In spite of volumes of literature on the subject, a vast majority of Muslims young and old are ignorant of Islamic history. Yet, the importance of the knowledge of history cannot be overemphasized. According to Allama Iqbal, history is like long term memory where the voices of nations are preserved. So a people without knowledge of history are a people without memory. And people who cannot remember, obviously, cannot benefit from the lessons of history.
The Holy Quran demands that muslims reflect upon history, not merely to know it but to learn from it. By studying history, Muslims can gain an understanding of how Allah Almighty laws work in the extended lives of nations. The rise and fall of empires is not random, nor does God preordain the fate of nations. Rather, it is the actions of nations that cause their downfall; when the people fail to uphold the laws of society that Allah Almighty has set forth in Quran. This is why God repeats and reminds us of the history of past nations throughout in the Book of Islam. So we can learn from them, if we repeat their mistakes (pointed out by the Quran) we will suffer similar consequences.
It is hard to blame non muslim nations, which historically, go through a process of political and economic trial and error without the (Quranic) solutions manual. But what can be said of Muslims who have thrown this solutions manual behind their backs, and thus continue to be buffeted by humiliation and degradation. The focus of this series of articles will be to look through history of islam for answers of all questions confronting the Ummah in the past and today. What caused (and continues to cause) the downfall of muslims, what did Quran mean when he said that Muslims can be the best of nations! What does the Quran mean in claiming that no one can defeat muslims and how reliable are our historical records are? These are important questions we need to keep in mind.
The overall history of Islam can be divided into four eras:
The period of the Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions (the Caliphs) in which was laid the foundation of a true Islamic state. In this period, human beings were liberated from bondage and the brutal, lawless, tribal society was transformed into one based on the rule of law (which, in turn, was based on the Quranic principles of human dignity, equality, and self respect). That Islamic State and system, in a very short span of time, acquired the most respectable and the most powerful position in the world.
The period following this system which was based purely on the Quran, there was no other written book at the time was replaced by hereditary kingship, otherwise known as Islamic empire. But, because the system instituted by the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him still had its momentum and influence, the Islamic empire continued to flourish and grow. It was as if the tree planted by the messenger of God and nourished by the Khulafaa Al-Rashidoon continued to give fruits. Although deprived of further Quranic nourishment, the tree continued to use up the prior nourishing sap. This obviously could not continue forever. The tree, having used up all of its previous nourishment, started to decline.
Next came the third period of Muslim history, the period that marked the decline and fall of the Islamic empire. This period saw the loss of its power and wealth, while Muslims experienced unprecedented levels of humiliation and suffering. This decline is followed by the current period in which there seems to be a resurgence of Islam at a global level. But Muslims as a whole must not passively accept their condition; they must seek to find the causes that brought them so low. This is not possible without a true and trustworthy Islamic history.
Compiling the history of any nation is difficult, but this difficulty is further compounded in the case of Islamic history. Usually historical personalities tend to figure prominently and since Muslims revere certain historical personalities while holding others in disdain, it is quite possible that our books of history may not be free from prejudice and partisan sectarianism. Also, when it comes to history their are certain elements whose sole purpose has been to hurt Islam that cannot be ignored. Another point worth mentioning about history is that it should be treated as actual past events and incidents. Our reverence and emotional attachment to it does not make it sacred and beyond criticism. History by nature is prone to error no matter how much care is taken in its collection and compilation.