Key moments of Islamic civilization
*570* Prophet Muhammad is born in Mecca. At the age of six he becomes an orphan and is taken into the care of his grandfather. When the latter dies, the young Muhammad is entrusted to his uncle.
*610* Muhammad receives the first revelation while meditating in the cave of Hira near Mecca. He hears a commanding voice addressing him and becomes the Messenger of God.
*622* After persecution in Mecca, Muhammad migrates to Medina. The migration — hijra — marks the beginning of the Islamic era.
*623-631* After three battles, Muhammad conquers Mecca and forgives all his enemies. A written constitution is established as the basis of governance. The foundations of the Muslim civilization are laid in the city state of Medina.
*632* Prophet Muhammad dies after giving his ‘farewell sermon’. Abu Bakr, a close companion of Muhammad, is unanimously selected as the first caliph of Islam.
*633-643* After Abu Bakr’s death, the Prophet’s companion Umar al-Khattab is elected as the second caliph. Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Palestine come under Muslim rule. Jerusalem is captured, Caliph Umar declares that Christians will be honoured and protected. He introduces the Islamic calendar consisting of 12 lunar months.
*644* Caliph Umar is murdered. An ‘Electoral Council’ elects Uthman ibn Affan, the Prophet’s son-in-law and close companion, as the third caliph.
*650-652* Caliph Uthman compiles the Qur’an as it exists today. Islam expands into the Maghrib or North West Africa.
*653-656* Islam spreads to Persia and Byzantium. Unrest spreads in Muslim lands. Caliph Othman dies in a revolt. Ali Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law becomes fourth caliph, but his selection is disputed. Muawiya, Governor of Syria declares himself the ‘first king in Islam’ in defiance of Caliph Ali.
*661-680* The Muslim world begins to fragment. Caliph Ali is murdered. Disputes arise between those who want political leadership to be elected and those who want political and religious authority to reside within the family of the Prophet. Hussain, the Prophet’s grandson and son of Caliph Ali, is killed at the battle of Karbala which becomes the formative event in the emergence of the Shi’a tradition, splitting the Muslim community into two groups — the Sunnis and the Shi’as. The Umayyad dynasty is established in Syria.
*700-750* Islam extends into India. Muslims enter Spain and reach the borders of France. The advance of Muslims is halted at the Battle of Tours on the Loire river in France in 732. The battle becomes a seminal event in shaping European stereotypes of Muslims. In Baghdad the Abbasid dynasty is established. The paper industry emerges and Iraqi jurist Al-Shaybani publishes his famous work, _The Concise Book of International Law_.
*751-800* A sophisticated book trade evolves, backed by a thriving publications industry. The great compilers of _hadith_ — al-Bukhari, Abu Dawood, al-Tirmidhi, ibn Maja and al-Nasai — publish their works and ‘authenticate’ the sayings of the Prophet. Ibn Ishaq publishes the first biography of the Prophet Mohammad. Islamic Jurisprudence (_fiqh_) is codified and six ‘Schools of Thought’ emerge as the orthodoxy. A massive project to translate works of Greek thought and learning into Arabic begins. The Rationalist school of philosophy (the _Mutazila_) emerges. The Spanish Umayyad dynasty is established in Cordoba and the _Arabian Nights_ stories make a first appearance. Abu Hanifa al-Dinawari publishes _The Book of Plants_.
*800-850* Al-Kindi becomes the first Muslim philosopher, Jabir ibn Hayan establishes chemistry as an experimental science. Al-Khwarizmi invents Algebra. Ibn Qutayba, an ‘Inspector of injustices’ in Basra, publishes his seminal The Book of Etiquette. Translation of the works of Greece, Babylonia, Syria, Persia, India and Egypt reaches its peak. Muslims conquer Sicily.
*851-900* Muslim astronomers measure the circumference of the earth and Iraqi scientist Ibn Hawkal publishes _The Book of the Shape of the Earth_. Al-Farghani publishes his _Elements of Astronomy_ and al-Battani publishes _On the Science of Stars_. The Musa Brothers, who are engineers, publish the _Book of Ingenious Mechanical Devices_. Philosopher al-Farabi publishes his celebrated commentary on Plato, _The Perfect State_. Afghani scholar and advisor to administrators, Al-Harawi, publishes his pioneering work, _The Book of Public Finance_.
