Islam: An Historical Perspective
Syed Abul 'Ala Mawdudi
Islam began when man's career on earth began more precisely at the time
of man's creation and his descent. Allah created Adam and Eve and enjoined
them to worship Him and live a life of obedience to the Divine Will.
Allah is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and of human beings.
Man must turn to Him for sustenance and guidance. The very word Islam means
obedience to God. In this respect, Islam is man's natural religion the
only natural course is for man to look towards Him for guidance.
The day Adam and Eve were sent down to live on earth, Allah told them that
they were His servants and He was their Master and Creator. He told them
and mankind that the best course was for them to follow His guidance, to
obey His orders and to refrain from what He had forbidden. God said to them
that He would be pleased if they obeyed Him and in turn He would reward
them. If, however, they did not heed His commands, He would be displeased
and would punish them. This was the simple beginning of Islam.
Adam and Eve invited their children to follow the Islamic way of life. They
and their children and their later generations followed the teachings of
Islam as propounded by Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) for quite a long
period of time. It was only later on that certain people began disobeying
Allah. Some of them began worshipping other gods of their own making, some
of them regarded themselves as gods, while a few others even declared their
freedom to do as they pleased defying God's orders. This is how kufr (disbelief)
came into being. Its essence lies in refusal to worship God pursuing the
path of defiance to the Creator.
When kufr (disbelief) began to increase and multiply it affected the life
of society in a number of ways. Exploitation, oppression, viciousness and
immorality emerged in different forms. Life became intolerable. Allah then
appointed some righteous people to preach the Message of Truth among the
wrongdoers, invite them to the Right Path and convert them to Godfearing
people worshipping and obeying God Alone. In short, they were asked to perform
a mission to make people righteous and true Muslims. These noble people
entrusted with this great mission were called Prophets or Messengers of
Allah. Allah sent these Prophets to different nations and countries. All
of them were honest, truthful, and people of noble character. All of them
preached the same religion Islam. To mention a few names Noah, Abraham,
Moses and Jesus. All of them were the Prophets of God and thousands of them
were, over the centuries, sent into the world to guide mankind.
In the history of the last few thousand years, one can see the recurrent
arrival of Prophets whenever kufr(disbelief) increased and assumed menacing
proportions. The prophets tried to stop the tide of disbelief and invited
people towards Islam. Some people adopted the Islamic way of life, but others
rejected it. The people who followed the Prophets became Muslims and, after
learning higher ethical and moral disciplines from them, began to preach
and spread nobility and goodness. Having forgotten the teachings of Islam,
later generations of Muslims themselves gradually sank into disbelief. Whenever
such a situation arose, God sent a Prophet or Messenger to revive Islam.
This continual arrival of Messengers of God continued for thousands of years.
In the course of those long years, Islam was revived by those Prophets,
who restated the Message forgotten by their people. At long last God sent
the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who revived Islam in such an outstanding
fashion that it still exists today and will continue to exist (God willing),
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born in 571 C.E. in the now
famous city of Arabia called Makkah. Islam had no following in Arabia at
that time nor did it have any following anywhere else in the world. Although
the traces of teachings of the earlier Prophets could be found among a few
pious people who tried to worship one and only one God and live a life of
obedience to Him, the true religion of God was lost in a maze of paganism
and pantheism. The pure worship of God, unadulterated by shirk (worship
of false gods), was nowhere to be found. Moral values had lost their grip
and people were indulging in all sorts of lax behavior and wickedness. Such
was the situation in Arabia as also in the whole world at the close of the
sixth century when God decided to send the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon
him) as His last Messenger. He spent forty years of his life as a patient
observer in the city of Makkah. Everyone respected him for his noble qualities
of head and heart. But they were not aware that this man was destined to
become the world's greatest leader.
