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Why Religion?

Discover Islam


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This is the tribute of Lamartine, a French historian, to the person of the holy Prophet of Islam:

Never has a man set himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, a more sublime aim, since this aim was superhuman: to subvert superstitions which had been interposed between man and his Creator, to render God unto man and man unto God; to restore the rational and sacred idea of divinity amidst the chaos of the material and disfigured gods of idolatry then existing. Never has a man undertaken a work so far beyond human power with so feeble means, for he had in the conception as well as in the execution of such a great design no other instrument than himself, and no other aid, except a handful of men living in a corner of desert. Finally, never has a man accomplished such a huge and lasting revolution in the world, because in less than two centuries after its appearance, Islam, in faith and arms, reigned over the whole of Arabia, and conquered in God’s name Persia, Khorasan, Western India, Syria, Abyssinia, all the known continent of Northern Africa, numerous islands of the Mediterranean, Spain, and a part of Gaul.

If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man to Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws, and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislation, empires, peoples, and dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and the souls. On the basis of a Book, every letter of which has become law, he created a spiritual nationality which has blended together peoples of every tongue and of every race. He has left to us the indelible characteristic of this Muslim nationality, the hatred of false gods and the passion for the One and immaterial God. This avenging patriotism against the profanation of Heaven formed the virtue of the followers of Muhammad: the conquest of one-third of the earth to his creed was his miracle. The idea of the Unity of God proclaimed amidst the exhaustion of fabulous theogonies, was in itself such a miracle that upon its utterance from his lips it destroyed all the ancient temples of idols and set on fire one-third of the world. His life, his meditations, his heroic reviling against the superstitions of his country, and his boldness in defying the furies of idolatry; his firmness in enduring them for thirteen years at Makka, his acceptance of the role of the public scorn and almost of being a victim of his fellow-countrymen: all these and, finally his incessant preaching, his wars against odds, his faith in his success and his superhuman security in misfortune, his forbearance in victory, his ambition which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire; his endless prayer, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after death; all these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction. It was his conviction which gave him the power to restore a creed. This creed was two-fold, the Unity of God and the immateriality of God; the former telling what God is; the latter telling what God is not. Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images; the founder of twenty terrestrial states and of one spiritual state, that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask: is there any man greater than he?1

Lamartine is right. It is really difficult for men of this century to understand the Prophet Muhammad fully, for the universe, life and man himself are compartmentalized and, as a result, people are devoid of unitary vision. However, in the person of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, the intellect of a philosopher, the valor of a commander, the genius of a scientist, the sagacity of a sage the insight and administrative ability of a statesman, the spiritual profundity of a Sufi master and the knowledge of a scholar were combined in perfect harmony and in the highest degree. Philosophers produce students, not followers; social leaders or leaders of revolutions make followers but not complete men; masters of Sufism make ‘lords of submission’, not active fighters or intellectuals. But in the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, we find the characteristics of the philosopher, the characteristics of a revolutionary leader, the characteristics of a warrior and statesman, and the characteristics of a Sufi master. His school is the school of the intellect and thought, the school of revolution, the school of submission and discipline, and the school of goodness, beauty, ecstasy and activism.

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, made desert men - crude, ignorant, savage and obstinate - into an army of skilled fighters, a community of sincere devotees of a sublime cause, into a society of gentleness and compassion, and an assembly of sainthood, and into a host of intellectuals and scholars. In no community of the world and in the followers of no great man of history, including the Prophets, do we see fervor and ardor combined with gentleness, kindness, sincerity and compassion, as history has shown among the sincere followers of the Prophet Muhammad in every century.

The school of the Prophet Muhammad - Islam - has been a ‘garden’ rich in every kind of ‘flower’; through it, like water cascading, God has brought forth grain and plants, and gardens luxuriant.

Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali, and the others in succeeding centuries, like ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, Mahdi al-Ab-basi, Harun al-Rashid, Alp Arslan, Mehmed the Conqueror, Salim and Sulayman were not only statesmen of the highest caliber and invincible commanders, but they were also men of profound spirituality, deep knowledge, eloquence and literature.

