Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Briefer History of Islam

~2000 B.C. - The prophet Abraham is Born. Abraham marries Sarah. She can't have kids, so she gives her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham. Hagar bears a son, Ishmael, the ancestor of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
~1900 B.C. - Abraham (100 years old) is told his wife Sarah will bear a son. Sarah Laughs. She bears a son, Isaac, the ancestor of Israel and Jesus.
~1885 B.C. - Abraham is told to sacrifice his son. Just before he does it, an angel stops him. Because of his obedience, Abraham is promised by the Lord that he will "be a father of many nations" and his seed will as numerous as the "stars of the heaven, and as the sand ... upon the sea shore".

Bible version: The son was Isaac.[1]
Islamic version: The son was Ishmael.

~570 A.D. - The prophet Muhammad is born.
~610 A.D. - Muhammad is meditating in a cave and is visited by an Angel. Over a period of time, he receives revelations that end up being the Quran (Koran). The revelations include instructions on moral living, which help Muhammad and his followers prosper and overpower the barbaric culture that he was raised in.

750-1200 A.D. - The Islamic Golden Age. During this period, the Islamic world contributed to agriculture, the arts, economics, industry, law, literature, navigation, philosophy, sciences, sociology, and technology.[2] The Middle East was positioned along major trade routes adding to the power of Islam.  Islamic territory expanded to include North Africa, Israel, Spain [3], Bulgaria.  The Crusades attempted to retake Israel.

1300-1500 A.D. - The European Renaissance.  During this period, Europe absorbed the knowledge from the Islamic world [4] and made advancements in the areas of literature, philosophy, art, politics, science and religion.

1500-1900 - The Modern Era.  During this period, the Western World saw significant development in science, politics, warfare and technology (including the printing press, advances in navigation, etc.).  Shipping allowed Europeans to bypass the Middle East, reducing the power of Islam.  European weapons and warfare shrunk Islam territories. Islam becomes relatively insignificant.

1900s - Oil. The world starts getting hungry for Oil and the Middle Eastern Oil fields are discovered. Western technology and know-how is imported to exploit the Oil fields.  Islamic countries start getting more powerful.

1964 - Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr joins the Nation of Islam and changes his name to Muhammad Ali.

2001 - 9/11.  Islamic Fundamentalists crash airplanes into the World Trade Center and remind the world about Islam.

The author and historian Bernard Lewis describes what went wrong [5]. My summary is that while Muhammad's revealed morality greatly benefited Islam, the success resulted in arrogance causing Islam to reject anything from the "infidels".  Unfortunately this included many critical advancements that left Islam way behind.  Bernard Lewis also claims that Islamic restrictions on women reduce the potential contributions from half their population.

We can all learn a lesson from this history.

[1] Genesis 22:2
[2] Howard R. Turner (1997), Science in Medieval Islam, p. 270 (book cover, last page), University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-78149-0
[5] What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East

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