ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION AND THE WEST
Of the factors that prompted the West to prosper economically over other nations is not atheism or secularism like some people claim; rather it is the free and rational interpretation of Christianity. The Reformation that gave birth to Protestantism supplied the West with new religious passion, thus inducing them to inspect nature from scratch in the light of the Bible. This is the reason why most Western scientists in the Renaissance period were priests or religious people. Britain became the strongest empire after adopting Protestantism. As Britain gradually became irreligious, it was overtaken by a new religious Protestant state: The United States of America. In recent years, the USA has lost significant power as a result of moving away from religion and gradually becoming irreligious. So we can say that religion had significant influence on the rise of the West; but when the Western powers have adopted atheism in the last hundred years, they’ve been dragged into downfall altogether. After the WW2, a new Western nation has been created that is completely unspiritual, irreligious and purposeless and that blindly follows physical desires like animals. I have no doubt that this civilization is doomed to crash in the near future.
What is this concept of “modernity” that we have been imposed since our childhood? Only a few generations ago in the USA, blacks were segregated even in restrooms and busses, women were denied the right to vote, alcohol consumption was forbidden, premarital sex was totally unacceptable, homosexuality was virtually nonexistent. Things that we now despise as backward were considered totally modern in those times. If the norms of society change in each generation, why should we think that the norms of our generation are true? If the opinions of society keep changing in each period, who can guarantee that the contemporary values we now cherish will remain accepted in the future? No doubt that the modernists of 2100 will despise what we now consider modern as backward, in other words, our modernists indeed defend the backward ideologies of the future world. If Germany'd won the Second World War, fascism would now have been the most “modern” system and liberalism would've been deemed backward. If the Soviet Union'd prevailed in the Cold War, communism would now have been the most “modern” system and liberalism would've been deemed backward. All these possibilities demonstrate that there is nothing that makes the contemporary modern values special and superior, their perception in this way is nothing but an illusion.
The Western civilization has not banned religion altogether as the Communist states did, but they isolated it from the state and society and shut it in selves alone. What they did was even worse than Communism in many ways because they introduced religion as a worthless, ineffective and subservient institution to people. Religion has given in to liberalism in every field, and they gave contemptuous labels to anyone who questions liberalism. The Muslims have been largely impacted by this propaganda too, let alone the westerners.
Today, the side that is always on offense is the West thanks to their financial and media power, and the side that is always on defense is the Muslims. The westerners impose their own principles on the Muslims and they judge Islam by these principles. Indeed the case should be vice versa; the westerners must be criticized for lacking the Islamic values instead of them criticizing the Muslims for lacking the Western values. We must ask the westerners why they condone the perversion of homosexuality instead of them asking us why we oppose it. The best defense is a good offense; since the West is cognizant of this, it continuously targets other societies so that its own society cannot be questioned back. The other societies cannot find the opportunity to evaluate and criticize the West under the burden of having to reply to the criticisms of the West. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the apex of the Islamic history, Sultan Suleiman banned a newly invented dance in France which had un-Islamic elements like the opposite genders touching each other, just by sending a single letter to the French king. That era was the time when the West was being judged by Islam, rather than Islam being judged by the West. The Muslims of today don’t have the power and glory of the Ottoman Empire; therefore we may not be in a position to call the westerns to account. However, we have no reason not to leave our inferiority complex aside and internalize the fundamentals of our civilization.
I had criticized the unreasonable inferiority complex of Muslims on various occasions. The Western civilization is definitely off the track, and they are verging on the cliff each decade. The same cliff will possibly become the graveyard of the Muslims too unless the Muslims cease blindly following the West. Why do we feel obliged to tail the Western nations instead of just becoming ourselves? It is because we don’t have a civilization of our own, none of the fifty Muslim-majority states in the world has an original civilization. It is easy to found a state, but it is quite difficult to found a civilization. Even ISIS claimed to have founded a state but they were miles away from founding a civilization.
Countries such as my country Turkey have given up their own civilizations for the sake of Westernization. The notion of whatever that has to do with the West is modern and whatever that has to do with Islam and the Turkish history is backward has been so deeply entrenched in our minds that we are not even ashamed of it anymore. We have gotten to look with contempt at our own history; we’ve been made enemies to the lifestyle, clothes, and culture of our own ancestors. This inferiority complex was once so rampant that we had banned the Turkish music in 1926 and had only allowed Western music in Turkey. The segments of our Muslim populations who identify themselves as “secular” are more distant and ignorant towards Islam than the Amazon tribes. On the other side, those who identify themselves as conservative have nothing to offer the world besides empty slogans. They prefer being stuck in the fond past to living in the evil 21st century; they console themselves with the stories of five hundred years ago.