In the blessed, pure climate of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, invincible generals of world-wide genius have grown. Among them, in the first generation, Khalid, Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas, Abu ‘Ubayda, Shurahbil ibn Hasana, and ‘Ala al-Khadrami are almost unparalleled in world history. They were succeeded by world-famous generals of military genius as well as human tenderness and religious conviction and devotion, such as Tariq ibn Ziyad and ‘Uqba ibn Nafi. When ‘Uqba, the Muslim conqueror of North Africa, took leave of his family and mounted his horse for the great adventure which was to lead him through two thousand miles of conquest to the Moroccan shores of the Atlantic, he cried out: ‘And now, God, take my soul’. He also said: ‘O God, but for this sea stretching before me, I would convey Your Holy Name across to other lands!’2 We can hardly imagine Alexander the Great having such thoughts as he set out eastward to Persia. Yet, as conquerors, the two men were to achieve comparable feats; the idealism of ‘Uqba and his submission to the Divine Will were to be transmuted into irresistible action in this world. The empire of Alexander crashed after his death but in the lands conquered by ‘Uqba, Islam - the creed of ‘Uqba - is still the only dominant world-view, creed and life-style of the people after fourteen centuries despite the concerted attacks and efforts the Western powers have made to eradicate it for centuries.

Tariq was a victorious commander, but not only when he defeated the Spanish army of ninety thousand men with a handful of self-sacrificing valiants, but also, and more than that, when he stood before the wealth and treasures of the King, saying: ‘Be careful, Tariq! You were a slave yesterday. Today you are a victorious commander. And tomorrow you will be under the earth.’ Yavuz Selim, who came centuries later as an Ottoman Sultan, and regarded the world as too small for two rulers, was truly victorious, not only when he crowned some kings and dethroned others, but also, and more than that, when he entered the capital city - Istanbul - after the conquest of Syria and Egypt, in silence at bedtime so as not to receive the enthusiastic welcome and applause of the people. He was also victorious when he ordered that his robe which had been soiled by the mud from the horse of his teacher should be put over his coffin because of its sanctity.

During the rapid conquests after the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, many of the conquered people were distributed among the Muslim families, where they were brought up as the greatest scholars of their time. Those emancipated slaves were the foremost in religious sciences: in Basra Hassan ibn Hassan al-Basri, in Makka ‘Ata’ ibn Rabah, Mujahid, Sa‘id and Sulayman ibn Yasar, in Madina Zayd ibn Aslam, Muhammad ibn al-Munkadir and Nafi’ ibn Abi Nujayh, in Kufa Ibrahim and Alqama ibn Qays al-Naha’i, Aswad ibn Yazid, Hammad and Abu Hanifa Nu’man ibn Thabit, in the Yemen Tawus ibn Kaysan and Ibn Munabbih, in Khorasan ‘Ata’ ibn ‘Adbullah al-Khorasani, in Damascus Maqhul were all among emancipated slaves and yet the greatest of the jurists of a certain period. They all opened as splendid ‘flowers’ of the sweetest fragrance in the ‘garden’ of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. They established the code of the Islamic law and brought up thousands of jurists, who wrote and complied volumes that are still valued as references in the field of the Islamic law.

Among those jurists, Imam Abu Hanifa, for example, is the founder of the Hanafi School of conduct, which has hundreds of millions of followers today. This great Imam brought up great scholars like Imam Abu Yusuf, Imam Zufar and Imam Muhammad Hasan al-Shaybani, the teacher of Imam Muhammad Idris al-Shafi‘i. The notes that Abu Hanifa dictated to Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani were expounded centuries later by Imam Sarakhsi, known as the sun of Imams, in thirty volumes under the title of al-Mabsut.

Imam Shafi‘i is regarded as a reviver or renewer (mujaddid) in the religious sciences. He is the first to establish the principles of the methodology of the Islamic law. However, when his students once told Imam Sarakhsi that Imam Shafi‘i had in memory three hundred fascicules of the Prophetic Traditions, the former answered: ‘He had the zakat - one fortieth - of the Traditions in my memory.’

