Islam and the Western Civilisation

by Maulana Mustafa Khan

The Light (Pakistan), 1st April 1922 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 8, pp. 2–4)

The Christian writers of the present day often commit a very common fallacy in making a comparison of Christianity with Islam. They ascribe the material advancement in recent times of the Christian countries to the dogmas of Christianity, and the political stagnation of the Muslims to Islam and its teachings. But any thinking man will at once perceive the fallacy which lies at the very root of it. The past history of Christendom is enough to expose the weakness of this fallacious argument.

During the middle ages, the whole of Europe was in the abyss of lethargy and ignorance, in spite of being Christian. If Christianity had played any part whatsoever in the modern civilisation of Europe, why did it not achieve anything in the dark ages, when the people were perhaps more spirited Christians and the churches were thronged with worshippers?

It is a curious fact that the progress in civilisation and the decay in the Church have invariably gone hand in hand. Today, the Church is getting hoarse by crying that people have lost faith; they have given up Christianity; they do not attend churches and so forth, and yet the world is progressing by leaps and bounds, while in the dark ages of Europe, when the Church enjoyed the highest power — not only spiritual, but temporal as well — all the Christian countries were in a state of horrible degradation.

But the case of Islam is quite different.  From the very beginning it has been the great champion of science and learning; and its past history bears ample testimony to the indisputable fact that the Muslim kings have rendered great service to promote culture and learning. It is admitted, even by European writers, that Europe’s present civilisation is due, to a great extent, to the Islamic influence. During the reign of Abbasis, hundreds of books were translated from Latin and Greek; and the Muslim rulers of this dynasty were famous for their love of knowledge. Some of the names of different branches of Science and Art that flourished during the Muslim rule have still got the impress of the Arabic origin. Algebra, for instance, retains up to now the Arabic name, and proves that this branch of mathematics owes its origin to Islam.

Despite these indisputable facts, it is curious to find that a writer in the New Statesman has got the audacity to say that

“Muhammadan people are the best equipped among the enemies of what we should call the European civilisation, and the most inclined among the backward nations to fight with fierceness against progress.”

But as this assertion was giving a direct lie to history, the writer has been constrained to admit in the same breath that:

“(i) Islam took over the progress role. It covered and published some of the Greek works of science which Christian fanaticism had relegated to oblivion.

(ii) It stimulated new expression in architecture, in fabric of the loom, in ceramics, literature, music, sport, names and horticulture; it encouraged explo­ration of the new barbarians or isolated countries, from Madagascar to New Guinea, China and Tartary.

Its influence on Europe at the time of the Crusades led almost as a consequence to the European renascence in the arts, in Science, and in industries.” (italics are mine).

It is strange indeed that in the face of these clear admissions and historical facts, the writer arrives at the queer conclusion that Muslims are the greatest enemies of civilisation. If history can serve the purpose of education, if we can learn the future from the past (and most assuredly it is one of the chief functions of history to give us an insight into the future), then we cannot but infer from the past annals of the Muslims that they can never be a stumbling block in the path of the world’s progress.

Muslim Rule in India:

The writer has made another curious statement in regard to the Muslim rule in India and has depicted it as period of seven hundred years of

“appalling misery, much depopulation, massacre, plundering, persecution, and unrest.”

I think the writer ought to have revised his manuscript before its publication. He has committed a historical blunder of immense magnitude in remarking that for seven hundred years India has been subjected to a tyrannical government. He should have known the simple fact that the reigns of Akbar the Great and his immediate successors have been looked upon as periods of great prosperity and of good government even by the hostile critics of Islam. Akbar, the first great Moghul [Mughal] Emperor, was so popular among the Indians that the proud Rajput Rulers of Rajputana, who claimed their descent from the sun and the moon, readily agreed to give daughters in marriage to the Emperor; and these matrimonial relations with the ruling princes of India consolidated the Mughal Empire.

Secession with the Past:

The chief grievance of the writer against Islam, however, is the

“Secession with the past which it produces.”

This grievance, I think, should be more prominent in regard to Christianity of the present day, which has put up very curious dogma, quite inconsistent with the past history of the human race. It has attributed such qualities to Jesus Christ which cannot be borne out by any ecclesias­tical [relating to the Christian Church or its clergy] history of the past. St. Paul gave quite a new turn to the teachings of Jesus, who was originally a Jew and his teachings a branch of Judaism. But who does not know that the Christianity of modern times has produced a split with Judaism and has given the gospel of Jews a new phase of which he never dreamt in his life?