Where does Islam stand in history? What is Islam’s contribution in the socio-political and economic domains? What are its strengths? What are the reasons of growth or setbacks of Islam in the past five centuries? Its association with the European civilization? Let’s reflect a little on these.
It is difficult to accurately mark an era or period in history. Nevertheless, certain dates help us trace historical events: 1492 and 1498 are such dates. Columbus started his journey in 1492 and Vasco De Gama in 1498. It cannot be said that their journey in boats was a beginning of an era. However certain fundamental changes were seen in Europe towards the end of the 15th century. A major socio-political change was the waning of the influence of the Catholic Church and the advent of nationalism based on language.
Catholic Church had been a very influential, ancient and strong religious organization. Blessings of the Church were required for the kings to win support of the people. If the Church ostracizes a king from religion, most probably the people would dethrone him; and kill him if it is opportune. Pope then had such a strong influence. Pope Gregory VII expelled the French king Henry IV from the Church. The king struggled for several months and at last he reached the Canosa where the Bishop was residing. He had to wait two to three days in the chilling cold before getting an audience with the Bishop. Ultimately he was re-admitted to the religion. Thus the regime of Henry was legalized. Such was the influence of the Church in that era.
Industrial Revolution brought an end to this era. Industrial Revolution was the cataclysmic event of 16th and 17th centuries. It was the first endeavor of production using machines instead of ordinary tools something that stretched human capability. What emerged was amazing: erstwhile yarn-spinning using the wheel changed to spinning using machinery. Techniques were invented to run machines using water. Steam was found to be useful in running trains. Contribution of steam engine in the human history has been fabulous. A single machine started weaving 100yards of cloth a day where ten persons had been weaving 50 yards a day. The ensuing concern was to sell out these products. Exports started when these items remained in the warehouses of the manufacturers. When hurdles came in the way of such exports, efforts to overcome them followed. Seizing other countries became inevitable to achieve exports. Thus begun the age of colonialism; and that was how the Britons became the rulers of the world. Around 80% of the total land was under the control of the Britons at the beginning of the 20th century. This triggered the expansion of capitalism and markets. Capitalism was born in England. More capital, more raw materials and more markets had to be found out to feed the factories. A single person alone would not be able to invest that much capital. Thus Joint Stock Companies – Limited Liability Company arrived – entities liable to pay back only for the investment (as a corollary, you will be liable only for the amount you invested; and you will not be liable for any debts the company might incur) . The new business model too was English in origin. Huge amounts started flowing in when joint stock companies were formed. That was how the East India Company was formed. This also resulted in weakening of the Catholic Church (i.e. multinational companies were replacing the Church).
Gradually European nation states became stronger and military might of the Catholic Church waned. Nation states require some sort of foundation. Language helps to easily mobilize people. Separate country for German speaking people; separate country for Italians; separate countries for people speaking Portuguese, English and French. This is how nationalism evolves. Nationalism is the state of each group thinking that they are better than others – similar to the thought that Indians are better than Pakistanis. There are no differences between India and Pakistan. Both countries draw heavily from a common anthropological stock; both are backward, but one section thinks that others are bad.
But for the languages they speak, Englishmen and Frenchmen are similar in all other aspects; nevertheless the non-existent supremacy of either language or race has to be kept afloat for them to stay apart. East India Company arrived in India for trade. Jehangir was the Mughal emperor when they came to Surat. Sir Thomas Roe came in the 17th century. Roe asked Jehangir for permission to buy goods in India. They got permission to set up their warehouse. This was the start.
Britain was then a small country on the west side of Europe with a population of 5-6 million. What Roe could see in the Mughal Darbar was incomparable magnificence and majesty. Entire England could be contained in our Red Fort.
Battle of Plassey took place in 1757. Robert Clive defeated Sirajuddaula. This was achieved by bribing the ministers. Thus Calcutta became the capital of British Raj, and gradually the whole country came under their rule. Facilities were made available in the country to transport raw materials at lesser expense. On the other side it was the Muslim empire that owned a culture diametrically opposite in thoughts, ideology and faith.
