How did the spread of Islam affect the World?

Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine – Islam calls for faith in only one God worthy of worship. It also repeatedly instructs man to use his powers of intelligence and observation.

Within a few years, great civilizations and universities were flourishing, for according to the Prophet, ‘seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man and woman’. The synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with old, brought about great advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature, and history. Many crucial systems such as algebra, the Arabic numerals, and also the concept of the zero (vital to the advancement of mathematics), were transmitted to medieval Europe from Islam. Sophisticated instruments which were to make possible the European voyages of discovery were developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant and good navigational maps.

Unlike Christianity where religion and science are two separate elements, the study of science has always been compatible with Islam. The Islamic ability to reconcile monotheism and science proves to be the first time in human thought that theology, philosophy, and science were finally harmonized in a unified whole. Thus the magnitude of their pioneering contributions were enormous, considering its effect upon scientific and philosophic thought and upon the theology of later times.

The Islamic empires, in the early 6th centuries, were the inheritors of the scientific tradition of late antiquity. They preserved it, elaborated it, and finally, passed it to Europe. This time period, which was Europe’s dark ages, were, for Muslim scholars, a time of philosophical and scientific discovery and development. The Arabs at the time not only assimilated the ancient wisdom of Persia, and the classical heritage of Greece, but adapted their own distinctive needs and ways of thinking. Muslim scholars studied the ancient civilizations from Greece and Rome to China and India. The works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid and others were translated into Arabic. Muslim scholars and scientists then added their own creative ideas, discoveries and inventions, and finally transmitted this new knowledge to Europe, leading directly to the Renaissance. Many scientific and medical treatises, having been translated into Latin, were standard text and reference books as late as the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe.

Within a few years, great civilizations and universities were flourishing, for according to the Prophet, ‘seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man and woman’. The outcome is shown in the spread of Islamic universities; Al-Zaytunah in Tunisia, and Al-Azhar in Cairo go back more than 1000 years and are the oldest existing universities in the world. Indeed, they were the models for the first European universities, such as Bologna, Heidelberg, and the Sorbonne. Even the familiar academic cap and gown originated at Al-Azhar University. The synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with old, brought about great advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature, and history.

During the period in Spain (known to the Muslims as Andalus), it was the golden age of Islam whereas Europe was steeped in the dark ages. Within two hundred years the Muslims had turned Andalus into a bastion of culture, commerce and beauty. Irrigation systems imported from Syria and Arabia turned the dry plains into an agricultural cornucopia. Olives and wheat had always grown there. The Arabs added pomegranates, oranges, lemons, aubergines, artichokes, cumin, coriander, bananas, almonds, henna, woad, madder, saffron, sugar-cane, cotton, rice, figs, grapes, peaches, apricots and rice. It became the intellectual centre of Europe There was nothing like it, at that epoch, in the rest of Europe. The best minds in that continent looked to Spain for everything.

Does Islam tolerate other Beliefs?

The Qur’an says:

“God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for (your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just.” (Qur’an, 60:8)

It is one function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the city.

Islam is the religion of all prophets. Muslims believe that all the prophets were sent to their respective peoples from God. They all had the same mission and message guiding people to the worshipping of One God. The three revealed monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, go back to the Prophet Abraham (PBUH).

Therefore, Christians and Jews hold a special place in Islam. They are called the People of the Book, since the original Torah and Gospel were also divinely revealed and they shared in the prophetic tradition. Islamic states have shown their religious minorities tolerance and respect and those communities flourished under Islamic rule. God says in the Qur’an:

“… Those who believe (in the message of Islam), and the Jews, the
Sabaeans and the Christians – all those who believe in Allah and
the Last Day and act righteously – no fear shall come upon them…” (5:69)

Setting up the Islamic state in Madinah, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) further warned:

“Whoever oppresses any Dhimmi (non-Muslim citizen of the Islamic state), I shall be his prosecutor on the Day of Judgement.”

In setting up the Islamic state, Prophet Muhammad included the Arabian Jews and Christians. Their persons, properties, churches and synagogues were protected, freedom of worship was guaranteed and they controlled their own community affairs with their own civil and religious laws and courts. For most of the first century of the Islamic state, in fact, the majority of the citizens were Christians enjoying peace and liberty such us they had not had even under Christian Rome or Byzantium. When the Islamic state expanded outside Arabia the Jews of other lands were treated for the first time as liberated citizens, Judaism flourished as never before, with Jews even serving in Muslim armies and administrations while their culture bloomed in the arts, sciences, medicine and philosophy. This knowledge they transmitted to their brethren in the hostile climate of Christian Europe.

