Features of Unity in the Civilization of the Islamic World
The Major Conquests and the Spread of Islam
Islam spread and the state expanded in two main stages:
: The Orthodox Era (11-40 A.H./632-661 A.D.)
During the reign of Caliphs Abu-Bakr and Umar and the early period of Uthman, Muslims conquered Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Persia. The Arabs brought to these countries the principles of their religion which was embraced by their peoples voluntarily and without compulsion in operation of its sublime principles:
"There is no compulsion in religion; the right direction is henceforth distinct from error." (2:256)
"Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way. Lo! Thy Lord is best aware of him who strayeth from His way and He is aware of those who go right". (16:125) With large numbers of people in the conquered countries embracing Islam, a new class called" Al Mawali" emerged. Undoubtedly, the success of the Arabs in their conquests at the first stage is attributed to the strength of their faith, their unity and their fair and just treatment of the people of the conquered lands. They were satisfied with the tribute paid by followers of other religions like Jews and Christians and even Zoroastrians.
The Umayyid Era (41-132 A.H./661-751 A.D.).
This was during the Umayyad rule at the end of the first Hijra century. This phase is distinguished by the backing of the local elements or Mawali, who embraced Islam, for the Arabs in their new conquests that included "Khurasan", Transoxiana, the Sind Basin, Maghreb and Andalusia. It is also known that Coptic Mawali joined the Arabs in fighting the Romans at the naval battle of Zat Al-Sawari in 34 A.H. Berbers also constituted a majority in the Islamic armies that conquered Spain and Southern France.
This close co-operation between Arabs and the new Islamic elements under the Islamic State was one of the most important reasons for the extension of the Islamic conquests in the second phase during which the area of the Islamic State doubled and extended from central Asia in the east to the Atlantic ocean in the west. The unity of all Islamic elements: Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, Berbers and Indians is the secret behind the vast expansion of the Islamic State east, west, north and south.
The Umayyids took credit for unifying culture in the Islamic world. They managed to spread Islam to an extensive area of the world with various nations and cultures that were exposed to Greek, Roman, Syriac and Assyrian influences that could have prevailed over the Arab Islamic culture had it not been for the deep understanding of the Umayyid Caliphs of the intellectual and moral values of the ancient Arab legacy, the deep knowledge of the new Islamic religion and the overpowering desire of the Caliph -the Amir of the Believers -in performing his main duties represented in the safeguarding and the protection of Islam, in addition to their open-mindedness and their natural willingness to make use of the experience of others.
Therefore, the Umayyids presented methods of work and established the institutions to consolidate Islam and to spread Arabic in the new Islamic societies. They opened Arabic schools to teach writing. Distinguished figures of thought and literature were summoned to hold their seminars and debates in the presence of Caliphs. They also took care of libraries and maintained foreign schools at Naseibin and Harran without intervention, helping them to continue their translation activities. They also employed the natives of the conquered lands of Arabs and others to take part in the new fields of life. The Umayyids paid a distinct attention to the theoretical and applied sciences. Therefore, new sciences like: recitation, interpretations, Hadith, Sharia, biography and history emerged. The concern with those lsciences was necessary to contribute to the stability of the Islamic countries and to strengthen their faith and improve their competence in Arabic, the language of the Holy Ouran.
It is worth mentioning that the Umayyid State had all the advantages for creating cultural centres concerned with scientific activity. Basra, Kufa and the capital city of Damascus were the meeting-points of cultures that attracted men of science and knowledge from various lands.
The efforts of the Umayyids were clear in their dedication to science and encouraging translation. The best example was Khaled Ibn Yazid, the wise man of the Umayyids, who collaborated with Monk Marianus in translating numerous Greek books. So did Masarjaweih during Marwan Ibn Al Hakam's (64 A.H,/683 A.D.) who translated the ii medical books of Ahrun Ibn A 'ayun, Sarjoun Ibn Mansour and Shawthun, Al Hajjaj's physician.
The Umayyids were also pioneers in their concern with the cultures of nations that embraced Islam and absorbed those cultures. They dealt discreetly with the problems and obstacles that affected the translation process, providing proper solutions. The Abbasids could not but continue the methodology and the approach commenced by the Umayyids.
The Abbasid state replaced the Umayyids in 132-656 A.H./750-1258 A.D. and ruled for five centuries until defeated by the Mongols led by Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan in 656 A.H. (1258 A.D.).
The ruling Abbasid Dynasty was Hashemite Arab descending from Al Abbas Ibn-Abdul-Muttaleb, the Prophet's uncle; nevertheless it depended on "Mawali" i.e. non-Arab Muslims. The Abbasids did not favour the Arabs as did the Umayyids; on the contrary, they viewed the peoples of the Islamic nation as equal regardless of their colour or race, in accordance with the Islamic principle of equality:
"O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, to Allah, is the best in conduct." (49:13)
Through this policy, the Muslims became integrated and intermingled through marriage, and a new generation emerged. The Islamic state thus became a homeland for one nation, and not for different peoples, with one religion and one language.
The Abbasid policy focused on the east at an early stage. It chose Baghdad instead of Damascus as its capital. This policy however weakened its influence on the western provinces that broke away one after another; Andulasia/Spain became independent under Abdul Rahman Al Dakhil "Falcon of Ouraish"; so did the western and the central Maghreb. The Abbasids contented themselves by establishing a loyal buffer state in the eastern Maghreb called" Aghlabid State". This state, which ruled from 184-296 A.H./800-909 A.D., scored a major military victory when the Muslim Persian general Asad Ibn Al-Furat conquered the island of Sicily in 212 A.H. (828 A.D.) and then the island of Malta in 156 A.H. (870 A.D.).
Though the hegemony of the Abbasids weakened and then ended in the Maghreb and Andulasia, it became stronger in the east. Ibn Al-Athir reports in his book entitled: Al-Kamel Fi Al- Tarikh that in 133 A.H. the armies of Abu Muslim al-Khurasani defeated the Chinese armies that were encroaching on Turkistan in Central Asia at the Battle of River Taraz. This seems to be the first reference to military friction between Muslims and China in Islamic books. The Abbasid armies returned loaded with chinaware and embroidered silk.
Since then, Islamic civilization prevailed over central Asia replacing the Chinese presence. In addition, other Islamic states were founded on the eastern borders of the Abbasid State and spread Islam there in the name of the Abbasid Caliphate.