Invasion and Islamic Civilization
The Usmania Empire was the largest empire in the world then. A vast area of land encompassing areas from Morocco on the west side of Africa to Bukhara, Samarkand and Balkan region on the east was part of this empire; and on the other side, its influence was spread over the whole region adjacent to the Mediterranean. Mediterranean was a Turkish lake. Muslims controlled it. Islam was shining while Europe was in its most uncivilized state. Muslims were the role model of the world in those days. Christians used to go to Spain for education, as we go to America in present times. The Middle East had been the best model of peaceful coexistence of people of different religions and of pluralism. Europeans used to watch with admiration the cleanliness, hygiene, culture, food and music of Muslims and their activities in art and literature. Those were days when bathrooms were scarce in Europe. Even the kings were poor. Palaces had been chilling. Kings were not accustomed to bathing – Henry VIII (1491-1547) had married six times. Heads of two of his wives were chopped off and two were divorced. Henry might have bathed eight times in his life time: once on his baptism and six baths during his marriages. Of course the last bath was not by him. The Dark Age of Europe was the Bright Age of Muslims. There could be various reasons for its end. Every society will have a rise and a fall, Ibn Khaldun says.
Any civilization would surge ahead at its beginning. Amazing were the 100 years immediately after the Prophet. Such a period has never recurred on the earth since. Muslims conquered the entire Middle-East; and all the countries embraced Islam as well. It was not a conquest similar to America’s conquest of Iraq or Afghanistan. Muslims arrived in the countries; and people welcomed them. What attracted the masses was the brotherhood, equality and the sense of justice. Khalifa Omar entered Jerusalem in 637 CE; Patriarch Sophronius waited to welcome him. There were no foot soldiers, cavalry, hangers on accompanying Omar, but his single body guard. Both were alternately riding the camel. It was the body guard on the camel when they entered the city – something that stunned the Patriarch. That simplicity was very touching. Islam is a straight forward faith. No theological disputes. Faith is very simple. As simple as the Haj. Christianity has three gods. For some others it could run into thousands leaving no clue as to which god to worship for success. Doubts arise aplenty. There are no such things in Islam.
From Khilafat to Monarchy
History testifies that one lakh companions were present at the Hajj of Parting (Hajjath al Vida’) of the Prophet. Prophet had performed only one Haj. He said at the Hajjath al Vida’ “I will not be present for the Haj next year. I leave the Qur’an and my tradition…” Those who heard it that day Islamized the entire countries in the Middle-East within 100 years. They created a great culture in the world. But in course of time Khilafat turned into monarchy. People started living luxurious lives. There started the decline, the first breach happened during the monarchy after the Khilafat of the first four Khaleefas. Amavis and Abbasis took to arms. Each clan had their own definition of government and royal succession. Each claimed greater proximity to Allah and Prophetic tradition, and they had been competing with each other in killing. But the brilliant civilization was still alive. Mongols destroyed the city of Baghdad in 1258. The soldiers threw out the books into the Euphrates-Tigris. The number of books there were so huge that even the rivers turned black as a result of the ink of the books dissolving in water. Printing technology was not developed, as today; books had to be handwritten.
Men became sheep when life’s amenities improved; and Islamic spirit withered away. Malik Bennabi was a renowned Algerian social scientist. According to him, destruction begins as the link between the rulers and the ruled is cut off. Communication is severed (Notwithstanding the vast social networks available today, ideas are circulated within the small world of each. Relationship with the computer is good, but it doesn’t smile to us nor does it cry. So the relationship is severed. And so the sense of justice gets destroyed in the society). Rulers do not come out in the open. They will appear only on TV. There is no use in shooting at the TV image. (If at all they come out, the kings would be under strong security. They will press the hands of the chosen).
It was then that the new wolves from Europe started coming. The year was 1492 and then 1498. The French, the Portuguese and the Spaniards from Europe along with the British came to conquer Muslim lands. Spaniards found another place, Latin America. Latin America was a large continent with high population. The Spaniards annihilated the local population and led a comfortable life after forcefully converting indigenous people in to Catholic religion. They reached the Philippines also. The Philippines was once a Muslim country. Manila was the capital. It was the only one region outside Europe that the Christians transformed into a Muslim minority region.
Sense of Justice in Islam
Europeans copied the Islamic concepts. ‘Everybody is equal before justice’ is an Islamic concept. In many places the Quran talks about justice. If asked as to what the essence of Islam is, the answer is not Thouhid. Thouhid is only the theory. Justice is the essence of Islam in practice. Kings had given great attention to this. Our courts cannot order the prime minister to appear before the court for trial. Even the CBI does not have the power to interrogate high officials. It needs permission from the Supreme Court. When somebody files a complaint against a Muslim king during their regime, the Qadi would ask the king to appear before him. The governor once requested Imam Shafi to give his son tuition and offered to send the horse cart to pick and drop Imam Shafi. The offer of the governor was just a symbol of respect to the Imam. But Imam Shafi’s reply was to send the boy to his dars, if he needed tuition. Imam Abu Haneefa was imprisoned for criticizing the king. Ibn Taimiya was subject to the displeasure of the government for expressing his independent views.
