In historical contexts, it can be said that Islamic encounter with Western world was an encounter of military, political and religious expeditions. Most of Non-Muslim scholars of Islam argue that early Islamic expeditions were purely military expeditions that aimed to invade foreign lands with purpose of forceful conversion into with swords. This is indeed, a materialistic interpretation to Islamic political history. It is true that nomadic community of Arab with Islamic faith and conviction, conquered most part of world within a short period of time in human history. It was not motive of materialism or land invasion that encouraged them to venture out of Arab peninsula rather it was Islamic faith and missions that encouraged them go out and preached their faiths for other nations of different civilizations. In this sense, one could argue that Islamic encounter of early Arab Muslims with other nations of different cultures and civilization was an ideological encounter and interaction. The early generation of Islam was highly taken with Islamic ideology, faith, conviction and mission. They had a clear vision and mission in their life. That clear vision was to live this short span of life for Islam and that mission was to reach out with the message of Islam to the entire world. It was this clear vision and mission that encourage them go out with Islamic expedition.
| by Dr. Rifai
(November 23, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) This is not a study on classical civilizations. I shall not trace the origin and development of different classical civilizations in human history rather this study concentrates on modern trend, drift and developments in western and eastern civilizations of contemporary world. Particularly, in this comparative study of Eastern and Western civilizations, we refer to Muslim world as East. When we discuss modern civilizations we are bound to touch upon some aspects of classical civilizations which undoubtedly laid the foundation for the modern civilizations. Ancient civilizations initially originated in river banks and old cities often confined in some geographical enclaves. It is historically established that the earliest civilizations were originated in Middle East regions. Samarians lived around 3500BC in Mesopotamia in Iraq. This region was regarded as cradle of civilizations. This was followed by ancient Nile River valley civilization established by Pharaohs. In the same Middle Eastern region Persian Empire was established in Iran. In 1st century BC Roman Empire included most part of Europe, African and Middle East regions. Eastern Part of Europe and Asia were dominated by Byzantine Empire. We read in Islamic history that in 7th century under military leadership of Khalid ibn Walid large parts of Byzantine Empire was conquered.
Today, in modern psychological studies we learn that motivations and interests are one of main driving forces for success in any task or career. The only motivation and interest of early generation of Muslim was to fulfill divine commands and please Almighty Allah. In short, they lived and died for the sake of Almighty God alone. Otherwise how this nomadic Arabs with little material and human resources could conquer the large parts of Byzantine within short span of time in human history? These inspirational motives of Islamic vision and mission alone encouraged them to embark upon this Islamic expedition not to loot other nations of wealth and resources rather than to offer them an ideology that frees mankind from materialistic slavery, to the absolute slavery to God Almighty alone. Sometimes comparisons are made between early Islamic expeditions and European (Dutch, French, British) colonial expeditions. As noted earlier Islamic expeditions are expeditions of Islamic missions but European expeditions are expeditions of colonialism and imperialism. Europeans went to Middle Eastern and Asian countries with missions of materialistic ambitions. They went to these regions to bring down agricultural products and natural resources of these regions into their own countries. In contrast to this, Arab expeditions aimed to offer people with divine ideology that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by Angel Gabriel.
Ironically, Prophet Muhammad came to fulfill and complete the message given to previous prophets in Judeo-Christian revelation and traditions. As matter of fact, Europeans who supposed to be true Christians at this time in history, neglected the pure teaching of Christianity and followed the path of materialism and invaded the Middle Eastern and Asian countries purely for materialistic purposes. They did not go to these countries with ambitious missions of preaching Christianity like those Arab who went in Byzantine Empire and Asian countries with clear ideological mission of Islam. What a difference in the objectives of these two so called invasions and expeditions? Today, we find in display some priceless gems, diamonds and jewelries of former colonies in the museums of European nations. Indian government has been demanding British government to hand over its priceless crown jewels. Tell me which Arab nations still keep jewels of any countries they invaded or colonized?
Unlike European colonial powers early generations of Arab Muslims went to foreign lands with mission of Islam and when they went to these foreign lands they did not deprived native lands of the natural resources rather they stayed on in these foreign lands and cultivated these lands. They lived in these lands and died in foreign lands not for sake for occupying lands rather to offer people of these lands with divine message of Islam. That is why we still found tombs of those early generations Arab Muslims in many parts of world. Of course, we do have some tombs of British governors in India yet, not on the scale of Early Arab Muslims in foreign lands. Moreover, early Arab Muslims changed the entire native lands of different cultures and religions into Islam: Egypt, Syria, Iran, Balkans, Asian and far Eastern regions all influenced greatly with missions of Early Arab Muslims. Of course, European Missionaries did succeed marginally in some parts of world. That is why we do still have some Christian minority communities in many parts of these colonies.