When Islam reached Persia the concept of the People of the Book was extended to the Zoroastrians as well. Later, when the Muslims conquered parts of India and encountered Buddhists and Hindus, who appeared to worship idols, the question was referred to the ulema’ (council of scholars) who judged that even they could have the same protected status as the Jews and Christians. Marmaduke Pickthall (1927) commented:

“Innumerable monasteries, with a wealth of treasure of which the worth
has been calculated at not less than a hundred million sterling, enjoyed
the benefit of the Holy Prophet Muhummed’s Charter to the monks of
Sinai and were religiously respected by the Muslims. The various sects of
Christians were represented in the Council of the Empire by their
patriarchs, on the provincial and district council by their bishops, in the
village council by their priests, whose word was always taken without
question on things which were the sole concern of their community.
The tolerance within the body of Islam was and is, something without
parallel in history: class, race and colour ceasing altogether to be barriers”

Islamic law ensures the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the city. History bears testimony to the tolerance of Islam to all the religions of the world.

How does Islam guarantee Human Rights?

Freedom of conscience is laid down by the Qur’an itself:

“There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256)

The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether a person is Muslim or not. Racism is incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Qur’an speaks of human equality in the following terms:

“O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one Another. Truly, the most honoured of you In God’s sight Is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (49:13)

Islam has been from its inception very concerned with issues of human rights, privacy, freedom, dignity and equality are guaranteed in Islam. The holy Qur’an states clearly:

“Let them be not compulsion in religion; Truth stands
out clear from Error… ” (2:256)

And there are no reliable reports to confirm the old accusations that when the Muslim armies were expanding into Asia, Africa and Europe the people were put to the sword if they failed to convert to Islam. The best proof is that not only did the Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Hindus in those areas not perish or otherwise disappear, they actually flourished as protected minority communities and many individuals rose to prominent positions in the arts, sciences, even in government.

De Lacy O’ Leary commented:

“History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims, sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of a sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.” (Islam at Crossroads. London (1923) page 8)

The lives, property and privacy of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred, whether or not the person is Muslim. Non-Muslims have freedom of worship and the practice of their religions, including their own family law and religious courts. They are obliged to pay a different tax (Jizyah) instead of the Zakah, and the state is obligated to provide both protection and government services. Before the modern era it was extremely rare to find a state or government anywhere in the world that was as solicitous of its minorities and their civil rights as the Islamic states.

In no other religion did women receive such a degree of legal and moral equality and personal respect. Moreover, racism and tribalism are incompatible with Islam, for the Qur’an speaks of human equality in the following terms:

“O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may come to know one Another. 
Truly, the most honoured of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in piety.” (49:13)

Justice is a fundamental tenet of Islam as the Qur’an states:

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah and be just
witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make
you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear
Allah. Verily, Allah is Well Acquainted with what you do.” (5:8)

It is not permissible to oppress women’s honour, and chastity are to be respected under all circumstances, the hungry must be fed, the naked clothed, and the wounded or diseased given medical treatment regardless of their pro- or anti-Muslim sentiments and activities.

What does Islam say about War?

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam permits fighting in self-defence, in defence of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat which include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good men were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause. War is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law.

The Qur’an says:

Fight in the cause of God against those who fight
you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love
transgressors. (Qur’an 2:190)

If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in
God for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all
things. (Qur’an 8:61)

War, therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. The term Jihad literally means ‘struggle’, and Muslims believe that there are two kinds of Jihad. The other Jihad is the inner struggle which everyone wages against egotistic desires, for the sake of attaining inner peace.

Jihad in the sense of an armed struggle, is always subject to the Qur’anic condition of its being carried out in the path of God. In Islam, fighting for attaining land or wealth is totally unlawful. Therefore, only that war can be termed jihad which takes place solely for God’s cause.

In other words war is waged against injustice and oppression irrespective of man made physical borders. This means that self defence of a country is not the only reason for war, rather war is declared against any injustice that exists in the world. Sayyed Qutb, a famous Muslim scholar eloquently discusses the notion of jihad and self-defence in his book Milestones, he stated:

“If we insist on calling Islamic jihad a defensive movement, then we must change the meaning of the word ‘defence’ and mean by it “defence of man against all those elements which limit his freedom”. These elements take the form of beliefs and concepts as well as of political systems, based on economic, racial, or class distinction.”

