What are the reasons why the Islamic world fell behind in science and technology?
“Since it is true that the truth always prevails, why does the unbeliever defeat the believer and the power defeat the truth?” Risale-i Nur Collection, The Words, 725
There is a malady which was often mentioned in the past and which now and then recurs today: To assume that the religion is an obstacle against development and to attribute our lack of development in comparison to the Christian world to the religion of Islam.
Before answering this question, firstly I want to mention some points. The line that we draw between these points will bring us to the first answer to this question.
The First Point
At the time when Islam emerged, the Muslims suffered the oppression and aggression of the idolaters for some time and then became a state and continuously made progress until a century ago. It is the first proof of this fact that the Era of Bliss (the time of the Prophet) was an age of faith, morals, virtues, justice and peace. After that, Andalusia became such a pioneer in knowledge for Europe; and the Seljuk and the Ottoman Empires rose to such great peaks in knowledge and arts that it is impossible to conceal them with such claims.
Here, we need to differentiate between the terms Islam and Muslim. It is the Muslims who both develop and go back. Islam is whatever it is.
“This day I have perfected for you your Religion (with all its rules, commandments and universality), completed My favor upon you, and have been pleased to assign for you Islam as religion.”(The Qur'an, Al-Ma'idah Surah, 5:3)
Then the answer to this question should be searched for:
When were we good followers of Islam: When we built empires or when we moved backwards?
The Second Point
Those who attribute our going backwards to Islam have to leave Muslims aside and to deal with Islam; saying “So and so principles of the Qur'an and so and so hadiths of the Prophet are against development.” As a result of their claim, they are bound to try to bring evidence.
For instance, they should prove that prohibiting lying, wrongdoing and oppression, alcohol, gambling, adultery and fornication, manipulation, interest, backbiting, racism and in short prohibiting all evils are against progress.
The Third Point
There is another duty incumbent on those who attribute it to Islam that the Christian are more developed than us. And this duty is to search for and find the principles of today's technology and material progress in the New Testament and to bring up an argument saying “We went back because we lack these and these.” They cannot do that. For, there is no single verse in the New Testament about commercial life or governing of the state.
Let us mention a final point and move on to the answer:
Those who put forth this claim have to prove that the system of education which turned the hard working, brave, patriotic and honest person of former times into today's unruly, lustful and egoistic person originates from Islam.
Let us now try to answer the question in reference to the works of the author of Risale-i Nur Collection, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi.
In the Risale-i Nur Collection, in Lemeat, there is a question:
Once somebody asked: “Since it is true that the truth always prevails, why does the unbeliever defeat the believer and the power defeat the truth?”
That is to say, “Since the truth is superior and since it cannot be defeated, why do the unbelievers defeat the Muslims and the powerful defeat the rightful?”
The answer to this question is given concisely and satisfactorily with its four different aspects:
Firstly, the means are dealt with and it is pointed out that in this world of wisdom the means and causes collide with one another. Whether Muslim or Non-Muslim, whoever fulfills the prerequisites of what s/he intends to attain, and complies fully with its causes and means will succeed. It is definite how one can obtain high performance out of a product under what conditions, with what techniques and with what kind of a planning. Whoever abides by these conditions and applies these means will succeed.
The concept 'power' stated in the question is mentioned as follows: “Power has a right of it, and there is a mystery in its creation.”
If you want to succeed, and if you want to overcome your enemies or your rivals, you should try to be powerful. For, power also has its own right. Whoever has this right in his/her hand will most probably be victorious. If you crash steel and wood against one another, it is definite that the wood will be defeated.
Secondly, the matter is dealt with in relation to the world of qualities in humans. All beautiful qualities are included in the name of the word “Allah” and are exhibited in the best way by Allah's Messenger, peace and blessings upon him. However, in practice, a Muslim may not succeed in exhibiting all these beautiful qualities in his/her life because of the soul, devil, degenerated social composition, and many other factors. Similarly, a non-Muslim may possess some beautiful qualities as a result of the education s/he has received and of the social constitution. These are the Muslim qualities that s/he has. When a work is to be performed, these qualities not the beliefs inside hearts come into prominence.