Law was not equal to all in Europe. The number of citizens without voting right was high in the celebrated Greek democracy. Democracy is in fact derived from Islam. The Quran says they “rule by mutual consent” (42:38). Islam requires that legislation is possible only after debate and discussion. Consultation, autonomy (formation of autonomous bodies in the society), privacy of individuals, etc. strengthened in Europe. But in Islam autonomy was inherent. The three estates of judiciary, executive and legislature are Islamic. Judiciary has always been independent. All these concepts were in fact assimilated by Europe.
Europeans developed a lot after the Industrial Revolution. They thought that only they were capable of growth and development. They thought of establishing their racial hegemony. The concept of racism developed in Europe. Darwin had thought that at the bottom of the evolution tree was amoeba and at the top was Europeans. Turks were inferior to them. They said that sciences are value-neutral; it is a fallacy. All knowledge is linked to the people that produce it. The culture of the person/group that produces knowledge would definitely influence it. Britons had no comparison with the Usmania Empire, one of the largest empires then. Darwin was their representative. They had made tremendous advancement in the field of science. New weapons and machine guns were invented. Their military force was well disciplined. Commands among them were very scientific. The number of British soldiers was not substantial during the First War of Independence in 1857; but it was with discipline and the command structure that they defeated the Indian sepoys. The British had the notion that they were achieving all this because genetically they were superior. Famine in India had been rampant in 19th century. Millions died because of starvation. Though the godowns were full of paddy and wheat, it was not available outside because it was under the control of the British. Of the total world industrial production, 22.6 % was in India when they invaded India (Europe’s share was 23.3); this plunged into 3.8 percent when they left India.
When decline and deprivation became widespread, many started thinking about the solutions. Some found the reason for all this in the failure of the Muslims to adopt the European ways. Only by copying western industrial system they could come out of the wreck. Establish factories; implement British and European laws; imitate the West, some said. The advisors of the Turkey’s Sultans had been introducing new policies called Tanzimath. Tanzimath was nothing but directly importing the European laws. One of them was to make interest halal. Thanzimath was implemented throughout Turkey.
Napoleon annexed Egypt in 798. Technically Egypt had been part of Turkey. When Napoleon came on horseback, Egyptians thought that they should live as Napoleon. The upper class started leading a life style seen in the Paris streets. Drinking became a fashion. Muhammad Ali Pasha was the then governor in Egypt. He endeavored to industrialize Egypt. Everything was being brought from Europe. Similar was the situation in Iran. Iranian kings implemented laws helping the British and the French. Monopoly of tobacco trade was given to the British, like the opium plantation in India. But this was an event that helped to show the strength of Islam. Jamaludin Afghani was in Iran during this period. He discussed this issue with the ayatollahs, and they issued an order that nobody should use tobacco. Ultimately the Shah yielded to this.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Islamic world disintegrated gradually, and was divided into many pieces as a result of the invasion of western colonial forces. The disintegration of Muslim society was almost complete in the second half of the 20th century. The First World War started in 1914. The war initiated by the Europeans, lasted from 1914 to 1919.The total disintegration of the Usmania Empire at the end of the war also wreaked havoc in Muslim lands. In 1924 Mustafa Kemal Pasha dethroned and expelled Abdul Majeed II, the last Sultan of Turkey and thus ended the symbolic Khilafat. Kemal Pasha took over the rule of Turkey and adopted the title Kemal Ataturk.: the Father of Turks. The new nation was built up on Turkish nationalism. In that sense, Ataturk substantially contributed to protecting the present day Turkey; it is a different matter that many of his later acts turned out to be anti-Islamic. At one point, the Greek and British armies together were close to conquering Istanbul. In May 1915 the Turkey force led my Mustafa Kemal Pasha clinched a crucial victory in Gallipoli. The British-Greek forces were blocked and driven away. This is the reason for the survival of Turkey in its present form.
Kemal Pasha reorganized the Turkish forces on Islamic basis. He realized that there is no ideology other than Islam that could hold people together.
Collapse of Muslim Nations
By mid 20th century many countries came under the tutelage of different western countries. Algeria, Morocco Senegal etc came under France. In these countries as well as in Mauritania and Gambia official language is still French. The rulers find it comfortable with French. They rarely speak their mother tongue whether Arabic, Berber or Senegalese. They are people who know Arabic but pretend not to know it.