Allah states in the Qur’an:

“Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not be aggressive. (Qur’an 2:190)

Islam: An Ideal Society

The family is considered the building block of any society. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued and seen as essential for the spiritual and moral well-being of its members and of society as a whole. A harmonious social order is created by the existence of extended families; children are treasured and rarely leave home until the time they marry.

Family

The family is considered the building block of any society. Parents are greatly respected in the Islamic tradition. Mothers are particularly honoured. The Qur’an teaches that since mothers suffer during pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing, they deserve a special consideration and kindness.

Institutional homes for the elderly are virtually unknown in the Muslim world. Caring for one’s parents during this most difficult time of their lives is considered an honour and a blessing. In Islam, serving one’s parents is a duty second only to worshipping and it is the parents’ right to expect it. It is considered despicable to express any irritation when, through no fault of their own, the old become difficult to handle. It is written in the Qur’an:

“Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and
be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age
with you, do not say to them a word of contempt nor chide them,
but speak to them in terms of honour and kindness. Treat them
with humility, and say, ‘My Lord! Have mercy on them, for they did
care for me when I was little.” (Qur’an 17:23-4)

Allah also states:

“And we have enjoined upon man (to be good) to his parents.
With difficulty upon difficulty did his mother bear him and wean
him for two years. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents;
to Me is your final goal.” (Qur’an 31:14)

Other Relatives

And render to the relatives their due rights, as (also) to those in
need, and to the traveller; and do nor squander your wealth in the
manner of a spendthrift. (Quran 7:26)

Neighbours

The Prophet said:

“He is not a believer who eats his fill when his neighbour beside
him is hungry” (Authenticated by: Bukhari)

“He does not believe whose neighbours are not safe from his
injurious conduct.” (Authenticated by: Bukhari)

Actually, according to the Qur’an and example of the Prophet, a Muslim has to discharge his moral responsibility not only to his parents, relatives, and neighbours but to all mankind, animals and useful trees and plants. For example, the hunting of birds and animals for sport is not permitted. Similarly, cutting trees and plants that yield fruit is forbidden unless there is a very pressing need for one to do so.

Thus, on the basic moral plane. Islam provides mankind with a higher system of morality that can be used by an individual to realize his greatest potential. Islam purifies the soul of self-seeking egotism, tyranny, wantonness, and lack of discipline. It creates God-fearing men who are devoted to their ideals, motivated by piety, abstinence, and discipline, and unable to make any compromise with falsehood. It induces feelings of moral responsibility and fosters the capacity for self-control. Islam generates kindness, generosity, mercy, sympathy, peace, disinterested goodwill, scrupulous fairness, and truthfulness towards all creation in all situations. It nourishes noble qualities from which only good may be expected.

What about Muslim Women?

Islam sees a woman, whether single or married, as an individual in her own right, with the right to own and dispose of her property and earnings. A marriage dowry is given by the groom to the bride for her own personal use, and she keeps her own family name rather than taking her husband’s in marriage.

Both men and women are expected to dress in a way which is modest and dignified; the traditions of female dress found in some Muslim countries are often the expression of local customs.

At a time when the rest of the world, from Greece and Rome to India and China, considered women as no better than children or even slaves, with no rights whatsoever, Islam acknowledged women’s equality with men in a great many respects. The Qur’an states:

“And among His signs is this: that He created mates for you
from yourselves that you may find rest ,peace of mind in them,
and He ordained between you love and mercy, Lo, herein
indeed are signs for people who reflect.” (Qur’an 30:21)

Prophet Muhammad said:

“The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best
in manners and kindest to his wife.”
(Authenticated by: Abu Dawud)

Muslims believe that Adam and Eve were created from the same soul. Both were equally guilty to their mistake and fall from grace, and both were forgiven by Allah. Many women in Islam have had high status; consider the fact that the first person to convert to Islam was Khadijah, the wife of Muhammad, whom he both loved and respected. After the death Khadijah he married Aisha who became renowned as a scholar and is considered one of the most significant sources of Hadith literature. Many of the female Companions accomplished great deeds and achieved fame, and throughout Islamic history there have been famous and influential scholars and jurists.