Imam Shafi’i or Abu Hanifa, or Imam Malik or Ahmad ibn Hanbal and the others, all were brought up in the School of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

Besides the jurists, the interpreters of the Qur’an such as Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Ibn Kathir, Imam Suyuti, Allama Hamdi Yazir and Sayyid Qutb and the world famous figures of Hadith such as Imam Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Ibn Maja, Nasa’i, Ibn Hanbal, Bayhaqi, Darimi, Daraqutni, Sayf al-Din al-Iraqi, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani and many others are ever-shining ‘stars’ in the ‘luminous sky’ of Islamic sciences, who have all received their light from the ever-shining ‘sun of the sky of mankind’, that is, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

God, according to Islam, has created man on the best pattern, and as the most universal and all-embracing theatre of Divine Names and Attributes, but man, because of his heedlessness, might fall to the lowest of the low. With its inner or spiritual dimension, Islam is also the way leading man to perfection or enabling him to re-acquire his primordial angelic state. Islam has also brought hundreds of thousands of saints in its history of fourteen centuries. What is more, since the metaphysical quest of man or gnosis has never been separated in Islam from the study of nature, many great saints were also scientists. ‘Abd al Qadir al-Jilani, Shah Naqshiband, Ma’ruf al-Karkhi, Hasan Shazili, Ahmad Badawi, Shaykh al-Harrani, Ja’far al-Sadiq, Muhyi al-Din ibn al-‘Arabi, Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, and many others have illumined the way of people to the truth and trained them in purification of the self. Being the embodiments of sincerity, Divine love and purity of intention, the Sufi masters have become the motivating factor and the source of power behind the Islamic conquests and the Islamization of conquered lands and peoples. The figures like Imam al-Ghazali, Imam al-Rabbani and Bediuzzaman Said Nursi are the ‘revivers’ or ‘renewers’ of the highest degree, who combined in their persons both the enlightenment of sages, knowledge of religious scholars and spirituality of the greatest saints.

Islam is the moderate religion. One finds in Islam an elaborate hierarchy of knowledge integrated by the principle of Divine Unity (al-Tawhid). There are juridical, social and theological sciences, and there are metaphysical ones, all deriving their principles from the source of Revelation which is the Qur’an. Then there have developed within Islamic civilization elaborate philosophical, natural and mathematical sciences, each of which has its source in one of the Beautiful Names of God. It is the Name the All-Healing that shines on medicine; geometry and engineering depend on the Names the All-Just, the All-Determiner and the All-Shaper and the All-Harmonizing. Philosophy reflects the Name the All-Wise. And so on. On each level of knowledge nature is seen in a particular light. For the jurists and theologians it is the background for human action. For the philosophers and scientists it is a domain to be analyzed and understood. On the metaphysical level it is the object of contemplation and the mirror reflecting supra-sensible realities. The Author of Nature has inscribed His Wisdom upon every leaf and stone and has created the world of nature in such a way that every phenomenon is a sign (ayah) singing the glory of His Oneness.

Since there has always been in Islam an intimate connection between the sciences and other fields of Islamic studies, the education of the Islamic scientist, particularly in the early ages, was broad enough to comprise most of the sciences of the day. But later in life each scientist became, through his aptitude and interest, an expert and specialist in one or more of the sciences.

There can be no doubt that institutions - academies, libraries, observatories, etc. - played a major role in the continuing vitality of Islamic science. These, together with the readiness of students to travel hundreds of miles to learn from acknowledged scholars, ensured that the whole corpus of knowledge was kept intact and transmitted from one place to another and from one generation to the next, with continual expansion and enrichment. There are, today, hundreds of thousands of Islamic manuscripts in the world’s libraries, most of them in Arabic, of which a large number deal with scientific subjects. George Sarton, in his monumental Introduction to the History of Science, divided his work chronologically into chapters, giving each chapter the name of the most eminent scientist of the period in question. For the period from the middle of the second century AH (after Hijra) (eighth century C.E.) to the middle of the fifth century AH (eleventh century C.E.), each fifty-year period carriers the name of a Muslim scientist; there are seven in all. Thus, we have the ‘Time of al-Khwarizmi’, the ‘Time of al-Biruni’, etc. Within these chapters we have the names of many other important Islamic scientists and their main works. For example, Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Kindi, known as ‘The Philosopher of the Arabs’, wrote, in addition to philosophy, upon a variety of subjects including mineralogy, metallurgy, geology, physics and medicine, and himself was an accomplished physician. Ibn al-Haytham was one of the principal Muslim mathematicians and without any doubt the greatest physicist. The names of over a hundred of his works are known to us, and some nineteen of these, on mathematics, astronomy and physics, have been studied by modern scholars. His work exercised a profound influence on later scholars, both in Islam and the West, where he was known as Alhazen. One of his works on Optics was translated into Latin in 1572.

