Monday, 12 September 2022

The Rise of Islam

Arabia’s religious diversity has prompted a variety of speculations. Before the rise Islam, the Arabian religion was nominal, formal, or superstitious. Arab paganism “had been losing its grip during the sixth century A.D. people found themselves frightened and conscious of their evil deeds.”1 


In another view, tribal religion was crucial to communal life, where god and cult were the badges of identity, and apostasy was equated with treason.


Whatever the interpretation, one thing seems clear: religion apparently played a major part in that environment.A related question is whether Islam simply represented the Bedouin mind projected into the realm of religion or was a religion that developed in an urban environment and took on urban characteristics. 


Modern research, however, has shown what Gibb and others call the untenability of the common assumption of the Bedouin origin of Islam.3 The development of the first Islamic century, according to Gibb, “confirmed the character of Islam as a strong, self-confident, conquering faith.”


From this has come its unyielding and even hostile attitude to everything that lay outside itself, but also its record of broad tolerance of diversity within its own community, refusal to persecute those of other communities and the dignity with which it endured moments of an eclipse.


But still more astonishing than the speed of conquests was their orderly character.4


It is noteworthy, and perhaps curious, that the military undertakings of the Arab Muslims accompanied the immediate release of their intellectual energies, that neither of these concomitants hindered the other, and that both were stimulated by the religious sentiment created by Islam.


As Gibb has observed, “the transformation is amazing when one looks back to the intellectual poverty of Medina a bare hundred years before, still more when it is remembered that it was in the main the work of Arabs themselves, building upon the foundations laid by Mohammad, self-evolved with none but the most meager external influences.”5


During the ninth and tenth centuries, Islamic civilization reached its climax of interaction between the material and spiritual elements. Yet, as it happened, the penetration of Greek thought provoked a conflict that grew in bitterness as the years went by.6


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Nevertheless, the conflict did not result in intellectual stagnation, but in rechanneling the flow of intellectual energies. The religious culture and scholarship embraced other forms of activity and by some minor accommodations converted them into their own instruments.


It was held that the religious culture intrinsically provided sufficient opportunity and stimulus to intellectual creativity. Such creativity produced several new sciences and considerably improved the old ones. But the master science of the Muslims was law.7


Islamic law was crucial to the development of Muslim society, not only because of its intellectual pre-eminence but, first and foremost, because of its social, moral, and political role in the drama of Islamic History. Islamic law was the most far-reaching and effective agent in molding the social order and the community life of the Muslim people.


Moreover, Islamic law gave practical expression to the characteristic Muslim quest for unity. [And] however seriously the political and military strength of the vast Empire might be weakened, the moral authority of the law was but the more enhanced and held the social fabric of Islam compact and secure through all the fluctuations of political fortune.8



By the end of the tenth century, a “great” civilization had been built up, “brilliant,” “wealthy” and “enterprising.” The whole was a “visible embodiment” of the spiritual, intellectual, and temporal “might of Islam.” From that time on, the state gradually diverged more and more from the path of earlier generations; the result was political disintegration and internal strife.



But the decline of Muslim political power did not mean a corresponding decline of the forces of Islamic society. In fact, it would almost seem that the decline of the former injected a new vitality into the latter.9





[1]. Von Grunebaum, pp. 2-3; cf. Fayzee, pp. 10-11; Watt (2 ), pp. 23-4, 152-3; Rosenthal (3), p. 4.

[2]. Lewis, p. 30; cf. p. 25; J. ‘All, vol. 8, pp. 145 se q q .; Wolf, pp. 286 337 ff; al AlusI, vol. 1, 243; Burton (1), p. 333.

[3]. Wolf, p. 329; cf. Gibb (3), pp. 1, 12, 24-5; Watt (2 ), pp. 23-4, 152-3.

[4]. Gibb (3), pp. 2-4. In view of the numerous and often inconsistent accounts of the rise of Islam, our summary review will be based mainly on Gibb’s succinct survey; cf. R. Levy, pp. 1 ff; Watt (2), pp. 23-4, 152-3; Wolf, pp. 344 ff.

[5]. Ib id . pp. 5-7; cf. pp. 72-3 and (2), pp. 2-10.

[6]. Ib id . pp. 7-8.

[7]. Ib id . pp. 9-10.

[8]. Ib id . Coulson (1 ), pp. 97 s e q q ., takes a different view of the role of law in the unity of Islamic society and its schools of legal thought. For a classical Muslim view, see al TusI vol. 2, pp. 251, 258, 276-81.

[9]. Ib id . pp. 11, 15-22. This survey covers the history of Islam up to the last two centuries. The reference cited here contains an annotated bibliography (pp. 192-3) of fourteen basic sources.

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