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Islam means "submission to God in peace". Islam teaches there is only One God, whose primary name is "Allah" in the Arabic language. Islam is the same essential message given to all the prophets, from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and finally to the Last Prophet, Muhammad, (peace be upon them all). They all proclaimed the same basic Divine message: worship only God, stop worshipping human beings and other created things There's a different between Islam and Muslims!! What's the purpose of life? What Do You Know About Islam? Not what you have heard about Islam, not what you have seen in the actions of some Muslims, but what do you really know about Islam?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Spread of Islam in West Africa (part 1 of 3) The Empire of Ghana


Description: How Islam spread into sub-Saharan region of West Africa, and the great civilizations it established there, taking its inhabitants out of paganism to the worship of One God.  Part 1: Islam reaches West Africa, and a history of the Islamic Empire of Ghana.
By Prof. A. Rahman I. Doi

Muslim geographers and historians have provided excellent records of Muslim rulers and peoples in Africa.  Among them are Al-Khwarzimi, Ibn Munabbah, Al-Masudi, Al-Bakri, Abul Fida, Yaqut, Ibn Batutah, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Fadlallah al-’Umari, Mahmud al-Kati, Ibn al Mukhtar and Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di.  Islam reached the Savannah region in the 8th Century C.E., the date the written history of West Africa begins.  Islam was accepted as early as 850 C.E.  by the Dya’ogo dynasty of the Kingdom of Tekur.  They were the first Negro people who accepted Islam.  Trade and commerce paved the way for the introduction of new elements of material culture, and made possible the intellectual development which naturally followed the introduction and spread of literacy.

Eminent Arab historians and African scholars have written on the empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, and Kanem Bornu.  They document famous trade routes in Africa - from Sijilmasa to Taghaza, Awdaghast, which led to the empire of Ghana, and from Sijilmasa to Tuat, Gao and Timbikutu.  Al-Bakri describes Ghana as highly advanced and economically a prosperous country as early as the eleventh century.  He also discusses the influence of Islam in
 Mali in the 13th century and describes the rule of Mansa Musa, whose fame spread to Sudan, North Africa and up to Europe.

Spread of Islam in West Africa

Islam reached the Savannah region in the 8th Century C.E., the date the written history of West Africa begins The Muslim-Arab historians began to write about West Africa in the early 8th century.  The famous scholar Ibn Munabbah wrote as early as 738 C.E., followed by Al-Masudi in 947 C.E.  As Islam spread in the Savannah region, it was quite natural that commercial links should also come to be established with North Africa.  Trade and commerce also paved way for the introduction of new elements of material culture, and made possible the intellectual development which naturally followed the introduction and spread of literacy, and for which parts of the Sudan were to become famous in the centuries to come.  In the Kingdom of Tekur, situated on both banks of the Senegal, Islam was accepted as early as 850 C.E., by the Dya’ogo dynasty.  This dynasty was the first Negro people who accepted Islam.

It was for this reason that Muslim-Arab historians referred to Bilad al-Tekur as ‘The Land of the Black Muslims.’  War-jabi, son of Rabis, was the first ruler of Tekur in whose reign Islam was firmly established in Tekur and the Islamic Shari’ah system was enforced.  This gave a uniform Muslim law to the people.  By the time the Al- Murabitun of Almoravids began their attack on Tekur in 1042 C.E., Islam had made a deep impact on the people of that area.  Al-Idrisi in 1511 described the Tekur Country as ‘secure, peaceful and tranquil.’  The capital town of Tekur was also called Tekur which had become center of commerce.  Merchants used to bring wool to sell there from Greater Morocco and in return, took with them gold and beads.

We have enough documents about the history of this region since it was known to the Arab historians as the Bilad al-Sudan, the land of the Blacks.  In the medieval period, the most well-known empires that grew there are known until our day: The empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, and Kanem Bornu.  Eminent Arab historians have written about the glories of these lands, notable among whom are Al-Bakri, Al-Masudi, Ibn Batutah and Ibn Khaldun.  Besides these scholars, there were local scholars whose works have come down to us.  As for example Tarikh al-Sudan, the History of the Sudan, by Al-Sadi and Tarikh al-Fattash by Muhammad al-Kati.

There were famous trade routes, like the one from Sijilmasa to Taghaza, Awdaghast, which led to the empire of Ghana, and another from Sijilmasa to Tuat, Gao and Timbikutu.  There were others which connected the present Nigeria with Tripoli via Fez to Bornu and Tunisia with Nigeria via Ghadames, Ghat, and Agades to Hausa land.  These routes had made all the above mentioned places famous trade centers.  These centers of trade invariably became centers of Islamic learning and civilization.  New ideas came through visiting traders in the field of administrative practices.  We shall study briefly the expansion of Islam in each of the ancient empires of Western Sudan.

Islam in the Ancient Empire of Ghana

Al-Bakri, the Muslim geographer, gives us an early account of the ancient Soninke empire of Ghana.  His Kitab fi Masalik wal Mamalik (The Book of Roads and Kingdoms) describes Ghana of 1068 as highly advanced.  Economically, it was a prosperous country.  The King had employed Muslim interpreters and most of his ministers and treasurers were also Muslims.  The Muslim ministers were learned enough to record events in Arabic and corresponded, on behalf of the king, with other rulers.  “Also, as Muslims, they belonged to the larger body politic of the Islamic world and this would make it possible to establish international relations.”

Al-Bakri gives the following picture of Islam in Ghana in the 11th century:

The city of Ghana consists of two towns lying on a plain, one of which is inhabited by Muslims and is large, possessing 12 mosques one of which is congregational mosque for Friday prayers: each has its Imam, Muezzin and paid reciters of the Quran.  The town possesses a large number of jurists, consults and learned men.