*901-950* Philosopher and physician al-Razi publishes his observations on smallpox and measles and Al-Tabari, publishes his history of the world, _Annals of Apostles and Kings_. The Postmaster General of Baghdad, Ibn Khurdadhbih, publishes _The Book of Routes and Kingdoms_, a comprehensive work on the distribution of post throughout the Muslim world. Mystic Al-Hallaj causes controversy by declaring, in a state of ecstasy, ‘I am the Truth’. And theologian Al-Ashari establishes the anti-philosophical Asharite movement.
*951-1000* Physicist Al-Haytham publishes his monumental study _Optics_ containing the basic formulae of reflection and refraction and announces that experiment and empirical investigation is the foundation of all scientific work. Al-Baruni publishes his _Determination of the Co-ordinates of the Cities_ and travels to South Asia to study Hinduism and yoga. Philosopher and physician Ibn Sina publishes _Canons of Medicine_, the standard text for the next 800 years. Al-Azhar University, the first in the world, is established in Cairo. Humanist Al-Masudi lays the foundation of human geography and philologist Ibn Faris publishes his linguistic masterpiece, _The Law of the Language_.
*1050-1100* Intellectual war breaks out between theologians, philosophers and Muslim mystics or Sufis. Thinker and theologian, Al-Ghazali laments the decline of Muslim civilisation, publishes _The Revival of Religious Sciences in Islam_ and launches a monumental attack on Greek philosophy, _The Incoherence of the Philosophers_. Iraqi political scientist, Al-Mawardi, publishes his _Rules of Sovereignty in the Governance of an Islamic Community_ and Libyan scientist Al-Ajdabi publishes his great work on meteorology, _Seasonal Periods and Atmospherics_. The Crusades, a series of Christian wars against the Muslims, begin with the first crusade in 1095.
*1100-1150* Sicilian geographer Al-Idrisi produces his map of the world and Sufi psychologist Ibn Bajja publishes psychological masterpiece, _The Knowledge of the Self_. Spanish philosopher Ibn Tufail publishes _The Life of Hayy_, a philosophical novel and prototype of Robinson Crusoe; and Moorish physician Ibn Zuhr brings out _The Book of Practical Treatments and Precautionary Measures_. Mutazalite philosopher Ibn Rushd answers Al-Ghazali with an equally monumental defence of philosophy, _The Incoherence of the Incoherence_.
*1150-1200* Timbuktu is established as a great centre of learning and book production. It’s the furthest point of the Muslim Empire and home of Sankore University. Geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi publishes his great _Geographical Dictionary_ and Spanish horticulturist Ibn Al-Awwam brings out _The Book of Agriculture_. Iraqi engineer Al-Jazari publishes his great illustrated work on mechanics, _Integration Between Theory and Practice in the Application of Mechanics_. The Kurdish Salahuddin Ayyubi (’Saladin’) takes on the Crusaders.
*1150-1200* Al-Hariri publishes his linguistic masterpiece, _The Assemblies_ and Fakh al-Din al-Razi tries to reconcile philosophy and religious thought in his book _The Substance of the Ideas of Classical and Later Philosophers and Theologians_. Persian philosopher and mystic, Al Suhrawardi, tries to establish an Islamic basis for philosophy in his work _Philosophy of Illumination_.
*1200-1250* Al-Zarnuji publishes his celebrated pedagogical work, _The Method of Learning_ and Spanish physician Ibn al-Baytor publishes _The Comprehensive Books of Drugs and Diets_. Fakhr al-Din Razi publishes his great _Encyclopaedia of Science_ and biographer Abu Khallikan establishes philosophy of history as a distinct discipline. Mystic Jalal-al-Din Rumi publishes _Masnavi_, his influential anthology of mystical poetry and anecdotes. Spanish thinker Ibn Saad publishes his ideas on multiculturalism in the _Introduction to the Classes of Nations_ and Moorish Spain is fully established as a multicultural society. Ibn abd as-Salam formulates the first statement of animal rights.
*1250-1300* Mongols sack Baghdad and burn down the great House of Wisdom and the city’s other 36 public libraries with their vast store of manuscripts. Abbasid Caliphate ends but the Ottoman Empire is established. Biologist Ibn Nafis accurately describes the circulation of blood and Iraqi musician Al-Urmawi publishes his great _Book of Musical Modes_. Astronomer Nasir al-Din Tusi completes his major work _Memoirs of the Science_ of Astronomy at the Maragha observatory, Persia, setting forward a comprehensive structure of the universe; and develops the ‘Tusi couple’ enabling mathematical calculations to establish a heliocentric worldview. After the eighth crusade, when the last Christian city, Acre, falls to the Muslims, the Crusades come to an end.
