Susmit Kumar, Ph.D.

Until the early 1900s, nobody was predicting that democracy would replace kingdoms in most of Western Europe, or that African and Asian countries would gain independence within five to six decades. World Wars I and II were necessary to change global socio-economic and political environments of those times. Had those wars not occurred, much of Europe might still be ruled by monarchs, and most Asian and African countries might still be awaiting independence from their colonial masters. Today Islamic civilization is going through what Europe went through between World Wars I and II. At the end of this crisis, the majority of Islamic nations will become secular and democratic, like Turkey: the world seat of the Islamic Caliphate since 1517, Turkey shed its fundamentalist rule in 1923 and has remained free ever since. In addition to undergoing secularization, Muslims worldwide will start to follow the spiritual aspects of Islam more than its social and militant aspects and Sharia.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Today Islamic civilization is going through a similar crisis that Europe went through between World War I (WWI) and World War II. In future Islam will cease to be the guiding force behind countries in the Middle East, North Africa and East Asia. Like the two World Wars, Islamic militancy and economic crisis will drastically change the global political and economic scene.


The 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and subsequent U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq have led political scientists to believe in Samuel Huntington’s theory of Clash of Civilizations.[1]  His theory of Clash of Civilizations is alignment and wars among various civilizations (Western, Islamic, Sinic/Chinese, Japanese, Orthodox/Russian, Hindu, African and Latin).  However, what we are in fact witnessing is not the Clash of Civilizations, but rather the modernization of Islamic civilization.  In my earlier article (1995) I wrote in my article, “Although fundamentalist Islamic states and powerful Islamic clerics will be the losers of a (Cold or Third World) War, Islam as a religion will emerge victorious and shed its seventh century image, becoming a new 21st century religion more tolerant to women and non-Muslims.”[2]  In order to give birth to a beautiful child, a woman has to go through the pains of labor. Similarly right now we are at a crucial point in the evolution of human society. Europe went through the same crisis in the first half of the last century. WWI and WWII were required to change the socio-economic and political environment in the world, and in Europe in particular. Had there been no WWI and WWII, there would still be kingdoms in most European countries. Also, most Asian and African countries would not have received independence from their colonial rulers. Islam is the only major world religion being enforced by a number of countries. Today Islamic civilization is going through what Europe went through between WWI and WWII.

Right now we watch in disbelief the beheading or mutilation of hostages and soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere. However, Prophet Muhammad carried out similar activities, as is documented in the Quran, as these practices were prevalent in seventh century Arabia. We should not blame Prophet Muhammad for this, but we should indeed blame those who are following these seventh century Arabian practices in the 21st century. Islam is a question of belief by its followers. If we remove the divinity from Prophet Muhammad’s revelations, then the entire Islamic religion collapses and becomes nothing but the social practices of seventh century Arabia. The discovery of tens of thousands of pages of seventh and eighth century Qur’ans in The Great Mosque of Sana’a in Yemen in 1972, raises a big question mark over the divinity behind the Qur’an. Those pages, if publicized, have the potential to destabilize the entire Islamic civilization.

After the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991, the US is now the lone super-power. But Islamic militancy and economic crisis in the 21st century will re-define the balance of power, and the US will have to share global hegemony with the EU, Russia, China, Japan and India. At the end of this crisis, Islam will cease to be the guiding force behind various countries. Despite approaching socio-economic chaos in the world, there is a bright future for human civilization.

Reasons behind the Rise of Hitler and World War II

It is difficult to blame any one country for starting WWI.[3]  In those days, it was somewhat mandatory for a country to participate in war if its ally or allies were at war with another country, irrespective of who was victim or aggressor. Apart from this, as it used to take some months for a country to mobilize its troops, the adversary also had enough time to mobilize. Once the process started, it was difficult to prevent war because mobilization was an irreversible process; stopping it would make a country militarily vulnerable. Kissinger baptized this process, “The Military Doomsday Machine”.[4] Assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and his wife by a Bosnian Serb in 1914 started a chain reaction, which resulted in WWI.