Spread of Islam in West Africa (part 2 of 3) The Empires of Mali and Songhay

Description: How Islam spread into sub-Saharan region of West Africa, and the great civilizations it established there, taking its inhabitants out of paganism to the worship of One God.  Part 2: A history of the empires of Mali and Songhay

Islam in the Empire of Mali

The influence of Islam in Mali dates back to the 15th century when Al-Bakri mentions the conversion of its ruler to Islam.  There was a miserable period of drought which came to an end by offering Muslim prayers and ablutions.  The Empire of Mali arose from the ruins of Ghana Empire.  There are two important names in the history of Islam in Mali: Sundiata (1230-1255) and Mansa Musa (1312-1337).  Sundiata is the founder of the Mali Empire but was a weak Muslim, since he practiced Islam with syncretic practices and was highly disliked by the scholars.  Mansa Musa was, on the other hand, a devout Muslim and is considered to be the real architect of the Mali Empire.  By the time Sundiata died in 1255, a large number of former dependencies of Ghana also came under his power.  After him came Mansa Uli (1255-1270) who had made a pilgrimage to Makkah.

Mansa (Emperor) Musa came to power in 1312 and his fame reached beyond the Sudan, North Africa and spread up to Europe.  Mansa Musa ruled from 1312 to 1337 and in 1324-25 he made his famous pilgrimage to Makkah [Hajj].  When he returned from his pilgrimage, he brought with him a large number of Muslim scholars and architects who built five mosques for the first time with baked bricks.  Thus Islam received its greatest boost during Mansa Musa’s reign.  Many scholars agree that because of his attachment to Islam, Mansa Musa could introduce new ideas to his administration.  The famous traveller and scholar Ibn Batutah came to Mali during Mansa Sulaiman’s reign (1341-1360), and gives an excellent account of Mali’s government and its economic prosperity - in fact, a legacy of Mansa Musa’s policy.  Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage projected Mali’s enormous wealth and potentialities which attracted more and more Muslim traders and scholars.  These Muslim scholars and traders contributed to the cultural and economic development of Mali.  It was during his reign that diplomatic relations were established with Tunis and Egypt, and thus Mali began to appear on the map of the world. 

Islam in the Empire of Songhay

Islam began to spread in the Empire of Songhay some time in the 11th century when the ruling Za or Dia dynasty first accepted it.  It was a prosperous region because of its booming trade with Gao.  By the 13th century it had come under the dominion of the Mali Empire but had freed itself by the end of the 14th century when the dynasty was renamed Sunni.  The frontier of Songhay now expanded and in the 15th century, under the leadership of Sunni ‘Ali, who ruled between 1464-1492, the most important towns of the Western Sudan came under the Songhay Empire.  The great cities of Islamic learning like Timbuktu and Jenne came under his power between 1471-1476.

Sunni ‘Ali’s was a nominal Muslim who used Islam to his ends.  He even persecuted Muslim scholars and practiced local cults and magic.  When the famous scholar Al-Maghilli called him a pagan, he punished him too.  The belief in cults and magic was, however, not something new in Songhay.  It existed in other parts of West Africa until the time the revivalist movements gained momentum in the 18th century.  It is said of Sunni ‘Ali that he tried to compromise between paganism and Islam although he prayed and fasted.  The scholars called it merely a mockery.

Sunni ‘Ali’s syncretism was soon challenged by the Muslim elites and scholars in Timbuktu, which was then a center of Islamic learning and civilization.  The famous family of Agit, of the Berber scholars, had the post of the Chief Justice and were known for their fearless opposition to the rulers.  In his lifetime, Sunni ‘Ali took measures against the scholars of Timbuktu (in 1469 and in 1486).  But on his death, the situation completely changed: Islam and Muslim scholars triumphed.  Muhammad Toure (Towri), a military commander asked Sunni ‘Ali’s successor, Sunni Barou, to appear before the public and make an open confession of his faith in Islam.  When Barou refused to do so, Muhammad Toure ousted him and established a new dynasty in his own name, called the Askiya dynasty.  Sunni ‘Ali may be compared with Sundiata of Mali, and Askiya Muhammad Toure with Mansa Musa, a champion of the cause of Islam.

On his coming to power, he established Islamic law and arranged a large number of Muslims to be trained as judges.  He gave his munificent patronage to the scholars and gave them large pieces of land as gifts.  He became a great friend of the famous scholar Muhammad Al-Maghilli.  It was because of his patronage that eminent Muslim scholars were attracted to Timbuktu, which became a great seat of learning in the 16th century.  Timbuktu has the credit of establishing the first Muslim University, called Sankore University, in West Africa; its name is commemorated until today in Ibadan University where a staff residential area has been named as Sankore Avenue.

Like Mansa Musa of Mali, Askia Muhammad Toure went on a pilgrimage and thus came into close contact with Muslim scholars and rulers in the Arab countries.  In Makkah, the King accorded him great respect; he was turbanned.  The King gave him a sword and the title of the Caliph of the Western Sudan.  On his return from Makkah in the year 1497, he proudly used the title of Al-Hajj. 

Askia took such a keen interest in the Islamic legal system that he asked a number of questions on Islamic theology from his friend Muhammad al-Maghilli.  Al-Maghilli answered his questions in detail which Askia circulated in the Songhay empire.  Some of the questions were about the fundamental structure of the faith, such as ‘who is a true Muslim?’  and “who is a pagan?”  When we read Shehu ‘Uthman Dan Fodio’s works, we can see some of his arguments quoted on the authority of Al-Maghilli.  In other words, Al-Maghilli’s detailed discussions of the issues raised by Askiya Muhammad played a great role in influencing Shehu.

Spread of Islam in West Africa (part 3 of 3) The Empires of Kanem-Bornu and Hausa-Fulani Land

Description: How Islam spread into sub-Saharan region of West Africa, and the great civilizations it established there, taking its inhabitants out of paganism to the worship of One God.  Part 3: A brief history of the Islamic Empires of Kanem-Bornu and Hausa-Fulani Land.