With regard to education, both women and men have the same rights and obligations. This is clear in Prophet Muhammad’s saying:

“Seeking knowledge is mandatory for every believer,” (Authenticated by: Ibn Majah)

This implies men and women.
A woman is to be treated with the utmost respect as God has endowed her with rights for her to be treated as an individual, with the right to own and dispose of her own property and earnings, enter into contracts, even after marriage. She has the right to be educated and to work outside the home if she so chooses. She has the right to inherit from her father, mother and husband. A very interesting point to note is that in Islam, unlike any other religion, a woman can b an imam, a leader of communal prayer, for a group of women.

A Muslim woman also has obligations. All the laws and regulations pertaining to prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimage, doing good deeds, etc, apply to women, albeit with minor differences having mainly to do with female physiology.

Before marriage, a woman has the right to choose her husband. Islamic law is very strict regarding the necessity of having the woman’s consent for marriage. A marriage dowry is given by the groom to the bride for her own personal use. She keeps her own family name, rather than taking her husband’s. As a wife, a woman has the right to be supported by her husband even it she is already rich. She also has the right to seek divorce and custody of young children. She does not return the dowry, except in a few unusual situations. Despite the fact that in many places and times Muslim communities have not always adhered to all or even many of the foregoing in practice, the ideal has been there for fourteen hundred years, while virtually all other major civilizations did not begin to address these issues or change their negative attitudes until the 20th century, and there are still many contemporary civilizations which have yet to do so.

How do Muslims view Death?

Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe that the present life is only a trial preparation for the next realm of existence. Basic articles of faith include: the Day of Judgement, resurrection, Heaven and Hell. When a Muslim dies, he or she is washed, usually by a family member, wrapped in a clean white cloth, and buried with a simple prayer preferably the same day. Muslims consider this one of the final services they can do for their relatives, and an opportunity to remember their own brief existence here on earth. The Prophet taught that three things can continue to help a person even after death; charity which he had given, knowledge which he had taught and prayers on their behalf by a righteous child.

The Qur’an states:

“Every soul shall have a taste of death: and only on the Day
of Judgement shall you be paid your full recompense. Only
he who is saved from the fire and admitted to the
garden will have attained the object (of life): for the life of
this world is but goods and chattels of deception.” (3:185)

“Wherever ye are death will find you out even if ye are in
towers built up strong and high!” If some good befalls
them they say ‘This is from Allah’; but if evil they say ‘this
is from thee (O Prophet)’. Say: “All things are from Allah”.
But what hath come to these people that they fail to
understand a single fact?” (4:78)

Death is not pure annihilation, but rather both the living and dead are aware in different ways. Death is merely movement from one world to another. It can be described as a journey through a to a separate dimension of existence. In this life, the soul and the body are together, except during sleep when the soul may leave the body and come back in the morning with Allah’s permission. The Qur’an states:

“It is Allah that takes the souls at death; and those that die
not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has
passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning
to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term
appointed. Verily in this are Signs for those who
reflect.” (39:42)

It is indeed something to be pondered; that we die each night and Allah gives us another chance at life when we wake up the next day.

Muslims believe that the life of this world does not hold any value compared to the life of the next world. The goal is to attain a place in the garden of Paradise, which is eternal. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and
their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of
Paradise).” (9:111)

This encourages Muslims to be righteous in their actions and to uphold justice for all since doing so will please Allah and gain them success in the next life.

What do Muslims think about Jesus?

Muslims respect and revere Jesus (PBUH), and await his Second Coming. They consider him one of the greatest of God’s Messengers to mankind. A Muslim never refers to him simply as ‘Jesus’, but always adds the phrase ‘Peace Be Upon Him’ (PBUH). The Qur’an confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Qur’an is entitled ‘Mary’), and Mary is highly respected.

The Qur’an describes the Annunciation as follows:

“Behold!’ the Angel said, ‘God has chosen you, and purified
you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary,
God gives you good news of a word form Him, whose name
shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honoured in this
world and the Hereafter, and and of those brought near to
God. He shall speak to the people from his cradle and in
maturity, and shall be of the righteous.’
She said: ‘O my Lord, how shall I have a son when no man has
touched me?’ He said: ‘Even so; God creates what He wills.
When He decrees a thing, He says to it, “Be” and it is.”
(Qur’an 3:45-47)

Jesus was born miraculously through the same power that had brought Adam into being without a father.

