the civilizations which sprang up several thousand years ago on the shores of the mediterranean sea or in proximity thereto-in egypt, mesopotamia and greece-reached heights of achievement which elicit our wonder and admiration today, whether in the fields of science, industry, agriculture, trade, war, or any other human activity. the mainspring of all these civilizations which gave them their strength is religion. true, the figurations of this mainspring changed from the trinitarianism of ancient egypt expressed in the myth of osiris, isis and horus, and representing the continuity of life in death and resurrection and permanence through generation, to the paganism of hellas expressed in the sensory representation of truth, goodness, and beauty. it changed, likewise, in the succeeding periods of decay and dissolution to levels where the sensory representations of hellas became gross. regardless of these variants, religion has remained the source which has fashioned the destiny of the world; and it plays the same role in our age. present civilization has sometimes opposed religion, or sought to get rid of and discard it; and yet from time to time, it has inclined towards religion. on the other hand, religion has continued to court our civilization and, perhaps, one-day, may even assimilate it.
in this environment where civilization has rested for thousands of years on a religious base, three well-known world religions arose. egypt saw the appearance of moses. he was brought up and disciplined in pharaoh's house, instructed in the unity of divine being and taught the secrets of the universe by pharaoh's priesthood. when god permitted moses to proclaim his religion to the people, pharaoh was proclaiming to them: "i am your lord supreme" (qur'an, 79:24). moses contended with pharaoh and his priesthood until he finally had to emigrate with the children of israel to palestine. in palestine there appeared jesus, the spirit and word of god given unto mary. when god raised jesus unto himself [as in the qur'anic verse: "as to their saying, 'we did kill the messiah, jesus, son of mary, the apostle of god;' whereas they slew him not, nor crucified him, but it was made to appear to them as if they did. those who differ therein are certainly in a state of doubt about it. they have no definite knowledge thereof but only follow a conjecture. none of them knows for sure that he was killed. rather, god raised him unto himself. god is mighty and wise." 4:156-7. -tr.], his disciples preached his religion and met in the process the strongest prejudice and opposition. when god permitted christianity to spread, the emperor of rome [the term "al rum" used in pre-islamic (qur'an, 30:2) times, as well as later, refers to rome, the roman empire and the east roman empire or byzantium. arab historians say "roman" when they mean "byzantine." -tr.], then sovereign of the world converted to the new faith and adopted its cause. the roman empire followed, and the religion of jesus spread through egypt, syria, and greece. from egypt it spread to abyssinia, and for centuries it continued to grow. whoever sought roman protection or friendship joined the ranks of the new faith.