At the time of the WWI armistice, the German army was on enemy soil in all directions, while none of the allied powers had their armies on German soil. U.S. President Wilson’s famous “Fourteen Points” peace proposal was one of the main factors for Germans to sign the armistice. Although Germany was not solely responsible for starting WWI, it had to suffer the most under the Treaty of Versailles. German leaders claimed that Wilson’s Fourteen Points tricked them into armistice. Had they comprehended fully, they would have had second thoughts about armistice and prolonged the w ar until obtaining better terms. Despite British and U.S. objections, France insisted on the reparation clauses and occupation of the coal-rich Saar region in the treaty, thus keeping Germany a weak country. In 1921, Germany paid the first installment of 1 billion marks (about $250 million) as reparations by printing paper marks and selling them in the open market, causing high inflation of German currency.  By mid-1923 the German mark was losing value by the minute, and workers were paid twice a day. Finally in 1924 an Allied Reparations Commission headed by a U.S. banker rescheduled payments for the next five years and urged the Allies to grant sizable loans to Germany. During these years Germany paid about $1 billion in reparations and received about $2 billions in grants, mostly from the U.S.  Hence it was the U.S. who paid for reparations and for German economic recovery.

By 1927 German industrial production bypassed its 1913 prewar high. It is worth noting that before the start of WWI, Germany was an industrial giant second only to the U.S.  Due to stabilization and upswing of the German economy, the popularity of both the left and right wing parties declined sharply.  In the 1928 elections, the Communist and Nazi parties received only 10.6 percent and 2.6 percent of the votes, respectively. But the stock market crash on Wall Street on Oct. 29, 1929 and the following worldwide economic depression changed Germany’s economics and politics drastically. After the crash American investors, who were the backbone of the German economic recovery, started withdrawing their money from Germany.  This caused a collapse of the economy and finally resulted in the rise of Hitler. The Nazis and Communists received 18 and 13 percent of the vote, respectively, in Sept. 1930, 37 and 15 percent in July 1932, and 33 and 17 percent in Nov. 1932. After becoming dictator, Hitler played his foreign policy skillfully. Kissinger wrote, “Internationally, he ruthlessly exploited the democracies’ guilty conscience about the Treaty of Versailles… All his great foreign policy triumphs occurred in the first five years of his rule, 1933-38, and were based on his victims’ assumption that his aim was to reconcile the Versailles system with its purported principles.”[5]

The main motive behind WWI and WWII was the desire of European countries to “rule the World”. Bismarck’s unification of Germany created an imbalance amongst European powers.  After becoming an economic and military superpower, unified Germany tried to get its “fair share” in the world, a prospect which other European powers could not tolerate and which led to WWI and WWII.  Had Wilson been successful in implementing his “Fourteen Points” Charter, and had France not insisted on reparations in the Treaty of Versailles, we most probably would not have seen a Hitler.  Hitler was largely the product of cruel and foolish diplomacy.  For this very reason, the U.S. and Britain shot down Stalin’s demand of $20 billion reparations from Germany at the 1945 Potsdam Conference, which was held at the end of WWII to make decisions regarding the future of war-torn Europe. Instead of reparations, the U.S. helped these countries under the Marshall Plan.

Drastic Changes in the African and Asian Political Landscape

Although Hitler committed crimes against humanity, he should be given credit rather than Gandhi for India receiving independence immediately after WWII. Hitler destroyed the economies of Britain and France to such an extent that they were no longer able to financially maintain their military forces so as to contain the freedom movements in their colonies. It is worth noting that Britain received about one-fourth of the total aid given under the Marshall Plan.  Regardless of Gandhi or any other person, Britain would have left India in 1947 for financial reasons. After WWII, Britain left not only India but nearly all its colonies including Jordan in 1946, Palestine in 1947, Sri Lanka in 1948, Burma in 1948, and Egypt in 1952. France also had to grant independence to Laos in 1949 and Cambodia in 1953, and had to leave Vietnam in 1954. Had there been no Hitler and no WWII, then most probably it may have taken another 40 or 50 years for India to get independence from Britain.

