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Islam: Past, Present, And Future

Islam: Past, Present, And Future

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Published by bassam.madany9541
The only way to understand Islam is to become acqauinted with its past and present predicament. This will allow us to forecast the future of Islam with the rest of the world.
The only way to understand Islam is to become acqauinted with its past and present predicament. This will allow us to forecast the future of Islam with the rest of the world.

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Published by: bassam.madany9541 on Apr 01, 2009
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Islam: Past, Present, and Future
By Rev.
 
Bassam M. Madany
Back in October 2002, a group of journalists from a national newspaper were discussing
 Islam and Islamic terrorism
at their weekly television program. The participantsstruggled hard to be fair and objective, especially in the light of the critical remarks thathad been made recently by two well-known Christian ministers. As I watched, I could nothelp noticing why those journalists were having a very hard time dealing with the subject.Their difficulty arose from the fact that their discussion exhibited a lack of a basicknowledge of Islam, its history, and its worldview. There is nothing more urgent thesedays than acquiring an objective understanding of this world religion.
Here is a brief overview of Islam: Past, Present, and Future
At the outset, I register my indebtedness to two scholars of the Middle East, both of Princeton University. Philip Hitti, a Lebanese-American, has the distinction of startingthe Near Eastern Studies Department at Princeton about 75 years ago. One of his books,
Islam: A Way of Life
has three parts:
Islam the Religion, Islam the State, and Islamthe Culture
. (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1970) Professor Hitti approached our subjectobjectively taking into account that Islam began as a monotheistic faith, and developedinto a world empire that lasted until 1918. The second scholar is the British BernardLewis who taught at Princeton University, after teaching for several decades at his almamater, the
University of London,
England. Professor Lewis, who is now in his nineties,is a prolific writer and a frequent speaker on radio and television, especially since theevents of September 11, 2001. I quote from his book,
Race and Slavery in the MiddleEast:
 
An Historical Enquiry,
(New York: OUP, 1990) where he explained the severalmeanings of the word ‘Islam.’
“There is a distinction that it is important to make in any discussion of Islam. Theword ‘Islam’ is used with at least three different meanings, and muchmisunderstanding can arise from the failure to distinguish between them. In the first  place, Islam means the religion taught by the Prophet Muhammad and embodied inthe Muslim revelation known as the Qur'an. In the second place, Islam is the subsequent development of this religion through tradition and through the work of the great Muslim jurists and theologians. In this sense, it includes the mighty structure of the Shari’a, the holy law of Islam, and the great corpus of Islamic dogmatic theology. In the third meaning, Islam is the counterpart not of Christianity but rather of Christendom. In this sense Islam means not what Muslims believed or were expected tobelieve but what they actually did, in other words, Islamic civilization as known to usin history.” 
P. 20I will now elucidate and illustrate the words of the two Princeton scholars. As a theisticfaith, Islam is intimately connected with the life of Muhammad, its founder. Born inMecca, western Arabia, in 570 A.D., he worked early in his adult life, as a merchant for awealthy widow Khadija, whom he married when he was 25. His travels took him to
 
