Islamic Culture

Whatever happened to the Islamic empire? When Muslims were at the forefront of science, politics, law, medicine, philosophy, and the arts?

“The decline of the Islamic civilization is a great historical wound to Muslims. For a whole millennium their civilization had dominated most parts of the world. During that time, Islamic civilization was the entity that – due to its high degree of development – was the most expansive throughout the world.”

Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Ghazali – what happened? And what happened to Muslims today to make them think that music, art, thinking for yourself, and debate are haram? All of these things have made Islamic civilization great. Muslims back then did not think every single thing was wrong, or that God does not love beauty. What is wrong with jazz? What is wrong with Rembrandt? Why are these unIslamic?!

“In those earlier times, a visitor from Mars might have supposed that the human world was on the verge of becoming Muslim. He would have based this judgement partly on the strategic and political advantages of the Muslims, but partly on the vitality of their general culture.”

Vitality? It’s hard for me to even imagine that now! Some of the world’s greatest rationalists were Muslims – today we are told by many ulama NOT to think and NOT to question – if something is so it is because God wanted it to be so.

Some of the world’s best poets were Muslims. Today we are told poetry, painting, even MUSIC, is haram. Why? Where are these arguments coming from? And why have Muslims for hundreds of years enjoyed these beautiful things? Were they all wrong and are they all in hell now?

Some of the world’s best scientists and doctors were Muslim. Today we have Muslim doctors saying a male doctor cannot treat a female patient. Seriously, where has professionalism and common sense gone?

To me it is just so sad that this is what Islamic “civilization” has come to: following the ulama blindly and accepting anything without thinking. There is no debate. There is no freedom of expression. And there is definitely no freedom of religion. Even the majority of Muslims in the West blindly follow each other out of social and peer pressure.

There was a time when moderate Islam was the norm. When we had reason and belief, rationality and spirituality. Today we have orthodoxy and conservatism, and if you are a Muslim and you don’t agree, then you have to be prepared to constantly defend yourself.

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Quotes from Bassam Tibi, “Islam’s Predicament with Modernity”

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42 thoughts on “Islamic Culture

  1. My thoughts exactly. I cannot rationalize why any of the things you mentioned are haram. But no one will talk about it for fear of being shunned. I was told that I can disagree but to not vocalize it. But if its irrational how can it be Islamic when Islam is such a rational religion?I think Western Muslims are moving toward questioning these things but its a slow process. You are told you are a bad muslim of you listen to music, any music. Bad muslim if you dance in your home or with your girlfriends. Bad muslim if you have a dog. Its hard to know what is right or wrong when all your life you have been told its all wrong. Yet does not the Qur'an say to make sure you do not make what is lawful to you unlawful? I think muslims and Islamic governments are becoming guilty of this.

  2. It makes it a bit discouraging to be Muslim when you know how great Islam is and how great a real Islamic society would be… Because it's not reflected in today's so-called Islamic countries at all. It's harder to stay focused on what I know is the reality of Islam when what I see is so different.

  3. Its weird that you put music with science, poetry and arts. Music depends on what kind of music..classical music is allowed according to some ulamaa (those i follow) RnB and Hip hop or music that aroses the senses for immoral acts has never and will never be allowed in islam, this has nothing to do with orthodoxy..YOu ask what has happend. The muslim empire was corrupt and when the mongols came, the caliph of Baghdad was busy with his arts, his music and his palace, while his empire needed weapons and fighters.While the "ulamaa" of that time debated about if a certain fish was halal or haram.So the issue is that we have always had groups that forbid everything.I was in a discussion with a muslim who said, when i told him that we need technology and advancement, that we have enough learned people.He meant that beeing a scholar doesnt mean you are a good muslim, and he mentioned osama bin ladin and al zawhari who were doctors and god knows what.Fact is that states or muslims that seek advancement are stopped, Look at Iran. The more rockets they sent to the moon, the more trouble they get into.The Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt have dozens of hadithst where they state that seeking knowledge is a very important thing and to see people forbid it is stupid.

  4. I don't have much to add except I agree 100%. I love music and the arts and have gotten over feeling "guilty" for it. I cannot fathom why denying some of the most beautiful things in the world would somehow make you feel closer to God.

  5. Hadiths.And holding them to a level equal to or higher than the Qur'an. Well, not just that – it happened mainly after Shafi put his argument forth about dual revelation. "Today we are told poetry, painting, even MUSIC, is haram. Why? Where are these arguments coming from?"Those are found in the hadith collection. One would think that the earliest Muslims (such as the ones you listed) would know best, better than we would due to them being alive closer to the time our Prophet was.