*1300-1400* Ibn Khaldun establishes sociology as a distinct discipline and publishes his celebrated _Introduction to History_. Ibn Battuta travels the globe and describes his adventures in _Travels of Ibn Battuta_. Al-Damiri develops the idea of zoological taxonomy in _The Comprehensive Book of Animal Life_ and Egyptian vet Al-Baytar brings out _The Complete Compendium on the Two Arts of Veterinary Practice and Horse Training_. Syrian jurist, Al-Jawziyyah, publishes his great work on jurisprudence, _Methods of Judgment in the Administration of Islamic Law_ and ibn al-Ukhuwwah brings out his book on _The Clear Exposition of the Principles of (Public) Accountability_. The religious scholars close the ‘gates of _ijtihad_’ (‘reasoned struggle’); and establish _taqlid_ (blind imitation) as the dominant mode of thought, leading to ossification in science, learning and innovation.
*1400-1500* The Ottoman Empire expands after the fall of Constantinople. Muslims are expelled from Spain after the fall of Granada. Jewish refugees from Spain take refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Persian mathematician Al-Kashi publishes his theory of numbers in _The Key to Arithmetic_; and Cheng Ho, Muslim admiral of Ming China, leads voyages of discovery to Africa. Arabian navigator Ibn Majid publishes _The Book of Instructions in Principles of Navigation and Regulations_ and pilots Vasco de Gama from Africa to the Indian coast.
*1500-1600* The Moghal dynasty is established in India. Ottoman architect Sinan builds the Blue Mosque complex in Istanbul. Turkish jurist Tashkopruzade publishes his elaborate classification of knowledge, _The Key to Highest Attainment and Light of Leadership_ and Egyptian jurist Ibn Nujaym brings out his celebrated work of legal logic and reasoning, _Similars and Parallels: Analogues and Precedents_.
*1600-1700* The Taj Mahal is completed in Agra, while the Ottomans lay siege to Vienna. Persian mystical thinker Mulla Sadra publishes his work on mystical philosophy, _The Signs of Divine Grace_. Europe embraces Islamic humanism whole-heartedly.
*1700-1800* European imperial powers begin to colonize the Muslim world. Universities and institutions of higher learning are closed; Islamic medicine is banned; and Muslims are barred from pursuing higher education. Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab establishes the Wahhaby movement in Arabia, Syria and Iraq, insisting on a literalist interpretation of the Qur’an.
*1800-1900* The ‘Mutiny’ in India is crushed. Indian educationalist, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan establishes the Aligarh University to ‘re-educate’ the Muslims.
*1900-1950* Reformer Jamal al-Din Al-Afghani, together with the Mufti of Egypt, Muhammad Abduh, establish the pan-Islamic movement for reform and _ijtihad_ (‘reasoned struggle’). After eight centuries, the Ottoman Empire collapses. In the Arabian peninsular, Ibn Saud brings warring tribes together to establish Saudi Arabia. Philosopher and ‘Poet of the East’, Muhammad Iqbal publishes his epic poem _Complaint and Answer_ asking God to explain the reasons behind the lamentable state of Muslim people. Pakistan is established as the first ‘Islamic state’.
*1950-2000* Muslim states in Asia and Africa obtain their independence. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan become the main components of a global Islamic movement. The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is established as a ‘Muslim United Nations’ and great hope is pinned on the emergence of OPEC as a global player. ‘East Pakistan’ breaks from ‘West Pakistan’ and becomes Bangladesh. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, six new Muslim countries emerge in central Asia. The revolution in Iran is hailed as the first ‘Islamic revolution’ but soon leads to despair and pessimism. The ‘Taliban’, a group of semi-literate students, take over Afghanistan.
*2001-2050* Two possible futures. Crisis after crisis leads Muslim cultures to the edge of chaos — and over. Alternatively, Islam is reformulated, Muslims redefine modernity in terms of their own categories and concepts, and Islam re-emerges as a dynamic, thriving civilization.
This article is from
the May 2002 issue
of New Internationalist.
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