The Concept of Islamic Civilization
Before discussing the Islamic civilization and its characteristics, it is pertinent to understand the concept of civilization. So, what is civilization? What do we mean when we say Islamic civilization?
Google English Dictionary defines civilization as;
The stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced. (OR) The society, culture, and way of life of a particular area.
Simply, civilization is the advanced mode or way of life of any particular society. It is depicted in the materialistic and nonmaterialistic advancement of society. The materialistic advancement or form of civilization is tangible as roads, infrastructure, technology, machines, etc. However, the latter is intangible, like advancement in ideas, ideology, concepts, etc. in a particular society.
By Islamic civilization, we simply mean the highest or dominant individual, social and cultural values in any Islamic society. So now, let’s discuss the characteristics of Islamic civilization.
Characteristics of Islamic Civilization
There are eight prominent features or characteristics of Islamic civilization.
- Dignity of Man
- Social Justice
- Moral Values
- Rule of Law
Tawheed is the most basic tenet of Islamic beliefs and fundamental characteristic of Islamic civilization. The social, cultural, economic, political, and judicial aspects of Islamic society are based on Tawheed.
Tawheed is the belief that Allah alone is the creator, regulator, and governor of the entire universe. It is the belief that final authority belongs to Allah alone. This fundamental pillar ‘Tawheed’ holds the entire edifice of Islamic civilization. All the norms, rules, laws, and regulations of an Islamic society are based on Quran and Sunnah.
Furthermore, in Islamic civilization, every person holds himself accountable for his deeds. So, individually everyone does his duty (whatever his role is in the society) with utmost faithfulness and honesty.
When Hazrat Umar (R.A) was the Caliph, he held himself accountable to Allah for all his duties. He once said, “If a dog dies hungry on the banks of the River Euphrates, Umar will be responsible for dereliction of duty.”
The second feature of Islamic Civilization is Self-Purification. The purification of the soul is the most important theme in Islamic theology. It is a prerequisite for closeness to Allah.
In Arabic, this concept of Self Purification is called ‘Tazkiya e Nafs’. Islam has placed a great focus on Tazkiya.
In Surah as-Shams, Allah says:
“He who purifies it will indeed be successful, and he who corrupts it is sure to fail.”
Similarly, in Surah al-Tawbah # 103, Allah commands,
“Take charity from their possessions to cleanse them and purify them thereby, and bless them. Indeed, your blessing is a comfort to them, and God is all-hearing. all-knowing.”
Furthermore, Allah mentions in Surah As-Shuaraa # 88, 89;
“On that day, neither wealth nor children will be of any benefit, only he (will be happy) who comes before Allah with a sound heart free of evil.”
The hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “My religion is based on cleanliness”, does not refer to outward cleanliness alone. It also alludes to the soul’s inner purity.
All the evils in society originate from the spoiled inner selves. As in Qur’an, it is clearly mentioned in Surah Yusuf, that;
“Indeed the nafs that overwhelmingly commands a person to do sin.”
So, Islam seeks to reform individuals. As society is based on individuals, individual degeneration and corruption lead to social degeneration and corruption.
Hence, self-purification (tazkiya e nafs) becomes a vital characteristic of Islamic civilization.
Dignity of Man
Before the advent of Islam, honor, status, and dignity were reserved for certain classes on the basis of race, power or wealth. But, Islam has uprooted this discrimination from society. In Islamic civilization, all men and women are dignified.
Hazrat Abdullah ibn Umar (R.A) reported:
I saw the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, circling the Ka’bah and saying, “How pure you are and how pure is your fragrance! How great you are and how great is your sanctity! By the one in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, the sanctity of the believer is greater to Allah than your sanctity, in his wealth, his life, and to assume nothing of him but good.” –Sunan Ibn Mājah 3932
Every soul created and sent to Earth is noble. It deserves dignity and respects more than any other creature. Mankind is made superior to others. For this reason, the angels prostrated before Adam.
