Before the advent of Islam, ignorance prevailed over Arab society.
Recite: In the Name of your Lord Who created,
created man from clots of blood. Recite: And your Lord is the
Most Generous, He Who taught by the pen. (Qur’an, 96:1-4)
Islam was born fourteen centuries ago on the Arabian Peninsula. God's
revelation of the Qur'an to Prophet Mohammed (may God bless him and grant
him peace), together with the morality of Islam, taught the violent, barbaric,
and ignorant people of the region peace, reason, and civilization.
At the beginning of the seventh century, Arabia was one of the world's
most chaotic places. Many tribes lived on these lands, and each of them
worshipped a different idol. They would declare war on each another, shed
much blood, and even kill children for their misguided beliefs and idols.
Their belief system exalted ruthlessness, hate, and violence instead of
love, compassion, and kindness. Women were considered lower beings, and
the poor and the slaves were ruthlessly exploited.
This dark and bloody world changed entirely with the arrival of Islam
and its moral codes. Although the Arabs were the first to join Islam,
many other nations soon embraced the light brought by its morality. The
Qur'an's revelation enabled Muslims to achieve unequalled progress in
science, culture, thought, and art. With the revelation of the Qur'an's
first verse, the people of the region, who until this event had been stuck
in a vicious circle of dark ignorance and bloody violence, were invited
to read and think for the first time:
Recite: In the Name of your Lord Who created, created man from a clot of congealed blood. Recite: And your Lord is the Most Generous, He Who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know. (Surat al-‘Alaq: 1-5)
The structure of Arab society began to undergo a complete transformation
with the arrival of Islam. For instance, Arab tradition decreed the death
of all prisoners of war, whereas our Prophet (may God bless him and grant
him peace), guided by God's revelation, ordered such prisoners to be treated
well and fed from the Muslims' own rations. The following verse reveals
these Muslim qualities:
They give food, despite their love for it, to the poor and orphans and captives. (Surat al-Insan: 8)
The only thing required of such prisoners was that if they could read
and write, they had to teach these skills to the Muslims. Perhaps for
the first time ever, Arabia was witnessing compassion, forgiveness, and
civilization. As a result, it experienced one of its greatest periods
of cultural advancement.
the years passed, Islam's justice and high morality spread in waves across
Arabia. The Muslims' fairness, honesty, and determination attracted many
Arab tribes. The mighty Muslim army marched on Makkah in 630. Its idolatrous
Makkans feared the vengeance that the Muslims would wreak upon them as
retribution for their past cruelty. According to Arab tradition, the men
of the defeated tribe were killed and the women and children enslaved.
But our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) reflected God's
mercy by announcing that no one in Makkah would suffer retribution and
that no one was to be forced to accept Islam. This act of forgiveness
and tolerance has attracted the attention of Western historians. In PBS
documentary Islam:Empire of Faith, Michael Sells, a lecturer
at Haverford University, relates our Prophet's (may God bless him and
grant him peace) virtue in the following way:
When Mohammed came into Mecca, he not only did not
carry out a bloody revenge, but actually embraced the very Meccans who
had fought him for three years and attempted to annihilate him. It was
very shocking to the people in his milieu. So within the very founding
of a religion, one finds episodes of great generosity, often extraordinary
acts of kindness and mercy.1
The important thing was to free the Makkans of their false beliefs. Therefore,
our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) headed straight for
the Ka`bah, entered the holy mosque, and destroyed all of the idols inside.
This event marked the end of idolatry and ended all of the cruelty, injustice,
barbarism, and violence committed on its behalf. After being educated
by the Qur'an, the Arabs replaced all of the pre-Islamic era's injustice,
exploitation, and blood feuds with a new order based on respect, love,
compassion, and justice among all people.
This era was later known as the "Blessed Period."
Tolerance, Justice, and Compassion in Islamic Morality
Islam's rapid spread continued even after the Prophet's (may God bless
him and grant him peace) death. Within a few decades, Islam spread to
all of Mesopotamia and North Africa, and reached Spain in the west and
India in the east.
The Arabs, who had been tending their flocks in the desert just a few
decades ago, were now the rulers of an empire due to the reason, culture,
and awareness they had acquired through Islam. This was the fastest growing
empire ever. Within 100 years, the Muslim empire spread over an immense
area and firmly established itself. In this huge geographic area, many
different religious denominations existed side by side. Most of them,
however, were composed of Christians and Jews. The Muslims, as a general
rule, were always very tolerant toward all religious groups in their lands,
did not force people to embrace Islam, and respected every person's freedom
of conscience, for the Qur'an says:
There is no compulsion where religion is concerned. (Surat al-Baqara: 256)
Churches and synagogues were protected. At a time when enforced proselytization
was a common practice, such tolerance was unique.
