"(We take) Allah's colour, and who is better than Allah at colouring, and we are His worshippers." Holy Qur'an (2:138)
Islam came to light man's path and provide him with a system of life that regulates his relationship with his Creator and his fellowman. It brought about a radical change in man's concepts, ideas, beliefs, and life. It built a grand 'ummah' and a remarkable culture and started a scientific revival that changed the course of history.
Islamic culture grew, developed an independent character, and found a definite identity; in a systematic and distinguished way.
Basing their efforts on monotheism, Muslim philosophers, 'fuqaha', intellectuals and researchers shared in the build-up of the 'ummah's' cultural character.
In the past, Islamic culture faced a series of military and ideological wars that dragged on for many centuries, but, in spite of all the tribulations and hardships, it emerged victorious. And today, Islamic culture, Islamic doctrine and the Muslim 'Ummah' are the target of a hostile, vicious and ignorant war launched by both the East and the West.
Our forefathers did their job, now it is the task of the Muslim intellectuals, researchers, and preachers (ulama) to face up to the present-day ignorant, cultural invasion, spearheaded by capitalism and helped by existentialism and the variety of modern, materialistic schools and philosophies.
Spilt construction Muslim 'ulama' and intellectuals challenged the ignorant cultures at the time of the first stage of cultural and ideological interaction, following the embracing of Islam by other nations, including the Persians, Indians and Chinese. Such non-Islamic beliefs also seeped into the Muslim world through the translation of Greek and Roman thought, and through the adherents of the distorted divine religions; Judaism, Christianity and the like.
Our 'ummah' is undoubtedly going through a bitter, culture struggle. Our war with our foes is cultural in the first place and it is the most dangerous of all wars staged against our Muslim 'ummah' even more dangerous than the ideological one.
The superpowers have lift no stone unturned to swerve the 'ummah's' political march. In the twentieth century, they have made efforts, laid. plans, built educational institutions, organized political parties, and innovated theories and schools of thought, such as Qadiyaniyah and Baha'ism, for this purpose.
They have mobilized the mass media; radio stations, television networks, cinema and theater, as well as the print media, in order to present a "cultural substitute" to the Muslim generations, in a bid to make them drop their Islamic beliefs and repudiate their great Islamic values. But Allah wills to keep His Word high and that of the idolaters low:
"... Then as for the scum, it passes away as a worthless thing; and as for that which does good to people, it tarries on the earth. Thus does Allah set forth parables." Holy Qur'an (13:17)
Those Muslims who are working hard to revive Islam, and those who call for it to guide humanity must, once again, join hands, unify their ranks, and put aside their slight religious, racial and sectarian differences; clinging to the call of guidance and hoisting the flag of enlightenment to mankind.
As it presents this booklet to its readers, Al-Balagh Foundation prays, to Allah; the Exalted and All-Powerful, to make it useful to them. It is hoped that this modest effort will help in correcting wrong concepts by purifying our thoughts, and exhorting Muslims to hold on to Islam. Allah certainly hears our prayers.
Culture and Civilization
Concepts are the main pillar of the edifice of culture and knowledge. Thanks to these, a certain 'ummah's' cultural and ideological character, with its particular qualities, from others.
Our Islamic knowledge, in the fields of thought, literature, jurisprudence, law, politics, ethics, art, philosophy ... etc, has its own concepts and expressions. If our concepts, such as those of freedom, obedience, responsibility, 'ummah', homeland, politics, worship, asceticism, art, counsel 'shoora', culture, civilization, innate nature (fitrah), reason, realization, spirit, soul, hypocrisy, apostasy, ignorance (pre-Islamic era),
equality, justice, oppression ... are well defined, well-coined, and well-used in the light of Islam, expressing exactly their ideological, doctrinal and cultural meanings, then we can shape our separate, distinguished cultural character, and at the same time have a tenacious, cultural build-up. Should we do this we would no longer lack the ability to discern and sift out the concepts. Foreign ideas and concepts could hardly have a harmful on our message and beliefs.