Al-Biruni, Abu’l-Rayhan, was one of the greatest scholars of medieval Islam, and certainly the most original and profound. He was equally well versed in mathematics, astronomical, physical, and natural sciences and also distinguished himself as a geographer and historian, chronologist and linguist, as well as an impartial observer of customs and creeds. Al-Khwarizmi in mathematics, Ibn Shatir in astronomy, al-Khazini in physics, Jabir ibn Hayyan in chemistry were other leading figures remembered instantly. Andalusia (Spain) was the main centre from which the West derived knowledge and enlightenment for centuries.

Islam founded the most brilliant civilization in human history. This should not be regarded as something strange since the Qur’an begins with the injunction, Read: In the Name of Your Lord Who creates (96.1). The Qur’an orders man to read at a time when there was nothing yet to read, this means he is commanded to read the universe itself as the book of creation of which the Qur’an is the counterpart in letters or words. Man has to observe the universe and perceive its meaning and content, and as he perceives it he comes to know more deeply the beauty and splendor of the Creator’s system and the infinitude of His Might. Thus, it is incumbent upon man to penetrate into the manifold meanings of the universe, discover the Divine laws of nature and found a world where science and faith complement each other so that man will be able to attain true bliss in both worlds.

Muslims, obeying the injunctions of the Holy Qur’an, and following the example of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, studied both the book of Divine Revelation, the Qur’an, and the book of creation, the universe, and founded a magnificent civilization. Scholars from all over the ‘old’ world benefited from the centers of higher learning at Damascus, Bukhara, Baghdad, Cairo, Faz, Qayrawan, Zaytunah, Cordoba, Sicily, Isfahan, Delhi and other great cities throughout the Muslim world. Historians liken the Muslim world of medieval ages, dark for Europe but golden and luminous for Muslims, to a beehive. Roads were full of students, scientists and scholars traveling from one center of learning to another.

For almost the first ten centuries of its existence, the realm of Islam was the most civilized and progressive portion of the world. Studded with splendid cities, gracious mosques and quiet universities, the Muslim East offered a striking contrast to the Christian West, which was sunk in the night of the dark ages. This bright civilization lasted for a long time. Despite the terrible disaster of the thirteenth century C. E., it still displayed vigor and remained far ahead of the Christian West.

Although Islam ruled two-thirds of the old civilized world for at least eleven centuries, laziness and negligence of what was going on in the neighborhood was responsible for the decay of the Islamic civilization, but not of Islam itself. Military victories and superiority that lasted as far as the eighteenth century induced Muslims to be content with what they had already achieved and to neglect further researches in the sciences. They abandoned themselves to living their own lives, reciting the Qur’an but without ever studying its deeper meanings. Meanwhile the Western world made great advances in sciences, which they had borrowed from the Islamic civilization. As already mentioned in this book, the sciences are in reality the languages of the Divine book of creation, which is another aspect of Islam. Therefore, whoever neglects to study this book is destined to lose in the worldly life, and this negligence was the reason why Muslims fell under the domination of the West in later centuries. The cruelty, oppression and the imperialistic tendencies of the West have also made great contributions to this result.

It is impossible that Western civilization will last long since it is materialistic and far from satisfying man’s perennial needs. Western sociologists such as Oswald Spengler and others have predicted the collapse of this civilization, which is against human nature and values. Islam has been available to humanity for fourteen hundred years, and the bright world of the future can be founded upon the firm foundation of the Islamic creed, ethics, spirituality and its law and socio-economic and political structure.

1. Historie de la Turquie, 2.276-7.
2. I. Al-Athir, al-Kamil fi l-Tarikh, 4.107.

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A few last words about the greatness of the Prophet Muhammad

Last Updated on October 09, 2000

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