“Modernization of Islam” vs. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”

In the world, forty-eight countries have majority populations. Out of these forty-eight countries, only five (Bangladesh, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Suriname and Turkey) have a functioning democracy; five others (Albania, Gambia, Indonesia, Lebanon and Niger) have emerging democracies; and the remaining thirty-eight countries (Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Yemen) are ruled by monarchs, authoritarian rulers, theocrats (Iran) or nobody has control over the territory (Somalia and Afghanistan). In the Middle East, no country except Turkey, has a functioning or emerging democracy.

Before World War I, most of the Middle East was ruled by The Ottoman Empire, which was based in Turkey and existed from 1299 to 1923. At the height of its power in the 16th and 17th centuries, its territory included Anatolia, the Middle East, parts of North Africa, and much of south-eastern Europe to the Caucasus. After its defeat at the hands of the Allied Powers in World War I, Britain and France divided the empire into several small countries according to their administrative purpose under the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres and installed their puppet rulers as kings in almost all of these countries. Some of these kingdoms were short-lived as military rulers took over in countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya. These divisions also caused the present Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the 1991 Gulf War I.

Islam is the only major world religion enforced by several governments. Prophet Mohammed created a mass movement in the Middle East in the seventh century that culminated in a unified Arab state. There is, however, a need to reform some of the Sharia laws, taking into consideration socio-economic and technological advances made since that time. The Sharia is undemocratic and anti-secular, with no rights for minorities. According to Sharia laws in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Pakistan and several other Islamic countries, a non-Muslim victim is entitled to only a fraction of compensation for injury (ranging from one-half in Pakistan to one-tenth in Saudi Arabia) granted by law to a Muslim in a similar case.  A person found preaching a religion other than Islam can be put to death in Saudi Arabia, and imprisoned in Morocco.

Although the title of my earlier article “Christian Vs. Islamic Civilization Another Cold War” seems to be similar to Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, it was different from his theory of a coming crisis or social evolution. According to Huntington’s theory, various civilizations (Western, African, Latin, Japanese, Orthodox/Russian, Islamic, Hindu/Indian and Sinic/Chinese)[6] will align to fight among themselves, and in the early 21st century (say in 2010) China may start asserting its military might in East Asia which would cause countries like Japan to switch sides (i.e. from U.S. to China), which could lead to a global war between U.S. and China.[7]  I pinpointed the cause of the next Cold War, i.e. it would start because of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, by saying, “The U.S. has sowed the seeds of the next Cold War by employing the low-cost war strategy in Afghanistan.  Although a rise in Islamic fundamentalist movements world-wide was inevitable, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan only hastened the process.”[8]  Presently we do not have democracy in any Islamic country except Turkey.  In Turkey, its secular military had to intervene several times to stop Islamic parties from coming to power.  In writing then about the modernization of Islam as a religion. I stated:

“After the fall of oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia to radical Islamic militants, Islamic clerics will try to establish an Islamic empire like the old Ottoman Empire founded during the 14th and 15th centuries. … If so, the UN will try to establish an economic embargo against Middle Eastern and North African radical Islamic states and isolate them, which will create tremendous hardship for the people there…After several years of this, when ordinary people fail to get relief from radical Islamic regimes, they will force a change in leadership and we will see the emergence of a number of Mustafa Kemals. These Kemals will bring drastic social and religious changes, and the West will help them financially.”  … In the same way that two world wars changed the socio-economic and political environment of Europe, this war will change the Middle East and North Africa, which resemble late 19th and early 20th century Europe.”[9]

I further wrote, “Apart from rising oil prices, we could see large scale terrorist suicide bombings in Europe and countries like India.”  “Human bombs” (i.e. suicide bombers) are playing havoc in Iraq and elsewhere.  U.S. Global Positioning System satellite-guided 21,000 lb. MOAB (Mother of All Bombs, the deadliest conventional bomb ever created), stealth bombers and F-16s would be of no use against these “human bombs.”