After WW1 most of the former regions of the Usmania Empire became part of British and French Empires. Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon came under British rule. One noteworthy event amidst this was the secret agreement in 1917 made by the French and the British. What the Britons and the French told the Arab leaders when they organized Arabs against the Turks in WW1 was that they would help the Arabs in forming a vast sovereign Arab nation – a great Arab nation extending from the Atlantic to Iraq, an Arab nation that speaks only Arabic without any cultural and religious difference. Taken for a ride by the scheming French and British diplomats the power-hungry and short-sighted Arab leaders helped dismantle the Osmania Empire.
Guerilla attacks were conducted at Hijaz and Najd under the leadership of Lawrence of Arabia. They were instrumental in destroying the Osmania Empire. However things did not develop as the colonial powers had promised to them. An agreement was signed between the British Foreign Secretary Mark Sykes, French Foreign Secretary Francois Picot and the Russians in 1916. According to this agreement, the Arab regions when freed from the Usmania Empire would be shared by Britain, France and Russia as small countries under their control (there are people who believe that this agreement is still in force). The Soviet Revolution in Russia occurred in 1917. Lenin came to power. It was Lenin who told the world about this secret agreement to unravel the deceit of the colonial powers. Egypt came under Britain. Lebanon then was part of Syria. The land known as Sham in Islamic history was Syria and Lebanon combined. France made Lebanon a separate country due to the presence of a few Christians in Lebanon. They conquered Syria. Iraq and Palestine came under British tutelage
The secret maps kept by the British and the French to carve out Arab lands
An infamous declaration had been on the anvil while this agreement was being implemented: the infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917. Barron Rothschild wrote a letter to the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour about the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Rothschilds had substantial control in the banking sector in Europe. They were so rich that even the kings approached them for loans. A branch of that family was there in Britain and in France as well. They had connections across Europe and had control over diamond trade. Rothschild in his letter sought British help to found a Jewish nation in Palestine. The letter was not all: many other things had taken place secretly between fabulously rich Jews and the British diplomats. Balfour in his reply to this letter made it clear that Britain supported the Jews to establish a nation in Palestine. It was an offer allowing the Jews coming from different parts of the world country to build a nation in total disregard of the people living in the region from time immemorial. This was another phase of destruction of Muslim world. Lord Balfour had mentioned one more thing in his letter: that the formation of the Jewish state should be carried out without endangering the interests of the native people in any way. Israel was established in 1948, i.e. another phase of destruction. Balfour Declaration became the title document to establish a check-post of colonial forces in the name of the Jews in the heart of Muslim lands. The original of Balfour Declaration is exhibited in a Museum in Jerusalem.
Renaissance of Islam
Amidst this, signs of a new revival were visible in the Islamic society. Most of the discourse was on relating Muslim society to the modern world. This discourse revolved around three streams. One was the so-called process of secularism which connotes accepting the European modernism, restricting the faith to private religious matters. The concept was to be in line with Europeans in socio-political spheres. Spirit of Islam authored by Side Amber Ali in India was a defence of this school of thought. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University too was in the same line. They thought that it was difficult to defeat the westerners who were well ahead in the field of science and who used to do things rationally. They had only the western world in front of them. Many termed this as modernization; nobody bothered to ask what modernism was. The second debate was about migrating to spiritualism since it was a period of aggression and injustice. So they said people had to confine themselves to the small world of prayers and dhikr. This was what the Sufi movements did. Sufi movements encourage seclusion and tie mankind down to unending spiritual quest. Such movements get strengthened when conflicts arise. This is the reason why the Sufi movements strengthen in different parts of the country. This trend could be seen in other religions also. The effort to present Islam as the ideology capable of confronting European civilization is the third category of thought. The man to watch with admiration in this intellectual revolution is Jamaludeen Afghani (1838-1897) Afghani had been a romantic genius and had considerably contributed to ferment in the Muslim World. A wayfarer, Afghani travelled in India and Arab countries, and wrote and spoke profusely. Abdul Rasheed Riza and Muhammad Abdu of Egypt were his disciples. It was this trio that held that Islam could be used as an ideology for national liberation. The role of Egypt in this area is noteworthy. Population in Egypt is high and they were ahead in intellectual activities. The possibility of emergence of such a thought from the intellectually and geographically barren Saudi Arabia is unthinkable. In the revivalist stream of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahab, one can see a kind of rigour of the desert. The idea that liberation from the colonial powers should be based on nationalism was from Syria. Those behind this thought were not Muslim intellectuals; but they also eventually admitted that Islam had pivotal role in the Arab awakening. Unification based on language was quite momentary, and only Islam could be the ideology to energize masses. It could be said that this was the start of Islamic Renaissance. Jamaludheen Afghani came and went like a whirlwind. It was not a movement. It is in this context that Ikhwanul Muslimin led by Imam Hasan al Banna to be assessed. It was formed towards the end of 1930s. Jama at-e-Islami and the All-India Muslim League in the Indian subcontinent were different expressions of the same urge. From country to country it may differ. But values remain unchanged. They will be passed from one generation to the next. Each generation re-defines them. It is the power of eternal values. Look at the concept of justice in Islam. If the parents do not pass them on to the members of the family, the concept of justice would soon dry up.
