Islam's Attitude Towards Civilization and Different Cultures

After studying the difference between culture and civilization we should now determine the attitude of Islam towards civilization and the various existing cultures on this planet. Islam displays a confident posture in that it refuses to subscribe to any culture forein to it which includes any concept, doctrine, legislation, moral value, life philosophy ... etc, that is not based on its beliefs, or has no common ground with it.

So, the imitation of the capitalist, communist, socialist, Roman, Greek ... etc. civilization; the free adoption of any of their doctrines, or the dissolution into their entities, is something firmly rejected by Islam. There is no way to reconcile these cultures with Islamic principles, objectives or system; whether on the level of beliefs and philosophy, or legislation, ethics, arts, literature, education ... etc.

Civilization, on the other hand, has no special affiliation (with..) or distinguished identity. Discoveries, inventions, and industries are all at the disposal of humanity. They are a means to serve man and provide him with comfort, with the exception, of course, of that which is detrimental to man's life or goes against his morals. Within the limits of his culture, the Muslim can react positively to the scientific movement, and cooperate with executives and groups worldwide; anytime and any where He can make use of scientific products and achievement, regardless of their origin.

Within the context of his cultural motives, he should do his utmost to be in the fore front, He has to be a cultural leader, for he is the one who can direct man's ability and natural resources in the right direction, so that they can be employed for the benefit of all humanity.

Collapse of Cultures

A community, exactly like the human body, is subject to feebleness, disease and decay. The first social fabric that may contract disease is often that of thought and belief, next, is the social conduct and morals, then, the social, political and economic apparatus and institutions; such as the family, slate, school, press, ... etc.

The moment the thought of a given group of people, which is, in fact, the soul of their culture, debilitates and frays, the fabric of the group disintegrates and decays. The more extensive the social deviation the worse the ruin. Thereafter, disease creeps slowly into the social units; the very social bodies and institutions that have been built by all individuals to symbolize the collective spirit of the group and represent its cultural progression. When the disease permeates all the cells of these institutions, they began to function reversely.

This time the disease travels from the institutions to the individuals. As a result, such morbid phenomena change into a social and behavioural tide that engulfs everyone. Sometimes human communities may contract cultural malaise while they are at the summit of their scientific progress.

The human community, though scientifically and industrially advanced, is suffering from the most fatal social plagues, namely the dangerous deviations which are threatening to annihilate, on this planet, all the scientific achievements and marvelous production of man's intellect.

Man's diseased, materialistic culture is tumbling down the slope of history. It is not only simply unhealthy, but also has entered the final phase of its morbid downfall.

The 'pre-Islamic era' 'formula' of life, adopted by man, inevitably ends in total destruction and annihilation. This is a fact recorded by history and stressed in the Qur'an.

It is a lesson drawn from the fate of numerous extinct cultures.

"How many a town We destroyed while it was iniquitous, so it is fallen down upon its roofs; and (how many) a deserted well and palace raised high! Have they not travelled in the land so that they should have hearts with which to understand, or ears with which to hear? For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts which are in the breasts." Holy Qur'an (22:45-46)

"Have they not travelled in the land and seen what was the end of those before them? Allah destroyed them. And for the infidels is the like thereof." Holy Qur'an (47:10)

"And how many a town which rebelled against the commandment of its Lord and His messengers, so We called it to severe account and We chastised it with a stern chastisement! So it tasted the evil consequences of its conduct, and the end of its affair was perdition." Holy Qur'an (65:8-9)

"We have certainly been promised this - we and our fathers before; these are nothing but stories of the ancients! Say: Travel in the land, then see what was the end of the guilty!." Holy Qur'an (27:68-69)

"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)

In these Qur'anic texts, the Noble Qur'an draws man's attention to the progression of history, the growth and development of cultures; then, it describes their downfall shrinkage, and decay, explaining the reasons for their extinction. It calls on us to look for their traces, and examine their histories; to put our fingers on the points of weakness and the areas where diseases have struck, It is in our own interests to avoid the wrongs of past nations, and fully grasp the lessons of history.

When the Qur'an relates the story of a nation's rise and fall, it aims at developing our sense of awareness with regard to man's past experience, and enables us to make the best use of the lessons of history drawn from the stories of numerous nations and various cultures. The Qur'an focuses on the key reasons behind cultural downfall and summarizes the plagues of the human community by the following:

  1. Spiritual Imbalance: The disruption of man's relationship with Allah which is represented by his repudiation of the Creator of the universe and life, as well as his abandonment of Allah's Shari'ah.

"Have they not travelled in the land and seen what was the end of those before them ? Allah destroyed them. And for the infidels is the like thereof." Holy Qur'an (47:10)

Disbelief, in the logic of the Qur'an, means denial of the right, and the split between man and the natural laws set for him. As a result disbelief leads eventually to ruin for it is actually the process of abolishing the laws governing man's existence, and falsifying the course of history. In other words, the disbeliever moves against the goals of life. These two phenomena surface as a direct outcome of the deeper cause of disbelief. When man abandons the natural laws which govern him, human civilization weakens and decays, and fades away.

In this case cultural collapse is inescapable, because life moves in the wrong direction. Man, left alone, can never define his own goals in this life, the goals that lead him to his Great Creator.

