“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
(The Holy Qur’an, Chapter al-Rum, verse 13)
The foundations of civilization in Islam include the principle of religious pluralism, which recognizes that non-Muslims can also believe in God and the hereafter, and gain reward for their good deeds.
1. What Do we Know about Islamic Civilization?
What we know about Islamic civilization is limited, whether it is related to intellectual or material aspects or the lives of people, knowledge, management of daily affairs, property, art and politics. Despite the importance of this subject, the number of sources of information is limited.
Today, we need to uncover these aspects of Islamic history to show how Islamic civilization emerged, grew, developed and spread around the world. The importance of this topic is clear at a time when misleading images of Islam and Muslims have become increasingly widespread.
2. Civilization and Urbanization
If civilization means the development of physical infrastructure as well as intellectual frameworks, the emergence of social and professional organizations, and scientific and technological achievements, urbanization relates to a settled pattern of social and cultural life that is unlike the life of the Bedouin or nomad.
Therefore, urbanization gives rise to all the various elements of civilization, spurring activity and development. Without urbanization, civilization would suffer from stagnation, which may lead to lack of progress and development.
Thus, civilization without the dynamism of urbanization is transformed into a passive reality. Urbanization brings dynamism to civilization through its dynamic effect on social structures, intellectual movements and scientific discovery, creating the environment for intellectual creativity and social progress.
This was the case during the dynamic periods of Islamic civilization, when Muslims were able to excel, their influence stretching beyond the geographical limits of Islam’s birthplace in the Arabian Peninsula to radiate across the world and interact with other civilizations.
3. From Yathrib to Medina
We can identify three key milestones in Islamic urbanization, which are indicative of the process through which Muslims built cities and a new civilization in the first four centuries after the birth of Islam. This process demonstrates the new civilization’s religious and cultural characteristics, around which a new intellectual, scientific and social life was built, and which could be seen in the cities they established in the East and in the Maghreb.
After he left Mecca, the Prophet (peace be upon him) settled in Yathrib, whose name he changed to al-Medina (the city).This was an expression of the transition from one civilizational context to a completely different one.
The Prophet (peace be upon him)’s first act was to build a mosque (Masjid Quba). Shortly thereafter, he chose a piece of land on which he built the Prophet's Mosque as the central mosque for the city. Nine mosques were built during the life of the Prophet, which became places of education as well as of prayer.
The Prophet’s Mosque was not limited to prayer, sermons and educational activities. It was a meeting place for Muslims and an open space in which the Prophet negotiated with tribal delegations that came to the city such as the delegation of Thaqif and the delegation of Bani Tamim, who entered the mosque seeking to challenge the Prophet to a poetic or literary duel.
The mosque was also the place where the wounded were treated during the Battle of Uhud, and where poor people found shelter. It was also the place where Eid was celebrated and where a group of Ethiopians delivered a ceremonial performance with swords and spears on the occasion of Eid.
4. The Great Cities of Islamic Civilization
Mosques continued to be at the center of the great cities that Muslims established or further developed outside the Arabian Peninsula such as Kufa, Basra, Damascus, Fustat and Kairouan. Mosques occupied a central geographical position within these cities, enjoying a strong symbolic significance for the individual and the community. This continued until the building of Baghdad or the "City of Peace" north of the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq during the Abbasid period between 145 and 147 AH / 762 and 764 AD.
During the same period, Caliph al-Mansour founded the Bayt al-Hikma (the "House of Wisdom"), a library and educational center for the sciences in the capital of the Caliphate, Baghdad. Its scientific activities continued after the end of his reign, including translation and dissemination of many scientific works, particularly on medicine, astronomy and engineering. The institution became the most famous scientific academy of its age, containing books from European countries in different languages, which were translated into Arabic and placed at the disposal of students.
In the capital of Andalusia during the time of the emirate and then during the Caliphate, the mosque occupied a central position in front of the al-Qantara Gate, the main door of the city, and adjacent to the Caliph’s palace. The palace was separated from the mosque only by a road known as the Great Mahajjah (Boulevard).
On the other side of the mosque extended a maze of markets, indicating the integrated nature of urban planning in the Andalusian city, characterized by its strong institutions and equilibrium between the symbol of political power and the central position of the mosque, as well as the provision of the requirements of daily life within the Andalusian urban system.
5. Rebuilding the old world
The Islamic tendency towards urbanization began from the city of Medina with its religious and cultural references then spread with the expansion of Islam, gaining new historical and civilizational dimensions. This saw tremendous growth in a short space of time, reaching parts of the ancient world that had never before witnessed a similar expansion.
Thanks to its new discourse and spirit, which spoke to the whole of humanity, and its values of justice and solidarity, Islam built a mindset that was open to humanity and its various civilizations. Wherever it arrived, it gave nations religious freedom and recognized their traditions in various aspects of their lives.
The importance of this dynamism goes beyond the military and political dimension. This is manifested in the sophisticated and varied architecture it left behind, which formed the basis of Islamic urbanization. Various countries in Asia and Africa entered into this dynamism, building on their existing civilizations and drawing on their human, cultural and material resources, thus developing themselves and providing Islamic civilization the opportunity to build a unique form of civilization.