The Groundwork of Islamic Civilization
Unlike western civilization, the civilization of Islam is built upon a spiritual base in which man is first and foremost called upon to recognize ultimate reality and to realize his position in the world with regard to that reality. Whenever man's consciousness of this relation reaches the point of certainty and conviction, that conviction will demand of him ever to discipline himself, to cleanse his soul, and to nourish his heart as well as his mind with the sublime principles of magnanimity, contentment, brotherhood, love, charity, and piety. On the basis of such principles man will then organize his economic life. Such progression is the foundation of Islamic civilization as the revelation of Muhammad conceived it. It is first and foremost a spiritual civilization. In it, the spiritual order constitutes the groundwork of the system of education, of personal and social morality. The principles constituting the moral order in turn constitute the groundwork of the economic system. It is therefore not permissible in this civilization that any moral principle be sacrificed for the sake of the economic system.
In this author's opinion, it is this conception peculiar to Islamic civilization that is capable of bringing mankind to a sure realization of happiness and felicity. Should it ever become firmly established in the minds of men, and should it come to dominate this world as western civilization has come to dominate it today, mankind will lead a different life. The current ideologies will be washed away, and nobler moral principles will take over the solution of the chronic crises of the present world. In both East and West, men have been trying to find solutions to these crises without anyone's realizing-not excluding the Muslims themselves-that Islam offers to them certain and guaranteed solutions. The western people are today groping for a new spiritual seriousness which might save them from the paganism in which they have allowed themselves to fall and from the worship of wealth which has been at the root of their misery and interminable wars. The western peoples are seeking to discover this new spiritual seriousness in the religions of India and the Far East, when it has been right here close to them all the time, established once and for all, and clearly elaborated in the Qur'an, as well as given its highest examplification in the life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
It is not my intention to predict here the role of Islamic civilization or to analyze its system. Such work would by itself occupy a volume of this size or even larger. But I do think it imperative to characterize that civilization in general now that I have pointed to the spiritual basis on which it stands. Therefore, I hope to give an idea of the nature of Muhammad's call and thereby to pave the road for further and more complete research and study.
No Competition between Church and State in Islam
Before I do this, however, it behooves me to point to the fact that the history of Islam has been free of any struggle between religious and secular authorities, that is, between church and state. This fact has protected Islamic history from the effects that struggle has left upon western thought. This salutory influence upon Islam and upon its history and thought is primarily due to the fact that it has never known anything called church or religious authority along the lines of Christianity. No Muslim, even if he should be a caliph, has any right to impose anything in the name of Islam. He can neither forgive nor punish any violation of such commandments imposed in the name of religion. Moreover, no Muslim may, even if he should be a caliph, impose upon the people anything other than that which God imposed in His Book. Indeed, in front of God, all Muslims are equal; none may be distinguished from the others except in virtue and piety. No ruler in Islam is entitled to the Muslim's obedience in a matter involving a violation of a divine commandment, or of that which has not been expressly commanded by God. We should recall here the inaugural speech of Abu Bakr following his election to the caliphate: "Obey me as long as I obey God and His Prophet. But if I disobey God's command or His Prophet's, then no obedience is incumbent upon you." Despite all the crass exercises of the will to political power and all the civil wars and rebellions which the history of the Islamic state has witnessed, the Muslims have remained true to this great personal freedom which their religion had established for them. Theirs has always been a freedom which assigned to reason the role of judge in everything, whether in religion or in the matter of conviction and faith itself. The Muslims have held strongly to this freedom even in the face of those kings and princes who claimed that they were the lieutenants of God on earth, not of His Prophet, and who wielded in their hands the keys of life and death. Witness the turbulent events during the reign of al Ma'mun when the issue was whether or not the Qur'an was created. The caliph believed one thing, but the Muslims differed from him despite the certainty of the punishment and wrath that awaited them.