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There have been many nations in the history who have emerged from nothingness, ruled almost the entire world and then destroyed by others. Romans, Greeks, Persians and even Muslims are few examples of such nations. As far are Muslims are concerned, they rose from the deserts of Arabia and in a period of less than a century, they conquered Persia, Palestine, Egypt and had swept across North Africa and Spain and then for a period of four centuries, during Abbasid caliphate, they led the world in all aspects of education and prosperity. (1) This was the Golden Era of Muslims but Dark Age for West. While Muslims were enjoying development in philosophy, arts, architecture and technology, West did not see any progress for centuries in science and philosophy and was suffering from illiteracy and barbarism. (Perkins 1) But this prosperity of Muslims vanished after few centuries. The collapse of Islamic Empire started with the attack of Mongols. Resultantly, Islamic empire vanished and three separate empires i.e. Moghal, Ottoman and Iranian empire came into being. (Perkins 1) These empires, in turn, were easily destroyed by Western powers through colonization and world wars. Although some people argue that Muslims lost power due to external forces like Mongols and Christians, and that they had also left the true teachings of Islam, nevertheless, the main reason of downfall of Muslims was the religious orthodoxy because it resulted in the abandoning of science and women education.
The religion of Islam, like every religion, consists of two main parts i.e. Shariah (the ordained path) and Fiqh (the Islamic theology). “Shariah has certain laws which are regarded as divinely ordained, concrete and timeless for all relevant situations (for example, the ban against drinking liquor as an intoxicant)” (Shariah 1). So, the rules laid down by Shariah are unchangeable and unchallengeable. Whereas, fiqh “refers to the inferences drawn by scholars of the time” (Shariah 1). These scholars try to enable religious rules to adhere to the prevailing conditions of the society and thus increase the element of rationality and logic in Islamic principles. This practice is commonly termed as ‘ijtihad’. In the initial stages of Islam, ijtihad was encouraged due to which Islam evolved gradually into more science and reasoning based religion. That is why, according to Nowshervi “science was … like full moon during 10th to 12th century”. (1) However, in 12th century, the gates of ijtihad were closed and scientific research largely ceased in the Muslim world. (Perkins 1) So, by not practicing ijtihad, distance was willingly created between Islam and science.
This kind of religious orthodoxy had also started in Christianity but reformers like Martin Luther (German priest) blocked its way through a famous reformist movement called Protestantism. This movement untied God’s revelation from secular institutions like science, philosophy, arts etc and rejected the concept of strict adherence to the words of God in matters of faith and practice. (What is Protestantism 1) Similarly, according to Ahmad, Muslims also got opportunity to get rid of their religious orthodoxy in the form of Mutazilites, the Islamic rationalist philosophers of early eighth century. (1) According to Hoodbhoy, they developed ilm-ul-kalam (the fusion of Greek logic and Muslim theology), which was to form the basis of Muslim scholasticism and dominate Islamic thinking for centuries. (97) It was the result of the efforts of these mutazilites that almost all forms of knowledge medicine, astronomy, philosophy, mathematics, natural sciences, music and the occult sciences flourished in the early five centuries of Islam. (Hoodbhoy 96) And that is why these five years proved to be the golden era of Muslims.
 But Mutazilites were not allowed to influence Muslims thinking for long. During the time of Caliph Al-Mutawakkil, these rationalists were tortured and killed and their properties were confiscated. (1) Moreover, they were removed from government jobs, accused of heresy and executed. (Hoodbhoy 100) So, these intellectuals, philosophers, scientists and rationalists were greatly unwelcomed by the orthodox Muslims of those times. Moreover, they were forcefully sent to Latin West where they were welcomed with open arms and were encouraged to lay the foundations of modern global civilization. (Ahmed 1) So, the Muslims did not take advantage of the opportunity which would have resulted in the revival of science in Islam.