Every expression has its won special, definite meaning, a certain ideological sense; and a well-defined cultural import, It is not right to use the word "freedom" the way capitalists and pornographers do, or understand it in the sphere of personal conduct, economics and polities the way they do. Nor, it is right to understand "homeland" and "nation" the way man-made theories and laws do. We should understand it as it is in Islam; our nation is the Muslim 'ummah'.
The concept of 'ummah', as we know it, is 'a human group bound to each other by the bonds of doctrine and principle; 'The Muslim 'ummah' is one; always open to new converts, but of a definite type and character.' So, the Muslim 'ummah' is never restricted to a certain community, people, land or language and it is capable of increasing in number. Any individual, or nation that embraces Islam joins this 'ummah' and becomes part of it.
'Culture' and 'civilization' are two words that are vaguely and wrongly understood by many people; some people even mix them up. As a result, a call to abolish the cultural character of the Muslim 'ummah' has emerged. Some called for subservience, first, to the Western materialistic culture, and then, to the Communist, Marxist one.
They also called for dissolving the 'ummah's' character, and obliterating its peculiarities by means of borrowing foreign concepts, and modifying certain expressions and slogans, without touching a borrowed thought; which is alien to Islam. Great effort was made, actually , by the 'ideological agents' and the collaborators of the 'cultural imperialism' to achieve this end.
It is a matter of great importance to properly define the meanings of 'culture' and 'civilization', and show the correct use of each of these two words. In order to explain the difference between them, let us define these expressions, and give some examples.
Culture is 'a set of ideas and concepts about the universe, existence, life and man'. Under this category fall beliefs, laws, regulations, morals, philosophy, art, and literature. Briefly, culture can be defined as 'a set of principles and values on which human character and social life are based, and by which their relationship is defined'. The scope of culture is then, 'the human side of life'.
And, it is due to this that the concept of culture, and the way of developing it, varies from one culture to another; and, so, we have Islamic culture, Greek culture, Roman culture, Capitalist culture, Communist culture ... etc. Each one of these cultures has its own style and way of shaping human character, and building life.
The way Islam understands life and moulds man, with all his ideas, concepts, sentiments, behaviour, social organisation and human ties, differs for example, from the way capitalist or communist cultures do. This cultural style of shaping man's character leaves its impact on his life. It marks, with its colour, his behaviour and existence, his artistic, literary, cultural and behavioural activities, making his character and society distinctly particular among the individual characters and societies made by other culture.
The Holy Qur'an refers to this cultural colour, and the distinguishing marks of the Muslim individual and groups:
"So, if they believe as you believe, they are indeed on the right course; and if they turn back, then they are only in opposition. But Allah will suffice you against them; and He is All-Hearing, All- All-Knowing. (We take) Allah's colour, and who is better than Allah at colouring, and we are His worshippers." Holy Qur'an (137-138)
So, the doctrine of monotheism and the values of the faith form the core of Islamic culture. They are a tenacious, close-knit body. Substituting cultural ideals and concepts such as laws, morals, philosophy, and theories of sociology and psychology ... etc, for other ideals leads to ruin; in fact, to the ideological and behavioural collapse of the 'ummah'.
Civilization, on the other hand, differs greatly in its meaning from culture. It is 'the modus vivendi to the way man's energies and the resources of nature are employed; which is done through science, natural experiments, discoveries and inventions, that enables man to harness natural resources, making use of them in his industries, construction materials, agriculture, and the type of wars he fights. He can produce whatever tools or equipment he needs; however inexpensive, primitive, or complicated and advanced they may be:
This is the scientific side of life. Man, in this case, discovers the laws of nature and life and employs them in industry ... etc.
The difference between culture and civilization, then, is that the former is related to the human side of man's life, while the latter is related to the materialistic side.
Culture shows man how 'he should behave in life' and draws for him 'his relationship with the Creator of the world and his fellowman', while civilization is defined as 'man's ability to discover laws of nature and life, and how he should employ them for his benefit'.
Civilization, then, is shared by men regardless of their social theories, beliefs and philosophies. It differs only slightly one culture to another, and the scope of difference depends on the cultural concepts and social values that govern the different cultures.