One of the most extraordinary examples of this tolerance was the conquest
of Jerusalem. The patriarch of the city's Church of the Holy Sepulcher
feared that his church would be destroyed by the Muslims. Thus, Caliph
`Umar visited the church and said that there was nothing to worry about.
When the time for prayer came, he asked the patriarch for permission to
leave so that he could pray nearby. The al-Aqsa mosque was built later
on that very spot.
The Dome of the Rock
Say: “We believe in God and what has
been sent down to us; what was sent down to Abraham, Isma‘il,
Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes; and what Moses and Jesus and all
the Prophets were given by their Lord. We do not differentiate
between any of them. We are Muslims submitted to Him.”
The Muslims gave Jerusalem one of the world's most spectacular works
of architecture: the Qubbat as-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock), which was built
on the rock believed to be the place from where Prophet Mohammed (may
God bless him and grant him peace) ascended to the heavens. The stunning
motifs and golden dome of this architectural masterpiece reflects Islam's
sense of art and civilization.
In this environment of tolerance, non-Muslims were even given the democratic
right to voice their complaints. During the Umayyad era, many Christians
in Damascus (Sham) occupied important positions in the state bureaucracy
and fulfilled their religious obligations as they wished. Some wrote even
books that criticized Islam and Muslims without fear of retribution.
the same time, Europe was governed by a dark fundamentalism and barbarism.
The Catholic Church was oppressing the Jews and even Christians of other
denominations. Forced proselytization, as well as torture and murder in
the name of religion, were common. On the other hand, Muslims have always
treated the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) with tolerance and
compassion, for God orders this in the Qur'an.
The St. John church of Damascus is another example of this tolerance.
The Muslims who conquered the region began to perform their Friday prayers
in the church, and allowed the Christians to continue to use it for their
Sunday services. Two separate faiths were sharing peacefully the same
sanctuary. As the number of Muslims in the city grew, the Muslim leadership
bought the church from the Christians with their consent. Next door, a
mosque was built, and the décor of the forecourt buildings was enriched
by Islamic motifs. Byzantine-era pillars were decorated with stunning
examples of Islamic art.
Throughout the history of Islam, its tolerance toward Jews and Christians
continued. Jews fleeing the terror of the Spanish Inquisition found refuge
and tolerance on Ottoman soil. The source and reason for such tolerance
was the morality of the Qur'an, for Muslims are told:
Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest wayexcept in the case of those of them who do wrongsaying: "We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one, and we submit to Him." (Surat al-‘Ankabut: 46)
Muslims and Science
SOME MUSLIM SCIENTISTS
1) Ibn an Nafis
2) Thabit ibn Qurra
3) Ibn Sina
5) Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi
6) Muhammad Zakariya ar-Razi
7) Ali Kushji
One of the lights of Islamic morality that illuminated humanity's path
was scientific thought. Pre-Islamic Arab and some other Middle Eastern
societies had never been concerned with the universe and how nature came
to be or how it works. But this attitude changed with the Qur'anic revelation,
for God tells people to inquire into the origins of the heavens and Earth:
[People with intelligence are] those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and Earth [saying]: "Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire."(Surah Al ‘Imran: 191)
Miniature paintings showing the astronomical works of Muslim scientists.
Ali Kushji, supported by Sultan Mehmed
II, was famous for his astronomical works.
This awareness started the scientific rise of Islamic civilization, and
it then embarked upon a scientific journey like none ever seen before
that time. Its powerhouse was Baghdad, capital of the Abbasid Empire and
the Islamic world. Scientists, thinkers, researchers, and other scholars
from all over the Islamic world came together in Baghdad's famous Dar
al-Hikmah ("House of Wisdom") to research and investigate the secrets
of God's universe.
This awareness that Muslim scientists acquired by adhering to the Qur'an's
morality enabled history's most rapid leap in scientific progress until
that time. Open-mindedness, a wisdom Muslims are taught by the Qur'an,
enabled them to analyze and then develop further the scientific achievements
of other civilizations without prejudice. Muslim scientific records were
full of observations, experiments, calculations, and research on various
subjects. In the schools of science, women were entitled to the same education
as men and made their own scientific contributions.