When Hazrat Umar (R.A) conquered and entered Jerusalem, his servant was riding the camel and Umar (R.A) was walking alongside. Throughout the journey, they took turns. The caliph has set a unique example of the dignity of men, as his status didn’t make him more dignified than his servant. This is the essence of Islamic civilization.
In Islam, all men and women are equal. Islam negates any discrimination on the basis of caste, color, creed, or race. As in his last sermon during Hajj, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) categorically stated;
“The Arabs are not superior to the Ajamis (non-Arabs), or the Ajamis to the Arabs, but on the basis of Taqwah.”
The perfect manifestation is during Namaz when rich and poor, rulers and servants, all stand in one row without any discrimination.
Equality is the hallmark of Islamic civilization. Rich and poor, masters and servants, white and black, Arabi and Ajami; all deserve equal and indiscriminate treatment.
Social justice is another prominent feature of Islamic civilization. Islam lays great emphasis on justice in society.
Hazrat Abu Dharr (R.A) reported Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) as saying that Allah SWT said,
“O My Servants, I have forbidden injustice upon Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not commit injustice.” – Sahih Muslim # 2577
Further, in Qur’an, He has mentioned,
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” – Surah An-Nisa # 135
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) upheld justice during his era. Hazrat Ayesha (R.A) narrated an incident that,
“A woman from Bani Makhzumiya committed a theft and the people said, ‘Who can intercede with the Prophet (ﷺ) for her?’ So nobody dared speak to him (i.e. the Prophet) but Usama bin Zaid spoke to him. The Prophet said, ‘If a reputable man amongst the children of Bani Israel committed a theft, they used to forgive him, but if a poor man committed a theft, they would cut his hand. But I would cut even the hand of Fatima (i.e. the daughter of the Prophet) if she committed a theft.” – Sahih al-Bukhari # 3733
Moral values are the pattern of habits and behavior that is generally accepted or considered good by society. Good conduct and moral values are integral characteristics of Islamic civilization.
Islam upholds certain moral values. For example, a Muslim would never lie, treat others respectfully, be kind to children, not be greedy, pay charity, help others in the time of need, be hospitable to guests, etc.
In short, moral values include all those attributes that Islam wants to inculcate in us. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has stated,
“The perfect in belief and faith is the one who is the best morally.”
Once, the Prophet (PBUH) was asked which things would guarantee entry to paradise the most. He (PBUH) replied, “Piety and good morals” (Tirmidhi).
Moreover, in Surah al-Qalam, Qur’an declares that Prophet Muhammad SAWW is at the peak of best morals.
Islam teaches tolerance. It is one of the prominent characteristics of Islamic civilization. Tolerance is the essence of any peaceful society. Rather, tolerance promotes peace.
For example, if we start to overlook others’ flaws, forgive others’ mistakes and bear with the diverging opinions and beliefs; as a result, society would become exemplary peaceful.
In Surah al-Baqarah, Ayat 256, Allah says,
“There is no compulsion in Islam.”
This verse is significant in promoting tolerance in an Islamic society. Moreover, one can find and learn exemplary tolerance and forgiveness from the life of Prophet Muhammad PBUH.
Rule of Law
Islam seeks to establish a firm rule of law in society. In Islam, nobody is above the law and all are equal before it. The above-quoted Hadees of Prophet (PBUH) that even if it were Fatima bint-e-Muhammad, I would have cut her hand off, serves as the best example of the rule of law during the era of Prophet PBUH.
Another prominent example of rule of law in Islamic society and civilization can be best seen during the caliphate of Hazrat Ali (R.A).
Hazrat Ali (R.A) went to court against a jew for his armor that was in the jew’s possession. Although Hazrat Ali was right and the armor belonged to him, yet the evidence submitted by him was insufficient. So, the judge gave the verdict in favor of the jew and the caliph lost the case. The jew was so impressed by the judicial system of Islam that he returned the armor to Hazrat Ali (R.A) and accepted Islam.
In short, the entire era of Prophethood and caliphate is full of examples of the supremacy of law.