History of Islam

In this paper I will try to sketch an outline of Islam’s political history and how the glorious faith preached by the Holy P r o p h e t( s a ) spread out of the confines of Arabia to the farthest corners of the world. I will try to give an outline political history of present day Muslim countries. It will necessarily be a very short sketch but I hope it will give some idea of what power Islam once was-and God willing, will once again be, through Ahmadiyyat. Islamic history may conveniently be divided into five periods: (1) The first period may be called the Arab Period. This comprises the times of (a) the first four Caliphs of Islam; (b) the Umayyads at Damascus; (c) and the Abbasids at Baghdad. This period runs from 632 CE (Christian Era) to 950 CE, approximately 300 years. During this period the centralism of Islam was intact. The Caliph was both the spiritual and the temporal head. Next followed around 100 years of divided principalities when the C a l i p h ’s temporal power was reduced to nothing, and it appeared as if Islam’s political hegemony would be gone forever. 5The Review of Religions – August 2003 History of Islam by the late Professor Abdus Salam (Nobel Laureate) The following paper was read at one of the weekly meetings at the London Mosque in 1947 by Professor Dr. Abdus Salam, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979. He was then a student at Cambridge doing his three year Tripos course. In this partly revised paper, originally published in the June 1983 issue of the Muslim Herald, he presented an overview of the political history of Islam. This article may be of great interest to those who are unfamiliar with this history, especially given recent events in the Middle East. (2) Around 1050 a new people appeared on the scene-the Seljuqs. They accepted Islam and under them the centralism of Islam was restored. The Caliph in Baghdad was now the spiritual head of most Muslims, while political power was in the hands mainly of priests of Tu r k i s h origin. (3) The third period begins with the Mongol attack on Islamic countries-when Baghdad was sacked and the Caliphate extinguished. But 50 years later, the Mongols themselves had accepted Islam. This period (including that of Ti m u r l a n e ) extended until 1500 CE. (4) From 1500 we enter the fourth period, that of Safavis in Persia and Osmani Turks in Turkey and Mughals in India. (5) Finally, the fifth period is the one from 1700 CE till today, when European powers also began playing their sinister part in the history of Islam. If history has a moral, then the only moral I wish to draw from Islamic history is that the religion of Islam has won its greatest victories when the arms and might of Islam were at their lowest. With this introduction we shall now go on to a detailed consideration of the periods I have mentioned. The Arab Period At the time of the death of the Holy Prophet of Islam, peace be on him, in 632, practically the whole of Arabia had accepted Islam. Under his first duly elected Successor, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, the power of Islam was consolidated in Arabia. But it was during the time of the second Successor, Hadhrat Umar, that Islam spread outside Arabia and won its victories. The Byzantines and the Persians both thought Arabia belonged to them and construing the rise of Islam as a rebellion against them they hastened to march to chastise the Arabs. A handful of Muslim 6 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 armies faced numbers, in some cases, ten times larger. But the fiery zeal of faith swept all before it. Damascus fell to the Muslim armies in 635, Yarmuk in 636 and with it Syria. Persian armies were defeated at Qadisiya in 637 and Egypt was conquered in 640. But the reign of Caliph Umar was memorable not only on account of its military glory. It was in his reign that for the first time in world history the principle was recognised that the state was responsible for the material welfare of all its citizens. The saying with which he began his caliphate is unique: ‘By Allah, he that is weakest among you shall be in my sight the strongest for I shall vindicate for him his rights, but him that is strongest will I treat as the weakest until he complies with the laws.’ After Umar came Hadhrat Uthman and Hadhrat Ali. After Ali, the principle of electing the Caliph died out. Muawiyya, who succeeded Ali in 661 as Caliph, made caliphate hereditary and thus the Umayyad dynasty began. During the reign of Muawiyya’s son, Yazid, the battle of Kerbala took place in 680 CE. Hadhrat A l i ’s son, Hadhrat Hussain, declined to pay homage to a Caliph who had not been elected in a Shura. He was martyred on the plains of Kerbala. Among the Umayyads, Caliph Wa l i d ’s reign was the most glorious. During his reign in 711 CE, a handful of Muslims under Tariq crossed over into Spain. In a few years they had overrun it with irresistible force and for the next 500 years the bulk of Spain was a Muslim country. During this period Muhammad bin Qasim invaded India and conquered Sind and Multan. The Umayyads lost power in 750 CE, and were succeeded by the Abbasids, who though Sunnis in faith came to power with the help of Khurasani Shias. They transferred their seat of government from Damascus to Baghdad. The most glorious 7 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 reign among the Abbasids was doubtless that of Harun-al Rashid, the hero of the celebrated Arabian Nights, and his son Mamoon. Islamic