Middle East Resources

Islam: Past, Present, and Future - Part One

Bassam Michael Madany

15 December 2022

It’s mid-December 2022, one week before Christmas; these are the headlines that caught my attention today:

Iranian Regime's Slow-Motion Genocide of The Balochi People  Erdoğan Places Bounties on Critics Abroad

Iran's General Strike: Can the Regime Survive?

Gravitas Plus: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Who are the Kurds and why don't they have their own country?

German politicians raise awareness of plight of Iranian protestors

To understand why these headlines, dominate our attention, I would like to refer to the work of the Lebanese American Philip Hitti who started the Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton University, around 85 years ago. In his book “Islam: A Way of Life” dealt with Islam as Religion, Islam as State, and Islam as Culture. So, Islam is much more than a religion.

Another scholar who wrote on Islam was Bernard Lewis who came to Princeton, after teaching at his alma mater, the University of London, England. Professor Lewis was a prolific author and a frequent speaker on radio and television, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In his book, “Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry,” he explained the several meanings of the word ‘Islam.’

“There is a distinction that it is important to make in any discussion of Islam. The word ‘Islam’ is used with at least three different meanings, and much misunderstanding can arise from the failure to distinguish between them.      In the first place, Islam means the religion taught by the Prophet Muhammad and embodied in the Muslim revelation known as the Qur'an. In the second place, Islam is the subsequent development of this religion through tradition and through the work of the great Muslim jurists and theologians. In this sense, it includes the mighty structure of the Sahri’a, the holy law of Islam, and the great corpus of Islamic dogmatic theology. In the third meaning, Islam is the counterpart not of Christianity but rather of Christendom. In this sense Islam means not what Muslims believed or were expected to believe but what they actually did, in other words, Islamic civilization as known to us in history.” (P. 20)

         

Muhammad died in 632 A.D leaving no instructions for his succession.

The first four caliphs are called the “Rightly Guided Caliphs.” This designation implied that the years that stretched from 632 to 661, constituted the Golden Age of Islam. The conquests of the world began almost immediately after the death of the Prophet. The Arab armies burst out of Arabia and conquered the Persian Empire, and two provinces of the Byzantine Empire, Syria, and Egypt.

The three decades of the Rightly Guided Caliphs were turbulent. The first caliph died in 634. The two that followed him, were assassinated. The fourth Caliph Ali ruled for five years and was assassinated in 661. The unity of Islam ended. The followers of Ali came to be known as the Shi’ites. They became the opposition party within Islam. Muslims who sided with the opponents of Ali, were called Sunnis; and belonged to the Umayyads, a wealthy Meccan clan. They moved the capital of the Islamic empire from Medina to Damascus, Syria.

The Umayyads continued the Islamic conquests. By 710, their armies had crossed the strait of Gibraltar and occupied Spain (Al Andalus) until 1492! At one time, the Muslim armies crossed the Pyrenees, invaded France, but were defeated by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in October 732.

The Umayyad dynasty ended in 750. It was replaced by the Abbasid Caliphate that moved the capital from Damascus to Baghdad, Iraq. The

Abbasids encouraged the flowering of a great culture in Baghdad. The House of Wisdom was a cultural center where scholars undertook the translation of great works from Greek, Aramaic and Indian. Great advances were made in mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and medicine.

During this period Muslims developed the Four Orthodox Schools for the interpretation of the Shari’a. Most of the theological discussions centered on the doctrine of the uncreatedness of the Qur’an, and Predestination and human responsibility.

A century after the founding of the Abbasid Caliphate, the distant parts of the Empire began to secede. A cataclysmic event occurred in the middle of the 13th century when the Mongolians invaded the eastern parts of the Caliphate and destroyed Baghdad.