 Moreover, it is a universally accepted fact that Muslims are the founders of modern science and technology. In the period between 8th and 14th century CE, when religious orthodoxy had not yet started, many world famed Muslim scientists like Jabir-ibn-hayan, Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Al-Haitham, Ibn-Sina etc contributed immensely to human knowledge. (Muslim Scientists 1) Similarly, world famed universities were built which attracted not only Muslim students but also students from West. Hoodbhoy points towards this fact by saying that “Baghdad and Spain during their heyday built universities to which thousands flocked”. (85)  But after 14th century, education started slipping out from the hands of Muslims and that is why just a handful of Muslim scientists and intellectuals emerged in the world. Reason for this was that “the natural and rational sciences were considered secular (irreligious) and foreign to Islam…Many Mutakallimun (Islamic theologians) considered them (sciences) as innovations in Islam”. (Decline of Science 1)   Even though at that time certain key figures like Imam Ghazali were of the view that “a grievous crime indeed against religion has been committed by a man who imagines that Islam is defended by the denial of the mathematical sciences, seeing that there is nothing in these sciences opposed to the truth of religion”, the attention of the people had shifted towards either Sufism or other rigid orthodoxy instead of scientific innovations and discoveries. (Salam 1)  So, the voice of anti-orthodox Muslim thinkers did not hold any value.
Moreover, orthodox theologians allowed only those sciences which were useful for religious practices (amal). (Hoodbhoy 101)  They considered all other sciences as unimportant, western and led Muslims from the straight path. It is evident from the fact that after the European invention of printing machine in 15th century, the Arabs did not use it for three centuries on the ground that mechanical printing of religious books and material was un-Islamic and irreverent. (Hoodbhoy 101)  Similarly, Imam Ghazali, who is known as the person who saved orthodoxy by depressing science, had declared in his time that Islamic philosophers like Ibn-Sina, al-Farabi, and others should be reckoned as unbelievers. (Hoodbhoy 104) So, that learning which was not actually anti-Islamic was considered as dangerous and irreligious.
Moreover, when science started to be unwelcomed by Muslims, all their scientific progress shifted to West. (Khan 1) West not only welcomed science from Muslims but also developed it to a magnificent extent. Stanton says that “the emergence of institutions of higher learning in twelfth century Europe occurred as a result of translation of Islamic intellectual and scientific works into Latin”. (147) Additionally, most historians are of the view that the arrival of Islamic intellect to Europe caused a great revolution in learning because before that Europeans scholars were struggling to engage in any kind of intellectual debate. (Stanton 156) Also, when science shifted from Muslims to West, there it was used for development and progress. It is known that after West had much developed as a result of science, philosophy, literature and arts, it became major opponent of Muslims. So, it was due to the shift of science and intellect from Muslims to West that Muslims lost strength and power. 
As today the scientific progress is necessary for a nation to stay alive and overcome the challenges of ever changing world, similarly, at that time, distance of Muslims from science and technology was the confirmation of their downfall. Science is not only related to technology but many other fields like philosophy, medicine, economics, literature, music etc are greatly dependent upon science. So, when Muslims discouraged it, all these fields were badly affected. Moreover, Muslims threw their own rationalist ideas towards West, where they were used to bring development and prosperity. So, this discouragement of science due to religious orthodoxy was one of the reasons of downfall of Muslims.
Religious orthodoxy rejected not only science and reasoning but also women’s education. Since women make half of the population, women’s education not only contributes to economic, scientific and cultural development of a nation but also plays an important role in its social progress. Realizing this fact, Islam, whoso major aim is the welfare of its followers, has provided enough support to the women’s education. For instance, Dr. Tariq quotes from Quran that “it is the duty of every Muslim man and woman to seek knowledge”. (1) So, in the golden era of Islam, when religious orthodoxy had yet not started, according to Jawad, there were no limitations on women’s education and they were free to choose any field of knowledge which interested them. (21) Moreover, there were cases in which women were the teachers of men, for instance, the wives of Muhammad (P.B.U.H) taught Quran, hadith and Islamic jurisprudence to women and also to the Prophet’s companions and followers. (Jawad 20)  Apart from this, many other Muslim women contributed towards literature, medicines, military services etc. So, this situation not only resulted in the betterment of women but also in the progress of entire Muslim society in the initial stages of Islamic civilization.
However, women’s education was not allowed to prevail for long. Due to the orthodox and patriarchal interpretation of Islamic teachings that started first in the Abbasid caliphate, Jawad says that female education was considered a threat to Islamic customs and way of life of those societies. (25) Moreover, “it was believed that basic awareness of religious rites and memorizing part of Quran was sufficient for them. (Jawad 24) Similarly, what at maximum was expected from them was to become a compassionate mother and a dutiful wife. (Jawad 25) Thus, it is evident that by banning women from receiving education, half of the population was not allowed to get advantage of their abilities and potential. Moreover, this discrimination and injustice was done only due to religious orthodoxy and lack of vision in the Muslim theologians and authorities. So, ban on women’s education as a result of religious orthodoxy was also one of the main reasons of downfall of Muslims.