Although Gulf countries seem more conservative from outside, they don’t have the cultural accumulation to establish a civilization. The oil money that filled their pockets has done little to transform their Bedouin minds. The stiff, shallow and radical understanding of Islam presented as Salafism/Wahhabism is a serious obstacle to their establishing a civilization. Today, the questions of whether the Earth is round or flat and whether the Earth rotates around the Sun are still being discussed among the Saudi clergy.
The core sources we must use for creating our own civilization are the Quran, Sunnah (the traditions of the Prophet), reason and our historical heritage. We must learn the past Muslim Empires, extract their cultural accumulation and improve them. How was the Islamic science and how did it reach its peak in the Abbasid period, how was the Ottoman Turkish music, how could we govern the people of various backgrounds and beliefs together in peace for centuries, how our legal system used to work and how can we adapt it to the contemporary society, why did we fail to catch up with the West in certain areas… The answers to these questions are buried in our past civilizations. Certainly, we shouldn’t copy our previous civilizations either; we should adapt them to the present circumstances. Learning our past will rid us of blind conservatism as well, and will allow us to break free from all the harmful tenets that are presented to us for the sake of conservatism. We definitely have to benefit from the West too; we cannot brush off the Western civilization which laid down the foundations of the modern world. Nevertheless, this utilization must not center around the West, it must center around Islam. Creating a civilization is more difficult than copy and pasting what the West has. However, if we cannot become ourselves and establish our own civilization, whatever belonging to Islam will die out and Islam will become putty in the hands of marginal organizations likes of ISIS. Assimilation has become so easy with the advent of modern communication tools; they now prefer invading our minds to invading our territories. From now on, we will either stand on our own feet or keep living under the shades of others; the choice is up to us. Even the minutest degree of Westernization is wrong and unnecessary. For example, if we are discussing whether we should follow a particular policy, we must analyze its potential consequences and juxtapose its benefits and harms, and follow the policy if its benefits outweigh its harms. The question of whether this policy is followed in the West or not is completely irrelevant in this process. Those who champion Westernization conclude outright that the policy must be true if it is followed in the West and it must be false otherwise, without any analysis or reflection. The scheme of these people does not depend on reason and knowledge, it is a sheer imitation. On the other hand, conservatives would conclude outright that the policy must be true if it exists in our tradition and it must be false otherwise. This attitude is just as problematic as that of modernists because it too depends on blind imitation rather than reason and knowledge. The value of something cannot be measured by the time and place it originated from; it should be measured by how close it is to the truth.
Why is the Islamic world left behind?
Someone living in this century might wonder: if Islam is the true religion and if God is on the side of Muslims and answers the prayers of Muslims, why have Muslims been suffering a complete humiliation over the last two centuries? Why is the Islamic world behind the Western powers in many aspects?
Firstly, those who ask this question have not comprehended the Islamic view of success and victory. The ultimate goal of God is not to make Islam dominate the world, if this was the case he wouldn’t need anyone’s help with that for he has enough power to annihilate all disbelievers and to enrich all Muslims in the blink of an eye. The ultimate goal of God is to see the piety and efforts of Muslims in the service of Islam; it is not important what result this effort is going to give. The disbelievers also contribute to the system of God unawares, their attempts to struggle against Islam become a means of testing the faith of the believers. Actions are measured by intentions. Let’s say that there are ten Muslims who intended a nice deed and worked to succeed it, but only one of them succeeded. The reward that those nine unsuccessful Muslims are going to get out of that deed is not less than the reward of that one Muslim who managed to fulfill his intention. Let’s say that a Muslim prays to God in a way that admitting his weakness and recognizes God as the source of help, the reward of that Muslim is the same regardless of whether his prayer will be accepted or not. The prayers of those whose prayers were not realized were not in vain, they are going to get their rewards anyway for recognizing God as the sole source of help. The soldiers fighting in the way of God would be victorious even if they got defeated in the battlefield, they would have proved their willingness to suffer for the sake of God and would have completed the test of this worldly life successfully. This is a victory, not a defeat. It is the will of God that determines which of the ten people will succeed in fulfilling the common intention, which Muslims’ prayers will be realized and which army will overpower in the battlefield; God’s ordaining of what is not desired cannot be considered a failure or a defeat for God is interested in intentions, not in consequences. Just like this, the weakness of today’s Muslims does not mean the failure of today’s Muslims and does not mean that God cannot help them; it means that is how God willed. The weakening of the Muslims is a result; but we don’t care about results, we care about intentions. “If a wound should touch you - there has already touched the [opposing] people a wound similar to it. And these days [of varying conditions] We alternate among the people so that God may make evident those who believe and [may] take to Himself from among you martyrs - and God does not like the wrongdoers – (Qur’an 3:140)” This topic separates Islam and the West; the Western civilization focuses on the result and considers every means that brings the intended result as legitimate even if it is cruel, whereas the Islamic civilization upholds means and intentions above results. Regardless of how things seem like from outside, always the victors of Islam vs disbelief conflict are God and believers, and its losers are always disbelievers who are the puppets of Satan. Disbelievers who seem powerful and rich are granted that temporary power for nothing but increasing their perversion and sins, thereby rendering them totally deserving of hellfire.
