ISLAM AND CIVILIZATION
“Do you want us to go back to the age when people lived in tents -a thousand years ago? Islam was all right for those savage and uncouth Bedouins of the desert, for it was simple enough to appeal to and attract them. But will a civilization based on the concept of God be of any use in the world of today, the age of supersonic planes, hydrogen bombs and movie cinemas. It cannot keep up pace with the advanced civilization of today, for it is static and, therefore, we have no other course but to shake it off if we are to become truly civilized and advanced like the rest of the world".
I was reminded of the doubts such as mentioned above when some time back I came across an "educated" Englishman who bad been for the last two years stationed in Egypt. He was a member of a group of U.N.O. experts that had been sent to Egypt to help the Egyptian Government raise the standard of living of the Egyptian peasants. But as despite all their "love" for the people of this region they did not know or care to learn their language, the Egyptian Government assigned me the task to act as an interpreter between them and the local peasants. Thus I came across the "educated" Englishman.
At the very outset I told him frankly that we, Egyptians, hated them and would continue hating them so long as they continue committing aggression in any part of the East. I told him that we a1so hated their allies, the Americans and others, for their unjust attitude towards Egypt, Palestine etc. Taken aback he looked at me for a while and then said:
“Are you a communist?”
I told him that I was not a communist but a Muslim who believed that Islam had a far superior civilization to their capitalist civilization as well as the communist one and that Islam was the most excellent system yet tried by mankind as it embraced the whole of man's life and struck a reasonable balance between different aspects of his existence.
Thus we continued talking together for about three hours at the end of which he said: "Maybe that what you tell me about Islam is correct but 1 for one would not deprive myself of the fruits of the modem civilization. I like traveling in planes and enjoy listening to the charming music on the radio. I would not like to forego all these pleasures"
Deeply surprised at this answer I said: "But who forbids you all these pleasures?"
"Doesn't accepting Islam mean to go back to the age of barbarism and life in tents?"
It is strange indeed that doubts such as these are continually cast against Islam although there is no reasonable basis for their existence as those who have gone through the history of this religion shall bear witness. Never even for a single moment did Islam stand in the way of civilization and progress.
Islam was revealed to a people composed mostly of Bedouins who were so rough and cruel-hearted that the Qur'an said of them:
"The Bedouins are more hypocritical and Godless".
One of the great miracles of Islam is that it succeeded in changing such rough and coarse Bedouins into a nation of human beings. Not only were they guided to the right path and elevated from animality to the loftier spheres of humanity, but they also became guides who directed humanity to the path of God. This is a clear illustration of Islam’s miraculous ability to civilize people and refine souls.
There is no doubt that the refinement of the soul is in itself a nob1e end worthy of human aspiration and striving; it is one of the ultimate goals of civilization. But Islam was not contented with mere refinement. It always adopted all the manifestations of civilization which capture popular interest nowadays and which are regarded by some as the core of life. Islam patronized and fostered civilizations of all the countries it conquered so long as such civilizations were not contrary to monotheism and did not divert people from doing good actions.
Islam also patronized and fostered the Greek scientific heritage: including medicine, astrology, mathematics, physics, chemistry and philosophy. Islam continued to add new scientific achievements which bear witness that Muslims were deeply and seriously interested in scientific research. It was on the cream of the Islamic scientific achievement, of Andalusia that the European Renaissance and its modern scientific inventions were based.
Now, when did Islam oppose a civilization which serves humanity?
What is Islam's attitude towards the Western civilization of today?
The attitude of Islam towards the present western civilization is the same as that It manifested towards every past civilization. Islam accepts all the goodness that such civilizations can yield but at the same time it rejects their evils. Islam has never advocated any policy of scientific or materialistic isolationism. It does not fight against other civilizations for personal or racial considerations because it believes in the unity of humanity and the closeness of the relationship among people of different races and inclinations.
It should be known that the Islamic cause does not oppose modern inventions nor do Muslims require that the appliances and tools should bear the inscription: In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful" before they agree to use such tools and appliances at their homes, factories and farms etc. It is quite sufficient if such tools and appliances should be used in the name of God and for His sake. After ail, tools and appliances do not have any religion or homeland, but the way of their use affects all the people on earth. A gun, for example, is an invention which has no religion, color or homeland but you will not be a Muslim if you use it in committing aggression against others. Islam require, that a gun shall only be used in repulsing aggression or in spreading the word of God throughout the world.
The motion picture is a modern invention too. You can be a good Muslim if you use it in portraying clean emotions, noble characters or depicting the conflict among people for the sake of goodness. But you will not be a Muslim when you use it in exhibiting pornography, unruly passions or corrupted people wallowing in all kinds of vice--moral, intellectual or spiritual. Such motion pictures are bad and trivial not only because they excite the lower instincts of man but because they also represent life as cheap and trivial existence restricted to trivial and cheap ends which can never be a proper spiritual food for humanity.
The Islamic faith has never opposed the adoption of scientific inventions achieved by humanity at large. Muslims should make use of all good scientific achievements. The Prophet says, "The study of science is an ordinance". It is needless to say that the study of science, as used above, includes all kinds of knowledge. The Prophet called on people to study all branches of knowledge everywhere.
In conclusion it will be said that Islam does not oppose civilization as long as it serves humanity. But if a civilization consists of alcoholic liquor-drinking, gambling, moral prostitution, colonialism and enslaving people under different names, Islam will fight against such so-called civilization and will do its best to protect humanity from succumbing to its temptations.
 This book first appeared in Arabic in Egypt in 1955.