The Golden Age of Islam
The Golden Age of Islam lasted for over 400 years, from the 8th to the 13th century, and exerted influence over northern Africa, western Asia and the Middle East. It was initiated by Harun al-Rishad, who was Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate. He inaugurated the House of Wisdom in the Caliphate’s capital of Baghdad which was the largest city in the world at the time and is now the capital of modern-day Iraq. The Islamic Golden Age is one of the great periods of cultural, economic and scientific prosperity in human history. One major influence on the success of this Golden Age was the Caliphate’s inclusivity of scholars and polymaths, who came from different cultures and would travel to Baghdad in order to translate the world’s classical knowledge into the Arabic and Persian languages. The Caliphate wanted to assimilate the scientific knowledge of the civilizations it had conquered and wanted to attract some of their brightest minds to further develop these scientific achievements. Another influence to consider is Islam’s unhindered focus and dedication to scientific discovery, which encouraged and attracted some of the best minds of the age to convene in Baghdad and further develop their areas of study. In a time when conquest and rivalry were paramount to the success of an empire, the ruling Muslims of this Golden Age dedicated enormous resources to the assimilation and development of cultural, economic and scientific research. During the 400-year tenure of this Golden Age, the religion and culture of Islam became one of inclusivity, scientific development, and education.
The Golden Age of Islam is said to have truly come to an end after a Mongol horde pillaged and ransacked much of the Arab world, culminating in the siege and entire destruction of Baghdad in 1258. This led to the dissolution of the Abbasid Caliphate, many wars, and the eventual rise of the Ottoman Empire.
The Rise of Islamic Extremism and Radical Islam
The rise of Islamic extremism can be attributed to a failure in post-colonialism transitioning, military interventions by Western powers, and poor leadership in Arab countries.
Firstly, the post-colonial transitioning. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was broken up by the allied victors with the Treaty of Sèvres and the Treaty of Lausanne. These treaties created the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, the British Mandate of Palestine and the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq. The ‘mandate’, simply refers to mandatory power, denoting which allied victor would occupy each new territory while they developed independent governments. The issue with this post-colonial transitioning, from the Ottoman Empire to independent territories, was that the leading families who had amassed power and wealth during the Empire’s 600-year reign kept and eventually expanded their wealth. This transition from Empire to independent territories saw minimal wealth or power distribution. This failed the middle and lower classes, who were promised equity by the mandating powers, but instead had to get used to a ‘new normal’. This involved families of power and relation to ex-royals being able to pull their vast wealth and power from the Ottoman Empire into the new territories, and continue into the new world.
Secondly, the Middle East has played host to countless military interventions by Western countries, but also by nations within the region. In 1980, Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Iran, starting the Iran-Iraq war which lasted for eight years and claimed over one million lives. This was immediately followed by the Gulf War, wherein the US and coalition forces worked to end the Hussein regime, followed by the Iraq War, in which the US and coalition forces had to fight against an insurgency which rose up to defy the occupiers and the newly created government. These conflicts, in most cases, have left the host countries worse off than they were. While the US-led toppling of the Iraqi dictator was meant to stabilize the area and bring freedom to Iraqi citizens, it instead created an unsecured power vacuum and has led to an increase in lawlessness and subsequent foreign interference. The military interferences of western counties in the middle east over the last 30 years have created two generations of citizens who are poor, uneducated and carry with them a hatred for the US and for many Western countries. The pure grief, anguish, and unrelenting hopelessness that is felt by much of these generations creates the possibility for terrorist-Jihadism and terrorist groups who are hellbent on bringing destruction to western nations in retribution for the destruction Western nations have brought to their own, while also seeking to expand their radical ideologies to their areas of operation.
It is important to understand the difference between the Holy Quran’s denotation of Jihadism and the idea of Jihadism used by terror groups. The most proper understanding of Jihad is that it refers to ‘struggle’. This struggle can be any sort of struggle experienced during day-to-day life or throughout one’s life, albeit one of significant importance. Terror groups have mutated the meaning of Jihadism into a struggle of holy war which they choose to wage based on their own repugnant ideologies.
