The Prophet of Islam and his followers conferred favours on humanity which have played an unforgettable role in the promotion and development of culture and civilization. We will mention here only two of these, amply supported by historical evidence.
Students of history are aware that in the thirteenth century the civilized world, divided by the two great religions, Christianity and Islam, was suddenly confronted with a situation which threatened the imminent destruction of both the then vast empires, their arts and sciences, their cultures and morals. In short, all that the human race had laboriously achieved during the past hundreds of years once again faced its reduction to barbarism. This was brought about by the sudden rise of Genghis Khan (Tamuchin), a chieftain of the nomadic Mongol tribes, who possessed remarkable qualities of leadership and was able to subdue all that sat in his way. In 619/1219, Genghis Khan turned towards the western and northern civilized countries, ravaging them with fire and sword. How severe a blow the Mongol invasion dealt to all social and cultural progress can be gauged by a few graphic descriptions of Mongol rapine and slaughter, as given by Harold Lamb, Genghis Khan’s biographer:
“cities in his path were often obliterated, and rivers diverted from their courses; deserts were peopled with the fleeing and dying, and when he had passed, wolves and ravens often were the sole living things in once populated lands.
And consternation filled all Christendom, a generation after the death of Genghis Khan, when the terrible Mongol horsemen were riding over western Europe, when Boleslas of Poland and Bela of Hungary fled from stricken fields, and Henry, Duke of Silesia, died under the arrows with his Teutonic Knights at Liegnitz12 — sharing the fate of the Grand-Duke George of Russia.13
Such details are too horrible to dwell upon today. It was a war carried to its utmost extent — an extent that was very nearly approached in the last European War. It was the slaughter of human beings without hatred — simply to make an end of them.
Unchecked by human valour, they were able to overcome the terrors of vast deserts, the barriers of mountains and seas, the severities of climate, and the ravages of famine and pestilence. No danger could appeal them, no stronghold could resist them, no prayer for mercy could move them.
His achievement is recorded for the most part by his enemies. So devastating was his impact upon civilization that virtually a new beginning had to be made in half the world. The empires of Chathay, of Prester John, of Black Cathay, of Kharesem, and — after his death — the Caliphate of Baghdad, of Russia and for a while the principalities of Poland, ceased to be. When this indomitable barbarian conquered a nation all other warfare come to an end. The whole scheme of things, whether sorry or otherwise, was altered, and among the survivors of a Mongol conquest peace endured for a long time.
Harold Lamb correctly says that the impact of the Mongols, brought about by Genghis Khan, has been well summed up by the authors of the Cambridge Medieval History in these words:
This ‘new power in history’ — the ability of one man to alter human civilization — began with Genghis Khan and ended with his grandson Kublai, when the Mangol empire tended to break up. It has not reappeared since.
The terror of the Mongol invasion was not confined to Turkistan, Iran and Iraq alone.Mongol atrocities provoked trembling even in far-off corners of the world where they could hardly have been expected to carry their arms. Edward Gibbon writes in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
The Latin world was darkened by this cloud of savage hostility; a Russian fugitive carried the alarm to Sweden; and the remote nations of the Baltic and the ocean trembled at the approach of the Tartars, whom their fear and ignorance were inclined to separate from the human species.
The Mongols first attacked Bukhara and razed it to dust. Not a single soul was spared by them. Thereafter, they laid Samarkand to ruin and massacred its entire population. The same was the fate of other urban centres in the then Islamic world. The Tartars would indeed have most probably devastated the whole of Christendom (then divided politically and suffering from numerous social evils), as stated by H.G. Wells:
A prophetic amateur of history surveying the world in the opening of the seventh century might have concluded very reasonably that it was only a question of a few centuries before the whole of Europe and Asia fell under Mongolian domination.
Harold Lamb also writes:
We only know that the German and Polish forces broke before the onset of the Mongol standard, and were almost exterminated; Henry and his barons died to a man, as did the Hospitallers .. In less than two months they had overrun Europe from the headwaiters of the Elbe to the sea, had defeated three great armies and a dozen smaller ones and had taken by assault all the towns excepting Olmutz.
Then a miraculous event changed the course of history. It not only allowed the civilized world to heave a sigh of relief but also permitted culture and civilization to be built afresh. The hearts of the indomitable Mongols were captured by the faith of their subjects who had lost all power and prestige. Arnold writes in The Preaching of Islam:
In spite of all difficulties, however, the Mongols and savage tribes that followed in their wake were at length brought to submit to the faith of those Muslim peoples whom they had crushed beneath their feet.
The names of only a few dedicated servants of Islam who won the savage Tartars to their faith are known to the world, but their venture was no less daring nor the achievement less significant than a great and successful reform movement. Their memory shall always be cherished as much by the Muslims, as by Christendom, or rather by all mankind, since they rescued the world from the barbarism of a savage race, the insecurity of widespread upheaval, and allowed it to once again devote its energies to the establishment of social and political stability. Normalcy thus restored, the world was allowed to resume its journey of cultural development and the promotion of arts and crafts, learning and teaching, preaching and writing.
After the death of Genghis Khan, his vast conquests were divided into four dominions headed by his sons’ children. The message of Islam then began to spread among all these four sections of the Mongol empire and before long all were converted to Islam.
The Tartars not only accepted Islam but a number of great scholars, writers, poets, mystics and fighters in the way of God, rose from amongst them. Their conversion to Islam completely changed their outlook and disposition as also their attitude towards humanity and civilization. This, in turn, benefited not only the Islamic East but also Christendom and even India. The Tartars made nine or ten attempts to capture India during the thirteenth century but the Sultans of Turkish descent, among whom Alauddin Khilji (d. 716/1316) and his commander Ghiyathuddin Tughluq (d. 716/1316) and his commander Ghiyathuddin Tughluq (d. 725/1324) were the more prominent, repelled them on each occasion. It was on account of them that the cultural and intellectual heritage of this ancient and prosperous country was saved from destruction and the two great religions, Islam and Hinduism, continued to flourish there.
This achievement of Islam, the transformation of the Tartars into a civilized people, was a service of a defensive nature rendered to humanity in general, and to the West in particular.