The Advent of Universities

July 11- The Advent of universitites

By Saulat Pervez

Muslims were the first civilization to institutionalize higher learning through models of systemized education. In fact, modern-day colleges are ‘descendants’ of Islamic universities, which were very common in various cities across the Muslim world. Two of them are the world’s oldest running operations since their inception: University of Al-Qarawiyin in Fez, Morocco, and Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt; they have been continuously operating since 841 AD and 988 AD respectively.

These, and many others like them, originated from mosques. The term for ‘university’ in Arabic is Jamiah, the feminine form of the word Jami, which is used for ‘mosque’. According to “1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World”, this derivation shows that “in Arabic the place of religion and the place of advanced learning are completely tied together.” Therefore, it is no surprise that “some of the mosques of Islam are the oldest universities”.

Al-Qarawiyin mosque and university was built by Fatima Al-Fihri during the Idrisid rule. The university was well-equipped with astronomical instruments and tools to calculate time. Additionally, it offered studies in Quran and theology, law, logic, geography and medicine along with courses on chemistry and mathematics among others. The University had a rigorous selection process which included conditions such as “learning the whole Quran and good knowledge of Arabic and general sciences,” as mentioned in “1001 Inventions”.

Royal families were so keen on furthering the cause of education that, unlike today, students of Al-Qarawiyin did not have to pay tuitions and were actually given stipends for food and accommodation. Many illustrious personalities are associated with this pioneering institution such as Ibn Al-Arabi, Al-Bitruji, and the Jewish figure Musa Ibn Mamun (aka Maimonides). As for Al-Azhar, Ibn Al-Haytham lived there for a long time and Ibn Khaldun taught there.

Universities were equipped with exceptional libraries. In 1050, the book collection of Al-Azhar library had “more than a hundred and twenty thousand volumes, recorded in a sixty volume catalogue totaling about three thousand five hundred pages,” as stated in “1001 Inventions”.

R.S. Mackensen, a contemporary European historian of Islamic librarianship, has remarked: “Books were presented and many a scholar bequeathed his library to the mosque of his city to ensure its preservation and to render the books accessible to the learned who frequented it. And so grew up the great universities of Cordoba and Toledo to which flocked Christians as well as [Muslims] from all over the world.”

During the later part of the 11th century, Baghdad introduced its precursor to the modern university in the form of a chain of Madrasahs, which housed students and a salaried faculty. They were known as the Nizamiyah, after their founder Nizam Al-Mulk, a Seljuk Vizier. The largest and most splendid of these was located in Baghdad; the great theologian Al-Ghazali and the celebrated historian of Saladin, Baha Eddin, were lecturers there.

Al-Mustansiriyah college was established in 1234 CE by Caliph Al-Mustansir. It was a large two-storied building, oblong in shape, with a courtyard in the center. Housing and food were provided for those students who required it. The curriculum included religious studies, mathematics, medicine, and history, among other subjects.

The Sankore university in Timbuktu, which also evolved out of the Sankore mosque, offered subjects such as Quran, Islamic studies, law, literature, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, linguistics, sciences, etc. Students were also trained in trades and business ethics, with classes in carpentry, tailoring, navigation, fishing and so on.

These are just a few of the many universities which existed during the Golden Age of Islam. While scholars and intellectuals flocked to them to teach, they also produced marvelous theologians, inventors and thinkers who had a lasting impact on the modern world as we know it today.

Islam in Saudi Arabia

July 11- Islam in Saudi Arabia

By Kristine Julika

It all starts with a single ‘Allahu Akbar!’ in the distance. Soon, other voices from other mosques join in. Then, one by one, the Muadh-dhins finish their Adhans, until there is just a single voice left again concluding the choral call to prayer: “La ilaha illa Allah!”

Prayer is a central and very influential part of life in Saudi Arabia; everybody and everything stops for the sake of the Creator (swt). The shops are closed; people stop working to remember the true meaning of this ephemeral world.

My story of Islam in Saudi Arabia is mainly a story about a relatively new Muslim revert, who has lived in both Western and Eastern societies. Since Saudi Arabia is the cradle of Islam and the Muslim civilization, it is the dream of every Muslim to live there or at least visit once in a lifetime. This is because Saudi Arabia means no obstacles in enjoying a really Islamic life.

In every European country, I felt like a freak. All the stares and whispers made me feel uncomfortable, even in my native country. Although I wasn’t wearing an Abaya or Niqab, the headscarf did the trick. In Saudi Arabia, however, I don’t feel any different from other women. Everybody has a black Abaya (in most cases, also the Niqab). In contrast to the Western countries, here, you might get some uncomfortable looks, if you do not wear Hijab – at least, in Riyadh. In Riyadh, whenever I put on my Abaya and Niqab, I feel so safe and protected, hardly a feeling I had in Europe.

The same thing can be said about food. Here, I don’t have to be extra careful, when I am in the supermarket buying food. I know that all meat is Halal. In general, I can eat whatever I like!

The amount of shopping malls is unbelievable, and they all tend to be really huge, maybe because this is (almost) the only form of relaxation, entertainment and socialization for Saudi women, and people want to make these places as huge as possible.

The Saudi youth, with their iPods and iPads, are more prone to cultural invasion, because they have lots of money; for some of them, Islam seems to be only a tradition. They love travelling to Western countries. But, at the same time, they also love this country because “this is where I was born” (an answer a student gave me in one of my classes).