Muslim mathematicians developed the decimal number system and invented
algebra and trigonometry. Muslim scientists were very keen on astronomical
observations, and thus discovered and established the principles of modern
astronomy. Muslim scholars calculated the moon's orbit around Earth and
recorded the formulas. The spectacular works of architecture throughout
the Islamic world were made possible only by the scientific infrastructure
put in place by the Muslims.
||While Muslims treated their patients
in extremely clean and well-kept hospitals, patients in Europe were
abandoned to death. A front view of the famous Mansur Hospital at
that time (to the left). The picture showing the streets of Venice
at the same period reveals the civilizational gap between the two
||Muslim scholars in the field of medicine had a high
level of knowledge. Their works became basic reference books throughout
Europe. The diagram used by Muslim scientists in treating broken bones
(at the bottom).
Drawings of Muslim scholars showing human anatomy and the digestion
and circulation systems (to the left).
||1. Apparatus designed by al-Haskafi
to measure changing water levels.
2. The drawings used by Muslim scientists to calculate solar and lunar
3. Ibn Sina's notebook in the National Musuem of
4. The apparatus designed by Muslim scientists
to measure blood pressure.
5. Al- Mutadibih's work on the eye's anatomy.
Some of the Muslims' greatest achievements were in the field of medicine.
Back then, ignorant Europeans considered illnesses to be a curse of evil
spirits and so did not even have the concept of treating or actually curing
the afflicted people. Muslim scientists, however, reached the research-based
conclusion that illnesses were caused by tiny creatures invisible to the
naked eye and that patients needed to be isolated from healthy people
during their treatment. The world's first modern hospitals were conceived
in this way. Muslim hospitals had different wards for different illnesses,
and Muslim doctors had scientifically developed methods of treatment.
Muslims treated mental illnesses with music and therapy, while Europeans
believed that the mentally ill were satan's slaves and so burned them
at the stake. Muslim reference works on the human anatomy were so accurate
that they were used for 600 years in Europe's faculties of medicine.
A documentary about the world of Islam, prepared for the BBC by the commentator
Terry Jones, says the following on the high scientific standards of Islam:
One philosopher from the town of Harran for example
had already correctly calculated the distance from the earth to the
moon. Well another had suggested that if you could divide the atom,
you'd release enough power to destroy city the size of Baghdad. In this
medical school built here in Damascus in 1154, doctors were already
teaching anatomy, inventive medicine, hygiene surgery, the circulation
of the blood, centuries before Harvey.2
Centuries before their European counterparts, Muslim physicians knew
about blood circulation and took their patients' pulses during their examinations.
Childbirth took place under the most hygienic conditions possible at the
time. Surgical instruments, as depicted in medical books of the era, are
evidence of advanced medical knowledge.
Muslim scientists made important discoveries in optics and the nature
of light. The first person to reveal the eye's structure in detail was
Ibn al-Haytham, whose extraordinary research on lenses cleared the way
for the camera's invention. Muslim physicians discovered the reasons behind
sight impairments and performed successful cataract surgery 1,000 years
before any European physician.
The great scientific heritage of the Islamic world made the European
Renaissance possible. Christian scientists established European schools
of science with the knowledge and methods acquired from Muslims. The light
of Islam also illuminated them.
The Splendor of Islamic Civilization
We placed between them and the cities
We had blessed other clearly conspicuous cities, making them measured
stages on the way: “Travel between them in safety by night
The Taj Mahal, India (bottom left)
Mashhad of Sharif Tabataba, Cairo, 10th century. (top right)
One quality acquired from Islam's morality is the high sense of art and
esthetics. The Qur'anic depictions of Paradise are pictures of the highest
quality, finest taste, and stunning grandeur. Muslims had this sense of
art in their hearts, which is reflected in their work, and thus the lands
they ruled became the world's most modern and select regions. When Islam
spread outward in all directions, it brought prosperity and development
Muslims took civilization wherever they went. They designed an effective
water purification system for the drinking water requirements of a Tunisian
town. Water was stilled and purified in two large basins and then brought
into the town by an enclosed pipe system. Only centuries later did Europeans
began to concern themselves with such things. Muslim engineers in Syria
designed a fantastic system of watermills to deliver water to the cities.
The capital of the Islamic world, Baghdad, was the world's most splendid
and modern city. Urban planning and architecture were stunning. A traveler
visiting Baghdad wrote the following:
All the exquisite neighborhoods covered with parks,
gardens, villas and beautiful promenades are filled with bazaars and
finally built mosques and baths. They stretch for miles on both sides
of the glittering river.3
Andalusia (Muslim Spain), another spectacular center of the Islamic world,
gradually became Europe's most modern and advanced country. Its capital
city of Cordoba was full of amazing beauty with its clean, well-lit streets,
libraries, hospitals, and palaces.