Islam in Kanem-Bornu Empire

Kanem-Bornu in the 13th century included the region around Lake Chad, stretching as far north as Fezzan.  Kanem today forms the northern part of the Republic of Chad.  Islam was accepted for the first time by the Kanem ruler, Umme-Jilmi, who ruled between 1085-1097 C.E., through a scholar named Muhammad B. Mani, credited for bringing Islam to Kanem-Bornu.  Umme-Jilmi became a devout Muslim.  He left on a pilgrimage but died in Egypt before reaching Makkah.  Al-Bakri also mentions that Umayyad refugees, who had fled from Baghdad following plans to liquidate their dynasty at the hands of the Abbasids, were residing
in Kanem [21, 22].

With the introduction of Islam in Kanem, it became the principal focus of Muslim influence in the central Sudan and relations were established with the Arab world in the Middle East and the Maghrib.  Umme’s son Dunama I (1092-1150) also went on a pilgrimage and was crowned in Egypt, while embarking at Suez for Makkah, during the third pilgrimage journey.  During the reign of Dunama II (1221-1259), a Kanem embassy was established in Tunisia around 1257, as mentioned by the famous Andalusian historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406 C.E.).  It was almost at the same time that a college and a hostel were established in Cairo, named Madrasah Ibn Rashiq.  Toward the end of the 13th century, Kanem became a center of Islamic knowledge and famous teachers came from Mali to teach in Kanem.  By the middle of the 13th century, Kanem established diplomatic relations with Tuat (in the Algerian Sahara) and with the Hafsid state of Tunis at embassy level.  The Kanem scholars and poets could write classical Arabic of a very high standard.  We have evidence of this in a letter written by the Chief scribe of the Kanem court dating from 1391 to 1392.

The historian Ibn Khaldun calls Dunama II as the ‘King of Kanem and Lord of Bornu,’ because his empire had expanded as far as Kano in the west and Wadai in the east.  It is said that Dunama II opened a Talisman (Munni or Mune), considered sacred by his people, and thus brought a period of hardship to his people.  It was because of his enthusiasm for the religion of Islam that he committed this ‘abomination’ (perhaps the talisman was a traditional symbol of divine (kingship) and alienated many of his subjects).

In the late 14th century, a new capital of the Kanem empire was established in Bornu at Nigazaragamu by ‘Ali b. Dunama, also called ‘Ali Ghazi, who ruled during the period 1476 to 1503.  This thriving capital continued until 1811. ‘Ali revived Islam.  He was keen on learning its principles.  He used to visit the chief Imam ‘Umar Masramba to learn more about the Islamic legal system.  He, by his own example, persuaded the nobility and Chiefs to limit the number of their wives to only four.

The Islamization of Bornu dates from the time of Mai Idris Alooma (1570-1602).  We come to know about him through his chronicler, Ahmad bin Fartuwa.  In the 9th year of his reign, he went on a pilgrimage to Makkah and built a hostel there for pilgrims from Bornu.  He revived the Islamic practices and made all and sundry follow them.  He also set up Qadhis courts to introduce Islamic laws in place of the traditional system of customary law.  He built a large number of brick mosques to replace the existing ones, built with reeds.

In 1810 during the period of Mai Ahmad the glories of the Empire of Bornu came to an end, but its importance, as a center of Islamic learning, continued.

Islam in Hausa-Fulani land

There is a well-known Hausa legend concerning the origin of the Hausa state, attributed to Bayajida (Bayazid) who came from Begh to settle down in Kanem-Bornu.  The ruling Mai of Bornu of that time (we do not have any information about the time) welcomed Bayajida and gave his daughter in marriage to him but at the same time robbed him of his numerous followers.  He fled from the Mai with his wife and came to Gaya Mai Kano and asked the goldsmith of Kano to make a sword for him.  The story tells us that Bayajida helped the people of Kano by killing a supernatural snake which had prevented them from drawing water from a well.  It is said that the queen, named Daura, married him in appreciation of his service to the people.  Bayajida got a son named Bawo from Daura.  Bawo, himself, had seven sons: Biran, Dcura, Katsina, Zaria, Kano, Rano and Gebir, who became the founders of the Hausa states.  Whatever may be the merit of this story, it tries to explain how Hausa language and culture spread throughout the northern states of Nigeria.

Islam came to Hausaland in early 14th century.  About 40 Wangarawa graders are said to have brought Islam with them during the reign of ‘Ali Yaji who ruled Kano during the years 1349-1385.  A mosque was built and a muedthin (one who calls to prayer) was appointed to give adthan (call to prayer) and a judge was named to give religious decisions.  During the reign of a ruler named, Yaqub (1452-1463), one Fulani migrated to Kano and introduced books on Islamic Jurisprudence.  By the time Muhammad Rumfa came into power (1453-1499), Islam was firmly rooted in Kano.  In his reign Muslim scholars came to Kano; some scholars also came from Timbuktu to teach and preach Islam.

Muhammad Rumfa consulted Muslim scholars on the affairs of government.  It was he who had asked the famous Muslim theologian Al-Maghilli to write a book on Islamic government during the latter’s visit to Kano in the 15th century.  The book is a celebrated masterpiece and is called The Obligation of the Princes.  Al-Maghilli later went to Katsina, which had become a seat of learning in the 15th century.  Most of the pilgrims from Makkah would go to Katsina.  Scholars from the Sankore University of Timbuktu also visited the city and brought with them books on divinity and etymology.  In the 13th century, Katsina produced native scholars like Muhammadu Dan Marina and Muhammadu Dan Masina (d. 1667) whose works are available even today.