However, we should remember that Saudi Arabia is not a flawless place to be. It is not Jannah, after all. Although everybody is said to be Muslim, there are some people, who are just following Islam by tradition or default. For example, some behave contrary to Islamic norms of behaviour; they might be arrogant or forget about being kind to other people. If we live with the right attitude in mind – one that is not judgemental of others – and enjoy life in the country where the Prophet (sa) was born, then it really seems a perfect place to be. Alhumdulillah for the great opportunity!

War in Monotheistic Religions – Islam

July 11 - WAr in Monotheistic religion

In the new millennium, the term ‘holy war’ has come in such a frequent use that nearly everyone is ready to offer its interpretation. In her book “Holy War”, Karen Armstrong, a renowned modern religion writer, takes a detailed look at the history of the three Monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – in order to find the origins of war in all three religions. She also discusses the effects these religions have on the current ideas of ‘holy war’ and political situation in general. In the previous two articles in this series, we took a look at the origins of war in Judaism and Christianity. This time, we will search for the roots of the concept of war in Islam, as interpreted by Karen Armstrong.

Armstrong starts her discussion of Islam with a historical look at its founding and early formative years. She describes the situation of the Arabs just before the advent of Islam as a time of crisis for Arabia. The increasing trade had brought prosperity to Hejaz, which facilitated formation of elitist lifestyle among the rich Arabs. The old tribal values of sharing of resources and generosity were breaking down, creating a vast gap in the society between the rich and the poor. Along with this social disaster also came the political disorders in the form of increasing tribal warfare and crisis of faith, which left Arabs feeling inferior in front of the Jews and Christians living along with them. This is because, unlike the other two religions, they had received no revelation of their own.

Islam came as a solution to the many problems Arabs faced at the time, which was reflected in the early commands Allah (swt) gave to Muslims through Prophet Muhammad (sa): they were to believe in One God only, prepare for the imminent Last Judgement and care for the poor and oppressed in the society. Islam, however, was seen not as a new religion but as the ultimate revelation of the Jewish-Christian tradition.

As can be concluded from the above, in the initial years of Islam, there was no concept of war as such. The focus of Prophet Muhammad (sa) was on spreading the message of Islam among his people. The anti-elitist nature of Islam attracted people from the lower classes of society first. But it was only when the nobles of Makkah started to convert that the rich Makkans began to see this new religion as a potential threat to their regime. Soon the Quraish, the ruling clan of Makkah, started persecutions of Muslims and inflicted upon them numerous hardships. However, even at this point Muslims received no command from Allah (swt) to oppose the oppressors. They were to hold onto their faith with patience and perseverance, until finally, in 622 C.E., they received the permission to migrate from Makkah to Madinah – the city, where Muslims would have the chance to build the first Islamic society.

With the support of the inhabitants of Madinah, Muslims started gaining strength and popularity. In fact, according to Armstrong, conversion to this new faith, which raised the self-esteem of the Arabs as recipients of God’s ultimate revelation, became an irresistible trend in the peninsula. The peaceful spread of the influence of Islam was further facilitated by the treaties the Prophet (sa) made with the neighbouring tribes, without forcing conversion upon them, as that would mean denial of freedom of belief, which was one of the central beliefs of Islam. Non-Muslims were granted protection by the Muslim state, in return for paying a Jizya tax.

As the Muslim state grew, Makkans started to see a serious threat in it. They began using their trade caravans for inciting the neighbouring tribes of Madinah to fight against the Muslims. Since these caravans were usually accompanied by an army, they themselves bore a threat to the security of Madinah. Armstrong points out that this was the time, when the Prophet (sa) received revelation that justified the use of violence as a means of self-defence. (Al-Hajj, 22:39-40) However, Muslims were not allowed to open hostilities. If the ancient Israelites were commanded by God to exterminate the Canaanites living in the Promised Land, and Christians denied violence as such, even for self-defence, then the concept of self-defence stood central in the Islamic view of warfare since the very beginning.

According to Armstrong, at the time, the practice of making a Razzia (raid) on an enemy tribe was deemed normal and acceptable. The code of Razzia was such that the raiders attacked only their enemies, capturing their cattle, animals and booty, without killing people. This is what Muslims started to practice against the Makkan caravans. One day in 624 CE, a small group of 313 Muslims went out to Badr for just that – to attack a particularly important Makkan trade caravan, which was accompanied by most of the Quraish leadership. As Muslims attacked the caravan, they were not aware of the fact that Makkans had requested from back home additional forces for support. However, although Muslims found themselves vastly outnumbered, they won the encounter, which later became known as the Battle of Badr – the first battle in the history of Islam.

Comparing the concepts of war in the three religions, Armstrong maintains that out of all three, Islam has the most realistic view of the warfare. Islam neither justifies a total aggressive war of extermination, as was practiced by ancient Israelites, nor insists on complete pacifism, as was advocated by the early followers of Christianity. According to Armstrong, Islam recognizes that war is inevitable and sometimes a positive duty in order to end oppression and suffering. Moreover, the limits and extent of warfare in Islam are clearly defined and must be followed, in order for war to be legitimate.

Although, for centuries, in the West Islam has been described as ‘the religion of the sword,’ Armstrong says such a perception is inaccurate and has been inherited from the time of the Crusades. It is certainly true that war played a role in the establishment and spread of Islam, but it is not correct to see Islam as a bloodthirsty and aggressive religion.

Compiled from Karen Armstrong’s “Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World” published by Anchor Books (