Thirdly, poor leadership of Arab countries, leaders which were unable to deliver meaningful outcomes to their people. In being objective, Arab nations such as Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Egypt have had leaders who were unable to deliver meaningful outcomes to their people. The lack of distribution of wealth and power, the futile attempts at participation in politics by citizens, the absence of progressive societal changes and the sheer aversion for adaptation to the modern world by these leaders have pitted their citizens against them, and have forced their citizens to congregate for political change outside of political institutions, usually in Mosques. For citizens that have been terrorized by foreign militaries, their recuperation is usually to be taken into their own hands, with limited help or support from the government. The alienation of an already unhappy population by the leading people has created a direct relation between this misery and religion. This creates a breeding ground for terrorist-led Jihadism and terrorist groups who can be created using rhetoric that sounds surprisingly reasonable, despite its entirely unreasonable nature.
Islam: A Religion in Crisis
After the beheading of Samuel Paty, a French educator who was teaching a class on freedom of expression – where he showed cartoons of the Prophet Muħammad, the French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that Islam is a religion in crisis. This comment caused both condonation and condemnation from the Muslim world. To many Muslims, it is, of course, entirely improper to have their religion degraded by a non-Muslim and leader of a western country. However, proper context must be applied to President Macrons’ words, which he provided in an interview with Aljazeera, a Qatari-based Arab news agency. Islam is a religion in crisis not because it is inferior or faulty, but rather because of its multiple terrorist branches, such as ISIL, Boko Haram or Al-Qaeda, and because of terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam such as the 9/11 attacks in America, ISIL massacres in Syria, the Easter Bombings in Sri Lanka, and most recently, the beheading of Samuel Paty and the attacks in France and Austria.
Radical Islam is real and is caused in part by the three attributions listed earlier. It is also a global issue with attacks happening in countries such as Canada, America, France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan and Australia, to name a few. Radical Islam is not at all condoned by Muslims as a whole, and the ideals of these terror groups are repugnant to Muslims as a whole as well. These groups are not a reflection of Islam but are rather the product of many years of maltreatment, suffering and injustice.
Drawing the Prophet Muħammad
The issue of drawing the Prophet Muħammad has recently received widespread coverage. It caused the beheading of Samuel Paty and creates a deep misunderstanding of Islam by westerners. This issue is serious and is reported on without providing the public with enough information, which is unacceptable given its apparent severity and relation to life or death when dealing with radical Islamists. The Prophet Muħammad requested his followers not draw him for fear of eventually being worshiped as God and not as a messenger of God. Muslims abide by this principle and extend it to other prophets such as ʿĪsā (Jesus) or Mūsā (Moses) – to draw one of Allāh’s prophets is unthinkable. This is an aspect of the Islamic religion that should be understood and respected. Christianity, which is centred around Jesus, who is also the Prophet ʿĪsā, encourages the drawings and depictions of Jesus, who is regarded as the human form of god. This is what the Islamic prophets wanted to avoid, and this is why drawings of the prophets are unacceptable in the eyes of Islamic worshipers.
Moving forward, it is important for non-Muslims to understand Islam in its proper stance; as a religion of tolerance, peace, equality and social justice. You can do your part by sharing this publication, which can serve as a paper on basic understanding. It is also important for Muslims to understand how most non-Muslims view Islam as product of what our news has shown us. These uneducated views should not be met with hostility, but rather with empathy and education. To change these views for the better, there must be education, and for there to be education, there must be those willing to teach. Prior to researching Islam and talking with Muslims to write this paper, I knew almost none of what I have now written about. I now have a basic understanding of Islam, and I will be a better person because of it. I implore non-Muslims to educate themselves on Islam, the world’s second-largest religion, and I implore Muslims to help educate those who possess distorted or misguided views of Islam. As a religion in crisis, it is also a religion that can be repaired. There will be a second Islamic Golden Age and humanity will be entirely better off as a result.
I give special thanks to Mr. Sanad, Mr. Shaghay, Mr. Yassin and Mrs. Yari, for helping me write this paper.
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