Diversity and Unity in Islamic Civilization
Islamic civilization, from its origin in the sixth century to the present day, is recognized by its rich, varied, abundant literature, and unique culture, based on a vast variety of traditions from diverse regions of the world. As an independent research scholar of philosophy, in this work I have tried to present Islam not only as a world religion, but as an impulse that obtained its remarkable hold over the conscience and intellectual development of billions of its believers. My endeavor in the presentation of Islamic civilization, which is today a subject of great concern for the whole world, is based on the analysis of its religious, political, and cultural aspects. Researching and preparing articles and lectures on Islam has been an intellectual odyssey, as new events happening every day in the Islamic regions and their impact all over the world, are revealing many intriguing aspects of this civilization.
Generally, a civilization is an area of cultural space in which a vast collection of cultural characteristics, phenomena, and creativity makes up the work of a particular people. For the sociopolitical scientists, it is a kind of moral milieu encompassing a certain number of nations, each national culture being only a particular form of the whole that appears as a civilization after getting organized through the passage of time. But regarding Islam, Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy argues that the “Mohammedans developed an important civilization of their own. Mohammedan civilization in its great days was admirable in the arts and many technical ways, but it showed no capacity for independent speculation in theoretical matters.” However, today, in spite of its lack of the kind of “independent speculation,” that is the characteristic of a modern civilization, all major scholars in sociopolitical sciences recognize the existence of a distinct Islamic civilization comprised of a unity within a vast diversity of traditions, cultures, and races. Samuel Huntington, in his work The Clash of Civilization, argues, “we identify a civilization as a highest cultural grouping of people defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, custom, and institutions; and by subjective self-identification of people.” Overall, rather than “independent speculation” culture is the common theme in virtually every definition of civilization, but to a very large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s great religions.
Modern concept of civilization founded on “independent speculation” was developed for the first time in Europe in eighteenth century by the French thinkers to provide a standard representing the opposite of barbarism. But Islamic civilization, emerging in the seventh century, had established a civilized society during its glorious period from the eighth to the thirteenth century. Thus, almost a millennium after the Islamic civilization, the Europeans in the seventeenth century, spreading to nearly every corner of the world, laid the foundation of a Western civilization promoting humanism and “independent speculation.” It provided a standard by which societies were to be judged during their colonial rule. Today, whatever the Western world interprets and implements its cultural values, norms, faiths, institutions, and modern scientific modes, means Western civilization. However, the West did not win the world by the superiority of its idea of a civilization or moral and religious values, but rather on the basis of its superiority in applying organized violence: a fact Westerners often try to ignore, whereas the non-Westerners never forget.
The message of Islam, revealed to Prophet Muhammad as a religion, enshrined in the Qur’an and supplemented by his tradition, developed into a political discipline, that evolved into a state instituted by the successors of the Prophet known as caliphs. Originating in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, it rapidly spread across North Africa and Spain in the west and eastward into Central Asia, the subcontinent of India, Southwest China, and Southeast Asia, developing into the concept of a borderless dar-al-Islam or the abode of peace. As a result, many distinct cultures or subcivilizations, including the Arabian, Greek, European, Persian, Turkic, Indian, Chinese, and Malay, corresponded to exist within the dynamic of Islam that still exist within the unity of its civilization. Later on Islamic world broke up into empires, but was seen as one civilizational unity. During the expansion of the West, the Islamic world became colonies of the Europeans that ended after World War I. Islamic civilization which had remained dormant, surviving political, social, economic, ideological, and even colonization upheavals, resurfaced. Today, it is being seen posing a challenge to other civilizations, particularly to the Western.
Islamic civilization, which is now distinguished by its roots of synthetic cultures with varied Semitic, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Greco-Roman, Indian, and many other elements, is interpreted through the interconnection of the Qur’an, its Arabic language, and common faith. From the very beginning Muslim societies have been pluralist, open to diversity as well as capable of culturally embracing it. For the past fourteen centuries, in spite of many sectarian differences in religious interpretation and differences in domestic socio-political matters, the “Way of Islam” is still a powerful notion within its friendly as well as conflicting nations, self-assertive ethnic groups, and religious factions, holding them together in the common bonds of a shared tradition and an Islamic way of life. Since there is no single world of Islam, how does its civilization act in today’s world, and in regard to its combination of diversity and unity, what challenges does it face, Islamic civilization needs to be understood and argued within its religious, political, and cultural aspects. In Diversity and Unity in Islamic Civilization: A Religious, Political, Cultural, and Historical Analysis, I have collected articles published, and lectures delivered by me on different occasions and at many institutions. As the reader goes through this book, it will become clear that now, as in the past, due to the strain of cataclysmic events, attention is focused on Islam as a religion, while its political, cultural, and historical aspects, which are uniquely the core of its civilizational speculum, are being ignored. This book argues that Islamic civilization is much more than just a religion.
Mirza Iqbal Ashraf, February 10, 2017
PART ONE / ISLAM AS A WAY OF LIFE
CHAPTER 1– Islam: A Faith of Peace.
CHAPTER 2– The Islamic Philosophy of Jihad.
CHAPTER 3– Jihad as Justified War.
CHAPTER 4– Islamic Political Philosophy.
CHAPTER 5– The Philosophical Tradition of Muslim Thinkers.
CHAPTER 6– The Role of Muslim Thinkers in European Renaissance.
PART TWO / ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION
CHAPTER 7– Diversity and Unity in Islamic Civilization.
CHAPTER 8– Democracy and Islam.
CHAPTER 9– The Myth of Arab Spring and Undefined Liberal Democracy.
CHAPTER 10– The Muslim Tide in Europe and America.
CHAPTER 11– Western Muslims and Conflicts in the Muslim World.
PART THREE / THE FUTURE OF ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION
CHAPTER 12–What Made Muslims Violent Terrorists, When They Believe
Islam is a Faith of Peace?
CHAPTER 13–What Went Wrong With Islam, and What Is Wrong Now?
CHAPTER 14–In Search of a Modern Ummah.
CHAPTER 15–Globalization and Islamic Civilization.
CHAPTER 16–The Middle Path of Moderation and Islamic Civilization.