The literature of Shehu ‘Uthman Dan Fodio, his brother, Abdullahi, and his son Muhammad Bello speaks of the syncretic practices of the Hausa Fulanis at the end of the 18th century.  The movement of ‘Uthman Dan Fodio in 1904 was introduced as a revivalist movement in Islam to remove syncretic practices, and what Shehu called Bid’at al-Shaytaniyya or Devilish Innovations.
The spread of Islam in Africa is owing to many factors, historical, geographical and psychological, as well as its resulting distribution of Muslim communities, some of which we have tried to outline.  Ever since its first appearance in Africa, Islam has continued to grow.  The scholars there have been Africans right from the time of its spread.  Islam has become an African religion and has influenced her people in diverse ways.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Omar bin Abdul Aziz (part 1 of 2) Islamic principles transform an Empire

Description: A brief introduction to the man known as the fifth rightly guided Caliph

After the death of Prophet Muhammad, may God praise him, the rapidly expanding Islamic nation was led by a series of men known as the Rightly Guided Caliphs.  They were men who had learnt their faith directly from the Prophet himself and governed strictly according to the Quran and authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad.  By 644CE both the Persian and Byzantium empires had fallen to the Muslim armies.  Slowly over the next decades the people of the conquered empires adapted both the language and religion of the conquerors.  At the same time the character of the Muslim leaders was changing.  The men who had ruled strictly by the word of God had been replaced by others.  The caliphate that was to have been an elected position was replaced by hereditary succession.  The Umayyad dynasty was established. 

Although they did not strictly follow the ways of their predecessors they were historically considered to be an extremely successful dynasty.  The Umayyads managed to maintain political and religious unity of the Islamic nation and greatly expanded its borders.  However they have gone down in history as particularly autocratic.. When Omayyad Caliph Sulaiman (714-717) lay on his deathbed, he attempted to earn the pleasure of God by following the example of the early Caliphs and nominating someone other than one of his own sons as the next Caliph.  He therefore appointed his distant cousin Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz, his successor.  Omar was then faced with the seemingly impossible task of returning the Islamic nation back into a nation of people who obeyed the laws of God above all else.

Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz had served as the governor of Egypt and Medina for more than twenty-two years.  He had been educated and trained by a well-known scholar by the name of Salah Ibn Kaisan.  Before his accession to the Caliphate, Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz was a young man, fond of fashion and fragrance, however when he accepted the responsibility  of leading the Islamic nation  he proved to be  the most pious, able, far-sighted and responsible of all the Omayyad Caliphs.

He tried to rule in a way similar to how the Islamic state was governed in its infancy.  He immediately began by adhering to Islamic principles.  When news reached him of his nomination to the Caliphate, he addressed the people saying, “O people! The responsibilities of the Caliphate have been thrust upon me without my desire or your consent.  If you choose to select someone else as the Caliph, I will immediately step aside and will support your decision”.  This was a breath of fresh air to the people who were longing for a return to the days of Prophet Muhammad, may God praise him, and the Rightly Guided Caliphs.  Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz was unanimously elected. 

Omar immediately discarded his extravagant lifestyle and tried to emulate Prophet Muhammad and his closest companions.  One of his first actions was to return the lavish estates and palaces owned by members of the Umayyad dynasty to the public estate.  When previously there was no answerability to the people, Omar re-established accountability and abolished the corrupt practices by which the government officials had become rich, powerful and abusive.  The people responded with enthusiastic support and overall productivity throughout the Islamic State increased.  Renowned Islamic scholar, Ibn Kathir, records that because of the reforms undertaken by Omar, the annual revenue from Persia alone increased from 28 million dirhams to 124 million dirhams. 

Omar continued to follow the example set by Prophet Muhammad and sent emissaries to China and Tibet, inviting their rulers to accept Islam.  It was during this time that the religion of Islam began to be accepted by large segments of the populations of Persia and Egypt.  When the once corrupt officials complained that because of conversions, the revenues of the state had declined, Omar wrote back saying he had accepted the Caliphate to invite people to Islam and not to become a tax collector.  Omar used his position to uphold the rights and responsibilities that are inherent in the Quran and the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad. 

The infusion of non-Arabs into the fold of Islam shifted the centre of the Islamic State from Medina and Damascus to Persia and Egypt.  Omar made large and astonishing changes to the way the Islamic State was run.  His strict adherence to Islamic principles even allowed him to offer stipends to teachers whilst encouraging education for men, women and children.  Through his personal example, he instilled piety, steadfastness, business ethics, and Islamic morals and manners into the general population.  His reforms included the strict abolition of alcohol and he forbade public indecency..  Omar also oversaw the fair dispensation of money given in charity.

Omar’s efforts to transform the Islamic Islamic State into a well-run Islamic community knew no bounds.  Just as he transformed his life he also transformed the Islamic State.  Omar undertook extensive public works throughout the Islamic State, in Persia, Khorasan (includes parts of modern day Iran, Afghanistan and central Asia) and across North Africa.  This included roads, bridges, canals, inns for travellers, educational facilities and medical dispensaries.
In the following article we will elaborate more on the life and works of Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz and learn how and why his life was cut short at the pinnacle of his Caliphate.

Omar bin Abdul Aziz

 (part 2 of 2)

Greed does not surrender to faith

Description: The reforms continue but Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz faces assassination

Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz became known as a rightly guided Caliph of the Islamic nation because of his similarity to the Rightly Guided Caliphs. The Rightly Guided Caliphs learned their practice of Islam straight from Prophet Muhammad, may God praise him, and kept strictly to the guidelines of the Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad. However after their death the Caliphate became a dynasty, and a more lax approach was taken to implement certain commandments. Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz revived righteous Islamic principles and began to put jewels into the crown of the Islamic Empire. One of his first acts was to replace corrupt and tyrannical Umayyad administrators with honest and just people and another was to restore to the rightful owners their properties that were confiscated from them.

Within the first ten years of the conquest of Sindh (part of modern day Pakistan), in 718 CE Omar became the first Caliph to commission a translation of the Quran from Arabic into another language - Sindhi. This was at the request of the Raja of Sindh. Sindh was yet another area of the Islamic State conquered by the will of God and the impeccable Islamic morals and manners of war, not known in other parts of the world at that time. At the same time Omar’s armies waged a defensive war against the Turks who had ravaged Azerbaijan and massacred thousands. Omar permitted his forces to wage war only under strictest conditions, including that women, children or prisoners would not be executed, and that a fleeing, defeated enemy would not be pursued.