Despite taking the drastic step of dynamiting the homes of suicide bombers and even deporting their families, Israel has not been able to find the solution regarding Islamic militants.  The problem with Islamic militants lies in their belief that if they die fighting non-Muslims, they will go to heaven.  Unless their outlook changes, i.e. Islam is modernized, it will be difficult for the US to manage Iraq and Islamic terrorism.  All Western countries, including the U.S. and India, have sizable Muslim populations, and hence all these countries will face Islamic terrorism on a large scale for the next several years.  Although unlike earlier terrorism, which was mostly state-sponsored and hence controlled by the U.S. via the U.N. by sanctions, most of these future terrorist incidents will be funded and organized by small groups or executed by individuals, and hence it will be very difficult to prevent them.

The present situation is such that under growing domestic pressure, the U.S. government will have to withdraw its troops from Iraq which will finally lead the Islamic fundamentalists to take over the reigns in Iraq.  It will have a domino effect in other Islamic countries.

If there were free and fair elections in any Islamic country, then most probably the parties backed by Islamic militants, would win the elections.  Large-scale unemployment and acute poverty, coupled with corruption in high places, produce militants and make them popular with the masses.  In Algeria the army had to nullify the free and fair 1991 democratic elections because Islamic militants trounced other parties.  In the October 2002 elections in Pakistan, despite large-scale rigging by military dictator Musharraf, Islamic parties won the majority of votes and formed the government in one state.  Despite large scale mis-use of police in scaring voters away from the polls and rigging of votes in the recent Egyptian elections, the Islamic fundamentalist banned party Muslim Brotherhood, whose members fought as independents in only 150 seats, won 88 seats as compared to only 15 seats in the outgoing parliament. Secular parties obtained only 10 seats in Egyptian elections.[10] Hence in the initial stages of democracy, Islamic fundamentalist parties will win elections in these countries.  But later on, when ordinary people fail to get economic relief from fundamentalist rulers, they will vote for reformers. In the end these reformers will bring drastic social and religious changes similar to what Mustafa Kemal brought in Turkey in the early 19th century, which will make Islam politically irrelevant in these countries. It is an irony that Turkey, the seat of the last Islamic Caliphate, became a secular country after World War I, but other Middle East countries carved out by the then colonial powers, Britain and France, are still kingdoms or under dictatorial regimes.

US, Islamic Terrorism, Israel, Iraq and Pakistan

Muslims all over the world and especially in the Middle East are against the U.S. for the following reasons: (1) for its double standards towards Israel and Saddam-ruled Iraq, (2) Israel’s use of US-made arms and armaments against Palestinians, (3) for exporting Western culture into Islamic countries, and (4) for having American troops in Saudi Arabia which has Mecca and Medina, the two most important places of Islam.

During WWII, more than six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.  It was one of the main reasons why Western countries helped Jews in creating the homeland of Israel that Jews had lost thousand of years ago. First Romans, in the first century A.D., and later on Muslims, during the rise of Islam towards the end of the first millennium, drove them from the region by force, and hence the creation of Israel became a healing process for them.  But there is a limit to everything. In fact in 1995 when commenting on the plight of the suffering Palestinians, Ehud Barak, the highest ranking military officer and future prime minister of Israel, said that had he been born a Palestinian instead of an Israeli, he probably, at an appropriate age, would have joined a “terrorist” organization.[11]

Israel trouble arises mainly due to unwillingness to give back any land it seized in the 1967 war.  After the 1967 war, the US State department was fully behind total Israeli withdrawal. But the then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger successfully thwarted their work. In fact in his 1979 book, White House Years, Kissinger even suggested that Gaza should have been given to Jordan as a bargain for Israeli annexation of substantial West Bank territories.[12] At the U.N. Security Council, it is only the U.S. who saves Israel by using its veto; otherwise almost all resolutions (which were on its occupation of Palestinian lands and its illegal settlements on these lands) against Israel were passed by 14-1 votes.[13]  Since 1982, the U.S. has vetoed 32 U.S. Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel, a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.[14] In the U.N. General Assembly, the number of resolutions against Israel are many more than the U.N. Security Council resolutions, and all of them were passed with almost all members voting in favor of the resolutions and only 5 or 6 countries voting against. On the other hand, the US used the U.N. to continue imposition of economic sanctions on Saddam-ruled Iraq, resulting in the premature death of tens of thousands of children and extreme hardship for millions. This U.S. double standard towards Israel and Iraq has alienated Muslims all over the world.