Let us give an example from commerce: Such qualities as knowledge, honesty, hardworking, being planned and principled affect the result of commerce directly. If a non-Muslim possesses these qualities and a Muslim does not, it is just natural that this non-Muslim will be richer than the Muslim. Here, the unbeliever does not defeat the believer; but the Muslim qualities defeat the non-Muslim qualities. And the victor is, in the realm of qualities, again the truth.
This point may be mentioned so as to open perspectives for us :
“And in the world, the right of life is all-encompassing and covers all. This all-encompassing mercy has a meaningful point and a mystery of wisdom; unbelief is not an obstacle.”
The right of life is all-encompassing. That is to say, in this respect, there is no difference between believer and unbeliever, human and animal. Whoever is given life is also given livelihood. Livelihood is not the recompense of faith and worship, but is the recompense of life. The recompense of faith and worship is the eternal bliss in the abode of the Hereafter.
We may continue our ideas from this perspective as follows:
For the manifestation of each one of Allah's names, there are different mirrors and various platforms. Most of them are not related to the belief of the person. For example, a farmer who wants to obtain more shares from the manifestation of the name Ar-Razzaq (The Ever Providing) will receive more crops when s/he complies with the necessary conditions for this. Here, the faith of the person is not a criterion. Again, somebody who wants the name Ash-Shafii (Giver of Health) to be manifest on him/her will apply the necessary medicine. Here, too, his/her faith is not a criterion. For, s/he knows how to ask for the manifestation of this name and as a result s/he is bestowed with health. Somebody who has not followed this way, even if s/he is a perfect believer, might not attain health.
So, if a Muslim wants to benefit from the blessings of the Divine names in the life of the world, s/he should try to become a deserving mirror for these manifestations. Otherwise, s/he cannot attain the result s/he wants. However, the same believer aims at the Divine blessings in the abode of the Hereafter by complying with the requisites of worship, good deeds and sincerity.
A person who does not comply with these requisites will not have any share in Paradise, however successful s/he is in the world.
A third dimension of the subject is pointed out in the Risale-i Nur Collection as follows:
Allah has two categories of rules. One of these is the principles of the Qur'an, which bring into order the human deeds that depend on free will. The other category is comprised of the rules which ensure the order of the universe and of the things inside it. The first one is Shari'ah (Islamic Law); and the second is Shari'ah at-Takwin (The Law of Creation). The laws of nature fall into this second group.
It is pointed out by Badiuzzaman that those who obey and those who rebel against the decrees of the Qur'an will receive their reward and their punishment generally in the Hereafter and that those who comply with the law of creation and those who do not will receive their reciprocation generally in this world. Accordingly, a believer who does not comply with the law of creation suffers its punishment in the form of lack of success and misery in this world. And a non-Muslim who follows these laws receives the recompense of having acted in accordance with the Divine will in this world, even if s/he does not realize it.
These three points are the reasons for success and lack of success. And most of this matter can be explained by one or some of these points. It may also happen that we do not succeed though we have fulfilled all conditions. Here, we should search for a mystery of mercy and wisdom of the Divine Determining. In the fourth part of the answer, this point is explained; in other words, the perspective of Divine will and the Divine Determining is highlighted.
In the fourth point, in Risale-i Nur, it is emphasized that it sometimes helps the truth flourish for the falsehood to overcome the truth even if temporarily, and it strengthens and brightens the truth.
This point is of great significance in this respect:
In a hadith (saying of the Prophet), the following is stated: “The majority of troubles befall the prophets, and then other beloved servants of Allah according to their ranks.” It is a mystery of the Lord and Divine wisdom that most of the prophets were insulted by their communities, were driven away from their land and were exposed to torments. The troubles they suffered are 'negative worship', with the expression of the author of the Risale-i Nur Collection. The recompense of this worship, which is based on patience, which necessitates doing what one should do in the first place and then trusting Allah with the result, and which is very hard to endure, is similarly great. With these ordeals, the beloved servants of Allah, the prophets taking the lead, both improve spiritually and their true cause usually becomes settled in the hearts of people however late it may be, as a result of their suffering patiently. While those who oppressed and wronged them suffer in their graves, their followers live and make others live the truth in the world.
Just as day and night have different benefits in the growth of a plant, so too do the reflections of Jalal (majesty) and Jamal (beauty) affect the flourishing of the human spirit.
This is a Divine wisdom. And the troubles and ordeals that the friends of the Truth are faced with in the circle of this mystery are not related to the first three points.
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