learning and the prosperity of the Muslim countries were at a pitch that had never been reached before. Around a hundred years after H a r u n ’s death, the power of the Abbasid Caliphs began to wane. In Khurasan, Samanids took over p o w e r, in Fars Buyids, in Africa the Fatmids and in Arabia the Carmathians. All these dynasties acknowledged (except the Fatmids) the sovereignty of the Caliph in name but the disintegration of Islamic polity was so complete that it appeared that Islam was politically d o o m e d . The Seljuqs During this period when the empire of the Caliphate had vanished, a new people accepted Islam. The Turkish Seljuqs accepted Islam; they bred a generation of Muslim warriors to whom more than anything else, the Crusaders owed their failure to conquer Islamic lands. The first Seljuq Sultan was Tu g h r a l who died in 1063. His brilliant son Alp Arslan followed him. This period was of unequalled prosperity and security. It also produced the greatest Muslim statesman of all times, Nizam-ul- Mulk. The Abbasid Caliph still held sway over Baghdad but he relegated all temporal power to the Seljuq Sultans. The Seljuq kingdom extended from the borders of Afghanistan to the ends of the Arabian peninsula. Except for Egypt and Spain, the entire Muslim world was united. Never after that period has it been united again, in a like manner. Alp Arsalan was succeeded by his son Malik Shah. His period was the heyday of learning and original research in mathematics and sciences. In 1074 an observatory was founded where the celebrated Umar Khayyam worked. The Jalali calendar was instituted which in the judgement of modern scholars is more accurate than the Gregorian calendar.The Nizamia University in Baghdad was founded. This 8 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 university had the honour of having one of its chairs being occupied by the celebrated Muslim scholar AI-Ghazali. The Seljuq power began declining towards the end of the twelfth century. But even in its decline, it had enough vitality to repulse the Crusaders. The great Saladin of Scott’s novels flourished about 1175. It is curious that the attitude towards the Crusaders was entirely d i fferent in the Christian countries and in the Muslim lands. While in the West the Crusades were proclaimed as Holy War and the whole military might of Europe was behind them, in Muslim countries they were considered as a local affair and local depredations, which the governors of the provinces concerned could effectively deal with. In 1171, after the decisive battle of Hattin when Saladin sent several Frank prisoners to the Caliph Alhasir at Baghdad, the booty included a bronze iron inlaid with wood of the true cross. It was duly buried near Baghdad. In the later part of Seljuq period, the Ismailis (commonly known as the Assassins) gained strength in the land of Islam. Though they held absolute sway over only a few forts, their political power through their ability to assassinate the leaders of Islam was great. By the beginning of the thirteenth century the Seljuq power had declined. Some other Islamic dynasties may have taken their place but by about 1220 there occurred one of the greatest eruptions in the history of the w o r l d . The Mongols The nomadic tribes of Central Asia-the Mongols-swarmed over the whole civilised world in both Europe and Asia under Genghiz Khan. Like an avalanche, they swept all before them. Around 1260 it appeared that Islam’s political power had disappeared for good. Baghdad had been razed to the ground, the Caliphate obliterated the lands of Islam, Persia, Transoxonia, and Iraq laid waste. But then once 9 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 again a miracle happened. The religion of the conquered, conquered the conquerors. Why the Mongols rose like that, nobody has finally ascertained. In its suddenness, its devastating destruction, its appalling ferocity, its passionless and purposeless c r u e l t y, its irresistible though short-lived violence, the Mongol episode resembles rather some brute cataclysm of blind forces of nature than a phenomenon of human history. Around 1220 they fell on the lands of Islam and Europe. In Europe they sacked Moscow, Rostov, Kiev and Cracow. Their second wave in 1258 under Halgu obliterated Baghdad and the Islamic caliphate. It seemed they came, merely to kill and to ruin. One by one all the Muslim countries fell before their onslaught. If they spared the inhabitants of a town, which surrendered, it was either to profit by their skill or to employ them against their countrymen. Dozens of wretched captives accompanied the advancing hordes, erected the tents of the besieger, to be driven afterwards to the breaches effected in the walls, to fill moat and trench with their bodies; and were finally, if they still escaped death, put to sword, to give place to a new batch of victims drawn from fresh conquests. Their cruelty was calculated to strike with a paralysis of terror those whom they proposed next to attack while they left behind the smoldering ruins and demolished houses. The extent of terror they aroused can be gauged from the following quotation from Ibn ul Athir (written in 1230): ‘I have heard that one of the them took a man captive but had not with him any weapon wherewith to kill him and he said to his prisoner: Lay your head on the ground and do not move and he did so and the Tartar went and fetched his sword and slew him therewith.’ They professed no religion but their destruction of the centres of Islamic civilisation advanced 10 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 them so much in the favour of the Pope, that His Holiness was pleased to write to Ogtai Khan and others letters with his own signature. The Pope only realised their perfidy when their hordes began devastating the Christian lands with equal impartiality. The destruction of Baghdad as the metropolis of Islam was thorough. The murder of the Caliph struck a fatal blow at the semblance of unity, which had subsisted among the nation of Islam. The sack of Baghdad lasted a week while 80,000 people were put to death. The loss suffered by Muslim towns, which never again reached their previous level, defies description and almost surpasses imagination. Not only were thousands of priceless books annihilated, the very tradition of accurate scholarship and learning was destroyed. In spite of all this they could not kill the religion of Islam. They themselves fell victims to it. In 1275 the Mongol rulers had accepted Islam. Thereafter those very Mongols were Islam’s greatest champions. The political history of the next 200 years consists of the rule of Muslim Mongol princes in Persia till about 1350 CE, while Osmani Turks established themselves in Asia Minor, and Egypt was ruled by the descendants of Saladin. After 1350 CE another Central Asian conqueror, Ti m u r l a n e , arose. He professed Islam but he had no other motive except world conquest and world domination. He swept over Persia, India, Afghanistan, parts of Russia and some parts of China like Genghiz Khan before him. His most notable victory ever was over Bayazid 1, Sultan of Turkey in 1402. It checked for a while the progress of Osmani Turks. But his influence proved ephemeral. His successors ruled over Central Asia and Persia for no more than a 100 years when the Safavis supplanted them. It would not be out of place to stop here and take some stock of Muslim religious thought during this dark period. 11 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 We came across some of the greatest Sufi names in this period. The first is that of Shah Shams Tibriz. His disciple, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, wrote his Mathnawi around 1260 CE. The author describes his work in the Mathnawi as ‘The Roots of the Roots of the religion and discovery of the Mysteries of Reunion and some knowledge.’ The Sufi movement had its heyday in the thirteenth century. Sheikh Muhiyyud Din ibn-Arabi, the greatest name in medieval Islam, a native of Andalusia, went to live in Damascus and died there in 1240. In the literary sphere Saadi and Hafiz belong to this period. The Safavis and Osmani Turks Now we start with the fourth period of our history the period starting around 1500 CE when with Shah Ismail Safavi, a Shia d y n a s t y, seized power in Iran. This was the first time that a Shia dynasty had come to power in Iran. This had a profound eff e c t on the course of future history of I s l a m . The Islamic world was divided into two antagonistic camps: a Shiite Iran, parts of Afghanistan and Iraq on the one hand and the Osmani Turkish Empire comprising Turkey, parts of Iraq, Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Algiers. Spain by now had passed out of Muslim hands. In India, ruled the descendants of Ti m u r l a n e – t h e Great Moghuls. From 1500 to 1700 we witness these absolute autocracies: the Moghuls in India, with Akbar, J e h a n g i r, Shah Jehan and Aurangzeb, Safavis in Iran with Shah Abbas; while Mohammad II, Selim 1 and Sulaiman the Magnificent in Turkey. India was a great power in the Moghul days. For Persia this was the golden period of her prosperity and well being, while the Turks ruled the biggest empire they ever had. Thus while Selim 1 conquered Egypt, Syria and Hedjaz and assumed the title of Caliph, Sulaiman the Magnificent, who ruled from 1510-1566, 12 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 conquered Belgrade and parts of Poland. Vienna was besieged by Turkish armies while Tu r k e y possessed the strongest fleet in the world. The Turkish Empire extended from the frontiers of Germany to the Persian border. Although during this period the centralism of Islam had disappeared, politically the Muslim world was at its zenith. As a contemporary European historian wrote ‘Except for his war with Persia, there is nothing that can keep the Tu r k annihilating us in Europe.’ I shall not dwell on this period, but will trace the main events after 1700. After 1700 Turkish power in Europe held intact till about 1800. But the Moghul Empire in India had begun disintegrating and during the course of the next two centuries was gradually supplanted by British supremacy. The Safavis in Persia lost their hold on the country and in 1727 the Afghans conquered Persia. The Afghans were Sunnis and bitterly hated the Shiite Persians. This was the first time after Sultan Mahmud (around 1000 CE) that the Afghans asserted themselves as an independent power. They were soon however driven out of Persia by Nadir Shah, who rising from humble beginnings, ultimately seized power and ruled over Persia. His career of conquests was as amazing as that of Timurlane or Napoleon. To finish with Persian history, after Nadir Shah, his family lost power and the Qajars took their place. They ruled over Persia effectively till the revolution of 1906, when the Persians won for themselves the constitution. The Qajars were supplanted by Reza Shah Pahlvi in 1925. Reza Shah as you all know