave who then take his name and
carry on the honour of his house. The devotion of the
slaves to their owners and the favour of which the master
showed the slaves became proverbial. And when in later
days the supply of slaves by warfare ceased, and
purchase was restricted in some regions like the
Caucasus, where it had been customary, many Muslims
complained that because of the kindness to slaves and
emancipation of them, being a duty enjoined upon them
in the Qur'an, how could they perform that duty if no
slaves existed. This, of course, was a complete
misapprehension. It was a misinterpretation of the
purpose of Islam, which was to abolish slavery without
causing a tumultuous upheaval of society. But that is in
the argument which I myself have actually heard adduced
to justify the cruel slave trade with the Sudan. This slave
trade was a horror which had no Islamic sanction. I do
not say that there were no abuses in the Muslim world,
but I do say that they were not what Europeans have
imagined and had no comparison with things similarity
named in Christendom; just as the slavery which existed
in the Muslim world had no similarity with that of the
American plantations.

No colour 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. Some of the greatest rulers,
saints and stages in Islam have been men as black as coal,
like Jayyash, the saintly king of Yemen in the period of
the Abbasid decline, and Ahmad Al-Jabarti, the great
historian of Egypt in the time of Arnaut Mohammad Ali,
founder of the Khadivial dynasty. And if anyone thinks
that there were no white people in that mighty
brotherhood, be it known that there are no men whiter
than the blonde Circassians and the mountain folk of
Anatolia who very early found a place in the Islamic
fraternity. It was a civilisation 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 caste distinctions.

A notable feature of this civilisation was its cleanliness
at a time when Europe coupled filth with sanctity. In
every 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 in 1566, the use of baths was forbidden under
severe penalties because it tended to remind the people
of Islam. And an unfortunate gardener of Seville was
actually tortured for the crime of having washed while at
his work. I myself in the Anatolia have heard one Greek
Christian say to another, "The fellow is half a Muslim; he
washes his feet."

Public food and water supplies were under strict
inspection in all Muslim cities; and meat and other
perishable food exposed for sale had to be covered with
muslin as a protection from dust and flies.
Communication was free between all classes of society
and so was intermarriage, and everybody talked to

I am speaking now of something I have seen and known,
for that civilisation still existed in the essentials when I
first went to Egypt, Syria and Anatolia. When I read Alf
Leylah wa Leylah (The Arabian Nights), most of the
stories in which are of the period of the Abbasid
Khilafat though they were collected and published in
Cairo some centuries later - I see the key life of
Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Cairo, and the other
cities and I found it in the early '90s of last century
[1890s]. But when I saw it, it was manifestly in decay.
What struck me even in its decay and poverty was the
joyousness of that life compared with anything that I had
seen in Europe. These people seemed quite independent
of our cares of life, our anxious clutching after wealth,
our fear of death.
And then their charity! No man in the cities of the
Muslim Empire ever died of hunger or exposure at his
neighbour's gate.

They undoubtedly had something which was lacking in
the life of Western Europe, while they as obviously
lacked much which Europeans have and hold. It was only
afterwards that I learned that they had once possessed
the material prosperity which Europe can now boast, in
addition to that inward happiness which I so envied. It
was only long afterwards, after 20 years of study, that I
came to realise that they had lost material prosperity
through neglecting half the Shari'ah and that anyone can
find that inward happiness who will obey the other half
of the Shari'ah which they still observed.

Now let me go on with my story and tell you how the
Muslims civilisation came to decay.
We have seen how it survived the decadence of the
Abbasid Khilafat, upheld by the strong arms of Turkish
slaves. For such was their position when they entered the
Khalifa's service, though their chiefs soon gained the
title of 'Amir-ul-Umara' and later of 'Sultan' and 'Malik'.
You may wonder how it happened that for centuries the
civilisation of Islam was altogether unaffected by this
transfer of power from a cultured race, to a race of
comparative barbarians - nay, continued to progress in
spite of it. The comparative barbarians were ardent
Muslims. If they treated the Khalifa's person often with
a brutal disrespect, born of intense contempt for such a
worthless creature, it was not as the Khalifa that they so
ill treated him, but as a wretched sinner quite unfit to
bear the title of Khalifa of the Muslims.

As a contemporary couplet, quoted by Ibn Khaldun in his
first Muqaddamah, puts it:

"A Khalifa in a cage, between a boy slave and a
Repeating all they tell him parrot wise."