Education may come in different ways. Parents, teachers, and friends – all share knowledge; values are shared exchanged and passed on to the next generation. Such education and exchange had always been there in the Islamic society. Colonial forces, sometimes, would try to destroy it. They divided education into two parts; religious and secular. The aim was to sever the organic relationship between those who acquire religious education and the secular elite. This happened in Indonesia. It was the Dutch who carried it out there. The orient lists of the Leiden University in Netherlands were in charge of this exercise of division of education in Indonesia. Leiden still ropes in scholars and students from the Muslim world.
The different schools of thought are not necessarily unrelated. Exchange of ideas between them used to take place. The ambassadors of modernization might sincerely desire the liberation of the Muslim society. On the other hand, it could be that those who sought to link Islam with modernism were representatives of the clergy in disguise. For instance, it could be seen that the Islamic movements in Indian peninsula try to dodge contemporary challenges quoting chapter and verse from obsolete fiqhi tomes. They reduce Islam to a dry set of rules and rituals.
Let’s conclude this analysis after discussing the recent revolutions in the Islamic world. There is no doubt that the vigorous ‘spring whirlwind’ across Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria is the result of the strong opposition of the people to authoritarian hegemony. But it is difficult to say that that the popular upsurge is solely due to the efforts of Islamic movements alone. In fact in Tunisia and Egypt Islamic movements joined the popular struggle only later. Their inborn dislike of street struggles could be a reason. All the youth that assembled at Tahrir Square in Cairo were not Islamists. Among them were secularists and supporters of westernization too, and many agents of the regimes. It was America and European countries that trained the youth leaders outside Egypt how to conduct the struggle. America pulled the strings to keep the military neutral in Tunisia during the agitation. Those who came to support the protesters in Egypt had access to Google and Facebook, though the Mubarak administration had blocked both mobile phone and internet systems. Google and Facebook both are controlled by Jews and both stand to safeguard American interests. It is evident that the leaders of the protest were of different hues. Colonial forces withdrew after the World War II due to international pressure. Nevertheless they left the Muslim countries posting their clients there. They supported either the military chiefs or the kings from Algeria to Iraq, though there could be exceptions. Military chiefs paid by France had defected to the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria months before the country gained independence. They still rule Algeria. When the Islamic Salvation Army won the 1991 elections, it was FLN that ruthlessly killed the democratic forces. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the aged, westernized secular president of today, is their representative. At the far end is Saudi Arabia, a ruthless dictatorship ruling in the name of Islam. Not to mention the obscenity of having a country with a family name. This Saudi dynasty – that argues that there is no democracy in Islam- is the bulwark of anti-Islamic front that ensures American presence in the Middle-East. It remains as the source of corruption, extravagance, Sunni factionalism and Sunni-Shia conflicts.
Now to Tahrir Square
The sudden transformation of the Arab Spring to Arab Winter is the indication of the success of the neo-colonial forces and the client regimes that support them in diverting and neutralizing the democratic protests. Many people who thronged the Tahrir Square were champions of a softer, secular dictatorship than that of Mubarak.They never wanted either Islam or democracy. It was these people who danced in the streets when Ikhwan leader Mursi was ousted. The group that provides human and financial resources to the military tyrant Abdul Fatah Al Sisi would appear to be different in their attire and looks, but they are the birds of the same feather. Return of Islam is not that easy as some romantics think .That realization is a sign of good understanding about history . Those waiting armed on the ramparts of their citadels are the enemies of Islam.
(Edited transcripts of a lecture delivered by Prof P Koya ,Calicut who writes under the pen name Kaleem)
Download : Dynamics of Islamic Renaissance #3.pdf