In light of the horrific bombing in Sri Lanka in April, it is vital that Muslims across the world unite against violence being perpetuated in the name of Islam. In fact, a few hours before this article was published on 8 May 2019, at least eight people were killed in a blast, claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, outside a major Sufi Muslim shrine in Lahore, Pakistan.
The Sabri family used to sing Sufi songs, hoping to bridge the gap between different faiths. Only a few months after Sabri’s death, 75 devotees were killed in a shrine in Pakistan’s Sindh province in January 2017. Notably, the part of the mosque where women were praying, seems to have been the target. Since 2005, over 25 shrines have been targeted in Pakistan.
‘No, My Muslim Brothers & Sisters, Everything Before Islam Isn’t Jahiliyyah’
There is a growing trend in the Muslim world, and a misplaced one at that, to paint everything before the birth of Islam in the 7th Century, as part of the era of ignorance or ‘Jahiliyyah’ as it is called. The term ‘Jahiliyyah’ has many overtones, however, it doesn’t conclude what some Muslims take as the gospel truth – that the people of the era predating Islam, were uncivilized and ‘Philistine’.
The modern charter on democracy and civil liberties had been directly copied from the Romans, who ruled a 1,000 years before the Islamic civilization was founded in Arabia. The Roman republic didn’t have a king by lineage.
The Romans elected a senate, who in turn elected a consul – the ruler of the time. Julius Caesar, for example, was a consul.
Roman assemblies would meet at the Forum, which is somewhere close to where the current Colosseum exists. The point being that, knowledge, learning and progress is never the inheritance of any one civilization. Rather, it is an ever-flowing river from which every civilization over the course of history, has drawn ways of progression.
Era of Islamic Enlightenment
The Islamic civilisation – in its apogee, for about 600 years – was a sparkle of social justice, knowledge and equality. The ‘Bayt-ul-Hiqma’ at Baghdad, or the ‘House of Wisdom’, attracted philosophers, scientists and theologians from many places, notably Greece. Prophet Muhammad had set precedence in Arabia. Those prisoners of war in the aftermath of the Battle of Badr, who were literate and thus entrusted with ten children (to teach them the art of writing and reading), were set free by the Prophet.
The Muslim caliphs of the later Islamic times like the great Harun-al-Rashid, carried forth the tradition, and invited Greek scientists to Baghdad to teach Muslim scholars at their universities.
This led to an era of enlightenment in the Muslim world. Debates, discussions and lectures on a wide range of religious, scientific and philosophical issues of the day, were common at the houses of worship, which also served as centers for judicial proceedings.
The role and concept of a mosque wasn’t just to pray and deliver sermons from pulpits; they were used to encourage youngsters to learn how to critique and question.
Subsequently, Europe and the West, during the Renaissance, read the works of Muslim scholars, teachers and scientists. The works of Avicenna, Ibn Arbi, al-Idrisi, Beruni, al-Khwarizmi were gradually translated into French, English, and Portuguese. The ideals of European Renaissance were directly derived from Muslim theologians and scholars. It is fair to say that Arab science altered the medieval Christendom. For the first time in centuries, Europe opened its eyes to the world around it.
Clash of Civilisations
With the decline of the Muslim civilisation since the 16th century, the West advanced in science and philosophy. The clash was obvious. However, it’s very important for us to read the nuances. The Islamic revivalism that began in the late 19th century and was carried across to the next century, stressed on the tales of the West’s sinister ideas, and its larger plan of indoctrinating Muslims – driving them away from puranitical Islam – the sort of Islam in the times of the Prophet.
One just needs to step back a bit and read about the enlightenment and differential views exhibited by Muslims in the 18th and 19th centuries, before these revivalist movements even began.
With the advancement of technology and industry, political movements were able to mobilize with ease, many Muslims could now make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the printing press allowed for ideas to spread.
Muslims Embraced Advancements In the World; Let’s Go Back to That Time & Attitude
The Muslim world didn’t scoff at the advancements taking place in the world. The advocacy of civil liberties in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the American Civil War, resonated with the Muslim world. The Muslims in the Middle-East reconstituted, thanks to the clampdown on the practice of slavery, the growing emancipation of women, and the criticism of polygamy.
New ideas were embraced. Books were translated into Arabic and Turkish as soon as they were published in the West. Darwin’s then controversial work The Origin of Species in particular, piqued interest in Lebanon. During this time, clerical boasting was also punctured.
One of the ways to advance is to read about Prophet Muhammad in a theological sense, rather than just spiritually or religiously. His life is an example of social justice and equality, one that abhors violence.
To relegate the Prophet’s life as a mere epiphany and a divine programme revealed by God, and Islamic society being the only properly-oriented society, is a grave error. Merely closing our eyes to the demons within and and calling it a ‘conspiracy’ shall not do. The world is shrinking; societies and civilisations are drawing new borders. Muslims must rise to it with introspection, and correct their reading of history.