Besides, it is a whole different topic to discuss whether today’s Muslims genuinely rely on God, have Islamic attributes and have good intentions. We said that actions are measured by intentions, but do the Muslims have the right intentions? “God gives those who seek and work for the worldly life their dues; this is the law of this world. Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter - We increase for him in his harvest. And whoever desires the harvest of this world - We give him thereof, but there is not for him in the Hereafter any share. (Qur’an 42:20)” The greatest problem of the Muslims today is unreason, and the source of unreason is ignorance, and the source of ignorance is laziness, and the source of laziness is a lack of zeal. Most Muslims have no cause of spreading Islam and its values; they are resigned to the existing unjust system. They prioritize their comfort and wealth over serving the cause of Islam. How can it be possible to claim that the Muslims genuinely rely on and strive for God in front of all these facts?
“Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of God and what has come down of the truth? And let them not be like those who were given the Scripture before, and a long period passed over them, so their hearts hardened; and many of them are defiantly disobedient. (Qur’an 57:16)” Like the people who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians), the hearts of the Muslims have hardened and their passion has disappeared after one thousand and four hundred years since the Quran was revealed. The religion of Islam had dominated much of the world within the century after it emerged thanks to the passion fueled by the freshness of revelation. It had established a unique and magnificent civilization extending from India all the way to Spain by the hands of the Arab caliphates. The Arabs who grew richer and richer lost their passion after a couple of centuries; the caliphs became immersed in worldly pleasures and drowned under their wealth. When the Muslims were edging towards a crisis, the Turks who were new converts to Islam took on the leadership of Islam and carried its banner for a long time with the passion fueled by the freshness of their faith. They carried Islam from Anatolia to Vienna, from Caucasia to India. However the inevitable ending came about once more, the arrogance that appears from never tasting defeat had befallen the Turkish nation. The Turks began to lose their passion in the course of the time starting with the famous “Tulip Era”. Resting and having fun in Istanbul felt sweeter to them than mounting expeditions deep into Europe. There was a new spark of passion lit in Europe during this period: The Europeans set out for reexploring the planet with the Renaissance, for constructing a rational basis for Christianity, and reaching out to other civilizations in the hope of spreading Christianity. Even the Crusades had no intention to bring more people to Christianity before that, their only goal was killing and looting. This passion combined with the economic power supplied by geographical discoveries elevated the Europeans to the peak and allowed them to establish the modern world. However today, the Westerners are edging towards the crisis that the Turks underwent three centuries ago. They are so immersed in arrogance that they cannot discern the problems of their own civilization; they are utterly lost in the middle of the aimlessness and meaninglessness that atheism threw them into. This is why one doesn’t have to be a genius to see that the future will not belong to the Western powers.
There are hundreds of factors that affect the development of a society, and religion is only one of these factors. It is stupid to correlate the development level of a society with its religion only, to the exclusion of all other factors. Religiousness does not go hand in hand with worldly success, a religious person may be a very bad engineer or a very unsuccessful politician. If I entered a math competition with the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions, I probably would come first, does that mean that I am a better Muslim than them? Of course not! This is also the case for societies. It is possible for an Islamic society to be unsuccessful and backward in regards to worldly affairs, just like it is possible for a religious person to fail the math exam. Unfortunately, the Islamic world for a long time attributed their weakness to having become less religious, they ignored all other factors that may have caused this and abstained from looking for rational solutions to their problems. The true practice of Islam would contribute to the development of a nation, but it cannot create a developed nation by itself.
Finally, we should keep in mind that Islam doesn’t promise victory and power for Muslims during every period until the end of the world. On the contrary, Islam foretells that Muslims will lose power in the end times (close to doomsday), and doomsday will come when disbelief becomes rampant and powerful. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has told: “Islam began as something strange and it will return to being strange” Expecting perpetual power and victory for Muslims contradicts Islam itself.