abdicated in favour of his son who is the present Shah (1947 Ed.). Concerning Turkish history, after 1700, an important element was the rise of Russia. Wars with Russia started about 1700. The Turkish army was victorious in the beginning. In 1710 Peter the 13 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 Great’s army was menaced with total destruction. But around 1770 Turkish fortunes began to wane. Crimea got her independence from Turkey in 1788. France, the traditional ally of Tu r k e y, broke with Tu r k e y when Napoleon occupied Egypt in 1798. Egypt under Muhammad Ali went out of the Turkish orbit and became quasi independent. Later Egyptian history and Great Britain’s role in it is familiar to you all so 1 will not go into its details. Around the same time Algiers was captured from the Turks by the French. The Greeks won their independence around 1820 with the help of European powers. The Turkish caliphate went on losing ground till power was seized from the Caliph by the Young Turks in 1910. Turkey entered the war of 1914 on the side of Germany and lost all her European and Asiatic possessions. The Arab countries became independent of Turkish rule after this war. The Stage in 1947 Before concluding, I will com- ment on all the Muslim countries one by one and summarise their histories-each from their national point of view, starting from the extreme east. PAKISTAN: Muslims came to Sind and Multan in the eighth century. However Muslim sway in the sub-continent began in earnest in the twelfth century. For 400 years India was ruled by various Afghan dynasties. They were succeeded by the Moghuls in 1526. The Moghul power passed after 200 years to the British who left India in 1947 when Pakistan was born. AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan was a part of Umayyad and Abbasid empires. It first acquired a separate existence around 1000 CE when Ghaznavi (who had the capital at Ghazni in Afghanistan) dynasty ruled over it. After that Afghanistan shared the fate of Persia, all through its chequered h i s t o r y. It was no more than a 14 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 province, sometimes that of Muslim Indian Empire, sometimes of Persian. In 1725, however, Afghanistan became independent. In the nineteenth century the Afghan clashed with the British but the British could never make any headway in conquering Afghanistan. Since then it has existed as an independent power. PERSIA: Persia was a part of Umayyads and Abbasid empires. It was under the Seljuqs in the eleventh and the twelfth centuries. For about 100 years Mongol princes ruled over it, which from 1350 till 1500 Ti m u r, and his descendants held sway. From 1500 to 1700 Safavis were the rulers followed in the nineteenth century by the Qajars. CENTRAL ASIA: Transoxonia formed part of Persia till the eighteenth century when the Russians slowly expanded south. In the nineteenth century they conquered Bokhara and Samarqand. IRAQ AND SYRIA: Syria (including Palestine which throughout Muslim history formed part of Syria) and Arabia shared the fate of Persia till 1500 CE. After that they formed parts of Osmani Turkish empire. These nations became independent during the war of 1914. After the war, the British defected from their promises to grant Iraq its independence. Syria was parcelled out to the French, Iraq and Transjordan were made British protectorates. It was only after the war of 1939 that Syria and Transjordan gained their independence. TURKEY: First conquered for Islam by the Abbasids. Osmani Turks took it in 1288; Constantinople was taken in 1453 by Mohammad I. Turkey rose to greater power but there was decline in the nineteenth century. During the 1914 war, alliance with Germany cost Turkey all its possessions. EGYPT: Ruled by the Umayyads till 750 then by Fatmids till 1170, then by 15 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 Mamluks till 1500 when Selim, the Turkish Balkan, conquered it and incorporated it into the Turkish Empire. It won independence in the nineteenth c e n t u r y, lost it again to the British, and has won it again very recently. SPAIN: Spain was taken by the Muslims in 710. Ruled by the Umayyads. Never submitted to Abbasids; this Arab Muslim power finished about 1400 – Muslims were either expelled or made to reconvert to Christianity. I have not covered in this quick survey, Malaysia, Indonesia or Africa. I have said before that at the lowest ebb of Islamic political power, Islam’s religious vitality has displayed itself again and again. Islam’s political might reached its nadir towards the end of the nineteenth century when within Islam rose the Ahmadiyya Movement. Hadhrat Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, was raised at Qadian in 1889 and through him Islam will be regenerated spiritually and politically, Inshallah. 16 History of Islam The Review of Religions – August 2003 PLEASE NOTE: In this journal, for the information of non-Muslim readers, ‘(sa)’ or ‘sa’ after the words, ‘Holy Prophet’, or the name ‘Muhammad’, are used. They stand for ‘Salallahu alaihi wassalam’ meaning ‘Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him’. Likewise, the letters ‘(as)’ or ‘as’ after the name of all other p rophets is an abbre v i a t i o n meaning ‘Peace be upon him’ derived from Alaihi salato wassalam’ for the respect a Muslim reader utters. Also ru or (ru) for Rahemahullahu Ta’ala means the Mercy of Allah the Exalted be upon him

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