But the Khalifa a was not the Khilafat. Though the
Khalifa might be worthless, the Khilafat as an
institution was still redoubtable [formidable], and
commanded the respect of every Muslim, particularly of
the simple-minded Turkish soldiers.

The civilisation of the Muslims had another guardian
whom the Turkish warders treated with most grave
respect. This was the opinion of the Ulama (the learned
men) expressed in the convocations of half a hundred
universities, of which the delegates met together when
required in council. You must not think of them as what
we now call Ulama, by courtesy. The proper Arabic term
for the latter is fuquaha, and it hardly came into general
use in those days when the science which we now know
as Fiqh was still in its infancy.

The Muslim universities of those days led the world in
learning and research. All knowledge was their field, and
they took in and gave out the utmost knowledge
attainable in those days. The universities of those days
were, of course, different from those of modern times,
but then they were the most enlightened institutions in
the world. They were probably the most enlightened
institutions that have ever been a part of a religion.

The German professor, Joseph Hell, in the little block of
the Arab civilisation which has lately been translated into
English by Mr. S. Khuda Bukhsh, thus writes of them:

"Even at the universities, religion retained its
primacy, for was it not religion which first opened the
path to learning? The Qur'an, Tradition,
jurisprudence therefore, all these preserved their
pre-eminence there. But it is to the credit of Islam
that it neither slighted nor ignored other branches of
learning. Nay, it offered the very same home to them
as it did to theology - a place in the mosque. Until the
fifth century of the hijrah the mosque was the
University of Islam; and to this fact is due to the most
characteristic feature of Islamic culture "perfect
freedom to reach." The teacher had to pass no
examination, required no diploma, no formality, to
launch out in that capacity. What he needed was
competence, efficiency and mastery of his subject."

The writer goes on to show how the audience, which
included learned men as well as students, were the
judges of the teacher's competence and how a man who
did not know his subject or could not support his thesis
with convincing arguments could not survive their
criticism for an hour, but was at once discredited.

These teachers of the Arab universities were the
foremost man of learning of their age. They were the
teachers of modern Europe. It was one of them, a
famous chemist, who wrote: " Hearsay and mere
assertion have no authority in chemistry. It may be taken
as an absolutely rigorous principle that any proposition
which is not supported by proofs is nothing more than
assertion which may be true or false. It is only when a
man brings proof of his assertion that we say 'your
proposition is true.'
These Ulama were not blind guides nor mere fanatics.
The professors of those universities were the most
enlightened thinkers of their time. In strict accordance
with the Prophet's teaching, it was they who watched
over the welfare of the people and pointed out to the
Khalifa anything that was being done against the rights
of man as guaranteed by the Qur'an. Indeed it was they
who kept down the fanatic element, discouraged
persecution for religious opinion, and saved Islamic
culture from deterioration in a thousand ways. They even
forced ambitious Muslim rulers, in their un-Islamic
strife, to refrain from calling on the people to assist
them, to fight only with the help of their own purchased
slaves and to respect all crops and cattle and
non-combatants. They were able, by the enormous
weight of their opinion with the multitude, to punish
even rulers who transgressed the Sacred Law, in a way he
which brought them quickly to repentance; and they
exacted compensation for transgression.

The hosts of Genghis Khan in their terrific inroad,
destroyed the most important universities and massacred
the learned men. This happened at a time when the
Eastern boundaries of the empire were but lightly
guarded, the forces of the Turkish rulers having been
drawn westward by the constant menace of the Crusades.
Once the frontiers were passed, there was practically no
one to oppose such powerful invaders. Then it was seen
that another command, which is implicit in the Shari'ah,
had been forgotten or neglected - that every Muslim
must have military training. So strongly was that point
impressed upon the public mind that it became the chief
point of the Shari'ah in public opinion thenceforward
until the remaining Muslim empire was partitioned by
powers of Europe only the other day [remember this
speech was delivered in 1927].

The Muslim empire revived after the attack of Genghis
Khan and even made fresh progress. A progress so
remarkable that once more it threatened Europe as a
whole, and so aroused the old crusading animosity in
modern dress, which was the secondary reason of its
downfall. I say the secondary reason for the main reason
for the downfall must be sought in the Shari'ah, among
those natural laws which must always control the rise
and fall of nations.

