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Evolution of the Islamic Empire

Early Advances of Islam At the time of the launch of this p restigious magazine, the Islamic world had come through several great periods but was starting to stagnate. Since the beginning of Islam, the Islamic empire gre w e x t remely fast owing to the zeal of its early followers, their unity and obedience to those in authority. In the first centuries after its inception, Islam rapidly spread t h rough the Middle East, eastwards towards India and China, all across North Africa, and across much of Southern E u rope, and all within a hundred years or so. Soon the Islamic empire was well established and stable, and as a result, all people were s e c u re in that enviro n m e n t i r respective of their creed or c o l o u r. In Damascus, Cairo , C o rdoba and elsewhere , Islamic science flourished such that huge advances were made in the fields of navigation, medicine, astro n o m y, mathe- matics and even the arts. Not 44 The Review of Religions – March 2003 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire By Tanveer Khokhar – UK The story of the rise, decline and eventual renaissance of Islam and Islamic civilisation is a vital part of our history. Islam developed among an unlettered people far removed from the crossroads of civilisation and human thought to become the predominant religion of the then known world. But even this profound movement was to enter a gradual state of degeneration which only the advent of the Promised Messiah ( a s ) w o u l d reverse. This article provides a brief overview of the vicissitudes of the Islamic empire, with a particular focus on the last century which coincided with the launch of The Review of Religions under the auspices of the Promised Messiah(as). just Muslim scholars, but Jews, Christians and all others thrived in this enlightened climate. Beautiful mosques bear witness to the greatness of Islamic arc h i t e c t u re of the period. In Cordoba, the Gre a t Mosque was used for worship by Muslims, Christians and Jews. Such was the level of enlightenment of the early Muslims. They strove to p rotect the temples and c h u rches of other faiths within their lands, and chose dialogue rather than conflict to learn m o re about each other. It was in this period that great libraries were built and universities established. Great works of the Greeks, Indians, Persians, Egyptians and numerous religious texts were translated and pre s e r v e d . Scholars from various religions and cultures were drawn to this enlightened empire at a time when Europe was in the midst of the ‘Dark Ages’. G r a d u a l l y, one dynasty took over from another, and power shifted from the Umayyads (661-750 CE) based in Syria to the Abbasids (750-1258 CE) based in Mesopotamia. During this time, the unity of the Muslims began to be eroded as rival Caliphates were estab- lished in Cairo and Cordoba, yet Islam and Muslim culture united people, and the religion of Islam grew in strength. The Ottoman Empire (1281-1924 CE) centred in Istanbul re – united the Muslim world under the new Turkish power, and once again the Muslims had a single voice. Again, Muslim culture thrived, with dramatic buildings such as the Blue Mosque erected acro s s Europe and northern Africa. Once again, at its gre a t e s t extent, the Ottoman Empire set s t a n d a rds for people in the e m p i re based upon Islamic principles of absolute justice, kindness and fair play. The Empire grew in extent to cover Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Arabia to the east, the Balkans, H u n g a r y, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and other states around the Black Sea, and most of north Africa from Egypt to 45 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003 Algeria. However, the history of religious degradation repeated itself. When the ruling Sultans began to confuse religion with culture, and power became a stru g g l e between brothers and clans, gradually Islam was forgotten and the Empire lost its unity and power. Islam at the time of the Promised Messiah(as) During the course of the last hundred years, people across the Muslim world have come into contact with the Ahmadiyya Community and have had a chance to judge for themselves the message of the P romised Messiah( a s ). Many tens of millions accepted him as the reformer of Islam and joined his community, but millions of others have not. Often this is due to mis- information and ignorance, but the Islamic powers have also used this as a political issue as we will see later on. At the time of the Promised M e s s i a h( a s ), Islam was in decline even though Muslim states retained much of their political dominion. Some Christian missionaries fol- lowed the European colonial expansion across the world and w e re spreading false pro – paganda about Islam. There were plenty of militants and activists within the Muslim world, but very few Muslims w e re willing to address the theological onslaughts made against Islam. The Pro m i s e d M e s s i a h( a s ) was the most p rominent figure to take up this challenge in the Indian sub-continent with gre a t success. This inspired a new generation of Muslims and sparked their interest in theology once again. However his influence was limited to his growing community, whilst the rest of the Muslim world was swayed by greed and political intrigue. This is how the Pro m i s e d M e s s i a h( a s ) explained his mission: ‘When God Almighty, observing the condition of the world and finding the 46 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003 earth filled with every type of disobedience, sin and misguidance, appointed me for the propagation of the truth and the reform