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Recipe for a Golden Age of Islām

On the importance of excelling in both religious and worldly duties.

While religion today has become an issue relegated to the private realm of our daily lives, Islām has always challenged the status quo with its multi-faceted nature. As a religion, it is unique and comprehensive in the way it helps regulate all aspects of human life. But what truly distinguishes Islām from other faiths such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, is that it does not advocate monasticism [1]; that is, it does not promote the complete renouncement of all forms of worldly pursuits in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Rather, the religion encourages its followers to develop themselves from a spiritual, as well as a worldly perspective. It highlights the importance of not only improving oneself religiously, but personally, socially, and educationally too, developing individuals who are able to make conducive contributions to society.

Despite this, there is a great misconception among Muslims that in order to excel spiritually, a person should adopt a one-dimensional approach to religion, and shun everything related to worldly matters, as it is deemed to be of no benefit. This is an incorrect position to adopt, because even though a Muslim’s primary obligation should be towards their religion, in order to attain paradise, they should also strive towards their worldly obligations and use that to increase their status in the Hereafter. In fact, Muslims should endeavour to maximise their potential, and be encouraged to take as much benefit from it as possible. But at the same time, they should be careful not to become attached to the world at the expense of the Hereafter, and ensure that it does not hinder their ability to carry out their religious duties. Ultimately, the key for Muslims is to strike a balance between worldly responsibilities and spiritual obligations, whilst using the latter as a foundation to not only inspire them to succeed in the world, but also be of service to humanity in the process.

The importance of adopting this balanced approach towards these two states is recorded in ahadith, and in verses of the Qur’ān. The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) warned his Companions (radiAllāhu ‘anhum) against monasticism [2], and addressed the importance of balancing worldly and religious duties, in order to be successful in the Hereafter. With these teachings, the Companions were not only completely devoted to Islām, but they were also able to secure economic independence and in turn, support society by means of agriculture, trade and manufacturing [3][4][5]. This is further elaborated on in the Qur’ān, as Allāh explains that although the main objective for Muslims is to seek out the bounties of the Hereafter, they should not forget their share of what is contained in the world [6], as the two are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, a Muslim should neither renounce this world, nor be so engrossed in it, as to forget the eternal life that is to come.

Islamic history is replete with examples of Muslims who embraced this balanced approach, using the teachings of the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. This not only saw them develop into some of the greatest minds in history, but their work helped to change the face of modern society around the world. The reign of the Abbasid Caliphate up until the conquest of Baghdad is considered to be one of the brightest chapters in Islamic History. The Muslims of that time made such enormous academic and inventive progress, that it is referred to as the Golden Age of Islām [7]. Their advancement and dominance in physics, mathematics, medicine and architecture, led to the Muslim World becoming the intellectual centre of that time. It was during this period that Ibn Sina penned his magnum opus, ‘al-Qānūn fil-Tibb’, an encyclopaedic overview of medicine that was used as a text of study in many medieval universities [8]. Abu Abdullāh Muhammad b. Musa al-Khwārizmi’s insights into mathematics helped him invent algebra and algorithms that contributed towards the invention of modern technology, such as the Internet [9]. Al-Zahrawi, regarded as the father of modern surgery, made innovative contributions to the field of surgical procedures and instruments [10], and Ibn al-Haytham, viewed as the founder of modern optics and ophthalmology, made pioneering efforts in mathematics, visual perception and scientific methodology [11]. However, these contributions by Muslims weren’t limited to just studies and inventions, but factored on a general appreciation of knowledge. It was during the early years of the Abbasid era that Fātima al-Fihri established the first ever degree-granting university in Morocco [12], highlighting the importance Islām places on seeking all forms of beneficial knowledge. Therefore, if Islām did not promote the importance of balancing worldly and religious duties, such feats would not have been possible by some of the greatest Muslim minds in history.

Not only did the Muslims of the past make a significant impact on advancements in academia, but through their work, they helped strengthen and elevate the status of Islām and Muslims. They were so influential that their success across various fields of science, art, theology, and technology influenced research and education in academic institutions throughout Europe. For this reason, even Western and non-Muslim social commentators have acknowledged how Muslims were once some of the leading minds in the world. French thinker Gustave le Bon believed if the Arabs of old had taken over France, Paris would have been the centre of the world’s civilization and knowledge [13]. The German orientalist Sigrid Hoeneker mentioned how the light of Islām illuminated over Western civilisation, as Muslims were some of the greatest intellectual minds in history [14]. Russian intellectual Leo Tolstoy declared that Prophet Mohammad (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) was the light of truth, and was responsible for the advancement of modern civilisations [15]. Finally, the British writer Dr Herbert George Wells mentioned that Muslims were the pioneers and greatest contributors to modern medicine, and Islām was the only religion suited to civilisation [16].