During the early years of his life, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon
him) felt very much grieved to see the gross immorality of the world of
his time. There was exploitation of man by man. There was injustice and
tyranny. He was grieved and anxious, but was somewhat silent as he, too,
was unable to devise a remedy for the ailing humanity of the day. At long
last, God chose him as His Messenger. When he attained the age of forty,
God entrusted him with the Mission of spreading Islam, the true religion
of God, the religion of peace and justice, by means of the Revelations which
we now know as the Quran.
Having been appointed as the Messenger of God, the Prophet Muhammad (peace
be upon him) started to communicate God's Message to his people in Makkah.
He began by inviting them to worship none but Godtheir sole Creator and
Master. People in general opposed him and tried to prevent him from spreading
Islam. He, however, continued his work with unflinching determination and
dedication. As a result, many honest people gathered round him. They became
his staunch supporters. The teachings of the Messenger of God spread slowly
but surely outside his native Makkah to Arabia at large. Those who had a
reputation for honesty and moral excellence began to accept the Faith, while
opposition to them came from many ignorant people and vicious quarters.
This continued for thirteen years. There was a gradual breaking of new ground.
Islam was gaining a following all over Arabia. This is one side of the story.
On the other hand, the defenders of the old order, people with vested interests
and steeped in ignorant customs were hardening their opposition to Islam.
Whenever new converts to Islam were presented, they were abused, humiliated,
beaten, tortured, expelled and even put to death. Nevertheless, they remained
firm and steadfast. At last the Makkah elders devised a plot to assassinate
the Messenger of God in order to nip the Islamic movement in the bud. When
affairs reached that pitiful state, God ordered His Messenger to leave Makkah
and migrate to Madinah.
Having learned that the Prophet was planning to migrate from Makkah, its
leaders expedited their plans to murder him on his journey outward. However,
their disgraceful conspiracy could not succeed. The Prophet arrived at Madinah
safe and sound. This is the most famous migration (hijrah) in the history
of Islam. The Muslim calendar begins from that day, the years being numbered
"After Hijrah" (A.H.).
Madinah, a city some 450 kilometers from Makkah, was growing as a centre
for Islam. A number of people had already been converted to the new faith.
Islamic teachings were winning new supporters every day. Leaders of the
two major tribes of Madinah had accepted Islam and were ready to sacrifice
their lives and property for the cause of Islam. At this point, the Prophet
started planning to move to Madinah.
As soon as the Prophet settled in Madinah, the new Muslims started to flock
into the city from the four corners of Arabia. This further strengthened
the new centre. Islam was no longer a persecuted religion; it was able to
obtain a firm foothold and was provided with the historic opportunity to
establish an Islamic State and society. This constitutes the most important
development of the postHijrah period. The leaders of Makkah, the defenders
of the old order, did not miss the significance of this change. They realised
that a new model was being set up, which would be a challenge to the way
they were running their society. This caused great anxiety amongst them.
They decided to crush this rising force while it was still in its infancy.
For they believed that it would be easy to crush the Muslims while they
were few and far between and lacked a centralized power. Now things were
changing. Muslims were concentrating at one place and organizing a new society
with its own government. The prospects of annihilating such a state, once
it was firmly entrenched, looked remote to them. The unbelievers feared
that if the Muslims were allowed to gain momentum they would become a great
power. Consequently they hurried to band themselves together with a view
to eradicating the embryonic Islamic government at Madinah. The Makkah leaders
lost no time in issuing a clarion call to their kith and kin and to all
supporters of the old order in neighboring towns and all over Arabia to
rally round them to form a force which could crush the Muslims. They formed
a band of cavalry which invaded Madinah and its environs time and again
with all their military might. They, however, could not defeat the Prophet
and his loyal supporters. In spite of all efforts on the part of the unbelievers,
Islam continued to spread in Arabia. The good, honest folk continued to
forsake kufr (disbelief) and come into the fold of Islam.
Eventually, Islam gained a crowning success when the Prophet entered victoriously
into Makkahonce the stronghold of kufr. This all happened within eight
years of the establishment of the Islamic State of Madinah. No sooner had
Makkah submitted to the Islamic forces than the remaining hostile groups
of unbelievers of Arabia began to surrender. Within the next year, the whole
of Arabia accepted Islam and the Muslims established a powerful government
over an area consisting of some twelve hundred thousand square miles.