It is true that Israel needs security. But the land occupied in the 1967 War is not necessary for Israeli security. In 1993 the late Yitzhak Rabin told Bill Clinton[15], the then U.S. President, that he signed the Oslo pact because he realized that the territory Israel had occupied since the 1967 war was no longer necessary to its security and in fact was a source of insecurity. The Intifada, which had broken out before the Oslo pact, had shown that an occupied territory full of angry people did not make Israel more secure, but rather made it more vulnerable to attacks from within. Then, in the Gulf War, when Iraq fired Scud missiles into Israel, he realized that the land did not provide a security buffer against attacks with modern weapons from the outside. Also if Israel were to hold on to the West Bank permanently, it would have to decide whether to let the Arabs there vote in Israeli elections, as those living within the pre-1967 borders did. If the Palestinians got the right to vote, given their higher birthrate, within a few decades Israel would no longer be a Jewish state. If they were denied the right to vote, Israel would no longer be a democracy but an apartheid state.

U.S. interests lie in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the earliest and may be to give a better deal to Palestinians so that Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qaeda cannot use the Palestinian issue for their propaganda and for recruiting Muslims in their terror networks. Due to pressure from various lobbies, the U.S. administration can not force the Israeli leaders to stop building settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, which have been declared illegal several dozen times by the United Nations since the 1967 War. These settlements are against the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Israel is also signatory. Article 49 of this Convention clearly states,” The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” However, the moment any U.S. administration tries to exert pressure on the Israeli government, the strong Israeli caucus in the US Congress exerts pressure on the U.S. government not to do anything.

The U.S. Middle East policy is hijacked by the Israeli lobby headed by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). According to a recent research paper published by two U.S. professors, John J. Mearsheimer (Univ. of Chicago) and Stephen M. Walt (Harvard Univ.),[16] the pro-Israeli lobbies have taken over the U.S. media (major TV channels and major newspapers) and also control the US Congress, where Israel is virtually immune from criticism. They wrote, “This is in itself a remarkable situation although Congress almost never shies away from contentious issues. Whether the issue is abortion, affirmative action, health care, or welfare, there is certain to be a lively debate on Capitol Hill. Where Israel is concerned, however potential critics fall silent and there is hardly any debate at all.” According to Mearsheimer and Walt, for these very reasons U.S. policy is always pro-Israel even if sometimes goes against U.S. interests.

As he was leaving office in May 2004, former Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) noted, “You can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.” The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates “depend on Jewish supporters for as much as 60 percent of the money.”[17] Money is critical to U.S. elections. If a Congressman or Senator goes against AIPAC’s agenda, then his opponent in the primary as well as general elections will receive several hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from myriad pro-Israel political action committees. After the 1984 Senator Charles Percy defeat in Illinois (Percy had lobbied for giving AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia), then AIPAC's Executive Director Tom Dine boasted: "All the Jews, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians -- those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire -- got the message.[18]

Once Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked about pro-American Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, “He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch.” Following this policy, the U.S. overthrew democratically elected governments in several countries during the Cold War and installed puppet dictators in order to fight the “evil” Soviet Empire. It also “used” Communist China in this fight. Similarly, instead of getting rid of Saddam, it should have “used” the “secular” countries like Saddam-ruled Iraq and Syria to fight the “greater evil” alled al-Qaeda. It is well known that bin-Laden and Saddam used to hate each other. The Baath party, the ruling party in Syria and in Iraq during the Saddam era, is a secular party.  Until the recent Lebanon crisis, Syria was even cooperating with the US in controlling Islamic terrorism.

