more than 1,400 years ago muhammad, the prophet of islam who taught humanity about truth, beauty, mercy, and perfection, stood in the plain of arafah declaring what is known today as human rights. he promoted human dignity and the inviolability of life, honor, and property. he called for equality before religious and secular law, peace and order. he advocated respect for and appreciation of women. these and many other principles he proclaimed loud and clear during the great farewell pilgrimage, where 100,000 muslims had gathered.
this was an awesome and splendid conclusion to the prophet,s work over a period of twenty three years. what he accomplished during that time – an extremely brief one compared to the usual development of civilizations – is the establishment of the greatest and most profound movement of enlightenment in all human history. this statement calls for some elaboration, so we will quote from a group of non-muslim intellectuals who spoke of this renaissance full of light and promise.
in his book a study of history, the british historian, arnold toynbee, says that the genius of muhammad was instrumental in enabling him to deliver his lord,s message to his people, and the history of arabia is closely associated with that. toynbee adds that in 622, the situation radically changed to the advantage of muhammad and his mission when a group of people from the agricultural oasis of yathrib (madinah) came and asked him to move to their town and be in charge of their affairs. following that, toynbee writes, «islam spread throughout the world and had a profound impact on it.»
the brilliant irish physicist, john desmond bernal, says in his encyclopedic science in history that to the negative elements then prevailing, among which was the void in which the world was then living, a positive element was suddenly added. that element, he says, was the emergence and rapid spread of a new international religion. bernal adds that the linguistic, religious, and administrative barriers which existed up to the seventh century, limiting each culture to its own region, suddenly disappeared almost everywhere between the indian and atlantic oceans. islam, he says, spread brotherly love among all races, prescribed the same rites for all its followers and based its philosophy on monotheism. it was a religion firmly rooted in the hearts of people.
the well-known indian leader jawaharlal nehru says in his book, glimpses of world history, that what is truly surprising is that the arab nation, which had been forgotten for many generations and was isolated from the world around it, suddenly came to life brimming with activity and energy, amazing the world and completely changing it. nehru describes the outpouring of arabs into asia, europe, and africa with the refined culture and brilliant civilization they introduced throughout the world as one of the wonders of history, and adds that islam was the actual driving force of that renaissance through the culture it introduced and the confidence and vitality it inspired.
this elaboration itself needs a further elaboration. for among the patterns of the great renaissance led by the prophet of islam are the following:
first is the intellectual awakening, which was the true beginning. for there can be no real renaissance in any field in the absence of intellect and reason. therefore, we may calmly and confidently assert that the mind was the key to the enlightening renaissance led by the prophet of islam, as well as its motivation and method.
that is the rational, systematic explanation of this fact. arabia, as well as the whole world, was in a state of mental blackout, and intellectual stagnation was the pervasive and dominant condition. obviously, it is impossible for awakening, liberation, enlightenment and progress to take place while reason is dormant and mental stagnation is prevalent. therefore, the logical and practical priority was for restoration of reason and stimulation of the inactive mind, allowing it to operate at maximum capacity.
this systematic precedence is evident in various qur’anic contexts. for example:
stimulation of thought through sharp analytic consideration of one,s self and the universe: «do they not contemplate within themselves? god has not created the heavens and the earth and what is between them except in truth and for a specified term.» (surah ar-rum, 30:8)
drawing attention through comparisons: «say, are those who know equal to those who do not know? only they will remember [who are] people of understanding.»(surah az-zumar, 39:9)
an intensive, continuing campaign against blind imitation and practices which are not supported by reason,logic, evidence and proof: «and when it is said to them, follow what god has revealed, they say, rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing. even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?» (surah al-baqarah, 2:170)
the second pattern in the great renaissance led by the prophet of islam was one that resulted from that powerful rational and intellectual awakening. the release of energy inherent in reason and logic produced an objective, scientific approach based on study in dealing with the universe. hence, the progress of humanity started with knowledge of existence and dealing with matters related to it.
it is once again appropriate to quote some intellectual non-muslims, who speak with knowledge and honesty about the foundations of scientific revival.
john desmond bernal says that islam progressed suddenly, and the reason for its spread was that education and science became greatly energized. «islam,» he says, «became the meeting point for asian and european knowledge, and then from that combined current flowed a series of inventions that were not known or available to greek and roman technology.»
a second scientist documenting this fact is herbert g. wells, who in his book a short history of the world, testifies that many forms of progress in the fields of mathematical, medical and natural sciences were achieved by muslims. «undoubtedly,» he adds, «they realized great developments in metallurgy and succeeded in its technical application. this application was of utmost importance and had a profound influence on the revival of physical sciences in europe.»
a third is the historian, paul kennedy, who states this fact in his book the rise and fall of the great powers. he wrote that a great part of the european cultural and scientific heritage has actually been borrowed from islam and muslims.
the third pattern is the model of human and religious tolerance. two examples will suffice here:
in his book, controversy about zion, douglas reed quotes a clear and honest statement by st. augustine. the statement is that islam gave economic freedom to non-believers, allowed them to run their own affairs and was tolerant in dealing with the followers of other religions. he goes on to say that the unimpaired prosperity that judaism enjoyed under islamic rule could never have been realized in the early days of christianity.
the second example is what the renowned jewish thinker israel shahak says in his book judaism. he wrote that the expulsion of jews was practically unknown in muslim lands, because it contradicts islamic law.
the fourth pattern is the proclamation of the unity of the human community during that early time when racial, national, tribal and ethnic prejudices, even among members of the same clan, were dominant.
the unity of the human community is expressed in god,s glorious book:
• «o mankind, fear your lord, who created you from one soul.» (surah an-nisaa’, 4:1)
• «o mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. indeed, the most noble of
you in the sight of god is the most righteous of you.» (surah al-hujuraat, 49:13)
more than 1,400 years ago, the prophet of islam stood on the plain of ‘arafah to proclaim human rights to the world and to lead the greatest illuminating renaissance in the whole history of mankind.
a prophet having made such an outstanding contribution to the progress and fulfillment of mankind must have his right acknowledged by all humanity. muslims express loyalty to him by following and adhering to his teachings. non-muslims should at least appreciate and respect him as a great pioneer who offered much to mankind: numerous branches of science and scholarship, knowledge and education, values and ethics. he taught mankind how one ,s relationship with his lord, with his fellow human beings and with the entire universe should be.
hence, any offense aimed at the prophet of islam is not only a gross expression of racism and religious prejudice, but also an act of moral ingratitude, whether coming from an individual or an entire culture.