The Original Islamic State

A state based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad has been created in the Middle East. Preying on it’s war-torn neighbours who are economically weak, and driven by fervent belief, it has spread at a rapid pace sending shock waves throughout the known world. Their soldiers ride on camels with primitive weapons yet defeat their technologically superior enemies with ease. Some have called it a flash in the pan of history while others are proclaiming the end of western civilisation. This is a formidable revolution threatening to engulf the globe. The year is not 2014, it is 639 and the Prophet Muhammad has been dead for less than ten years.

These soldiers did not spread hate and fear through brutal attacks; quite the opposite in fact. This new society known as the Ummah was marked by racial equality, tolerance, taxes to help the poor, protection of women, peace and honest law courts for settling disputes. Medina became famous as a sacred place where violence and the carrying of weapons were banned. Traditions and sacred places such as the Kaaba had been adopted from Arabic pagans and incorporated into the new religion of Islam.

The Islamic state of the seventh century spread rapidly for a variety of reasons. Their once powerful but now stagnant and complacent neighbours of Persia and Byzantium were defeated in battle by the passionate fervour of the Arabic armies. Once in control of large territories, the Muslims gained the full support of Christians and Jews by taxing them considerably less than their previous overlords and granting them full freedom of worship across the empire. As long as those they conquered kept the peace and paid their tax, they were free to use their own language and follow traditional customs and faiths.

Within a century of Muhammad’s death, the Islamic empire stretched from the plains of India to the vineyards at the foothills of the Pyrenees. It was in 732 at the Battle of Poitiers in southern France that Europe was ‘saved’ from the horrors of Islamic rule. While the Dark Ages clung like a damp mist over what is now western Europe; civilisation in the Islamic world shone brightly. Medical breakthroughs came thick and fast such as that of Ibn al-Nafis discovering in the thirteenth century that blood was circulated around the body. (William Harvey would claim this discovery over four hundred years later.) Ibn Rashid published texts on subjects from philosophy to astronomy. Al Khwarizmi popularised the numeric system we used today, which quickly displaced clumsy Roman numerals. Al Burini suggested his theories of the solar system centuries before Galileo was put to death for doing the same.

Let us not suggest however that the society of the Islamic empire was perfect – far from it. Indeed the great Rhazes would have scoffed even at the mere suggestion! However unlike the Islamic State of 2014, this society celebrated education, trade and technology. They did not preach the destruction of any civilisation and their leaders such as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi deserve no comparison with great leaders such as Sultan Saladin. Should you catch yourself on the cusp of declaring that history is repeating itself with the spread of ISIS, remember what you have read today, collect yourself and confidently state that we do not need to look through the annals of history, for answers but to the current affairs websites of the new millennium.

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1 Response to The Original Islamic State

  1. Alison says:

    A very thought-provoking article. It’s all too easy with the pressures of the classroom to make sweeping statements regarding current affairs and past situations, and the comparison made here is a good reminder of some of the differences that can be pointed out in the history classroom in order for students to have a more informed opinion of current situations.


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