Amongst many firsts, Omar bin Abdul Aziz was the first Muslim ruler to turn his attention away from external conquest. He recalled the Muslim armies from the borders of France, India and the outskirts of Constantinople. It was during his Caliphate that internal uprisings and disturbances ceased, and the true Islamic faith taught by Prophet Muhammad, may God praise him, flourished once again. Greed however does not surrender to faith without a battle, thus there were many disgruntled people, unhappy with Omar’s rule.

Yet the reforms continued. Under Omar’s instructions the viceroy in Spain, took a census of the diverse nationalities, races and creeds, inhabiting that section of the Empire. A survey of the entire peninsula including cities, rivers, seas and mountains was made. The nature of the soil and varieties of mineral sources and agricultural produce was carefully counted and recorded, bridges in southern Spain were constructed and repaired and a large mosque was built at Saragossa in northern Spain. 

In the time between the Rightly Guided Caliphs and Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz the Public Treasury was freely used for private purposes by the Umayyad Caliphs.  Omar immediately put a stop to this practice but at the same time made himself a number of dangerous enemies. Nevertheless he continued to institute reforms and revivals that caused the poor, weak and righteous Muslims to feel strong and protected as they once had under the early Caliphs. One of the most important measures was his reform of taxation.

Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz, following in the footsteps of his beloved prophet Muhammad was kind and just toward non-Muslims.  Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians were allowed to retain their churches, synagogues and temples. In Damascus, where the Basilica of John the Baptist had been turned into a mosque, Omar ordered it returned to the Christian church.

Omar’s administration of the Empire was impartially just and went directly against the interests of the Umayyad dynasty, of which Omar was a distant member but far from the line of succession. The influential Umayyad’s could not tolerate their loss of power, prestige and finances. Omar’s reforms were too much for them to tolerate. A slave was bribed to administer a deadly poison. When the Caliph felt the effects of the poison and had come to understand the plot he sent for the slave and asked him why? The slave replied that he was given one thousand dinars so Omar then deposited that exact amount into the Public Treasury and freed the slave. He advised him to leave immediately in case Omar’s enemies killed him. Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz died after a rule that lasted only two and a half years. He was thirty-nine years old at the time of his death.

Post script

There is an unauthenticated but nonetheless beautiful story about Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz’s lineage

Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz is related to Omar Ibn al-Khattab because of a famous event during the second Caliph's rule. During one of his frequent journeys to survey the condition of his people, Omar overheard a milkmaid refusing to obey her mother's orders to sell adulterated milk. The girl replied that although Caliph Omar was not looking at them, God was always watching over everyone. The next day Omar Ibn al Khattab sent an officer to purchase milk from the girl and found the milk unadulterated. He then summoned the girl and her mother to his court and told them what he had overheard. As a reward, he offered to marry the girl to his son Asim. She accepted, and from this union was born a girl named Layla who would in due course become the mother of Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is the Quran Anti-Semitic? (part 1 of 2) The Semites, a Chosen People


Description: A look into the claim that the Quran, Islam and thus Muslims are anti-Semitic. Part 1: The designation of the Semitic race and the favorable position of the Jews with God

There is a huge cry these days by certain groups claiming that the Quran is anti-Semitic, even leading to certain of its translations being banned in various school districts in the United States of America.[1]  We read about the definition of anti-Semitism in the Jewish Encyclopedia:

“The term ‘Anti-Semitism’ has its origin in the ethnological theory that the Jews, as Semites, are entirely different from the Aryan, or Indo-European, populations and can never be amalgamated with them.  The word implies that the Jews are not opposed on account of their religion, but on account of their racial characteristics.”[2]

One will immediately realize from this statement that the Quran is not at all anti-Semitic, and that the verses which do reprimand the Jews are specific to certain transgressions they made in regards to their religion, and not in regard to their racial origin.

Who are the Semites?

Biblically, the most general designation of the Semites are all the descendants of Shem, one of the three sons of Noah, either the first or the last in conflicting opinions of biblical scholars, but always the first mentioned.[3]  It was in the house of Shem were the Shekinah[4]  was to dwell, and he is singled out with much other praise and blessings in the Bible. “…it is clear that, according to the Biblical classification, the Arabs, Babylonians, Assyrians, Arameans, and Hebrews were regarded as Semites, or the descendants of Shem.”[5]  Modern scholars, placing greater emphasis on language derivation, include Abyssinians, Phenicians, Canaanites, Hebrews, Moabites, and Edomites to those mentioned before.

In whichever context we discuss the subjects, the Arabs, like the Hebrews (and thus Jews), are clearly Semites as well.  Thus to say that the Quran is anti-Semitic is to say that the Quran makes the entire Semitic race inferior others, and that would include Arabs as well, something improbable as God favored both these nations with Prophets.

In rabbinical texts of the Jews, the priesthood of Shem is transferred to Abraham, and it is from this transference of priesthood that the Jews take themselves to be the chosen people and claim ownership of the lands of Canaan, in which lies present day Palestine.  As they claim the Shekinah to have transferred to Abraham and his progeny, specifically Isaac, and thus the Semitic preference of God is specific to them, and more specifically the Israelites, the progeny of Israel, also known as Isaac, son of Abraham.