  1. The second cause behind cultural downfall is "man's mischief", or "misuse of life and man's existence", or "unwise use of things", or "the use of man's existence for goals other than the ones set for him". Should such a thing arise, if man misuses Allah's favours and the resources of nature in the wrong way, for bad purposes, in the wrong place and time; not as Allah has ordered, man's own deviation, in this respect, serves as the green light that signals the start of the collapse of a certain culture:

"Then We made Our promise good to them; so We delivered them and whom We pleased, and We destroyed the extravagant." Holy Qur'an (21:9)

"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. Thye said: It is the same to us whether you admonish, or are not one of the admonishers: This is nothing but stories of the ancients. And we will not be chastised." Holy Qur'an (26:128-139)

The Qur'an, as seen in these verses, describes the irresponsible, mischievous use of life as a devastating pickaxe, demolishing the edifice of culture, tearing it down unit after unit, until, finally, it collapses into ruin. The destroyed edifice expresses the story of man's mutiny against natural laws. The Qur'an depicts this important law in these verses:

"And Allah sets forth a par able: 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)

"And you dwell in the abodes of those who wronged themselves, and it is clear to you how We dealt with them and We made (them) examples for you." Holy Qur'an (14:45)

With such clarity the Qur'an discloses the grave cause of man's down fall. It shows the role of the use of riches and the resources of nature, and the employment of science, as contributing to either man's peaceful, smooth life, or his downfall.

From one culture to another, and from one man to another, the manner in which things are used differ. And, so, wise use of the means of civilization and the potentials of life depends entirely on man's cultural awareness.

That is why the use of resources and endowments by ancient, materialistic cultures, as mentioned by the Qur'an, was marked by mischief and aimlessness.

" ... 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)

We conclude from the Qur'anic analysis that the nature of this mischievous use of things leads man to starvation and fear, which reflects man's cultural misery, and pushes to the surface the factors of death and collapse, that are deeply embedded in an unstabile society. Misery and terror are the result of human oppression and economic and political illegal practices,

which end in Struggle and in destruction of resources. Being not entitled to receive Allah's blessings, man loses them and his social fabric and culture eventually fade away. All social phenomena, as we can see clearly in this vicious cycle, are, in fact, the product of man's misunderstanding, and his erratic, obscured perception of the goal and value of life.

  1. Confusion in man's standards and the lack of clear goals: When human culture enters the stage of cloudiness and opaqueness, mixing the values of evil and good, man moves ground, aimlessly, with no direction; values vanish, and man's spirituality shrinks. At this point, man transgresses the limits of Sacredness and finds himself in the vortex of debauchery and rot.

When a set of ideological and behavioural phenomena comes to the forefront reflecting man's confusion with regard to human standards and his lack of noble and defined objectives, it means that man's culture has become old and frail; living out its last days. Truthful are Allah's words:

"How many populations have We destroyed, which were given to wrong-doing? They trumbled down on their roofs. And how many wells are lying idle and neglected, and castles lofty and well-built?

Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not the eyes that are blind, but the hearts which are in their breasts." Holy Qur'an (22:45-46)

"It is true we were promised this,- we and our fathers before (us): these are nothing but tales of the ancients. Say: Go you through the land and see what has been the end of those guilty (of sin)" Holy Qur'an (27:68-69)

"Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected faith, by the tongue of David. And of Jesus the son of Mary: Because they disobeyed and persisted in Excesses. Nor did they forbid one another. The iniquities which they committed: evil indeed were the deeds which they did." Holy Qur'an (7:78-79)

When human values and standards decline in a particular, morbid society, social disorders and maladies spread; what the Holy Qur'an reveals. Oppression, crime, aggression, evil-doing, ignorance and lack of sound judgement are all the results of unprincipled, straying man, who has abandoned all ethical standards and even his own reason, and formed animal groups roaming the land, governed by a disintegrated, materialistic civilization.

"... They are as cattle; no, they are more astray. These are the heedless ones." Holy Qur'an (7:179)

These are the main morbid phenomena which herald the downfall of human culture; as seen by the Holy Qur'an, which is expounded on, elaborately, in many of its verses. Whenever we see such phenomena creeping into man's life, we know, positively, that both culture and society are moving toward destruction and ruin, and that man's culture is helpless and unable to accommodate his movement; unable to base his history on the serene logic of existence and the ultimate goal of life, especially when the Noble Qur'an has painted culture as a tenacious tissue made from man's awareness and understanding of the universe and life.

This cultural formula and cultural tissue may by shredded into pieces when the factors of man's downfall work on it. It appears, in the Qur'an, as a house erected by man to protect himself, but it collapses over his head when man toys with its foundation. The house buries man and terminates his existence. It remains a scene of ruin and debris;

which is testimony to man's ignorance and tragedy. If one examines history, from the perspective of the Qur'an, especially the ancient past, one will find civilizations that grew and prospered, then shrunk and breathed their last. Modern culture made by modem, ignorant man, is only a confluence of the ignorant cultures of past generations, referred to in the Qur'an, and a stagnant pool on whose floor all microbes of annihilation and destruction exist.

At this point, the observer of the drift of modern materialistic culture, which carries deep in it the seeds of its own destruction, cannot help lamenting over this ignorant culture, while he witnesses its tragic end as it propels headlong at full speed to meet its inevitable fate.

"And warn people of a day when the chastisement will come to them, then the wrongdoers will say: Our lord, respite us to a near term, we will respond to Your call and follow the messengers. Did you not wear before that there will be no passing away for you? And you dwell in the abodes of those who wronged themselves, and it is clear to you how We dealt with them and We made (them) examples for you.

And they have indeed planned their plan, and their plan with Allah, though their plan is such that the mountains should be moved thereby. So think not that Allah will fail in His promise to His messengers. Surely Allah is Mighty, the Lord of retribution." Holy Qur'an (14:14-47)