Tolerant and Humane Aspects of Muslim Civilisation
Summarised extracts from a full article, see resources below, where end notes, references and bibliography are given.
by: Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation. Info@fstc.co.uk
Muslims, as a minority in Western societies, have come under severe strain since September 11th, 2001, in particular. The Italian Prime Minister, just like the deceased Dutch right winger Pym Fortyn and scores more in their wake, have engaged in open diatribes against Islam, labelling it a faith of darkness, a negation to civilisation and progress; intolerant and in-humane, and so on and so forth; a language reminiscent of that thrown at the faith in the 19th century just prior to, and in the wake of, the occupation of Islamic lands. Occupation which then was justified as a civilising mission - for the good of Muslims. Today's media and numerous and rapidly expanding web-sites keep adding to the stream of similar derogatory terms. Some writers and sites are more virulent than others.
The way anti Islamic sentiments are stirred by politicians of most hues, not just the right wingers, might trigger wider, and violent anti-Islamic reactions, whose consequences will be beyond future control of civilised societies.
Of course, in many minds, the Muslims deserve such an end since it is too often believed that Islam is a basically backward and intolerant faith. This, of course, is what by and large the current media stance and most of the academic writing have made of Islam and Muslims, drowning out the otherwise very few voices such as those of Prince Charles, who has always tried to be objective in his views on both Islam and Muslims. Yet, although demonised, painted as the followers of a faith of darkness and intolerance, Muslims are in fact, the followers of an intrinsically just faith.
The myth of Islam as a religion of the sword
Qu'ran III, 128: God has said `.... and those among men who pardon others, and God loves those who act rightly.'
Aggression or violence by the use of the sword and Islam are nearly always depicted as co-existent. History though, reveals the complete opposite. From the early stages of Islam and during the whole of history of the Caliphate, it has usually followed the sunnah policy of general leniency, to all, especially the defeated. Hence, the entry of the Prophet (PBUH) in Makka was followed as Scott says: `with a magnanimity unequalled in the annals of war, a general amnesty was proclaimed and but four persons, whose offences were considered unpardonable, suffered the penalty of death.'
Davenport narrates how in the early stages of Islam, the Prophet (PBUH) sent a messenger to the governor of Bossa, near Damascus, who was taken prisoner and murdered by the Christian leader. Three thousand Muslim men were duly equipped for retribution. The Prophet exhorted them to display their courage in the cause of The Most High. At the same time, however, he enjoined them to collect their booty not from the ordinary people, but from the public treasuries of the conquered state:
"In avenging my injuries, said he, `molest not the harmless votaries of domestic seclusion; spare the weakness of the softer sex, the infant at the breast, and those who, in the course of nature, are hastening from this scene of mortality. Abstain from demolishing the dwellings of the unresisting inhabitants, and destroy not the means of subsistence; respect their fruit trees, do not injure the palm, so useful to Syria for its shade and so delightful for its verdure."The Prophet (PBUH)
The first four caliphs after the Prophet (PBUH) followed exactly these precepts.
`Be just', ran Caliph Abu Bakr's (632-4) proclamation;
"Be valiant; die rather than yield; be merciful; slay neither old men, nor women, nor children. Destroy no fruit trees, grain, or cattle. Keep your word even to your enemies." Caliph Abu Bakr
Under Caliph Omar (634-44), Syria was conquered by the Muslims. One day, probably early in September 635, as Glubb narrates, the Muslims flooded into Damascus at dawn. The Byzantine governor surrendered on terms that all non-Muslims were to pay a poll tax of one dinar… These terms can be seen to have been of extraordinary generosity. Cities taken by storm were, in Europe, liable to be sacked, even as recently as the Napoleonic Wars.
