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Written by Ali Unal

The most striking point of Islam and its history is that Islam completely changes those who accept it, no matter how ignorant, rude, and ill-mannered they were before, into embodiments of almost all virtues and human values. The intellectual, religious, cultural, and socioeconomic decadence of the pre-Islamic nomadic Arabs is known. Islam alone elevated them to be humanity’s guides and teachers for centuries, and models for every age. The manner displayed by the Muslim envoy and his speech to the Sassanid commander-in-chief at the Battle of Qadisiya (636) shows how Islam changed “stones” into “gold” or “diamonds,” a point that by itself proves Islam’s Divine origin.

Rabi’ Ibn ‘Amir was brought up in pre-Islamic Arabia’s dark polytheistic climate, where life was considered to consist of killing and plundering to eat. However, his embrace of Islam transformed him into one of the “immortal” guides of humanity. He entered the Sassanid commander’s richly ornamented tent, dressed in a loose white garment, wearing a turban, and holding a spear. Dismounting from his horse in the tent, he seized the pillow upon which the enemy commander was reclining, tore a hole in it, and tied his horse’s reins to it. Not bowing before the commander, he began to roll up the carpet and then sat cross-legged on the ground. He did this to show Islam’s dignity and superiority over all other religions and how Muslims renounce their lives for the sake of their sublime cause.

When the bewildered commander asked about their cause, he replied: 

Our cause is to raise humanity from the dark pits of worldly life to the high, boundless realm of the spirit; from the humiliation of worshipping false and usually human-made divinities to the honor and dignity of worshipping the One God, the universe’s sole Creator and Sustainer; and to free humanity from the oppression and depressions brought about by false religions into the luminous and peaceful climate of Islam.

This is the testimony of one who experienced Islam’s beauties and how high Islam elevates its adherents culturally, intellectually, and spiritually.

Islam alone is responsible for major human developments, among them the following:

  • Turning human thought away from superstition, love for the unnatural and inexplicable, and monasticism and toward a rational approach, a love for reality, and a pious and balanced worldly life.

  • Inspiring the urge for rational and scientific research and proofs to verify the truth of established convictions.

  • Opening the eyes of those accustomed to identifying God with natural phenomena.

  • Leading people away from the path of baseless speculation and toward that of a rational understanding and sound reasoning based on observation, experimentation, and research.

  • Defining the limits and functions of sense-perception, reason, intuition, and spiritual experience.

  • Engendering a rapprochement between spiritual and material values.

  • Harmonizing faith with knowledge and action.

  • Replacing idolatry, the worship of human beings, and polytheism with a firm faith in God’s Unity.

  • Showing the path of spiritual evolution, moral emancipation, and salvation through active participation in this world’s daily affairs.

  • Bringing home to all people their true worth and position. Those who acknowledged only a “God-incarnate” or a “son of God” as their moral preceptor or spiritual guide were told that a human being like themselves, one who has no pretensions to Godhead, can become God’s vicegerent on Earth. Those who proclaimed and worshipped powerful personages realized that their false deities were people just like themselves.

  • Emphasizing that no person could claim holiness, authority, or overlordship as a birthright, and that no one was born with the stigma of untouchability, slavery, or serfdom.

  • Inspiring the thoughts of humanity’s unity, human equality, and real freedom. Many principles of good behavior, culture and civilization, purity of thought and deed owe their origin to Islam. For example, Islam’s social laws have infiltrated deep into human social life, its economic principles have ushered in many movements and continue to do so, its laws of governance continue to exert their influence, and its fundamental principles of law and justice continue to form a perpetual source of guidance for humanity.

  • Establishing a practical framework for all aspects of international relations and regulating the laws of war and peace. This framework, the first of its kind in history, established an ethical code of war and foreign relations based on the ground of common humanity. Islam, as Arthur Leonard says, has left such an indelible mark on the pages of human history that it can never be effaced that only when the world grows will it be acknowledged in full.

  • Founding one of the most brilliant civilizations in history. This should come as no surprise, since the first revealed verse of the Qur’an was: Read: In the Name of your Lord Who creates (96:1). But why does the Qur’an order read when the local people have almost nothing to read? Because they—and humanity—are to “read” the universe itself as the Book of Creation, of which the Qur’an is the counterpart in letters or words. We are to observe the universe and perceive its meaning and content so that we can gain a deeper knowledge of the beauty and splendor of the Creator’s system and the infinitude of His might. Thus we must penetrate the universe’s manifold meanings, discover the Divine laws of nature, and establish a world in which science and faith complement each other so that humanity can attain true bliss in both worlds. Otherwise, as Bertrand Russell says, “unless man increases in wisdom (and faith) as much as in knowledge, increase of knowledge will be increase of sorrow,”1 and “Science teaches man to fly in the air like birds, and to swim in the water like fishes, but man, without faith, cannot know how to live on the earth.”2

1. Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1951), 121.
2. Quoted by C. E. M. Joad in Counter Attack from the East, 28.