From the above discussion, it is evident that by discouraging science and women education, Muslims have themselves invented the causes of their destruction. Moreover, all this happened because of the orthodox and authoritative mentality of Muslim rulers and legislators. However, the orthodox thinkers, of present, define the downfall of Muslims from their own point of view. According to them, the Muslims enjoyed prosperity and success in the golden era because they exhibited a pious behavior and carried out their religious obligations. Thus, the success was a divine gift. Hoodbhoy also mentions this statement by saying that according to orthodox people “as long as Muslims prayed punctually, performed Haj, fastened in the month of Ramazan, gave Zakat, and religiously observed the rituals, they prospered”. (86) And the downfall of Muslims, according to orthodox thinkers, started when anti religious and impious activities started in Muslim society. “The decline is ascribed to the practice in courts of the caliphate of vices like drinking, singing, dancing and sexual laxity” is the view of orthodox people, according to Hoodbhoy. (86) So, they think that the distance from religion was the major cause of Muslims’ downfall.
But, it is a fact that the major progress that occurred in the Muslim times was in the period of Harun-al-Rashid and Al-Mamun. They both were liberal rulers and strictly opposed religious orthodoxy. According to Hoodbhoy, their liberalism was a source of great displeasure to the orthodoxy of their times. (86) Moreover, they were greatest supporters of science and philosophy in the history of Islam. For instance, in order to create Bait-al-Hikma (the house of wisdom), Mamun sent emissaries as far as Byzantium to search and purchase scientific and philosophical work. (Hoodbhoy 98) So, it can be inferred that it was mainly science and education and not the religion due to which Muslims prospered. Since religion is a personal thing and is necessary for deliverance in the life hereafter, it is useful for the betterment of individual but alone it is not enough to ensure the development and progress of a nation. This fact is evident from the example that “when Napoleon attacked Egypt, all the students of Al-Azhar University were ordered to do nothing else but to recite Surah Yaseen and in this way God would award them with success against Napoleon. They did so and were defeated easily at the hands of Napoleon” said Dr Firaqi (Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS) in an interview. So, it is evident that distance from religion, whether occurred or not, cannot be considered as the cause of downfall of Muslims.
Similarly, it is also a general conception that Muslims are not themselves responsible for their downfall. One set of explanations concentrate on the external factors like Mongols, crusades and the colonization and assign the downfall primarily to military defeats. (Hoodbhoy 95) Thus it is considered that it were the attacks of foreign forces due to which Muslims lost rule and power. But, it is a fact that the nation which has high technology and resources as compared to the opponent nation can subjugate its opponent. So, by banning science and innovations Muslims had surely let themselves apart from modern technology of that time. On the other hand, Western powers, by embracing the science developed by early Muslims, were quickly advancing their war technology. And when their technology had much surpassed that of Muslims, they easily defeated Muslim forces. So, if the Muslims had continued the trend set in science and technology by their elders, foreign forces like Mongols and Christians would not have been able to conquer Muslim territories.
After Muslims had lost much of their power and influence as a result of distance from science and education, they should have learned lesson from their past mistakes. Muslim leaders and legislatures should have thought of some reforms and improvement in their strategy, in order to regain lost rule and influence. They should have revived the culture of science and education in Muslims in order to compete with other nations of the world. But, unfortunately they failed to do so and as a result Muslims gradually lost control over their own territories. This lack of vision has continued even to the present day, with the result that Muslims are currently the most under developed nation of the world.
                                   Until and unless Muslims of the world get rid of the extremist approach and intolerance towards science, innovation and women education, they cannot compete with already developed nations of the world. In the medieval period, West followed the same guideline and not only competed with the then superpower i.e. Muslims but also surpassed them. At that time, their basic ideology was to not only accept the valuable sciences from Muslims but also further develop them. Although, orthodox theologians of today, like those of past, are hampering the way of science and education, they should be neglected and Muslims of the world should focus on these fields.           
                                                             Written By: Fawad Marwat

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