The Muslims had first hand experience of such a fate when their towns and cities were taken by the Crusaders with many instances of the slaughter of Muslims who were given no quarter. Thus, in 1098, during the first crusade (begun in 1096), when the Crusaders took Ma'arrat an'Numan, the slaughter never stopped for three days so that the Franks killed more than 100,000 people. Quoting Robert the Monk, following the taking of Ma'arrat:
"Our men' said the pious and charitable chronicler (Lebon's words) `walked through the roads, places, on the roofs, and feasted on the slaughter just like a lioness who had her cubs taken from her. They cut into pieces, and put to death children, the young, and the old crumbling under the weight of the years. They did that in groups… Our men grabbed everybody who fell into their hands. They cut bellies open, and took out gold coins. Oh detestable cupidity of gold! Streams of blood ran on the roads of the city; and everywhere lay corpses. Oh blinded nations and destined to death; none of that multitude accepted the Christian faith. At last Bohemond brought out all those he had first invited to lock themselves in the tower of the place. He ordered that all old women be put to death, and also old men, whose age had rendered useless; then all the rest he ordered to be taken to Antioch to be sold as slaves. This massacre of the Turks took place on 12 December; on Sunday; but on this day not all work could be accomplished; so the following day our men killed all the rest." Robert the Monk
Radulph of Caen said how: "In Maarra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled." To avoid such a fate, many Muslims were said by a Christian writer to have jumped down wells to their deaths.
And what happened at Ma'arrat happened in every single town and city taken by the Crusaders. And yet, even when Muslims were slaughtered en masse, still they found reserves of unequalled humanity. Finucane tells how in 1221, the defeated Christians were visited by their (Muslim) enemies, who brought them food to save them from starvation. Such stories of Christian Muslim cooperation, no matter how transient, humane or justified the relationship, Finucane also notes, were usually received `with incomprehension in Europe'.
Toleration of Difference
In the words of Daniel: ‘The notion of toleration in Christendom was borrowed from Muslim practice'. And Davenport puts it:
`As nothing in the world can cause an Osmanli to renounce his religion, so he never seeks to disturb the faith of others…To the Muslim doctors (of the faith) conversions of souls belong to God.'
During the Muslim advance, there were hardly any examples, as was the case elsewhere, of forceful conversion, even in regions such as North Africa, which is often argued as a case of conversions by force of the sword. Forster pointed out, that in North Africa, Islam flourished apart from reliance on `political domination' and that its `votaries' were `unshackled' by restraints of a Muslim government'. Equally, Voltaire, although no friend of Islam, still recognised that `it was not by the force of arms that Islam established itself in half of our hemisphere, but instead did so through enthusiasm and persuasion.'
Glubb finds that in religious toleration,
"the Muslims of the seventh century had abstained from persecution and had permitted Jews and Christians to practise their own laws and to elect their own judges. Yet nearly a thousand years later, people in Europe were still being tortured and burned alive for their faith. And in general, the Ottomans continued the policy of religious toleration which they had inherited from the Arabs." Glubb
Araya Goubet, too, notes how `religious tolerance, Islamic inspiration, permitted the harmonious coexistence of Christians, Moors, and Jews until the end of the fifteenth century. The dominance of the Christian clergy led to the gradual exclusion, subjugation, and expulsion of the other religious groups, starting in 1492 but culminating in 1567 when Philip II published a decree forbidding Moriscos [Christianised (ex) Muslims] from using Muslim names and the Arabic language. The Moriscos were finally expelled in 1609. Ultimately the history of the Iberian people can be summed up as `living togetherness' until ‘its breaking apart beginning in the fifteenth century.'
Islamic civilisation and race
With respect to the Islamic view of ethnicity, it can safely be said that no other faith can show as equal a sense of brotherhood regardless of an adherent's origins. It sufficed for the intending Muslim to make the profession of faith to compel equality of treatment from other Muslims. This was a consequence of the Quranic injunction that piety, conformity to Qur'anic rules, was the only criteria for the evaluation of a person. Moral differences between humans were assessed clearly in terms of their deeds irrespective of their original cultures. It seems significant that the first appointed caller to prayer in Islam was black. Moreover Islam called for the freeing of all slaves and indicated that all creation was to be treated with justice and hence care.
In Islam, simply, and for fourteen centuries, no person was stigmatised for their colour. The offspring of a non-white mother and white father was entitled and admitted to full equality, and was not excluded from high office. From 946 to 968, Egypt was governed by Kafur, a Negro born in slavery. Whether in tenth century, or today, says Levi Provencal, there is no lack of coloured people in the ranks of aristocracy or the merchant classes: this has always been an essential feature of Muslim worldview.