  6. Asalamu Alaikum wa rahmutallahi wa Barakatu.I never doubt or question whether music is haram. Its very clear from the hadiths that music is forbidden in Islam. There is many proofs that music is not beneficial for human beings and if they listen to music about love. Love is a very private thing between woman and man it shouldnt be sang out.and i dont have much knowledge for painting and poetry but im sure that theres something to it.

  7. I love music, and the arts, without it life is not as beautiful. Muslims put too much weight on hadith. I'm sorry if I offend anyone, but I think the hadith is like an option.. You can do it if you want, but it is not the Quran. It is not God's word, it is random people saying what they saw the prophet do or say. The prophet himself warned against creating shirk by raising himself too high.. Isn't that why we don't have pictures of him, so we don't raise him up to the level of a "saint"… So why then, is it ok to worship and follow word for word, his words and actions? I can understand wanting to emulate him because he was a great man, but most of the hadith are so flawed, you don't actually know who's words you are following… I actually believe, the more research one does, the less obsessed with ritual and word for word interpretation one becomes. From studying one book of Fiqh, I felt that it was superstition! Enter the bathroom with one foot first, pray while you are peeing because the jinn live in the bathroom. Don't pee in a hole because the jinn live there, superstition… Only brush your teeth with a miswak because that is what the prophet did, only drink water when you are sitting, etc etc etc.. It didn't do anything but turn me off of the hadith. My husband said hadith is like an option.. If you want to be more faithful then you can choose to do these things to feel closer to the prophet and remember God.. I choose not. I am so glad my husband said what he said, or I think we would have a problem.. Does anyone honestly read these things and think "oh yes, I must follow this word for word?" Cairo, I think the literal way Muslims have shifted in thought and interpretation is why we find so many issues in the community.There is such thing in life as common sense.

  8. Even the hadith have some contradiction about whether or not music was forbidden. I strongly disagree with the statement by Sara that there are many "proofs" that music is not beneficial for human beings. Actually music is used in a lot of therapies for children and adults. There are also a lot of studies that show that babies exposed to music in the womb have higher IQ's and children who play musical intruments do better with language and math.

  9. You who are against hadiths make it too easy for yourselves. Hadiths are not optional but the matter is that after the death of the holy Prophet (which happend today acutally on the 28th of Safar) the muslims divided themselves and some leaders came to power that didnt like the message of the Prophet too well. We have had liars who gave forth hadiths, we have had people who hated the prophet who gave forth their versions of hadiths and so forth. Thats why its so important to keep track of the truthful hadiths.Many things that you find in the Quran, are explained by the hadiths.I know a hadith that states a man was pissing and hten he saw the Prophet come and stand by him and do his part too, as if that is important for me to know that the Prophet went to the toilett. So yeah, there are plenty of stupid hadiths. That does nto mean that you can get rid of all hadiths or that you should ignore all hadiths.Did the Prophet sit and see women dance for him or sing for him? If music or dance are so great, why dont we find such hadiths? When Yazid had killed the grandson of the Prophet he said there has never been a religion called islam and that the Prophet never appeared. With such people at power, do you think that they would keep the true message of islam near the people? The Prophet used to smile, i see some muslims today who say dont laugh dont smile..as if anger is part of our lives. Sufi has music, shia ayatollahs have agreed upon htat classical music like mozart is allowed so its not forbiden to listen to all music..

  10. Make it to easy on ourselves? Why? Because I don't think praying while I pee has anything to do with God? Maybe it is easier to be a follower than to think for ourselves, eh? The fact that what I say is controversial should clue one in to whether it is easy or not to be real about one's thoughts. It is easy to conform. Especially in the Muslim community, or any conservative community, for that matter.

  11. ****This is super Controversial**** Many Muslims who do not follow hadith, also do not pray in the way the hadith stipulates….. You would be amazed if you knew how many different ways Muslims practice. Oh, and they consider themselves practicing Muslims just like anyone else.************************************As for me, I am still trying to find where exactly all these "authentic" hadith are…. Is there a certain author that everyone agrees on? I am very well aware, Sara, that we learned how to pray from the hadith.. Can you reference for me a book of hadith that you consider legit?

  12. Well for me, I learned to pray from others – not from the hadiths. That's how it's passed down – people to people.There is no 1 hadith that gives all of the steps of how to pray. There are separate hadiths that discuss details in prayer (like, Kill the two black things during prayer, the snake and scorpion), but no step-by-step instruction. And besides that, there is no unified way to pray, according to the hadiths. Plus, there are contradictions within the hadiths about certain details of prayer.(i.e., Hazrat Anas said: The Prophet (S) used to do a new Wudhu (ablution) for every Namaz. (Bukhari vol 1 pg 35)- Contradiction – Hazrat Ibn Abbas said: Rasool (S) slept for a while – went to the Masjid and prayed without Wudhu. (Bukhari, Kitabul Wudhu))The Qur'an *does* give the basic guidelines for praying, if one looks through it. It also gives the steps for getting wudu.