Palestine and Syria, where he became aware of the various Christian groups that livedthere. When he was forty, Muhammad had an experience in a cave outside Mecca. He believed that the one true God, Allah, spoke to him through the angel Gabriel. Theserevelations that ‘descended’ on him proclaimed the basic principles of Islam, an Arabicword that means, “surrender to Allah.” Muhammad preached that Allah called him to behis final Messenger, first of all to the Arabs, and also to all mankind.The leaders of Mecca did not welcome Muhammad’s teachings. A few believed hismessage. His wife and his cousin Ali were among his first converts. Persecution arose asthe young prophet was threatening the status quo. He was forced to leave for a northerncity, which came to be known as Medina. The year was 622 A.D. It became Year One inthe Muslim lunar calendar, known as A.H., an abbreviation for Anno Hejira, the Latinizedform of the Arabic, al-Hijra, i.e., the migration to Medina.Within a few years after his arrival in Medina, Muhammad had become the ruler of thiscity-state, and from this base, he challenged his Meccan foes by raiding their caravans.By 630, most of the Arabian Peninsula acknowledged his primacy, accepting him both asProphet and Statesman. He entered Mecca triumphantly, destroyed the many idols aroundthe Ka’aba, the Black Stone that was to become the focus for the yearly Islamic pilgrimage to the Holy City.Muhammad returned to Medina, the capital of the new Islamic State, having convincedthe Arab tribes that they were no longer to engage in raiding one another. They have all become, as Muslims, members of one Umma, one family of Believers. In June, 632,Muhammad died after a brief of illness. The leadership among the Muslims in Medinafaced a tremendous challenge: who was to rule and guide the Muslims, now that theinspired Messenger of Allah was no longer with them? Soon they inaugurated a newinstitution, the Caliphate, and the person that was to lead it, would be known as theCaliph, a Western equivalent of the Arabic,
 Khalifa,
i.e., the Successor. The Caliph or Successor, it must be noted, was not of Muhammad as Prophet, but only as leader of thenew Umma of Islam.The first four caliphs that ruled Islam are called, in Islamic historiography, the
“RightlyGuided Caliphs.” 
This designation implies, for Muslims, that the years that stretchedfrom 632 to 661 constituted the Golden Age of Islam. The conquests of the world beganalmost immediately after the death of Muhammad. The Arab armies burst out of Arabiaand conquered the Persian Empire, as well as two important provinces of the ByzantineEmpire, Syria (including Palestine) and Egypt.The three decades of the
“Rightly Guided Caliphs” 
were not that golden. The first caliphdied in 634. The two that followed him, were assassinated, one after ten years of rule, andthe other within twelve years after his accession to the caliphate. The fourth one, Ali, didnot receive the blessing of the entire Muslim leadership in Medina. His rule lasted onlyfive years. The
 Khawarej,
a fanatical Islamic group, assassinated him in 661. They became the prototype of the radical Islamic movements throughout history. The religiousunity of Islam ended. The followers of Ali, known in Arabic as
“Shi’at ‘Ali” 
came to be2
 
known simply as the
 Shi’ites.
They constituted the opposition party within Islam. Themajority of the Muslims, who sided with
 Mu’awiya,
the opponent of Ali, became knownas
 Sunnis.
Their leader came from a wealthy Meccan clan, known as the
Umayyads
. Hemoved the capital of the growing Islamic empire from Medina to Damascus, SyriaThe
Umayyads
continued the Islamic conquests. By 710, their armies had crossed thenarrow strait that separates North Africa from Europe, and began a Muslim presence inSpain that lasted until 1492! At one time, the Muslim armies crossed the Pyrenees, andinvaded France, until Charles Martel stopped them in 732 at the Battle of Tours, near Poitiers, in southern France.At this point, I must address the status of the conquered people within the growingIslamic Empire. The people of Persia were mostly
 Zoroastrian.
Before too long, most of them converted to the faith of their conquerors. By the 16th century, Persia adopted the
 Shi’ite
version of Islam, and continues to this day to be the only state, within the vastIslamic world, that adheres to this branch of the Muslim faith. As for Christians and Jewswho formed the majority of the people of Syria and Egypt, they were allowed to remainin their old faiths. However, they were subjected to some stringent laws as to theexpression of their respective religions. After centuries of 
‘Dhimmitude,’ 
the so-called‘protection’ granted to them by the Islamic state, both Christians and Jews becameminorities in their original homelands.The
Umayyad 
Dynasty came to an abrupt end in 750. Every member of the ruling family,except a teenager, was massacred. The new dynasty that came to power is known as the
 Abbasid Caliphate.
The capital was moved from Damascus, Syria, to Baghdad, inMesopotamia. The founding father of the
 Abbasids
is known in Arabic as
“As-Saffah,” 
the Butcher! Unlike the Umayyads, the Abbasids presided not so much over a growingempire, but encouraged the flowering of a great culture in Baghdad. The House of Wisdom, a cultural center, was initiated where scholars undertook the translation of greatworks from Greek, Aramaic and Indian; many of them were Christian. This is the GoldenAge of Islam. Great advances were made in the sciences, such as in mathematics,chemistry, astronomy, and medicine. There was a relatively free atmosphere for  philosophical and theological discussions. It was in this period of their history, thatMuslims developed the Four Orthodox Schools for the interpretation of their Sacred Law,the
 Shari’a.
Most of the theological discussions centered on the doctrine of the Word of Allah, the
Qur’an, Anthropomorphism,
and the subject of 
 Predestination and humanresponsibility.
 The greatness of the Abbasids was not to last. Within a little over a century after thefounding of their caliphate, the distant parts of the Empire began to secede. The teenager 
Umayyad 
prince who escaped the bloodbath of 750, managed to get as far as
 Andalusia,
the Arabic name of Spain. There, he founded a rival center of Islam centered in the greatcity of Cordoba. Its great mosque, which is now a Roman Catholic cathedral, couldaccommodate 12,000 Muslim worshippers!A cataclysmic event occurred in the middle of the 13th century, when the Mongolians3

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