The empire was apparently progressing but it was
progressing on the wave of a bygone impulse. The
Ulama who sought knowledge "even though it were in
China" were no more. In their place stood men bearing
the same high name of Ulama claiming the same
reverence, but who sought knowledge only in a limited
area, the area of Islam as they conceived it - not the
world-wide, liberating and light-giving religion of the
Qur'an and the Prophet, but an Islam as narrow and
hidebound as religion always will become when it admits
the shadow of a man between man's mind and God.

Islam, the religion of free thought, the religion which
once seemed to have banished priestly superstition and
enslavement of men's minds to other men, forever from
the lands to which it came, had become - God forgive us!
- priest-ridden.

The pursuit of natural science had already been
abandoned. All knowledge coming from without was
reckoned impious. For was it not the knowledge of mere
infidels? Whereas the practice of the early Muslims was
to seek knowledge even unto China, even though it
were the knowledge of a heathen race. The growth of
pride accompanied the cult of ignoranc.

The Christian nations, which had been moved to the
pursuit of science by the example of the Muslims, had
advanced materially just as the Muslims had advanced
materially so long as they obeyed that portion of the
Shari'ah or Sacred Law which proclaims freedom of
thought and exhorts the pursuit of knowledge and the
study of God's creation. The Christian nations threw off
the narrow shackles of ecclesiasticism and espoused
free thought, and their advance in the material field was
as surprising in its way as were the conquests of the
early Muslims in their way.

Before I come to my conclusion, I must mention one
great assertion of the universal nature of Islam which
occurred in the darkest hour the Muslims ever knew.
You will find it narrated in the first chapter of
Kitab-ul-Fakhri, where the author speaks of the
importance of justice as a quality of the ruler according
to the teaching of Islam, that when Sultan Hulaqu had
taken Baghdad and held the unfortunate but worthless
person of the Abbasid Khalifa as his mercy he put a
question to the Ulama who had assembled at his bidding
at the Mustansiriyah - a question calling for a fatwa of
the Learned, a question upon which the answer to
depended the fate of the Khilafat. "Which is preferable
(according to the Shari'ah) the disbelieving ruler who is
just or the Muslim ruler who is unjust?" The Ulama were
all aghast, and a loss what to write, when Rizaud-din Ali
ibn Tawas, the greatest and most respected Alim of his
time, arose and took the question paper and signed his
name to the answer: "The disbelieving ruler who is just."

All the others signed the same answer after him. All
knew that it was the right answer, for the Muslim cannot
keep two standards - one for the professed believer and
the other for the disbeliever. When Allah, and His
Messenger proclaimed, maintains one standard only. His
standard and His judgment are the same for all. He has
no favourites. The favoured of Allah are those, whoever
and wherever they may be, who keep His laws. The test
is not the profession of a particular creed, nor the
observance of a particular set of ceremonies; it is
nothing that can be said or performed by anybody as a
charm, excuse in his or her shortcomings. The test is
conduct. The result of good conduct is good and the
result of evil conduct is evil, for the nation as for the
individual. That is the teaching of Islam, and never has its
virtue been more plainly illustrated than in the history of
the rise and decline of the Muslim civilisation.

The last Abbasid Khalifa and his family were put to death
most horribly, and for a little while the Mughal
conquerors established their dominion over Western
Asia. But in less than a generation, troubles in Persia
called away the Mughals; the Turkish chiefs revived their
principalities which the Sultan of Konya tried in vain to
bring back to their old dependency. It was then that the
Osmanli Turks came upon the scene.

The rise of the Osmanli Turks, which brought the
restoration of the Muslim empire on a larger scale than
ever, has interesting analogies with the history of the
House of Timur, another Turkish dynasty. The Ottoman
empire, at its zenith, was no less glorious than that of
Akbar, Shahjehan and Aurangzeb. It was then that the
third great Muslim language blossomed in a literature
which is utterly Islamic and yet definitely Turkish. It
covered all fields except the modern-scientific, an
exquisite literature in an exquisite but very difficult
language, which latter point -- the language difficulty is
perhaps the reason why as a rule the Orientalists of today
ignore it to. It was then that germs of architecture,
mosques and palaces, arose. It was then that all the
remnants of Islamic learning flocked to Brusa,
Adrianople and Istanbul (the successive capitals of the
Osmanli Sultans), who were munificent patrons of every
kind of literary and artistic merit, themselves generally
poets of distinction.