It is significant that throughout the centuries that acceptance of Islam, paying zakat, performing prayers and the hajj and observing the obligatory rules of Ramadan applied absolutely without restriction as to the participant's origins or circumstances. Malcom X during his Hajj seems to found th
is to be overriding feature, remarking on:
"….the colour-blindness of the Muslim world's religious society and the colour blindness of the Muslim human society: these two influences had each been making a greater impact, and an increasing persuasion against my former way of thinking." Malcom X
In Mecca there were `no segregationists-no liberals'; indifference to colour was spontaneous, and for Malcom X this was evidently a shattering experience: `I shared true, brotherly love with many white complexioned Muslims who never gave a thought to the race, or to the complexion, of another Muslim.'
Political, Economic and Cultural Participation for all
Scott notes, how even in the earliest stages when the first shock of conquest had passed, `the overpowering terror inspired by the presence of the (Muslim) invaders had subsided. They proved to be something very different from the incarnate demons, which a distorted imagination had painted them. They were found to be lenient, generous, humane.' People under the Muslim realm, Scott notes, were enabled to participate in the benefits of the civilization, almost from the very beginning inaugurated by their rulers. Indeed, throughomut Islamic rule, whether under the Arabs, or under the Turks, all minorities benefited from freedom and equality of opportunities that cannot even be equalled in any of today's Western powers.
Van Ess notes that there were no imposed ghettos in the Islamic world all the way down to modern times. Members of the same religious community often lived in the same quarter for reasons of family solidarity; but they were not kept apart from Muslims deliberately and on principle. In Cordoba, there were eight hundred public schools frequented alike by Moslems, Christians and Jews, where instruction was imparted by lectures. The doors of the college were open to students of every nationality, and the Andalusian Moor, Scott adds, received the rudiments of knowledge at the same time and under the same conditions as the literary pilgrims from Asia Minor and Egypt, from Germany and France and Britain.
In this very field of scholarship, doors were open to all scholars whether they were Chinese, Indians, Africans, Europeans, Jews, and all thrived. Some of Islam's earliest and most prominent scientists at the Abbasid court, Ishaq Ibn Hunayn and Hunayn Ibn Ishaq were Nestorian Christians. Thabit ibn Qurrah, the astronomer, was a Sabean. The Bakhishtu family who held most prominent positions in the court in the ninth century were Christians, too. And so were the historian-physicist Abu'l Faraj; ‘Ali ibn Ridwan, the Egyptian, who was the al-Hakem's Doctor; Ibn Djazla of Baghdad, and Isa ibn ‘Ali, another famed physicist; and so on. The Jews had the most glorious pages of their civilisation under Islam, too. If one just sifts through the hundreds of pages of Sarton's Introduction to the History of Science, one is amazed at the many names of Jewish scholars who worked in the midst of Islamic civilisation on all subjects. Some were not only scholars, but even occupied some of the most trusted positions in the Islamic jurisdictions. Maimonides (philosopher-physicist) was Salah Eddin Al-Ayyubi's doctor, and Hasdai ibn Shaprut, followed by his sons, held some of the most prominent positions in Muslim Spain. Nearly all Muslim envoys to Christian powers were Jews; and most Muslim trade was in the hands of the Jews.
Even when Islamic land was threatened by both Crusaders and later the Mongols (mid-thirteenth century) so that much of the population was wiped out (800,000 deaths in Baghdad alone in 1258), minorities, whether Jewish or Christian (even if allies of the Crusaders) still survived under Islamic rule to our present day with all their powers, privileges and wealth intact. This fact is surely a far cry from the stereotyped image of Islam as the religion of intolerance. Which highlights the true character of Islamic civilisation, a character that has remained completely alien to their successors. The Muslims did not attack the faith and practice of others. Difference of faith is a state with which Muslims could, and can live.
A Humane Civilisation for all living things
The Quran sura ii, 190-193, clearly sets out the Islamic position with regard to the use of force: no one must go beyond acceptable limits because Allah does not like any sort of proactive aggression, physical or verbal.
The story of Turkish/Algerian corsairs spreading terror on the high seas, and European coastlines was a political ploy used to justify the conquest of Algeria by the French in 1830. Earle and Bono, and above all Fisher, each has debunked this legend. Indeed, piracy was practiced mostly by Europeans; and there was hardly any pirates left in Algiers by some time in the eighteenth century as Valensi and Braudel have shown. As for such captives who allegedly were impaled in their thousands outside the gates of Algiers, or any other place where the Turkish writ ran, there is none of such. Pilgrim accounts of the fourteenth century by the Irishman, Simon of Semeon tell that tales about Christian slaves who were yoked like animals are not to be believed.