These thirteenth-century mills, constructed by Muslims upon a
river in Hama, Syria, distributed water to the city and met agricultural
and daily needs.
In the same era, such great European cities as Paris and London were
filthy, dark, and neglected. As a result, European Christians visiting
Cordoba were amazed and dazzled by the city's splendor, culture, and art.
In Islam: Empire of Faith, Historian Sheila Blair of Boston
College describes Cordoba's splendor with the following words:
The city of Cordoba in the 9th and 10th centuries was
one of the biggest and most exciting in Europe. We have descriptions
by people coming and seeing all of these flowers everywhere this open
streets, this wonderful light coming down. Northern cities were dark.
Cordoba had running water. People lived in big houses. In contrast,
in Paris, people lived in shacks by the side of the river.4
Muslims who spread Islamic civilization throughout the world erected
glorious mosques and other
buildings in these lands.
The Cordoba Mosque has an impressive beauty.
God commands justice and doing good and
giving to relatives. And He forbids indecency and doing wrong
and tyranny. He warns you so that hopefully you will pay heed.
Granada's al-Hambra Palace, constructed
by Muslims, is one of Islam's most impressive architectural works.
Say: “My Lord has commanded justice.
Stand and face Him in every mosque and call on Him, making your
religion sincerely His.
As He originated you, so you will return.”
One of the few remaining examples of Cordoba's grandeur is the Catholic
cathedral located in the city center. Originally it was a mosque of an
esthetic style that captivated the minds of those who entered it. Christian
explorers who came to Cordoba were deeply affected by this splendor. In
the tenth century, a Saxon nun by the name of Hrotsvitha described Cordoba
as the ornament of the world.
In them are two gushing springs. (Qur’an, 55:66)
One of Andalusia's most spectacular buildings was the Alhambra palace,
which was decorated with stunning examples of Islamic esthetics and art.
Every detail reflected the same fine taste of Islam's higher spirit. Its
gardens were full of fountains powered by a system based on gravity. The
Muslims who built it were inspired by the Qur'anic depictions of Paradise.
Here are some verses about Paradise:
They will have preordained provision: sweet fruits
and high honor in Gardens of Delight on couches face to face; a cup
from a flowing spring passing round among them, as white as driven snow,
delicious to those who drink, which has no headache in it and does not
leave them stupefied. (Surat as-Saffat: 41-47)
[They will be] shaded by spreading branches. (Surat ar-Rahman: 48)
They will be reclining on couches lined with rich brocade,
the fruits of the Gardens hanging close to hand. (Surat ar-Rahman: 54)
[Gardens of Paradise are] of deep viridian green. (Surat ar-Rahman: 64)
[They are] on sumptuous woven couches, reclining on
them face to face. (Surat al-Waqi‘a: 15-16)
[They are] Amid thornless lote-treesand fruit-laden
acacias. (Surat al-Waqi‘a: 28-29)
And wide-spreading shade and outpouring water and fruits
in abundance never failing, unrestricted. And [they are] on elevated
couches. ( Surat al-Waqi‘a: 30-34)
They will have Gardens of Eden with rivers flowing
under them. They will be adorned in them with bracelets made of gold
and wear green garments made of the finest silk and rich brocade, reclining
there on couches under canopies. What an excellent reward! What a wonderful
repose! Surat al-Kahf: 31)
well as architecture, Muslims had an advanced quality of and
taste in clothing compared with Europe. Their textile shops
produced unprecedentedly beautiful fabrics, which made European
clothing appear quite ordinary. For this reason, Muslim clothing
and fabrics became symbols of luxury and status among Europeans.
The church's most valuable holy objects were kept in Muslim-made
fabrics. Indeed, some clothes in Christian paintings made during
the Middle Age had Islamic writing on them. In fact, Muslims
dictated fashion to the world.
Europe received other practices of civilizations from Muslims,
such as bathing and using soap. Islamic civilization also contributed
greatly to the development of European music. For example, string
instruments widely used in the Islamic world were later adopted
by Europeans. The guitar, a basic instrument of the Western
music, is an adaptation of the classical ut.