The poetry of the Ottoman Turks is strangely appealing
to me. It is usually sad, as it is but natural to a race of
men who, when they thought a little deeply, always had
to reflect that death was near to them. But it is never
despondent, and the passionate (almost desperate) love
of nature it displays is really a sincere characteristic of
the people. The most characteristic productions of
Turkish literature have an affinity with what I have read
(though in translations only) of Chinese literature. But
it is their beautiful home life to which I should point if
asked to indicate the greatest contribution of the Turks
to Muslim culture. It has, or had (for I am speaking of
before the war) in common with their poetry, the
nobility and depth which everything acquires for those
who are prepared to die at any minute for a cost which
they regard as worthy. And the way they went to death
and the way their women bore it. The dignity . . . the
grace of every action of their daily lives. Those are
achievements every nation in the world might envy.

The Osmanli Turks were soldiers first, poets second,
politicians third and theologians fourth. It was not their
fault if they took the word of others in the matter of
religion. The language of religion was Arabic, and only
learned men among them knew Arabic, even though all
were taught to recite the Qur'an "for a blessings." That is,
without thought or understanding of the meaning, as a
sort of charm. They were soldierly in all they did and
they trusted their spiritual experts as they trusted their
military experts. The people were just as contented with
the decline as they were in the prime of their
civilisation. For the decline came gradually and
imperceptibly, and it affected all alike. Nor were they
conscious of the deterioration which had actually taken
place, since all the accustomed paraphernalia still
existed, with the shadow of its former pomp.

Primary and secondary schools still existed. So did
universities. But they were now engaged in teaching the
former Qur'an without the meaning. The latter with all
the hair splitting niceties of Fiqh, (religious
jurisprudence - a science of great use to every Muslim)
but taught in such a way as to imprison the intelligence.
The machinery of justice, sanitation, police and public
works still existed, only it had ceased to function
properly. It was not until some powers of Europe began
to interfere in order to improve the status of the
Christian subjects of the pope that the Turks became
aware that they had dropped below the standard of the
times. It was only after they had met a modern army in
the field that they realised that their whole military
system and equipment was now antiquated. And then, to
do them justice, the Turks tried with all their might to
recover the lost ground.

If they were all unconscious leaders in the decadence of
Islam, they became afterwards the conscious leaders in
the struggle for revival. The Turkish literature from the
last 50 years is altogether different from the old Turkish
literature. From the poetic works of Namiq Kamal and
Ekrem, full of patriotic ardour, to the remarkable work
of the late Prince Said Halima Pasha entitled
"Islamlashmaq" (Islamise) in which the principles of the
Shari'ah are expanded in modern terms and shown to be
somewhat different from those taught by its related
exponents. And leading to quite different consequences,
the modern Turkish literature is progressive and
constructive. It is full of hope in spite of the terrific
ordeals that the Turkish nation and the Muslim Empire
had to undergo. Alghazilar, the warriors of Islam, are
still the heroes and "the bloody shroud" is still the
guerdon [reward] of the bravest of the brave; but the
jihad which is celebrated is no longer in defence of a
dying empire. It is the true jihad of Islam, the jihad of
human freedom, human progress, human brotherhood, in
allegiance to Allah.

The Turkish revolution was the small beginning of a
great revival of Islam, of which the signs can now be
seen in every quarter of the Muslim world. Everyone
now sees that ecclesiasticism (or scholasticism, if you
prefer the word - it is more accurate) was the cause of
the decline, and that Islam, as planted in the world,
requires all available light and knowledge for its
sustenance. Muslims must seek knowledge even though
it be in China. Islam can never thrive in darkness and

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03-14-2010, 04:50 PM
Asalam o'alaikum
Really good article!, the author also has a nice style of writing which i enjoyed :) one of the things i thought about was how complex and very diverse the Muslim world was and also how unbelievably fast it grew, yet it had the solid foundations of Islam to support it, the Muslim world must have been the most toughest empire to administer and govern because of the speed it grew, its incredible ethnic and cultural diversity and the vast geographical areas it covered. The amazing growth of Islam is in itself a miracle!
Thanx again for the article :)
Alaikum a'salam

03-14-2010, 05:07 PM
^ Yeh the author was an english revert who wrote the English 'Pickthall' translation of the Quran


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