Arabia had the most singular government of the time, based as it was on
the principle of the sovereignty of God and the vicegerency (Khilafah) of
man. The law of the land was Islamic. The administration of the state lay
in the hands of the honest and pious people. The country had no trace of
violence, oppression, injustice or immorality. Peace, justice, truth and
honesty reigned supreme everywhere. Many of the people of the country had
come to possess the highest moral attributes because they were honest in
worshipping God and obeying Him.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) changed the character of Arabian
life in a short period of only twentythree years. He instilled in the people
a spirit that helped to serve the cause of Islam. They set out with the
great mission of spreading Islam throughout the whole world. The Prophet
passed away at the age of sixtythree, after completing the greatest mission
of all time.
The Companions of the Prophet took up the mission of the Prophet after his
death. They traveled to distant lands to spread the Islamic teachings. They
succeeded wherever they went. Obstacles that stood in their way in spreading
Islam were all surmounted. Islam became so strong in such a short while
that no one dared try to stop its growth. The Muslims were spread out from
India to Spain. They changed the face of the globe. The entire population
of the countries they visited were so much impressed by their good example
and noble behavior that they began to enter quickly into the fold of Islam.
Wherever the Muslims went, they took their highest moral attributes with
themso much so that immorality and injustice dissolved in their presence.
They transformed Godless people into Godconscious people and gave them
the Light of Knowledge and strength of character. They changed their way
of life so that virtue and goodness could prevail. The entire social climate
was reformed and remoulded. The hands of the oppressors were held and a
reign of justice and fair play established. This was the greatest achievement
in the history of mankind.
The Companions of the Prophet rendered yet another great service to mankind.
This consisted in memorising the Quran and preserving it in its original
form as it was revealed to the Prophet. They wrote down the Quran word for
word and did not miss even a mark in its Arabic orthography. Today, we are
most fortunate in having the Quran exactly as it was revealed to the Prophet,
written and read in the same language and in the same diction as it was
written and read in the time of the Prophetabout 1,400 years ago.
Another important aspect of their work was to preserve and communicate to
posterity the most detailed account of the Prophet's life, speeches, instructions,
commands, morals and behaviour. These accounts by the Prophet's Companions
are grouped together under the allembracing title of the Sunnah of Hadith
(Traditions of the Prophet). This is the greatest record ever preserved
about the life and activities of a man and is a great blessing to every
generation. For even after a lapse of 1,400 years after the Prophet's death,
people can still see and hear his teachings as the Companions of the Prophet
saw and heard them during his lifetime. Now anybody can approach hadith
literature and find out the Islamic point of view on any subject. He can
learn how to become obedient to God and what type of man is liked by God.
The Quran and the Hadith are things of greatest importance to a Muslim.
With their preservation and security (God has promised to secure and preserve
them), Islam is protected for all time to come. In the days before the Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him), Islam was forgotten again and again after
being revived, owing to lack of the necessary care regarding the preservation
and security of the earlier Revealed Books and the details of the lives
of their Prophets. This was the reason why, after every Prophet, generations
following forgot the real teachings and drifted towards a life devoid of
good morals and norms of behaviour. But Islam, as revived by the Prophet
Muhammad, is bound to last for ever because the Book of God and the traditions
of the Prophet are both secure and preserved in their original purity.
The Islamic way of life can be revived and reconstructed again and again
with the help of the Quran and the traditions if ever, God forbid, the freshness
of its true spirit wanes. The world no longer requires any new Prophet to
revive Islam to its pristine glory. It is enough to have among us the learned
people who know the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet and who are
able to apply their teachings to their own lives and stimulate others to
adopt and apply them in their lives as well. This is how the stream of Islam
will continue to flow, refreshing the eternal thirst of mankind.