The Semites, “A Chosen People”

Rather than rendering the Israelites as being an inferior race, the Quran affirms their favorable position amongst humanity.  This is due to the immense sacrifices of Abraham and his invocations to God to make prophets from his progeny that God had chosen his children as the receptacles of Prophecy.  Abraham called to his Lord:

“And We bestowed upon him (Abraham) Isaac and Jacob, each of them We guided, and before him, We guided Noah, and among his progeny David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron.  Thus do We reward the good doers.  And Zachariah, and John and Jesus and Elias, each one of them was of the righteous.  And Ishmael and Elisha, and Jonah and Lot, and each one of them We preferred above all the worlds.  And also some of their fathers and their progeny and their brethren, We chose them, and We guided them to a Straight Path.  This is the Guidance of God with which He guides whomsoever He will of His slaves.  But if they had joined in worship others with God, all that they used to do would have been of no benefit to them.  They are those whom We gave the Book, the Understanding, and Prophethood…” (Quran 6:83-87)

The Israelites are a chosen people, because God chose to raise prophets amongst them.  The Quran in numerous places recognizes this favor and reminds the Israelites of it.

“O Children of Israel (the Israelites), remember and mention the favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I favored you amongst all the worlds.”
(Quran 2:47, 2:122)

“And indeed We gave the Children of Israel (the Israelites) the Scripture, and the understanding of the Scripture and its laws, and the Prophethood; and provided them with good things, and preferred them above all the worlds.”
(Quran 45:16)

God favored them with numerous blessings in addition to the Prophets, such as providing them heavenly food, called manna and salwaa.[6]

“O Children of Israel (the Israelites)!  We delivered you from your enemy, and We made a covenant with you on the right side of the Mount, and We sent down to you Manna and quails (salwaa).”
(Quran 20:80)

God saved them from the savagery of Pharaoh by sending to them Moses, who led  them across the Red Sea to inhabit the “Blessed Land” of Canaan.

“And We made the people who were considered weak to inherit the eastern parts of the land and the western parts thereof which We have blessed.  And the fair Word of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel (the Israelites), because of their endurance.  And We destroyed completely all the great works and buildings which Pharaoh and his people erected.”
(Quran 7:137)

This preference given to the Israelites was not on account of their racial superiority, as mentioned earlier, but rather due to the great sacrifices of Abraham and his supplications which God answered, and this preference was given to the Israelites as long as they kept to their covenant which God made with them.

“Indeed God took the covenant from the Children of Israel (Jews), and We appointed twelve leaders among them.  And God said: “I am with you if you establish the prayer and offer the Zakat (compulsory charity) and believe in My Messengers; honor and assist them, and lend to God a good loan.  Verily, I will remit your sins and admit you to Gardens under which rivers flow (in Paradise).  But if any of you after this, disbelieved, he has indeed gone astray from the Straight Path.”
 (Quran 5:12)


[1] CAIR distributes Quran banned as anti-Semitic.  By Art Moore © 2005  (
[2] Anti-Semitism. Gotthard Deutsch.  The Jewish Encyclopedia (
[3] Shem. Emil G. Hirsch, Ira Maurice Price, Wilhelm Bacher, M. Seligsohn.  The Jewish Encyclopedia (
[4] A word denoting the “presence of God”, about which Biblical scholars have differed much over its exact reality.  Shekinah. Kaufmann Kohler, Ludwig Blau. The Jewish Encyclopedia (
[5] Anti-Semitism. Gotthard Deutsch.  The Jewish Encyclopedia (
[6] Also in Exodus 16.

Is the Quran Anti-Semitic?

 (part 2 of 2)

Abiding by the Covenant

Description: A look into the claim that the Quran, Islam and thus Muslims are anti-Semitic.  Part 2: Who really are the chosen people?


God’s Favor is in keeping to the Commandments

As mentioned earlier, the favor of God towards the Israelites was with them as long as they kept to the Covenant which God made with them.  This fact is also stated by Jews themselves: “Because of our acceptance of Torah, Jews have a special status in the eyes of G-d, but we lose that special status when we abandon Torah.”[1]
Thus we understand that the favor of God is not a racial aspect, nor is it binding till eternity.  Rather, His favor is upon those that fulfill the commandments.  An Israelite who does not keep to the commandments is not included in this favor.

The Jews broke the Covenant of God

God mentions in numerous places in the Quran that the Jews broke the covenant God made with them, through various transgressions they committed in their religion.  These transgressions, varied from falling in to error and worshipping others besides God, an act which broke the first of the ten commandments[2], to changing and interpolating the Torah to their befitting[3].  Out of the Mercy of God, He continued to send prophets to them for their rectification.  Instead of following the Prophets which God sent to them, if they brought something which the Rabbis did not like, they would reject the Prophets and even kill them.  This certainly amounted to disbelief in God, and, due to this, the favor which God had for the Jews was lifted.  God says in the Quran:

“Indignity is put over them (the Jews) wherever they may be, except when under a covenant (of protection) from God, and from men; they have drawn on themselves the Wrath of God, and destruction is put over them.  This is because they disbelieved in the Signs of God and killed the Prophets without right.  This is because they disobeyed (God) and used to transgress beyond bounds (in God's disobedience, crimes and sins).” (Quran 3:112)

The Bible too speaks this fact of the Jews killing the prophets of God in 1 Thessalonians 2:15, and repeated in Acts 7:52.  We also read in Romans 11:3 that the Prophet Elijah appealed against the Israelites:

“Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.”

One of the most serious of these offenses was the rejection of Jesus, a clear sign and miracle sent to the Jews.  It was through this Prophet that the favor of God towards the Jews as a nation was replaced by His Anger and Wrath.  The only Jews who remained “chosen” were those who followed Jesus: the Nazarene Christians[4].

Are Christians the Chosen People of God?

A fact that Christians and Muslims both agree to, contrary to the Jews, is that the Love of God is not limited or specific to a chosen race, but rather, to those who keep to his covenants.  Although Jesus was sent specifically to the Jews[5], Christianity has seen itself throughout history to be a religion for all people.  Thus, according to Christians, anyone who accepts the teachings of Jesus earns the Love of God and His Grace and Favor, and anyone who rejects it is doomed to Hell.