“Truly, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of
Adam. He created him of dust, and then said to him, ‘Be!’ and
he was.” (Qur’an 3:59)

During his prophetic mission Jesus performed many miracles. The Qur’an tells us that he said.

“I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for you
out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it
and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal the blind, and
the lepers, and I raise the dead by God’s leave.” (Qur’an 3:49)

Neither Muhammad nor Jesus came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in One God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it. In the Qur’an Jesus is reported as saying that he came:

“To attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to
you part of what was forbidden you; I have come to you with
a sign front your Lord, so fear God and obey me.” (Qur’an 3:50)

The Prophet Muhammad said:

“Whoever believes there is no god but God, alone without
partner, that Muhammad is His messenger, that Jesus is the
servant and messenger of God, His word breathed into Mary
and a spirit emanating from Him, and that Paradise and Hell
are true, shall be received by God into Heaven.
(Authenticated by: Bukhari)”

Muslims believe that Jesus was a messenger of God, they do not attribute any divinity to him as he was merely a human being incomparable to the attributes of God Almighty. The Qur’an states:

“O people of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion: nor
say of Allah aught but truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was
(no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word which He
bestowed on Mary and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so
believe in Allah and His Apostles. Say not “Trinity”; desist; it
will be better for you; for Allah is One Allah: Glory be to him
(for Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all
things in the heavens and the earth. And enough is Allah as a
Disposer of affairs.” (Qur’an 4:171)

Do Islam, Christianity and Judaism have different origins?

No. They go back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and their three prophets are directly descended from his sons – Muhammed from the eldest, Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from Isaac. Abraham established the settlement which today is the city of Makkah, and built the Ka’abah towards which all Muslims turn when they pray.

This diagram shows how the three prophets are directly descended from the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. Muhammad is a descendant of the eldest son, Ishmael. Moses and Jesus descended from Isaac. Abraham established a settlement, which today is the city of Makkah and built the Ka’abah towards which all Muslims turn when they pray.

Furthermore, throughout the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, the links between these religions are affirmed:

“Say: We believe in God, and in that which has been sent
down on us, and that sent down on Abraham, Ishmael,
Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants, and that which was
given to Moses and Jesus, and was given to all the prophets,
from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of
them; and we surrender ourselves to God alone.”
(Qur’an 2:136)

Christians and Jews hold a special place in Islam. They are called the People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab), since the original Torah and Gospel were also divinely revealed and they shared in the prophetic tradition. True Islamic states have always shown their religious minorities tolerance and respect and those communities flourished under Islamic rule. God says:

“…Those who believe (in the message of Islam), and the
Jews, the Sabaeans, and the Christians – all those who
believe in Allah and the Last Day, and act righteously – no
fear shall come upon them…” (Qur’an 5:69)

Are there any other Sacred Sources?

Yes, the Sunnah, the practice and example of the Prophet, is the second authority for Muslims. A Hadith is a reliably transmitted report of what the Prophet said, did, or approved (his Sunnah). Belief in the Sunnah is part of the Islamic faith. The Sunnah is used as an explanation or a further clarification of the Qur’an.

From the Islamic standpoint, Sunnah refers to anything narrated or related about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), authentically traced to him regarding his speech, actions, traits, and silent approvals before and after the revelation.

‘Aisha (the wife of the Prophet) was once asked: “What was the character of the Prophet?” She replied: “His character was nothing but the Qur’an”. Thus the Prophet, peace be upon him, was an embodiment of the Qur’an itself: whatever he practised or said, i.e. the Sunnah, is related to the guidance of the Qur’an. Let us explore the role of the Sunnah in relation to the Qur’an.

  •  The Sunnah explains Qur’anic injunctions in detail.
  • The Sunnah can establish a specific meaning when a number of meanings are possible.
  • The sayings of the Prophet Muhammad explain some historical events in detail since they are mentioned only briefly in the Qur’an.
  • The Sunnah can specify exemptions from a general injunction.

Muslims cannot choose to go against the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Believing in the Qur’an without the Sunnah is a contradiction as the Qur’an confirms the importance of the Sunnah:

“O you who believe! Obey God and obey the
Messenger and those charged with authority among
you; and if you differ in anything among yourselves,
then refer it to God and the Messenger if you do
believe in God and the Last Day. That is best and
most suitable for final determination.” (Quran 4:59)