This expansion of the Islamic empire was not simply a political event. Its aim, in fact, was to set in motion a revolutionary process in history. This process had been initiated in Makkah itself, then it travelled from Makkah to Madeenah, to Damascus and Baghdad from where it entered Spain and thereafter it spread all over Europe and the entire world. We would probably be right in saying that the 20th century saw the culmination of this process.
There are two basic aspects to this movement. One was the end of religious persecution. (This kind of persecution has been mentioned in the Quran as fitna’). (Quran 8:39)
The process began with the end of idolatry and was completed during the lifetime of the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam. The other, the advent of religious freedom, came about later, during the pious caliphate; with the disintegration of the two great empires—the Sassanid and Byzantine—the two greatest pillars of religious persecution were uprooted, and religious freedom became the order of the day. However, no great revolution materializes all of a sudden. It reaches fruition only by a long historical process, and the Islamic revolution was no exception to this rule. The process of human liberation, initiated by Islam, continued over a long period to make advances through individual and collective efforts, taking various forms. The second Caliph, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattaab (d.644), may Allah be pleased with him, addressing one of his governors and his son in a well known case asked: “Since when have you enslaved people while their mothers had given birth to them in freedom?”
This voice was echoed eleven hundred years later by the well known French reformer Rousseau (d. 1778). His book, titled The Social Contract, began with this famous sentence: ‘Man was born free, but I find him in chains’.
The end of the superstitious era
Another basic change wrought by the Islamic revolution was similar in some respects to the scientific revolution of modern times; that is, the rooting out of superstitious thinking on scientific grounds and the general prevalence of thinking based on facts.
As mentioned above, the continued existence of the idolatrous way of life and thinking in ancient times was due to the ignorance of human beings regarding nature. Ancient man used to judge natural phenomena by their appearance. Holding them sacred, he began to worship them. For the first time in human history, Islam succeeded in convincing people that these phenomena of nature were not creators, but only creatures. They were entirely helpless beings, mere slaves and not the masters of man.
In the wake of this revolution, the ideological base of idolatry was wiped out altogether. All those things held sacred were relegated to the status of mere creatures. They were there to be harnessed by man and not for man to be enslaved by them. The sun was held to be a god and worshipped in ancient times; the man of today is converting the sun into solar energy. Ancient man held the moon sacred; modern man has set his foot on it. Ancient man had deified the river; modern man has converted rivers into steam power, etc.
In this way, it has happened for the first time in human history that the phenomena of nature, looked upon by ancient man with reverence, have now become objects of investigation. In other words, Islam started the process of scientific enquiry. The Quran repeatedly enjoins man to reflect on the objects of the universe. This is no simple matter. The act of pondering over the nature of the phenomena of the universe has been accorded the status of worship in Islam. As a result of this thinking, for the first time in known history, all things in the universe have been subjected to research and investigation.
The scientific way of thinking of the modern age initiated in the early period of Islam, continued as a process to grow, spreading from one country to another until it reached the west where it saw its culmination in the western world. In respect of its reality, this scientific thinking is a revolution desirable by Islam itself.
After this revolution, for the first time in human history the idolatrous way of thinking has been totally deprived of its ideological base. The concept of the sacredness of natural phenomena is now seen for what it is—a superstition, for modem scientific investigation has demonstrated belief of this kind to be baseless.
All that happened was exactly in accordance with the Divine plan, the Prophet, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, and his companions, may Allah be pleased with them, having been asked to carry out this divine scheme.
Allah Almighty Says (what means): “Fight them until there be no persecution and religion be wholly God’s”. [Quran 8:39]
This means that there was no longer any barrier to man’s making a choice in the way of God.
This was the final goal of the revolution brought about by the Prophet Muhammad, salallaahu alayhi wa sallam, and his companions. It ended that absolutist system of coercion which places curbs upon personal decisions about one’s religion. It also removed the veil of obstacles in ideological terms which confused and mislead people, as a result of which they began to worship creatures supposing them to he creators.
The Quran tells us that there is no compulsion in the matter of religion, with the proviso that true guidance and misconceptions should be thoroughly separated from one another. (2:256)
Truth and falsehood stand clearly separated from each other, just like light and darkness after the sun has risen. This was something which—after the Islamic revolution—could be grasped beyond the shadow of a doubt by anyone who sought reality with an open mind. No one was left groping in the dark. And no one was left with any excuses for rejecting God.
To this particular end, Allah Almighty brought about the revolutions in human history, as mentioned above. Now truth and untruth have become so distinct from one another that there is no thick or thin veil in between: the task of clarification has been performed so thoroughly that the man of today has total freedom of choice. Now in his journey towards Allah Almighty, man is hindered neither by false ideologies nor by practical barriers.