The history and tradition of Islam in its religious context extends beyond the birth of the Prophet Muhammad and the revelation of the Qur’an. Islam shares a common thread and a religious kinship with two sister religions: Judaism and Christianity. In many ways, Islam is an extension of these previously revealed monotheistic faiths and can largely be considered as a new edition of the word of God as revealed to Moses and Jesus over time. Thus, it could be said that Islam is founded upon the same principles of our common forefather Abraham, revered by Jews and Muslims as the founder of the people of Israel (via Sarah, his wife) and the patriarch of the Muslim peoples (via Hagar, Sarah’s maid).
The religious law, or Shari’a, of Moses and Jesus, the emulated Prophets of the Jewish and Christian peoples respectively, vary from the Shari’a of Muhammad. In fact, the Shari’a of each of these three religious leaders differ from each other by virtue of the different times and circumstances in which Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad lived and the experience of their peoples. Thus, Shari’a, contrary to being a static and outdated order of God’s law, in the minds of many, is in fact an evolving phenomenon that adapts to conditions faced by people at different times and contexts.
Islam as both a legal and social code is influenced significantly by what has come to be referred to as the Islamic Civilization. Inspired by Islam, Muslims began exploring the knowledge of other times and societies and thus collected, synthesized and advanced knowledge in a number of fields. As Islam spread across the world, its civilization forged new ideas and innovated in unprecedented ways. Science in particular saw exciting new developments in Muslim societies across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
In the forthcoming essays, I will present the following points: historical milestones of Islamic civilization, the context in which Islam was born and a comparison with the conditions of Europe during the Europe’s Dark Ages, a discussion of the position of Islam on knowledge and its influence on the direction of Muslims due to Islam’s attitude towards knowledge, a definition of Islamic civilization as a universal phenomena which crossed the boundaries of race, ethnicity, geography and religious backgrounds, Islam’s success in its Golden Age which became a foundation for the development of modern Western civilization and a presentation of numerous contributions of Islam to the world . I would request the modern world, especially the western world, to give Islamic civilization its due and stop ignoring its achievements and contributions. I would also recommend to the West to be open towards Islam and Muslims as Islam and Muslims throughout their history were open to all peoples of the then known world.
The basis for these essays is a number of scholarly materials about the history of Islam and Islamic civilization as well as the examinations of Islam’s contributions to European Renaissance and modern-day Western societies.
The following books are the key references which would help me to present the view not often heard or read in the mainstream western societies about contributions of Islam to the modern world societies as well about Islam’s relations with others throughout history that is based on the Islam’s formative principles namely the Qur’an and the Sunnah. What Islam Did for Us is a book written by Tim Wallace-Murphy. How Islam Created the Modern World is a book written by Mark Graham. Lost History is a book written by Michael H. Morgan. The Making of Humanity is a book written by Rob Briffault. An Introduction to the History of Science is a book written by George Sarton. History of the Intellectual Development of Europe is a book written by John Draper.
All authors argue that there are many legacies, traditions and knowledge that Western civilization has received from coexistence between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Most notably, they highlight that today’s institutions of learning such as Oxford and Cambridge were modeled along Muslim institutions in Andalusia. Even Europe’s first medical school was founded by Jewish doctors who had been trained in the Muslim educational institutions. Other fields of knowledge such as astronomy, geography, mathematics, physics, machinery, industry, agriculture, sociology and history and even Gothic architecture were learned from the then Islamic world.
The West today represents a civilization in and of itself that has much to contribute to humanity’s understanding of the world around it. However, we cannot forget that past achievements, particularly those of other civilizations and societies, have shaped our own understandings today. Therefore, we must acknowledge and share these past achievements and recognize that in discussing and presenting the contributions of these other earlier civilizations including the civilization of Muslims, we can eradicate misconceptions, misunderstandings and even intolerance present today.
While this rule applies to all civilizations, in today’s world and times when there is much unnecessary conflict, it is critical that we all undertake this process with regards to Islam and Muslims. My hope is that this undertaking will become an urgent matter for Muslim leadership, especially in the West, religious leadership from other faith traditions and leaders of other backgrounds, educators, policy makers and politicians.
This part will reflect upon and critically examine the history of two independent yet intrinsically linked worldviews – Islam and the West. In identifying the place of Islam in relation to today’s predominant Western civilization, we can explore our shared intellectual heritage and continue to learn from each other as we move forward in an age of interconnectedness and interdependence.
It also will help in understanding of the impact of the Islamic civilization on the Western civilization and seek to prove that if this impact is ignored or belittled, we, the modern civilization will not be able to establish an organic link between the previous intellectual traditions and the Renaissance thought in which emergence of Islamic intellectual tradition played an essential role.