The Ottoman Empire and the Printing Press
Our Islamic stance shouldn’t give the impression that we deem our ancestors infallible and appreciate every single thing they did. Everything that incorporates the human factor is fallible, and our history is no exception to that. The interior mistakes were effective in the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate as much as the exterior factors. Probably the most popular and the most criticized of those mistakes is the fact that the Ottoman Empire began using the printing press a century later than the Europeans. This has become so popular that many legends revolving around this have been made up. The enemies of Islam correlated the empire’s late embrace of the printing press with the conservative Islamic roots of the empire, and claimed that it was the innovation-averse Muslim clergy that opposed the embrace of the printing press. It has become an obligation upon us to clarify this issue.
The reason why the Turkish Empire had failed to internalize the printing press quickly is the lofty value that the Turks used to assign to writing. The Turkish society who avoided using sculpture and painting as much as possible because of Islamic sensitivities (Islam discourages these two arts for their possible invitation to idolatry), attached huge importance to calligraphy in place of these two arts. They decorated everything they made with calligraphies instead of statues and paintings. If you look at any Ottoman architecture, clothe, gadget, you will see either a Quranic verse or a poem inscribed on it. This is why the saying "The Quran was revealed in Mecca, recited in Egypt, and written in Istanbul." has become popular. The unaesthetic writing of even casual texts was regarded as disgraceful. When you look at the written decrees of the Ottoman Sultans, you can see various shapes of letters and various structures of lines that blend together well. This high sensitivity is strange even to the modern Turkish nation; the art of calligraphy almost disappeared in Turkey after Turkey adopted the Latin alphabet because the Latin alphabet is unfit for calligraphy. Putting unaesthetic and effortlessly-lettered writings on thousands of papers was very hard to accept and internalize for the Turkish nation who had a deep relationship with writing. Leaving writing at the hands of unconscious machines was contrary to the sentiments of the Turkish nation. Also, there would be many printing errors in the books printed by the initial primitive printing presses. This was a quite serious problem especially for the religious books; misprinting even a single letter in the Quran would cause people to incorrectly learn and falsely memorize the Quran. These are the reasons why the Ottoman society had a poor opinion of the printing press during the century it was invented. As a summary, adopting and utilizing the printing press a century later than the Europeans was one of the gravest mistakes of the Ottoman Empire; but this is not because the printing press was seen as a un-Islamic infidel invention, this is because the Turkish nation would uphold writing, calligraphy, and penmen in the Middle Ages.
The Ottoman Empire and the Harem
Another fashionable attack against the Ottoman Empire is that the Ottoman Sultans were self-indulgent because they used to have lots of concubines in their Harems with whom they would have sex. The institution of Harem has gained a new dimension with the advent of the new TV series and artworks that supposedly depict the harem, and even the ignorant people have gotten an idea of it. Firstly, we must know that Islam doesn't limit the number of concubines at one's disposal. It is better for a man who desires women to create a harem with tens of concubines than to fancy fornication with a random woman for a short moment, because the former is Halal (Islamically permissible) whereas the latter is Haram (Islamically impermissible). We, as people who are immersed in fornication of every kind, are not authorized to criticize the Sultans even if they had created the harem for pleasure.
The function of the harem in the Ottoman system was not pleasing the Sultan, it was giving birth to princes who would inherit the throne. If the Sultans were to have kids by means of marriage, they would’ve had to leave the significant portion of their heritage to the wife’s family when they die as the Islamic law dictates. The wealth of the dynasty would have reduced after a couple of generations, and the families that had their members married to a Sultan in the past would have gained so much wealth as to rival the Ottoman dynasty. This scenario would definitely have undermined the central authority of the state. The Ottoman dynasty wanted to gather all the power in a single hand for preventing any possible dispute and chaos, that’s why they didn’t allow the division of fortune through marriages. The only Islamic option for having kids without marriage was to have kids from concubines. The harem was an institution of raising male kids in one sense. This institution was meant to raise as many boys as possible so that there could be multiple candidates for the throne, and the prince could be replaced by another prince if he were not clever and eligible enough for the throne. The division of heritage was a major problem in many kingdoms of the past; some of them had resolved this by using concubines and some had resolved this by inter-family marriages. Marriages within a dynasty, especially incest marriages between siblings were quite common in history for this reason. The Ottoman Empire preferred the option of concubines because Islam deems incest abominable. The reason why these concubines were by and large foreign with non-Muslim backgrounds was that Islam discourages the enslavement of Muslims, not that the Sultans had a special interest in white European women like some falsely believe.
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 145