Most of all those converted into Christianity come from Hindu/Buddhist or other religious back grounds in Indian sub-continent. Most of these people changed their religions for material benefits. European Christian missionaries gave them good education, health care, employment opportunities and financial support during the colonial periods. During the expansion of Islamic empire, early generations of Muslims did not follow this path of crafty conversion tactics. Islam is every much empathetic on this matters. Quran categorically says that (there is no compulsion in religion). It is through firm conviction one could become Muslim. One should become Muslim by his/her own choice and free will and no one should be forced to change his/her religion.. People are born free and have free wills. Islam expects from people to exercise their own free will to choose Islamic way of life or otherwise. It is the basic principle of Islamic teachings. This is one of the main reasons that Islam spread so quickly and so steadily.
It is alleged that early Arab Muslim expeditions were aimed at converting people by swords/forces. This is an unfounded allegation. Historical evidence does not support such blank accusations. Historical evidences substantially suggest that large numbers of Judeo-Christian communities had been living in Islamic territories. Millions of them are still living in Muslim countries. Muslims world has had many Islamic dynasties in different geographical enclaves. All most all these dynasties incorporated Judeo-Christian and other religious groups in their empires. Still we have large numbers of different Christian denominational groups in Muslim lands. They have been living in Muslim countries for hundreds of years. Good examples of these are orthodox Christians of Egypt and Jewish communities in Turkey. Why Muslim dynasties did not wipe out these Non-Muslim communities from their empires. Simply, it was against the very teaching of Islam to do. Which army went to Indonesia and far Eastern countries such as Malaysia to convert these countries into Islam by swords/ force? It was simple faith and practice of Islamic teachings that attracted millions of these people into Islam. Arab Muslims traders travelled to far Eastern regions just for the purpose of trading and business. Indigenous people of these regions observed simplistic religious faith and rituals of Arab traders. They noticed in them good manners and honest dealings in business. These good characters attracted them into religions of Islam. No one forced them into Islam and no one bribe them into Islam.
Let us now assume for sake of an argument that these early Arab Muslim traders forced these people into Islam at some point in history. Had such forceful conversion has taken place they would have returned to their original religions as soon as Arab traders off the shore of their countries. This analogical comparison could be made to many Muslim minority communities in different parts of world. Faith is something it spring out of hearts and firm conviction. No one could detect what is in peoples’ hearts except God Almighty. Historically, speaking West & East (Christian & Islamic worlds) world has had .many confrontations in history. Continuous crusade wars epitomized these Christian- Islamic confrontations. Yet, basic Islamic teaching with regards to different faith groups is to treat all with unconditional justice and equality with freedom to practice different faiths and cultures.
On contrary to this, Muslims were very badly victimized in the hands of Christian missionary and militarily groups. History books still have full historical accounts of what exactly happened to Muslim community in Spain. On the eve of victory over Muslim in Spain Muslims were given three options. Either they were converted to Christianity or expel from Spain to North Africa or otherwise, all will be killed by Christian army of that time in Spain. Finally the entire Muslim community was wiped out from Spain. Spanish Muslim scholarship made great contributions in Spain that unprecedented in human history of pre-modern age. Still Muslims were inhumanely wiped out of Spain. That was the Christian response for the contributions Muslim made in that beautiful country. We do not need to go that far in history to spot communal and religious prejudice against Muslims. During the Balkan wars, Bosnian Muslims were brutally butchered by Serbs while they were in the protection of UN peace keeping forces. This is despite of the fact there are so human rights commissions in the world today to protect human rights. This happened in the door steps of Europe. Ethical teachings of Islam on war completely prohibit all sort of extra-judicial killing of this kind. Islamic laws on wars demand that whoever surrenders in the war should be treated fairly with human dignity and respect. Women, children, elderly, clerics and all kinds of vulnerable people should not be harmed at all in any wars. In this Balkan war, Muslim pregnant women were burned to death, elderly Muslim men and women were starved to death, Muslim children were stabbed to death in front of their parents and young Muslim girls were raped in front of their family members. We cannot blame any particular Christian denominations for these atrocities rather it was orchestrated by political and military leaderships.
(To be continued next week).