While the Muslims of the past achieved greatness in the fields of religious sciences, worship and obedience to Allāh, they also achieved excellence within the fields of their professions, and these are the qualities that the Muslims of today should try to adopt. From an Islamic perspective, Muslims should understand that piety does not equate to living in seclusion from society, but rather, piety is fulfilling one’s religious and worldly obligations. This includes everything from raising a family, to having a job and doing what is expected from you for the people that you are responsible for. For this reason, Muslims should not only be encouraged to learn about their religious duties, but they should also be urged to strive and be successful in worldly matters. They should be encouraged to gain a good education and a good job, in order to help the society that they are a part of. At the same time they should be taught to rectify their intentions whilst performing their worldly responsibilities, in order to gain maximum reward for the Hereafter. This is especially important in Islām since every action is based on intention [17], and Muslims should aim to gain as much reward from their worldly responsibilities as possible, by always having the intention to please Allāh ‘Azza wa Jall in everything they do. It is hoped that this will not only help Muslims emulate the greatness of Muslims from the past, and pave the way for the revival of a new Islamic Golden Age, but at the same time increase their status in the Hereafter.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Al-Qur’ān, 2:201

[2] Al-Bukhāri, 5063

[3] Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 3768

[4] Al-Bukhāri, 2098

[5] Muslim, 1553

[6] Al-Qur’ān, 28:77

[7] Bennison, A. K. (2009). The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire. London: Yale University Press.

[8] ibn Sina (2010). Canon of Medicine. Chicago: Kazi Publications.

[9] Brezina C. (2005). Al-Khwarizmi: The Inventor of Algebra (Great Muslim Philosophers and Scientists of the Middle Ages). New York: Rosen Central.

[10] Ramen, F. (2006). Albucasis (Abu Al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi): Renowned Muslim Surgeon of the Tenth Century (Great Muslim Philosophers and Scientists of the Middle Ages). New York: Rosen Central.

[11] Steffens, B. (2006). Ibn Al-Haytham: First Scientist. North Carolina: Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

[12] Martin, C. (2014) The History Detective Investigates: Early Islamic Civilization. East Sussex: Wayland Publishing

[13] Le Bon, G. (1974). The World of Islamic Civilization. New York: Tudor Publishing Company

[14] Hoeneker, S. – The Sun of Allaah is Rising in the West.

[15] Tolstoy, L. (1909). The Rule of Prophet Mohammed.

[16] Wells H. G. (1922). A Short History of the World.

[17] Al-Bukhāri

About Amar Alam

Amar Alam has studied an undergraduate Psychology degree and completed an MSc within the same field. He regularly has academic articles published in medical journals and writes articles on various Islamic topics using a social framework for a number of media outlets.

11 comments

  1. Can you please confirm the sources as I would like to research this further? I know at least sources 3 and 4 can’t be correct – i’ve just done a google search to check the ahadith. Would appreciate it. jazakhAllah khair

    • The hadiths are correct; please check on reliable websites:

      Narrated Ibn `Abbas: `Ukaz, Majanna and Dhul-Majaz were markets in the Pre-Islamic period. When the people embraced Islam they considered it a sin to trade there. So, the following Holy Verse came:– ‘There is no harm for you if you seek of the bounty of your Lord (Allah) in the Hajj season.” (2.198) Ibn `Abbas recited it like this.

      Sahih al-Bukhari 2098 Book 34, Hadith 51

  2. Mohammad Khan

    Salamalaikum wa rahmatullah

    I want to thank the author for his effort here.

    I do however feel we have fallen short of the Mark somewhat in this article here.

    Two observations:

    There is precious little quoted from the Quran itself, save two verses – not specifically related to what it might describe as a ‘Golden Age’ . This leads us to think that the article is endeavouring to construct a recipe for revival of a Golden Age from our own deliberations and observations from Muslim history; this is a noble intent – but a lacking formula.

    It seems in fact that the Quran would posit the aspects stated by the author as imperatives and ingredients that contribute towards a Golden Age, but is by no means the full recipe, or even the most poignant ingredients as per Quranic /Hadithic guidance.

    • Thank you for your comment. Please note that the titles used in Islam21c articles are not headlines, nor are they intended to be a summary of the positions within the articles. This title was added by the editorial team, so the subtitle acts as a summary of the article’s main thesis.

  3. Sufia Hussain

    Great article Masha’Allaah….and they say Islam is a backward religion. On the contrary, Islam promotes worldly progress as well as placing importance on preparing for the afterlife. After all Islam is not only a religion it’s a way of life. See that’s the beauty of Islam, if you have the right intention, you could be doing an act of worship through your worldly actions, for example, taking up a job to earn money and then spending that money on your family, or even donating to those in need is no doubt a rewarding act.

  4. Rafidhi Exposer

    Very informative. Well written. Thank you and May Allah reward you for it.

  5. A brilliant approach to an issue that has affected young Muslims for far too long. Islaam calls for balance, and harmonising between the responsibilities of the Dunya and the Aakhirah is no exception.

    I honestly wish I’d read this back when it mattered.

  6. Masha’allah, very well written and very much needed ! jazakallah khair <3

  7. Brilliantly articulated. JazakAllah Khair Islam21c. This article was greatly needed.

    Balance your duties. There is no need to follow certain groups in Islam who state that everything is kufr and we shouldn’t educated ourselves. These guys are the first ones looking for government payouts.

    Expect a backlash from these people, but Alhumdulillah, this article speaks the truth.

  8. I would just like to point out that Christianity and Judaism are not “other religions”. They are, from a Muslim point of view, previous phases of Islam. Prophet Mohamed (saw) did not introduce Islam, instead he completed it. God has been sending prophets along a chronological timeline, as each previous phase alters the message. The known languages of Islam are Hebrew, Aramaic and now Arabic. This is derived from the books of Islam, the old testament, new testament and the final revelation. Obviously, as Muslims we follow the final book. But in their original they form they are equal and all from the same God.

  9. Excellent article, The first word revealed of the Quran was “Iqra” READ! Seek knowledge! Educate yourselves! Be educated. So it’s very important to educate oneself but concentrate on religious matters as well..

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