  13. LK – I think you're right that Western Muslims will be the ones to challenge the literalists, since they haven't grown up hearing things like "dogs are haram". And good point about Islamic governments making what is lawful haram!

  14. Bahlool – I agree, today it seems like any Islamic country that is on the verge of becoming successful gets "stopped". I don't see why I shouldn't put music with science, poetry, and art. We all have preferences for music, and it's the same for art, etc.

  15. Stephanie: exactly, I don't get why we are made to feel guilty for listening to music, having a dog, speaking to members of the opposite sex…seriously, sometimes I feel like certain ulama act as though we have NO self-restraint or morality at all, which is not the way God approaches human beings through the Qur'an.

  16. Sara – music is definitely not always bad for people. I would argue the exact opposite."and i dont have much knowledge for painting and poetry but im sure that theres something to it."Why do you think that these are bad things? Poetry and painting are two beautiful forms of art, why would we not be allowed to enjoy them?

  17. Very interesting. How true that we as an ummah were at our height when we were tolerant, grateful, cultured, and reflective. Another great post to reflect on. Thank you!

  18. For me, I remember a hadith about the Prophet PBUH saying "if ever in doubt of something, leave it." Personally I dont see how music has a positive effect. I just look at the singers and the way they behave and I know why music is bad. Now you will probably tell me that not all music is bad but unfortunatley the majority of it is and what it leads to is bad. Think of how many bad messages are sent through music. Almost every song now has a message and most of the time its not positive or beneficial. Im not a scholar but why listen to music when i can listen to the Quran?… Muslims can go very far as an ummah without music. I feel that painting is alright as long as your not painting a human beings. But again if its haram then im sure theres an explanation.

  19. What a great post. I have so many thoughts going around in my head right now…too many to organize into words. I just want to say thanks for making me think!

  20. you have identified the problem when you said "following the ulama blindly and accepting anything without thinking. There is no debate. There is no freedom of expression." it suits a lot of powers for it to be so.

  21. cairo – well there are a few different hadiths regarding music. The thing is, music is not explicitly banned in the Qur'an, like alcohol and pork are. Some say that the verse about 'idle talk' refers to music. The hadith about silk, alcohol and musical instruments is considered weak because the chain of narrators is broken. (this is the hadith I'm referring to: "From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcoholic drinks and the use of musical instruments, as lawful.")There is this famous hadith: ""The Prophet SAWS said, "There will be (at some future time) people from myummah (community of Muslims) who will seek to make lawful: fornication, thewearing of silk by men), wine-drinking, and the use of musicalinstruments(ma'azif). Some people will stay at the side of a mountain andwhen their shepherd comes in the evening to ask them for his needs, they willsay, 'return to us tomorrow.' Then Allah will destroy them during the nightby causing the mountain to fall on them, while he changes others into apes andswine. They will remain in such a state until the Day ofResurrection.(related by Imam Al-Bukhari in Fat-hul Baari, graded sahih)"The problem is the according to the Qur'an (see 7:188,46:9, among others), Prophet Muhammad didn't know the future. Also, even if one doesn't believe that – then there has been so much time since Prophet Muhammad (saw) has died and I haven't heard of anyone having mountains falling on them or turning into monkeys or pigs. Maybe it's happened, but I haven't heard of it.

  22. "…Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns" Surah 003:140 – Ali 'Imran.Islam was once the "hip" thing to belong to in the world, even the west copied our fashions back then (cool, huh?!) Islam was on such varying levels of greatness (they even have an exhibition about this here in London at the science museum: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/galleries/1001_inventions.aspx), but then there was no more for us to discover, and with the loss of of inspiration came the loss of hope and we started going astray. And so the story continues, and we come to the present day scenario where the west is the leading force of power, however, and like the ayah above states, the day will come round again when Islam will prevail inshAllah and hope along with inspiration will be victorious. Remember this quote though, it's one hell of a driving force:"be the change that you want to see in the world" because we can all sit around waiting for change to happen but unless we get a move on ourselves, then no change will come about. Great blog btw, keep up the great posts!

  23. Sara: I feel that there are much worse things out there other than music, but scholars always choose to focus on it instead of domestic violence, animal abuse, intolerance, hate speech, etc. Many Muslims are anti-Jews, for example, yet we don't see any fatwas against that even though as an ummah we could do better with anti-Semitism. Interesting isn't it.

  24. Fatima: welcome to the blog 🙂 And can I just say I love your pic…cupcakes…yummy 😀 That exhibition sounds amazing, I'd love to see it one day i'A. And you're right, Muslims really were at the forefront at some point 😦 i'A it will happen again.