Islam, generally supposed to be a source of cruelty, shows the complete opposite. Thevenot remarks that one of the teachings of Islam (zakat) is well observed amongst the Turks, for they are charitable and quite willingly help the poor, whether they are Turks, Christians or Jews. Some Turks give their wealth to the poor when alive, others leave, on their death, large sums to found hospitals, build bridges, caravansaries and aqueducts. Those who do not have the means spend their time repairing roads and filling cisterns. Tournefort provides corroborating evidence, maintaining that apart from individual alms-giving, no nation spends as much as the Turks do on foundations. The rich visit prisons in order to free those who have been imprisoned for debts. Tournefort saw that many families whose properties had been ruined by fires, recovered through charities. He saw people who visited the afflicted in their homes: the sick, even when attacked by the plague, were helped by neighbours and by the funds of religious foundations .
Muslim generosity often strikes many a traveller as being misplaced. Among the singularities noted by a foreigner in Cairo, Volney mentions the large number of hideous dogs wandering in the streets and the kites hovering over houses, uttering mournful noises. He points out that Muslims kill neither, though both dogs and kites are supposed to be impure. On the contrary, devout Muslims establish bread and water foundations for dogs. Thevenot also observes that the charity of the Turks extends to animals and birds. On market days many people buy birds which they soon set free. Thevenot noted persons who leave enormous wealth to feed cats and dogs. They even give money to bakers or butchers for this charitable purpose. Tournefort says it is a fact that in Istanbul (Constantinople) people are eager to execute the wishes of the donors by distributing food to animals in public squares. Benevolence was a form of charity which was commended by the Prophet as the first of all virtues; a benevolence which, indeed, is extended to all animals.
Islamic Faith as Source of humanity
From these above instances, it is argued that the Islamic society is far from deserving the dark image it has been too long painted. The Muslims, of course, are no super-humans. Many amongst them accomplish terrible deeds against others, their own, and even to themselves. Most importantly, the goodness of Muslims as an entity has nothing to do with the fact that Muslims as individuals are better than others. Far from it; they are as good and as bad as anybody else. The difference is the faith itself, its laws and rules, and the changes it makes within individuals and society, especially when such a faith, and its fundamental law, the shari‘a, an often demonised concept, work. Of course it is easy to pick on an individual case of strict application of the Shari'a ignoring its wider positive impact. It is indeed, the shari'a, which insists on the protection of others including the Christians, the Jews, and others who live under an Islamic state; so condemning as invalid the whims of any ruler or individuals. Indeed, any Muslim true to his faith by following the Shari‘a has absolutely no excuse for hurting anyone of a different faith who had not harmed him; or sought to harm him.
Furthermore, it is Islam, faith alone, that changed people for the better as is here well expressed by a few illustrations. Thus, when the Abyssinian king asked them about the new religion, Jaafar, cousin of the Prophet (PBUH) answered:
"We were plunged in the dark meanders of ignorance and barbarism; we adored idols; we ate animals that had died of themselves; we committed hateful things; we wounded the love of our own relations, and violated the laws of hospitality. Ruled by our passions, we only recognised the law of the strongest, until God has chosen a man from our race, illustrious by his birth, for very long respected for his virtues. This Prophet had taught us to profess the unity of God, to reject the superstitions of our fathers, to despise Gods of stones and wood. He commanded us to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to love our relations, and to protect our guests, to flee vice, to be kind and generous towards our parents and neighbours. He has forbidden us from despoiling women's honour, and from robbing orphans. He recommended us prayers, giving alms, and fasting. We have believed in his mission; we have respected the laws and the morale that he brought us on behalf of God."
Smith expands on this:
"The Dark Ages of Europe would have been doubly, nay trebly dark; for the Arabs who alone by their arts and sciences, by their agriculture, their philosophy, and their virtues, shone out amidst the universal gloom of ignorance and crime.'
…. And it was the same changes Islam brought to others elsewhere. In contact with Islam, every nation prospered as recognised by Forster, who praised `the salutary moral influence of Islamism upon its "Negro" proselytes." Smith
In Conclusion, if those leading the onslaught on Islam believe everything will be better without the `darkness of Islam' as they put it, they can be guaranteed, that without Islam, monsters will prevail.
by: FSTC Limited, Mon 13 October, 2003