This is a point which Muslims also agree to, but the fact remains that the Christians do not actually follow the teachings of Jesus, as He ordered his followers to keep to the commandment of the Jews, the greatest of which is that  God alone deserves worship.  It is the Christians’ worship of Jesus and ascribing divinity to him that is one of the reasons why they have also earned the anger and not the favor of God.

Reprimanding of Other Peoples

When we analyze the verses which reprimand the Jews in the Quran, we see, as mentioned previously, that they revolve around certain commandments which they broke, and certain punishments which were meted out to them.  This criticism is not limited to the Jews, but it is clearly extended in the Quran and Sunnah to all those who disobey the commandments of God throughout history until this day, even the Muslims.  God says about a Muslim who kills another Muslim intentionally:

“And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell to abide therein, and the Wrath and the Curse of God are upon him, and a great punishment is prepared for him.”
 (Quran 4:93)

We see from this that these severe verses found in the Quran are addressed to all those who break the commandments of God, and not to specific races or peoples.  Likewise, the only people who are chosen and favored by God are the pious from every nation, and not a specific race or people.  Jews, Christians, and all others who were true to their religion and original teachings will go to Paradise, as God himself says:

“Verily!  Those who have believed (the Muslims) and those who were Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever correctly believed in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds, they shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
(Quran 2:62)

Those, however, who did not follow the commandments of their religion, and do not believe in Islam, are destined to Hell.  This is because Islam is the only religion which is accepted by God after the revelation of his Final Message to Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him.

“Verily those who disbelieve from among the People of the Scripture and the polytheists will abide in the Fire of Hell.  They are the worst of creatures.”
(Quran 98:6)

[1] (
[2] Exodus 32, Quran 7:148
[3] Quran 2:75
[4] Acts 24:5: Tertullus named Paul, “the ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”, though the Nazorite Church was actually presided over by ‘James, the Just’, Bishop of Jerusalem. 
[5] Matthew 15:24: “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’”

Monday, February 11, 2013

In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful

  [The Day] when Allah will say, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, "This is not but obvious magic."


 And [remember] when I inspired to the disciples, "Believe in Me and in My messenger Jesus." They said, "We have believed, so bear witness that indeed we are Muslims [in submission to Allah]."


 [And remember] when the disciples said, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, can your Lord send down to us a table [spread with food] from the heaven? [Jesus] said," Fear Allah, if you should be believers."


 They said, "We wish to eat from it and let our hearts be reassured and know that you have been truthful to us and be among its witnesses."


 Said Jesus, the son of Mary, "O Allah, our Lord, send down to us a table [spread with food] from the heaven to be for us a festival for the first of us and the last of us and a sign from You. And provide for us, and You are the best of providers."


 Allah said, "Indeed, I will sent it down to you, but whoever disbelieves afterwards from among you – then indeed will I punish him with a punishment by which I have not punished anyone among the worlds."


 And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, 'Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah?'" He will say, "Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.


 I said not to them except what You commanded me – to worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness.


 If You should punish them – indeed they are Your servants; but if You forgive them – indeed it is You who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.


 Allah will say, "This is the Day when the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness." For them are gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever, Allah being pleased with them, and they with Him. That is the great attainment.


 To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is within them. And He is over all things competent.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Glimpse of Muslim Spain


Description: With the arrival of the Muslims in Spain, the once arid and illiterate land became the capital of European scholarship and agriculture, where people of all faiths were granted security under Muslim rule

When you think of European culture, one of the first things that may come to your mind is the renaissance.  Many of the roots of European culture can be traced back to that glorious time of art, science, commerce and architecture.  But did you know that long before the renaissance there was a place of humanistic beauty in Muslim Spain?  Not only was it artistic, scientific and commercial, but it also exhibited incredible tolerance, imagination and poetry.  Muslims, as the Spaniards call the Muslims, populated Spain for nearly 700 years.  As you’ll see, it was their civilization that enlightened Europe and brought it out of the dark ages to usher in the renaissance.  Many of their cultural and intellectual influences still live with us today.

Way back during the eighth century, Europe was still knee-deep in the Medieval period.  That’s not the only thing they were knee-deep in.  In his book, “The Day The Universe Changed,” the historian James Burke describes how the typical European townspeople lived:

“The inhabitants threw all their refuse into the drains in the center of the narrow streets.  The stench must have been overwhelming, though it appears to have gone virtually unnoticed.  Mixed with excrement and urine would be the soiled reeds and straw used to cover the dirt floors. (p. 32)

This squalid society was organized under a feudal system and had little that would resemble a commercial economy.  Along with other restrictions, the Catholic Church forbade the lending of money - which didn’t help get things booming much.  “Anti-Semitism, previously rare, began to increase.  Money lending, which was forbidden by the Church, was permitted under Jewish law.” (Burke, 1985, p.  32) Jews worked to develop a currency although they were heavily persecuted for it.  Medieval Europe was a miserable lot, which ran high in illiteracy, superstition, barbarism and filth.

During this same time, Muslims entered Europe from the South.  Abd al-Rahman I, a survivor of a family of caliphs of the Muslim empire, reached Spain in the mid-700’s.  He became the first Caliph of Al-Andalus, the Muslim part of Spain, which occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula.  He also set up the Umayyad Dynasty that ruled Al-Andalus for over three-hundred years.  (Grolier, History of Spain).  Al Andalus means, “the land of the vandals,” from which comes the modern name Andalusia.

At first, the land resembled the rest of Europe in all its squalor.  But within two-hundred years the Muslims had turned Al-Andalus into a bastion of culture, commerce and beauty.

“Irrigation systems imported from Syria and Muslimia turned the dry plains...  into an agricultural cornucopia.  Olives and wheat had always grown there.  The Muslims added pomegranates, oranges, lemons, aubergines, artichokes, cumin, coriander, bananas, almonds, pams, henna, woad, madder, saffron, sugar-cane, cotton, rice, figs, grapes, peaches, apricots and rice.” (Burke, 1985, p. 37)

By the beginning of the ninth century, Muslim Spain was the gem of Europe with its capital city, Cordova.  With the establishment of Abd al-Rahman III - “the great caliphate of Cordova” - came the golden age of Al-Andalus.  Cordova, in southern Spain, was the intellectual center of Europe.

