Mankind’s Debt To The Prophet Part 4

Akhlaq & Spirituality, Beliefs & Practices, Dawah & Tabligh / Monday, July 5th, 2010

Another accomplishment of Islam, in contrast to the one just described, was its introduction of a new way of thinking and learning. It was like a flash of light in the Dark Ages of Europe one which paved the way for its Renaissance. It transformed not only Europe but helped the entire human race to benefitted from new researches and discoveries. A new era of empirical sciences was inaugurated which has changed the face of the earth. The intellectual patrimony of the ancients (consisting of philosophy, mathematics and medicine) found it way to Europe through Muslim Spain. This intellectual gift consisted of observation and experiment a replacement of inductive logic with deductive logic where by Europe’s whole way of thinking was changed. Science and technology were the main fruits. All the discoveries made by European scientific explorations — in short, whatever success has so far been achieved in harnessing the forces of nature — are directly related to inductive reasoning, not known to Europe until it was bequeathed to it by Muslim Spain. The noted French historian, Gustave Ie Bon, writes of the Arab contribution to Modern Europe:

Observation, experimentation and inductive logic which form the fundamentals of modern knowledge are attributed to Roger Bacon but it needs to be acknowledged that this process of reasoning was entirely an Arab discovery.

Robert Briffault has also reached the same conclusion, for he says:

There is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic civilization is not traceable.

He further says:

It is not science only which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influences from the civilization of Islam communicated its first glow to European life.

Those who have studied the history of the Catholic Church and the Reformation are aware of the profound effect Islamic teachings had on the minds of those who initiated reform in Christendom. We can, for example, see the influence of Islam reflected in the thought of Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) Reformation movement. The revolt against autocratic leadership in the Catholic Church in medieval Europe also reveals the influence of Islam, which had no organised church.

It is, thus, our moral duty to acknowledge both these great favours conferred by Islam which have had a revolutionary impact on the world. When we speak of those who conferred these gifts or reassess their achievements we must at least keep in mind the rules of courtesy which have been accepted by all nations and cultured peoples and schools of thought. We should not abandon the norms of politeness, moderation, dignity and truthfulness, for these have been commended by the scriptures of all religions, moral treatises, as also by great writers and critics. It is on such civilized behaviour that good relations between different religions, communities and peoples depend, such behaviour alone makes possible a purposeful dialogue between people holding different views. In its absence, all serious writings, critiques and reviews must degenerate into obscene and sensational novels, vulgar and outrageous parodies. Such writings can unleash negative and disruptive forces, not only contemptible in themselves and harmful to serious intellectual endeavour, but also likely to embitter relations between different nations and countries.

The argument that any restraint placed on freedom of expression amounts to coercion, restriction of personal freedom, or interference in the rights of individuals under the constitution of an independent country, is simply untenable. The obscene and offensive description of the benefactors of mankind, prophets and reformers, particularly if such narration is against the established facts of history, hurts the feelings of millions who respect and revere them and is also likely to cause disharmony between different groups within a country or even between countries. It is an intolerable infringement of moral values, an offense against humanity, that should not be overlooked by any peace-loving nation upholding the value of harmonious co-existence between its different ethnic and religious communities. Western political thinkers, too, do not subscribe to such an unlimited right of freedom of expression. They have argued that such unlimited liberty would be even more harmful than the limits placed on freedom of expression. The subject might be treated at great length, but I will cite here only two authorities who have explained why limitations on freedom of expression are essential for the maintenance of public order.

Isaiah Berlin explains the two concepts of liberty in these words:

To protest against the laws governing censorship or personal morals as intolerable infringements of personal liberty presupposes a belief that the activities which such laws forbid are fundamental needs of men as men, in a good (or, indeed, any) society. To defend such laws is to hold that these needs are not essential, or that they cannot be satisfied without sacrificing other values which come higher — satisfy deeper needs — than individual freedom, determined by some standard that is not merely subjective, a standard for which some objective status — in principle or a priori — is claimed.

The extent of man’s or a people’s liberty to choose to live as they desire must be weighed against the claims of many other values, of which equality, or justice, or happiness, or security, or public order are perhaps the most obvious examples. For this reason, it cannot be unlimited.

A speech delivered in the American Senate by Blackstone in 1897 and which forms the basis of American law on the subject, says about freedom of expression:

Every free man has an undoubted right in law to air what sentiment he pleases before the public; to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press : but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequences of his own temerity. To subject the press to the restrictive power of a licenser .. is to subject all freedom of sentiment to the prejudices of one man, and make him the arbitrary and infallible judge of all controversial points in learning, religion and Government. But to punish .. any dangerous or offensive writings which when published, shall on fair and impartial trial be adjudged of pernicious tendency, is necessary for the preservation of peace and good order, of Government and religion, the only solid foundations of civil liberty. Thus, the will of individuals is still left free; the abuse only of that free will is the object of legal punishment.

I would like to conclude my talk with an exhilarating poem by Iqbal, the poet of the East, as he is known in the Muslim world, in which he enchantingly depicts the great favours conferred on humanity by the prophethood of Muhammad (on whom be the peace and blessings of God) favours which are unique and unparallaled:

Touched by the breath of the unlettered one,

The sands of Arabia began to sprout tulips.

Freedom under his care was reared

The ‘today’ of nations comes from his ‘yesterday’.

He put heart in the body of man,

And from his face the veil he lifted.

Every god of old he destroyed.

Every withered branch by his moisture bloomed.

The heat of the battle of Badr and Hunain,

Haider and Siddiq, Farooq and Hussain.

In the thick of battle the majesty of Azan,

The recitation of As-Saffat28 at the point of sword.

The scimitar of Ayub, the glance of Bayazid,

Key to the treasures of this world and the next.

Ecstasy of heart and mind from the same goblet,

Fusion of Rumi’s rapture and Razi’s thought.

Knowledge and wisdom, faith and law, polity and rule.

Yearnings hidden within the restless hearts.

Al-Hamara and Taj of beauty breath-taking.

To which even angels pay tribute.

These, too, a fragment of his priceless bequest,

Of his glimpses just one glimpse.

His exterior these enthralling sights,

Of his interior even the knowledge unaware.

Boundless praise be to the Apostle blessed,

Who imparted faith to elevate a handful of dust.

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