Immediately after taking office, the Bush administration began organizing its pre-planned attack on Iraq. It did not attack Iraq to make the U.S. safe from terrorist attacks. There were three factors behind the U.S. attack on Iraq – (1) the oil mafia led by Dick Cheney (Iraq has second largest proven oil reserves in the world); (2) the pro-Israeli lobby led by neocons like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith; and (3) an act of revenge by President Bush, Jr., as Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate his father Bush, Sr., in Kuwait in 1993. According to Paul O’Neill, Bush’s then Secretary of Treasury, documents were prepared in January 2001 by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Intelligence arm, mapping Iraq’s oil fields and exploration areas and listing companies that might be interested in leveraging the precious asset.[19] These documents listed how the oil field areas of Iraq would be divided for future exploration. Saddam Hussein was not a threat to the US in terms of terrorism, although his army was a threat to Israel. Also he was giving $25,000 to the families of each Palestinian suicide bomber. Had U.S. given some carrots to Saddam, he would have helped U.S. in curbing Islamic terrorism in the Middle East. But now the situation is that Iraq is going to be a haven for Islamic terrorism, just like Afghanistan.

Although the Bush administration projected Saddam Hussein as a great threat to US security and mobilized US public opinion to invade Iraq, actually Pakistan and North Korea are the two main threats, especially with Pakistan being an Islamic country and having both missile and nuclear bomb technologies. Pakistan should have been the first to be disarmed because all the top al-Qaeda leaders are roaming freely there. Before he boarded the plane to the US, the notorious shoe bomber was receiving orders via e-mails from Pakistan. The financier of the 9/11 attack was finally traced by the FBI to Karachi, Pakistan. Just before the July 7, 2005 bombing, the London bombers were in constant contact with Pakistan. Pakistan’s missiles and nuclear bombs can easily fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists as its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI - Pakistan’s equivalent of the FBI) has several factions, and they are working hand-in-glove with al-Qaeda leaders. It was the ISI that started the Taliban movement and subsequently installed the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Pakistan is the only Islamic country where Islamic terrorists can get “dirty nuclear bombs” and/or “suitcase nuclear bombs”.  Pakistan cannot stop these terrorists on its own as its very existence depends upon “anti-India” slogans.  Pakistan fought three wars with India over Kashmir.  Especially after losing its eastern part (ex-East Pakistan which is now called Bangladesh) in 1971 with India, Pakistan is trying to take revenge by waging since 1989 a low-cost war with India in Kashmir, and by holding terrorist training campus for militants. This low-cost war has cost more than 35,000 lives.

Islam, Qur’an and Science

In 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of Sana’a, in Yemen, laborers found tens of thousands of pages of seventh and eighth century Qur’ans between the structure’s inner and outer roofs. These are perhaps the oldest Qur’ans in existence. According to Gerd-R. Puin, a specialist in Arabic calligraphy and Quranic paleography at Saar University, Saarbrrucken, Germany, the Qur’an was an evolving text rather than simply the Word of God as revealed in its entirety to Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.[20]  Puin is actively involved in the project to get these Qur’ans on microfilms for interpretation. More than 15,000 sheets of the Yemini Qur’ans have been painstakingly flattened, cleaned, sorted, and assembled; they now sit (“preserved for another thousand years,” Puin said) in Yemen’s House of Manuscripts awaiting detailed examination.[21] But Yemini authorities have been reluctant to allow their open examination, as it might prove a bombshell for the entire Islamic civilization. According to Islamic studies Professor R. Stephen Humphreys, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “To historicize the Qur’an would in effect delegitimize the whole historical experience of the Muslim community. If the Qur’an is a historical document, then the whole Islamic struggle of fourteen centuries is effectively meaningless."[22]

Also religions like Islam came up only in the last two thousand years, whereas our universe is billions of years old. Till 200-300 yrs ago, our scientific knowledge was limited and people used to consider time and space in terms of hundred years and the nearby village/city/country, respectively. Hence there was some relevancy of these religions. But due to exponential growth in scientific knowledge in the last 200 years, these so-called religions are now out-of-date. Now we know that there were human beings on our Earth even 100,000 yrs ago. Hubble Space Telescope, which was sent into space by NASA in 1990 and is located about 375 miles above the surface of the Earth,  is capturing light which has traveled trillions of miles of distance billions of years ago. There might be millions and billions of planets like our Earth in this universe, where human being-like creatures might exist. Some scientists say that there may be several “universes” also.