of the people, then I, in obedience to this Divine command, sent forth the call through written and oral announcements that I was the person who was to arrive at the beginning of the century for the revival of the faith. My purpose was to re- establish the faith which had disappeared from the earth and to pull mankind towards reform and righteousness and truthfulness through the magnetic power of His Hand. It was also my purpose to correct their doctrinal errors and to reform their conduct. A few years thereafter, it was made quite clear to me thro u g h Divine revelation that the Messiah, whose advent among the Muslims had been foretold from the beginning, and the Mahdi whose advent had been Divinely decreed at the time of the decline of Islam and the spread of error, and who was to be guided directly by God, and who was to invite people to partake of the heavenly banquet, and whose coming had been f o retold by the Holy Prophet(sa) thirteen hundred years in advance, was myself. Divine reve-lation to this effect was vouchsafed to me so clearly and so continuously that it left no room for doubt. It was replete with grand prophe- cies that were fulfilled as clearly as bright day. Its frequency and number and miraculous power compelled me to affirm that it comprehended the words of the One God, without associate, Whose Word is the Holy Qur’an.’ (Tadhkiratush Shahadatain, pp. 1-2) He further stated: ‘The purpose for which God has appointed me is that I should remove the malaise that afflicts the relationship between God and His creatures and should restore 47 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003 the relationship of love and sincerity between them. Through the proclamation of truth I should bring about peace by putting an end to religious wars and should manifest the verities which have become hidden fro m the eyes of the world. I am called upon to demonstrate that spirituality which has been overlaid by selfish darknesses. It is for me to demonstrate in practice and not only in words, the Divine attributes which penetrate into the hearts of people and a re manifested thro u g h prayer and concentration. Most of all it is my purpose to plant once more in the hearts of people the pure and shining unity of God which is free from every suspicion of paganism and which has completely disappeared. All this will be accomplished not t h rough my power, but through the Power of Him Who is the God of heaven and earth.’ (Lecture Lahore, p.47. Quoted f rom Ahmadiyyat: The Renaissance of Islam by Muhammad Zafrallah Khan) Decline of the last century So what has happened to Islam in the last hundred years? Religion, in general, has become absorbed into politics, Islam being no exception. As a result, the once great Islamic empire has now fallen into the hands of politicians devoid of spiritual enlightenment. In addition, with the exception of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, there is no unity across the Muslim world due to the conspicuous absence of the institution of Khilafat amongst them. As the Ottoman Empire c rumbled around the Mediterranean, it left behind weak states such as Bosnia and Kosovo which have suff e re d c ruelty at the hands of neighbouring states. Elsewhere, in the Middle East, the lack of unity and power of the Muslims has been exploited for political gain in order to s e c u re business advantages such as cheaper oil even at the 48 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003 49 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003 Indonesia Pakistan India Bangladesh Iran Turkey Egypt Nigeria Morrocco Algeria Uzbekistan Sudan Iraq Ethiopia Saudi Arabia China Afghanistan Syria Malaysia Yemen Kazakhistan Tanzania Somalia Senegal 169,990,000 125,320,000 101,050,000 99,280,000 62,430,000 61,230,000 53,140,000 48,760,000 27,480,000 27,230,000 25,430,000 20,300,000 19,820,000 19,080,000 17,990,000 17,940,000 17,520,000 12,880,000 11,220,000 10,990,000 10,420,000 8,820,000 8,710,000 7,640,000 88% 97% 11% 85% 98% 99% 91% 51% 99% 99% 69% 72% 96% 35% 99% 1.5% 99% 87% 60% 99% 60% 30% 99% 91% COUNTRY MUSLIM %POPULATION expense of hundreds of thousands of Muslim lives and again the Muslim world looks on muted. Palestine lies in ruins and is subject to the expansion of Israel; Iran and Iraq have fought each other; Libya, Syria, and others are accused of terrorism and suffer from war, often in the name of religion. Regimes such as the failed Taliban in Afghanistan tried to impose their own version of Islam with extreme practices. The very religion for which these people purport to fight has been forgotten. Tru e Islamic principles have been lost, Islamic science has evaporated to the history books, and the concept of worship and spiritual uplift has been corrupted and replaced by a new lexicon of c o r rupted concepts such as J i h a d and F a t w a which are misunderstood by the so-called fundamentalists. These terms are now used by the Orientalist writers and the media to turn public opinion of the world against the teachings of Islam. In the former Soviet Empire, all religious practice including Islam and Christianity were s u p p ressed. The state saw these as a theological threat, and sought to impose a totalitarian regime instead. Again, over a period of many years, despite their best efforts, they could not erode religion from the hearts of the people, and eventually the Empire dissolved. Unfortunately with events such as these, sometimes religion becomes an obvious political weapon, and when society goes from one political extreme to another, so does religious thought. This has been one of the catalysts towards militant tendencies in Eastern Europe over the last 30 years. There are now 73 sects in Islam as predicted by the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa): ‘Abdullah bin Amar ( r a ) relates that the Holy P ro p h e t( s a ) said “Sure l y things will happen to my people as happened earlier to Israelites, they will 50 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003 resemble each other like one shoe in a pair resembles the other to the extent that if anyone among the Israelites has openly committed adultery with his mother there will be some who will do this in my Ummah as well, verily the Israelites w e re divided into 72 sections but my people will be divided into 73 sections, all of them will be in the fire except one.” The companions asked, “Who a re they O Messenger of Allah?” The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “They are those who will be like me and my companions.”’ (Tirmidhi, Kitab-ul-Iman) Of these 73 sects, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only one that has been denounced as n o n – M u s l i m in some Islamic countries and in particular, by all other 72 sects. Attempts are made to deny Ahmadis the right to practise Islam. For Ahmadis in Pakistan acts such as worship and Islamic greeting have become criminal offences. They are denied the right to go to Mecca for Umrah or Hajj (Pilgrimage), a crime for which they can be jailed in Saudi Arabia. The beautiful religion demonstrated cen- turies ago by the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) would appear to lie in ruins. This is the same fate that befell the Islamic Empire in the past when politics overtook philosophy and religion. We saw the demise of the Caliphate of Al-Andalus in Spain, the fall of successive Caliphates, and finally the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Now the Islamic world is divided into separate states which spend their energies fighting each other rather than promoting peace and harmony. At the same time, there is the expectation of the arrival of the Mahdi to once again lead the Muslims to glory, although Muslims are deeply divided about how they would recognise their Mahdi, failing to accept that he has already come. 51 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003 The Future So what does the future hold for Islam? Unfortunately, due to media propaganda, much talk nowadays wrongly links Islam to terrorism and fundamentalism. In actual fact, enlightened people around the world have more fre q u e n t contact with Muslims due to the increasing requirements for interaction and the global e c o n o m y. Despite the best e fforts of global media p ropaganda against Islam, people are becoming aware of the fact that Muslims have no support in the Qur’an or Hadith for resorting to war except in the circ u m s t a n c e s that they are actively prevented from practicising their religion or in self-defence. In the modern age, there are no c i rcumstances in which the former is the case. Muslims are free to worship across Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. They have been able to build mosques in all of the gre a t cities of the world including Washington, London, Rome, Sydney and in China. Muslims from all of these countries go annually for pilgrimage to Mecca and practise their religion without hindrance. So how would the scenario of a ‘Holy War’ emerge? A small number of highly visible activists get more airtime on the global media with their extreme views than the great majority of the many hundreds of millions of peace-loving Muslims. A single suicide bomber is able to alter opinion faster than the broader Muslim community. To take the views of obviously misguided fanat- ics and to apply them to the greater Muslim community is wrong. It is wholly unrepre- sentative of the views of most Muslim and bears no resem- blance to the teachings of Islam. Ironically the one Muslim sect which has been persecuted and denied its rights and could t h e re f o re have a legitimate claim to fight for its rights is the Ahmadiyya Muslim C o m m u n i t y, and yet they have relied upon prayers and the power of God rather than getting themselves involved in 52 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003 combat, as instructed by the Promised Messiah(as) and Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Equally, religious dialogue is on the increase. During the last hundred years, the science of comparative religion cham- pioned by great authors such as Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell has incre a s e d knowledge of not just the established world religions, but also of those traditional national religions of the aborigines, native Americans, Yo rubas and others. In this context, Islam is seen in a much m o re favourable light acro s s the world. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has actively championed the cause of education, learning and debate and the cause of the study of all world re l i g i o n s including through this very publication. In this regard, a ‘Jihad’ of the pen is being waged to defend and to unearth truth in re l i g i o u s matters, and to banish ignorance. This is the bright future to which we must all look f o r w a rd. In studying each other’s faiths, we realise that there is far more to unite us than there ever has been to divide us. All re l i g i o n s originating from God have similar themes portrayed in different ways and at different levels of detail, and if studied p roperly will show how religions evolved toward s Islam, the universal re l i g i o n . This will ultimately bring all religious communities together under the banner of the One True God to promote and protect a society based upon morals and virtues rather than greed and politics. 53 The Evolution of the Islamic Empire The Review of Religions – March 2003