We should pay particular attention to an important point concerning 'culture' and 'civilization', because they are two expressions that have new meaning which is different from the original, literal one. In Arabic, 'hadharah' refers to the process of living in a village or the countryside and means a permanent, settled life; which is opposite to the wandering life of the bedouins.
As for 'madaniyyah' (civilization), it is taken from the verb 'madana' - (to settle in a certain place), therefore, both words are literally similar, denoting settlements, permanent life, and residence. The two words give this meaning idiomaticness, but each one of them covers a specific area which makes it impossible to use them interchangeably.
Relationship between Culture and Civilization
In spite of the fact that the area of 'culture' and its sphere of influence is the human side of man's life; including beliefs, behaviour, ideals, laws, arts, literatureetc, and the area of 'civilization' is the material means of life; such as transportation, machinery, petroleum-drilling the process of producing medicine, and curing the sick ..,etc, they are linked firmly together, and affected by each other.
What matters, here, is Islam's view of the relationship between culture and civilization, which gives culture precedence over civilization.
In the light of cultural values, centred around the doctrine of monotheism, man makes use of the achievements of civilization for his own benefit, Whatever culture allows him, he is free to produce and then use.
But whatever culture forbids, as being 'haram', he has no right to use, or, for that matter to make as a tool; which would ruin self-fulfillment, and human life, dor example, civilization presents us with medicine; manufactures planes, cars; produces cotton and woollen textiles; produces different materials from petroleum; develops agricultural production and improves breeds of animals; provides housing with furniture, as well as heating and cooling systems ... etc. thus, it provides resources for man; putting at his disposal whatever helps him lead a comfortable life.
Here, culture enters the scene, giving explanation for the way of using and benefitting from all these remarkable human achievements. However, when man manufactures tools and equipment of destruction, annihilation, and torture, and employs his talents to produce tools for entertainment, debauchery, and pornography; such as drugs, liquor, and tools of aberrant sex ... etc, culture, with its values and standards, blocks the way of deviation and the unwise use of man's energy, with that of resources of nature.
The Holy Qur'an mentions this relationship between culture and civilization and the grave danger of deviating from the straight cultural path. It talks about nations that misused their material achievements due to their misunderstanding of the role of their achievements, stemming from their lack of values and ideals. The Qur'an says:
"And Allah sets forth a parable; a town safe and secure, to which its means of subsistence came in abundance from every quarter , but it disbelieved in Allah's favours, so Allah made it taste a pall of hunger and fear because of what they wrought." Holy Qur'an (16:112)
"Do you build on every height a monument? You (only) sport. And you make fortresses that you may abide. And when you seize, you seize as tyrants. So, be in awe of Allah and obey me. And be in awe of Him Who aids you with that which you know- He aids you with cattle and children. And gardens and fountains. Surely I fear for you the chastisement of a grievous Day." Holy Qur'an (26:128-135)
And, it also emphasizes the leading role of culture in this verse:
"So, be in awe of Allah and obey me, and be in awe of Him Who aids you with that which you know." Holy Qur'an (131-132)
Prophet Hud (a.s.), as the aforementioned verses show, exhorted his people to be obedient and pious; to adhere to the religious beliefs he brought to them, which outlined the way they should use their material achievements in the best, proper way. He warned them that their civilization might turn into a catastrophe that would devastate them; changing their life into total misery and suffering; a life of starvation, fear, repression ... etc.
How perfect the Qur'anic analysis of that situation is! How easily it can apply to our time! Anyone who would like to examine the similarity between pre-Islamic era (jahiliyyah) civilization would find no testimonies better than the concepts of our modern, ignorant, materialistic achievements and his civilized progress, into tools of oppression, exploitation, deviation, enslavement, and blood letting. Never has history witnessed such a large-scale, horrifying predicament that man has brought upon himself as is in the case of the present-day.
Since the hour of their birth, the contemporary, ignorant civilizations of Capitalism and Communism, among others, have been treading the same path as the old 'jahiliyyah' civilizations. Both ancient and modem civilizations, as expressed in the Qur'an exploit man's scientific advancement devastatingly, bringing down upon humanity deviation, misery, oppression and ruin.