Islamic Civilization and the Ottomans
The Ottoman Empire, founded in 1299, was developing as one of the Islamic
world's greatest and grandest empires. The official Ottoman worldview,
based on tolerance and justice, left its mark on the lands it ruled with
its sublime architecture, textiles, calligraphy, and a perfected educational
system envied by Europe. The sultans' subtlety and taste in art was admired
by Europeans, who were deeply affected by the Ottoman Empire's splendor.
The hilya below belongs to a special collection. The other ornamental
objects of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries are displayed
in the Turkish Islamic Art Museum.
The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and longest-lived empires.
In fact, only the Roman Empire at its peak covered a greater area. However,
it did not manage to preserve its size as long as the Ottomans did. Many
countries that now form parts of Europe, North Africa, Central Asia, and
the Middle East have historically important Ottoman monuments and artwork
decorating their towns. Examples of Ottoman architecture and urban planning
are still standing in many European cities (e.g., Sofia, Belgrade, and
The Ottoman state and governing system was based on the Qur'an, and many
present-day political scientists refer to it as one of the best state
systems. Ottoman state diplomacy formed the basis of the modern era's
Ottoman civilization had a direct impact on Western European
culture: The Ottomans introduced rice farming to Hungry, the Habsburg
envoy Busbecq introduced tulips to the Benelux countries after visiting
Istanbul in the sixteenth century, the Italians acquired their fabric
weaving and dying techniques from the Ottomans, and the Ottomans introduced
the tradition of military bands to Europe.5
These historical facts show that Islamic morality played a leading role
in the modern world's development. From the very beginning of its revelation,
Islam has served as a guiding light, leading humanity to truth, reality,
and beauty. The Muslims took their morality with them wherever they went,
along with tolerance, reason, science, art, esthetics, hygiene, and prosperity.
At a time when Europe was sunk in dark dogmatism and barbarism, the Islamic
world was the world's most advanced and modern civilization. The values
acquired by individual Europeans from the world of Islam played a fundamental
role in developing European civilization. Historian Eugene Myers expresses
this reality in the following way:
From the late ninth century until the twelfth, Islamic
influence on Western science and culture was great
The cultural importance
of the work of Islamic scholars and translators for the development
of science and humanities can hardly be overestimated
Thus, the roots
of Western thought are a mixture of Greco-Arabic and Hebrew thought.6
On the other hand, one of the major reasons why the Islamic world fell
behind in some respects was because it became estranged from the reason,
sincerity, and open-mindedness taught in the Qur'an. We say this because
the Qur'an is the greatest source of guidance leading humanity out of
darkness of ignorance and into the light of true knowledge. As God revealed
to our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace):
Alif Lam Ra. This is a Book We have sent down to you
so that you can bring mankind from the darkness to the light, by the
permission of their Lord, to the Path of the Almighty, the Praiseworthy.
Present-day Muslims should know the splendid past of Islamic civilization
and honor the responsibility that comes with it. Let's not forget that
Muslims are the representatives of a sacred, glorious, and honorable heritage
that built one of the greatest civilizations on Earth. Moreover, they
have always been envied and admired in equal measure by the representatives
of other civilizations or religious denominations. The famous Middle East
expert Daniel Pipes speaks of the Muslims' confidence in one of his articles:
Contributing to this internal confidence is the memory
of outstanding achievements during Islam's first six or so centuries.
Its culture was the most advanced, and Muslims enjoyed the best health,
lived the longest, had the highest rates of literacy, sponsored the
most advanced scientific and technical research, and deployed usually
victories armies. This pattern of success was evident from the beginning:
in A.D. 622 the Prophet Muhammad fled Mecca as a refugee, only to return
eight years later as its ruler. As early as the year 715, Muslim conquerors
had assembled an empire that extended from Spain in the west to India
in the east. To be a Muslim meant to belong to a winning civilization.7
Muslims today should not just bask in the glory of their past, but must
work to help the Islamic world rise once again. Of course Muslims can
build a similarly splendid and world-illuminating culture and civilization
again, but not until they recreate the spirit of unity and solidarity
that drove their predecessors. If they can establish a democratic, constructive,
tolerant, and peace-loving culture that works only for the benefit of
Islam and humanity and disregards personal interests, they can build the
greatest civilization of the twenty-first century. Thanks to the core
values of Islamic morality (e.g., love, compassion, sympathy, and tolerance),
the despotic regimes ruling Muslim lands will fall; cultural and economic
development will be achieved; Muslims suffering from oppression, cruelty,
and even cold-blooded massacre will find peace and security; and a new
"Blessed Period" will become a reality.