Islamic civilization is not a thing of the past without any link with the present. Rather, Islamic civilization is the fruit of the culture, history, thought, inventiveness and originality of a people, who have never and will never cease to offer it as a gift to mankind.
This dynamic role for civilization in our era, is exactly the practical role of civilization that was spelt out by Ibn Khaldoun in the eighth century A.H. In his Muqaddima, we find him making the link, with total clarity, between civilization, theoretical and applied science, the latter of which we today call technology. As Ibn Khaldoun expresses it, civilization is “God’s secret way for man to gain knowledge of theoretical and applied science”.
Ibn Khaldoun attributes the blossoming of civilization, in those Islamic regions where it blossomed in the eighth century A.H., to the presence of “a significant deposit of theoretical and applied science”. He gives the example of contemporary Egypt, which he describes as “the mother of the world, the sanctuary of Islam and the spring of theoretical and applied science”.
As we all know, Ibn Khaldoun is a powerful mind, acutely perceptive, and sharp of wit, and the expression which he coins here, “the spring of theoretical and applied science”, is very exact. It is true that civilization is the spring of theoretical and applied science, and it is natural for springs to bubble up, gush forth and spread out. Islamic civilization is continuous, with its roots going back uninterrupted into history, and its message continuing into the future.
Civilization is the sum of human effort in terms of work and creativity. Our forefathers spent their lives working and creating, and pressing on to perfect what they had created. They conquered countries, brought the earth to life, and liberated the will of man from coercion and slavery. They liberated the mind of man from superstition and delusion, and blasted open the springs of science to assuage man’s thirst for knowledge. In this way, they built a lofty civilization which we have termed today ‘Islamic Civilization’. This is the common heritage of peoples and religions and sects who have all lived together in the shade of the Islamic nation in love, mercy and forbearance.
Islamic civilization has a distinctive character, springing from the doctrine of tawhid. It springs from the message of Islam, and draws its special characteristics and unique features from the spirit of this generous religion.
In Islamic civilization is embodied a wisdom which has kept it from extravagance. Islamic civilization does not deify Nature, but respects it and lives in harmony with it. By contrast, contemporary materialist civilization gives absolute value to the created world, while being unable to read the signs of God in it, stripping it of any sacredness, and ending up by destroying its balance.
The impetus to rebuild the edifice of Islamic civilization so that it can resume its historic role and continue its benevolent contribution to mankind, can only spring from firmly rooted doctrine, a deep conviction of the necessity of intellectual renewal according to true principles, and the necessity of undertaking a process of self-criticism, so as to be able to see the ways in which we can guide civilization aright, and to discover what effective actions the present era demands of us.
There is no way of reviving Islamic civilization, except by taking over the means required to release it, in awareness, open-mindedness and responsibility, following the guidelines of the fixed stars of our civilization, the factors working for change in the present, and the possibilities for the future. The conditions for all this are continuous scientific excellence, uninterrupted technological development, and continuously radiant cultural and artistic creativity. All this must be accompanied by self-aware guidance of social and political life on the basis of principles of truth, justice, equality, participation and coexistence.