At a time when London was a tiny mud-hut village that “could not boast of a single streetlamp” (Digest, 1973, p. 622), in Cordova

“…there were half a million inhabitants, living in 113,000 houses.  There were 700 mosques and 300 public baths spread throughout the city and its twenty-one suburbs.  The streets were paved and lit.” (Burke, 1985, p. 38)

“The houses had marble balconies for summer and hot-air ducts under the mosaic floors for the winter.  They were adorned with gardens with artificial fountains and orchards”.  (Digest, 1973, p. 622) “Paper, a material still unknown to the west, was everywhere.  There were bookshops and more than seventy libraries.” (Burke, 1985, p. 38).

In his book titled, “Spain In The Modern World,” James Cleuge explains the significance of Cordova in Medieval Europe:

“For there was nothing like it, at that epoch, in the rest of Europe.  The best minds in that continent looked to Spain for everything which most clearly differentiates a human being from a tiger.” (Cleugh, 1953, p. 70)

During the end of the first millennium, Cordova was the intellectual well from which European humanity came to drink.  Students from France and England traveled there to sit at the feet of Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars, to learn philosophy, science and medicine (Digest, 1973, p. 622).  In the great library of Cordova alone, there were some 600,000 manuscripts (Burke, 1978, p. 122).

This rich and sophisticated society took a tolerant view towards other faiths.  Tolerance was unheard of in the rest of Europe.  But in Muslim Spain, “thousands of Jews and Christians lived in peace and harmony with their Muslim overlords.” (Burke, 1985, p. 38)

Unfortunately, this period of intellectual and economic prosperity began to decline.  Shifting away from the rule of law, there began to be internal rifts in the Muslim power structure.  The Muslim harmony began to break up into warring factions.  Finally, the caliphs were eliminated and Cordova fell to other Muslim forces.  “In 1013 the great library in Cordova was destroyed.  True to their Islamic traditions however, the new rulers permitted the books to be dispersed, together with the Cordovan scholars to the capital towns of small emirates.” (Burke, 1985, p. 40) The intellectual properties of the once great Al-Andalus were divided among small towns.

the Christians to the North were doing just the opposite.  In Northern Spain the various Christian kingdoms united to expel the Muslims from the European continent.  (Grolier, History of Spain) This set the stage for the final act of the Medieval period.

In another of James Burke’s works titled “Connections,” he describes how the Muslims thawed out Europe from the Dark Ages.  “But the event that must have done more for the intellectual and scientific revival of Europe was the fall of Toledo in Spain to the Christians, in 1105.”  In Toledo the Muslims had huge libraries containing the lost (to Christian Europe) works of the Greeks and Romans along with Muslim philosophy and mathematics.  “The Spanish libraries were opened, revealing a store of classics and Muslim works that staggered Christian Europeans.” (Burke, 1978, p. 123)

The intellectual plunder of Toledo brought the scholars of northern Europe like moths to a candle.  The Christians set up a giant translating program in Toledo.  Using the Jews as interpreters, they translated the Muslim books into Latin.  These books included “most of the major works of Greek science and philosophy...  along with many original Muslim works of scholarship.” (Digest, p. 622)

“The intellectual community which the northern scholars found in Spain was so far superior to what they had at home that it left a lasting jealousy of Muslim culture, which was to color Western opinions for centuries” (Burke, 1985, p. 41)

“The subjects covered by the texts included medicine, astrology, astronomy pharmacology, psychology, physiology, zoology, biology, botany, mineralogy, optics, chemistry, physics, mathematics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, music, meteorology, geography, mechanics, hydrostatics, navigation and history.” (Burke, 1985, p. 42)

These works alone however, didn’t kindle the fire that would lead to the renaissance.  They added to Europe’s knowledge, but much of it was unappreciated without a change in the way Europeans viewed the world.

Remember, Medieval Europe was superstitious and irrational.  “What caused the intellectual bombshell to explode, however, was the philosophy that came with (the books).” (Burke, 1985, p. 42)

Christians continued to re-conquer Spain, leaving a wake of death and destruction in their path.  The books were spared, but Moor culture was destroyed and their civilization disintegrated.  Ironically, it wasn’t just the strength of the Christians that defeated the Muslims but the disharmony among the Muslims’ own ranks.  Like Greece and Rome that proceeded them, the Muslims of Al-Andalus fell into moral decay[1]  and wandered from the intellect that had made them great.

The translations continued as each Muslim haven fell to the Christians.  In 1492, the same year Columbus discovered the New World, Granada, the last Muslim enclave, was taken.  Captors of the knowledge were not keepers of its wisdom.  Sadly, all Jews and Muslims that would not abandon their beliefs were either killed or exiled (Grolier, History of Spain).  Thus ended an epoch of tolerance and all that would remain of the Muslims would be their books.

It’s fascinating to realize just how much Europe learned from the Muslim texts and even greater to see how much that knowledge has endured.  Because of the flood of knowledge, the first Universities started to appear.  College and University degrees were developed (Burke, 1985, p. 48).  Directly from the Muslims came the numerals we use today.  Even the concept of Zero (a Muslim word) came from the translations (Castillo & Bond, 1987, p. 27).  It’s also fair to say that renaissance architectural concepts came from the Muslim libraries.  Mathematics and architecture explained in the Muslim texts along with Muslim works on optics led to the perspective paintings of the renaissance period (Burke, 1985 p. 72).  The first lawyers began their craft using the new translated knowledge as their guide.  Even the food utensils we use today come from the Cordova kitchen! (Burke, 1985 p. 44) All of these examples show just some of the ways Europe transformed from the Muslims.

[1] By leaving the tenets of their religion – IslamReligion.