Our science is discovering the scientific laws of the universe and not inventing them. There might be millions/billions of scientific laws out there about which our present day science may not have knowledge. Right now science has detected and is studying the scientific laws of only about 4 percent of the mass of our universe using electro-magnetic waves, which is the only source of “detection/seeing” available. Scientists cannot “see/detect” the remaining 96 percent of the mass which they call “Dark matter,” as these are beyond electro-magnetic waves.  Dark matter is made up of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) which carry no charge. Scientists say that WIMPS are about 100 times heavier than protons, but they rarely interact with ordinary matter. In fact, as many as a hundred billion WIMPS pass through a human body per second. For more than a decade, scientists are working hard to find out about these elusive WIMPS at deep underground centers like the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search in Soudan, Minnesota and at UK Boulby Mine lab. There may be several other particles like WIMPS in our billions of years old universe, about which “our present day science” does not have knowledge as our science is just couple of hundreds of years old.

Therefore from the scientific point of view, we do not know much about our universe. From the religion/spirituality point of view if there is a god, he would love each and everyone same, and he would give everyone (people who were here 100,000 yrs. ago or at millions/billions of other planets) equal opportunity to go to Heaven or Hell. We need a spiritual theory that is not bound by time and space. One life span of a human being is cipher as compared to the age of the Universe, and hence it is a million dollar question whether a human being (or even an animal) has just one life or multiple lives. From this point of view, it seems futile to fight for a few square miles of land in the Middle East, considering it for some people as a holy land, which has become a major reason for the present global Islamic terrorism.

Economic Recession and Its Effect on Global Politics

The US economy was in a deep crisis at the end of the Carter administration. The Reagan administration went on giving tax relief to the rich and increasing the debt. It was the Japanese who funded the US debt and economic boom of the 1980s. Had Japan not been buying US Treasury and corporate bonds, the US economy during the Reagan administration would have been in a worse situation than during the Carter administration. But still the economy went into a recession. It came out of recession only because of the advent of internet technology. But again, because of the “Wall Street Effect,” the economy went into recession. Now indications are that once the dollar collapses because of exponentially increasing US trade deficits, the entire global economy will be in a depression, as it will force the closure of factories and service centers in countries like China and India. US CEOs and presidents of firms are sending jobs overseas because they have to meet the expectations of Wall Street every quarter.

In spite of the Federal Reserve’s record interest rate cuts, the U.S. economy is going nowhere.  For the last 15-20 years, the IMF/US directed countries to balance their budgets and devalue their currencies whenever those countries came to the IMF for funds during a crisis.  On the other hand, the U.S. government went for budget deficits and a strong dollar in similar situations.  This has resulted in over-valuation of the dollar. For example, the market value of the U.S. dollar in terms of Indian rupees is about 45 but its purchasing power is one-fourth this value.  This resulted in the shifting of most U.S. manufacturing units and related jobs to other countries in the late 1980s and mid-1990s.  With the advent of internet technology, U.S. service sector jobs have also begun shifting to English-speaking countries like India and Philippines.  Like the “dot-com bubble” of the late 1990s, the "dollar bubble" is going to take a heavy toll on both the U.S. economy as well as the global economy, since most other countries are producing primarily for U.S. consumption.

The US trade deficit has increased from $117 billion in 1997 to $725.8 billion in 2005. There is no sign of any decrease in foreign goods consumption in the U.S. According to economist Allan H. Meltzer at Carnegie Mellon University, "We get cheap goods in exchange for pieces of paper, which we can print at a great rate." However, the mountain of U.S. bonds that foreigners are accumulating means the U.S. is going deeper into debt to fund its import binge. According to William R. Cline, a scholar at the Institute for International Economics, "Sooner or later, the rest of the world will decide that the U.S. is no longer a safe bet for lending more money."[23] In a recent article in the New York Times, William Greider, the author of bestseller, One World, Ready or Not, compared the U.S. economy with that of the ex-U.S.S.R. before its collapse.[24]

The collapse of the US economy will have profound effects on both the global economy and international politics. Like the collapse of the USSR military after the end of the Cold War, the US will not be able to dictate its military hegemony in the world. This will cause Islamic radicals to take over the reins in the West-friendly countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and other Middle East countries.