  25. cairo – yeah you're right … but I don't understand how it's still held to be true (that he supposedly could tell the future), if the Qur'an says he couldn't. I thought that if things in the hadith collection were contradicting the Qur'an, then they were supposed to be ignored/thrown out.

  26. Hi Cairo(:Where I'm from, I belong to a race predominantly Muslim. Yet we are not performing acadmically as well as the other races. We seem to lag behind by a good mile or so. If I had to rank races in my society, mine would be at the bottom.Why then is the situation as such? Like you said, Muslims were at the forefront… So why is my race right down below? If religion is to be partly a reason, then perhaps it could come from the fact that Muslims tend to be more thankful of what they already possess. I'm happy to know that Ive done my best and got that B- whereas others arent happy that they did their best and only managed an A-.Could we have taken the foot of the pedal as soon as "there was no more for us to discover, and with the loss of of inspiration came the loss of hope and we started going astray (Fatima)"? Our hunger for success is too easily satisfied. Good or bad, I don't really know. May the turn for Muslims to rise once more come soon.

  27. Interesting discussion!Aynur, you mentioned something about Shafi and the doctrine of dual revelation – I'd love to hear more about that?I'm still very unsure about where the authority in Islam originally came from – just the Quran, or the Sunnah too, and if the sunnah then in what way.I have no doubt that the early Muslims did take authority from the teaching of Muhammad – that is where most of the laws and rituals come from. Also the Quran does put Muhammad side by side with Allah at least linguistically by saying in many places that believers have to obey "Allah and the Messenger" – and if the Quran is the 100% word of Allah and not from Muhammad, then where does the obeying Muhammad part come in? Through the sunnah would be the obvious answer.But was it always intended that the sunnah should be immortalised and followed to the letter by all believers in all times and settings? I don't know. And I don't see how anyone could prove it.And the problem is, as Aynur showed with the hadiths about prayer, they are full of contradictions. Fiqh gives the impression everything is clear-cut but the reality, if you actually look at the hadiths, is that they are all over the place!Now, either this means there were errors in the transmission, or that there was actually no consistent set of practices at the time (in things like when to make wudu, as in the example). Or both.The second of these possibilities is perhaps the more disturbing one for traditionalists, but it lends weight to the non-traditionalist argument that sunnah is not divinely inspired and therefore "optional".As an outsider to the religion I can go even further. I can entertain the possibility that Muhammad did predict the future even if the Quran says he can't – because I don't have to believe in the kind of consistency and inerrancy that is assumed when you are coming at this from a position of faith. Just couldn't help putting that out there. :)Re music, I remember when I looked it up there were hadiths that described Muhammad bringing singers in to entertain Aisha, letting her watch a group of dancers performing, requesting singers for an Ansar wedding, letting the Ansar play the daff and sing, and so on. So the traditionalist position is that only the voice and the daff are acceptable… presumably because of that other hadith that forbids musical instruments. But that is a contradiction, like it or not. Daff and voice are musical instruments. Oh, and the Quran talks about a trumpet blast being sounded at the end of the world, presumably blown by an angel… how do you explain that if trumpets are haram?!I have to laugh at the sweeping generalisations about the content of music. It's like saying, "the majority of books are bad". Who has even READ the majority of books?!

  28. Wrestling – check out 'Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on the Authority of Prophetic Traditions in Islam' by Aisha Musa. This book also includes a translation of Shafi's 'Kitab Jima' al-'Ilm'. Even though the book is short (like 220ish pages I believe), it explains how the hadiths went from attributed sayings of the Prophet (saw) to being thought of as part of revelation. "100% word of Allah and not from Muhammad, then where does the obeying Muhammad part come in?"Well of course God doesn't speak to us directly (normal people), so the prophets were crucial for that aspect. 😉 In obeying Prophet Muhammad (saw) we would be obeying God. Through the sunnah? Maybe … but most likely the Qur'an.

  29. All these verses about obeying the messenger say just that, to obey the messenger — and not Muhammad (the man). The way I see it, the only thing that makes him a messenger is the message itself. So it's another way of saying to obey God by obeying what is said in his revelation.

  30. Wrestling – the question of authority in Islam is def very complex, and a lot of Muslims have varying answers. I personally don't think that we HAVE to follow all the sunnah. Even traditionalists that argue this don't follow all of the sunna, but are selective.

  31. I agree with Candice – Muhammad was only a messenger because of God's message. When God says obey the messenger I think it means obey the message Muhammad is bringing. If God just said "obey God", well how? We relate to God and we know HOW to obey God through the Qur'an, and we know the Qur'an through the Prophet – thus we need to obey God, the message, and the messenger. This is different from obeying Muhammad the man, which a lot of Muslims think is necessary.

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