Islam and civilisation is a realistic and living issue which relates not only to the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the teachings of Islam, but also to the reality of life itself, the present and future of mankind and the historic role played by Muslims in the development of culture and the building up of a flourishing civilisation. This is a subject important enough to receive the attention of an academic body instead of by just a single individual. In its depth and scope, it can compare with any discipline of thought pertaining to the life of man. It covers an immense area in time and space, from the first century of the Islamic era to this day and from one corner of the world to the other. In its immanence, it encompasses everything from creed to morals and behaviour, individual as well as social, and is linked with diverse phenomena, whether if be law, political, international relations, arts, letters, poetics, architecture, cultural refinement, etc. Each of these aspects of human life are indeed many-sided and, hence, an academic body composed of scholars of different disciplines is required to study them so that each may undertake objective research and present his detailed findings courageously, without fear or favour. Each of these scholars, specialist in his own field, can discuss the issues in greater detail as, for example, one can study the creed and religious thought of Islam, another sociology and culture, a third Islamic law, a fourth the equality and dignity of man, a fifth the position of women, and so on. Detailed discussions on each such subject can indeed cover an encyclopaedia instead of being dealt with by an individual like me who has little time to spare for literary pursuits. But as the saying goes, the thing which cannot be owned completely should not be given up altogether. I have, in working on this subject, kept in mind the Qur’nic verse which says: And if no torrent falls on it, then even a gentle rain (Al Baqarah: 265).
A Delicate Task
An analysis of the ingredients of any developed culture is perhaps a very difficult and delicate task. For the intrinsic constituents of any culture become assimilated over time; these are always elusive and their interaction is difficult to indicate after they have shaped themselves into a wholeness that is known as a society and its culture. They enter into peoples lives imperceptibly and become a part of their soul and life blood; give it a distinct identity much in the way that instincts, education and training, circumstances and it go to make the personality of an individual. No chemical laboratory exists which is of any help in such a historical analysis nor has a microscope been invented which can minutely examine the constituent elements of any culture.
Such difficulties mean that the only way to achieve this is by an in-depth study of different nations and their cultures so that their past and present may be compared to determine the effects of Islamic teachings and, the revolutionary call of the Prophet (peace be upon him) for the reformation and the guidance of human society.
The part played by this call in reforming or changing earlier creeds, pagan ways of thought, the manners and customs of the ancient world as well as in giving birth to new ideas and values that have helped give rise to a new culture and civilisation, has to be studied and examined. This is stupendous task but one which is also rewarding enough to be undertaken by an academic body or university in any Islamic country, if not by organizations like UNESCO or the more developed academic centres of Europe or America. There is not the least doubt that such research would be more useful than those in which these universities and literary bodies are engaged at present.
Difficulties Confronting the task
Identifying the influences of Islam on human life and culture is an extremely difficult task since these have by now become part and parcel of the life and culture of different nations. This to such an extent that these people themselves cannot indicate whether they are extrinsic or intrinsic, borrowed from Islam or evolved by them internally. Many of these Islamic influences are now the flesh and bone of their existence and are integrated with their modes of thought and culture.
The all-pervasive Influence of Islam
Here I would first like to cite a passage from my own work Islam and the World in which I have delineated the impact of Islamic civilisation in shaping the attitudes of people and their cultural advancement during the heyday of its glory:
“The rejuvenating currents of Islam ran through the world, infusing men everywhere with a new life and an unparalleled enthusiasm for progress. The lost values of life had been discovered. Paganism became a sign of reaction, while it was considered progressive to be associated with Islam. Even nations that did not come directly under the influence of Islam, profoundly, though unconsciously, benefited by the freshness and vitality of the new creative impulses released by its impact on large parts of the world. Numerous aspects of their thought and culture bear evidence to the magic touch of Islam. All the reform movements that arose in their midst, owed their origin to Islamic influences.” (Nadwi, S. Abul Hasan Ali, Islam and the World, Lucknow, 1980 p.87)
It is well-nigh impossible to enumerate the influence exerted by Islam in different fields and on different nations and countries. We can only attempt here to describe these in a few spheres where they have played a conspicuous role in the reformation, guidance and progress of humanity towards a better and healthier existence in contradiction to the norms usually adopted by the Muslims during the period of their decadence.
We will now turn to a brief discussion of some of these universal gifts which Islam has given mankind. Namely: a clear and distinct faith in the oneness of God; the concept of human unity and equality; and Islam’s proclamation of human dignity.