After the end of WWII, the U.S. gave more than $13 billion under the Marshall Plan to 15 Western countries so that they would not fall prey to communism. During the last Cold War, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. did not fight directly on each other’s soil due to the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) but instead fought each other in countries like Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. To fight the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War, the U.S. found it convenient to deal with one person, a military dictator, rather than democratically elected political leaders of a political party in Third World countries, because democratically elected leaders had a tendency to opt for Soviet style socialism rather than Western style capitalism, which was taboo among the poor masses. This resulted in the rise of military dictators like Marcos in Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, Pinochet in Chile, Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, and Yahya Khan and Zia in Pakistan. During the Cold War, some of these countries suffered heavily both in terms of economy and casualties. Not only on humanitarian grounds, the U.S. should have given economic aid similar to the Marshall Plan to the countries affected by the Cold War to prevent those countries from becoming a breeding ground for militants.  At present the U.S. has to increase its defense spending by hundreds of billions of dollars due to Islamic terrorism.[25] On the other hand, had the U.S. spent just a fraction of this amount in Afghanistan after Soviet withdrawal, it would have minimized the severity of Islamic terrorism worldwide.

In short, the present crisis in Islamic civilization is not Samuel Huntington’s theory of Clash of Civilizations. Rather it is the modernization of Islam. Today Islamic civilization is going through a similar crisis that Europe went through in the first half of the last century. In future Islam will cease to be the guiding force behind countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and East Asia.


Dr. Susmit Kumar may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


1 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, 1997.

2 Susmit Kumar, “Christian Vs. Islamic Civilization – Another Cold War?” Global Times, 25, December 15, 1995.

3 Susmit Kumar, “Who was responsible for the rise of “Maniac” Hitler?” Global Times, 11, September 1996.

4 Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1995.

5 Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1995, p. 289.

6 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, 1997, p.245.

7 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, 1997, p. 313.

8 Susmit Kumar, “Christian Vs. Islamic Civilization – Another Cold War?” Global Times, 24, December 15, 1995.

9 Ibid.

10 Daniel Williams, “Banned Islamic Movement Now the Main Opposition in Egypt,” Washington Post, December 10, 2005. A13.

11 Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli-Conflict, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston, Fourth Ed., 2001, p490.

12 Kissinger, Henry, White House Years, Little, Brown & Company, Boston, First Edition, 1979, p. 362-363.


14 Mearsheimer, (Univ. of Chicago) and Walt, Stephen M. (Harvard Univ.),“The Israel lobby and U.S. Foreign policy,” 3, March 2006 and references therein.

15 Clinton, Bill, My Life, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2004, p. 545.

16 Mearsheimer, John J. (Univ. of Chicago) and Walt, Stephen M. (Harvard Univ.), “The Israel lobby and U.S. Foreign policy,” 18, March 2006 and reference therein.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004, p. 96.

20 Lester, Toby, “What is the Koran?,” The Atlantic Monthly, January 1999.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Paul Blustein, “U.S. Trade Deficit Hangs In a Delicate Imbalance,” Washington Post, November 19, 2005, A01.

24 William Grieder, “America’s Truth Deficit,” The New York Times, July 18, 2005, p.19

25 Susmit Kumar, “Forgotten Victims of U.S. Crusades to Save the World from Communism”, Global Times, 25, October 1996.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Before the advent of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism were the two religions prevalent in the Middle East. Some of Iraq and all of Iran followed the Zoroastrian religion, including its main heresies, Manichaeanism and Mazdaism. Parts of Iraq and all the regions of the Byzantine Empire to the west followed one of the several forms of Christianity. On the eve of Islam, the Coptic church was the church of Egypt; the Jacobite church was the church of Syria; the Nestorian church prevailed in Iraq; the people of Armenia followed the Armenian church; and the people of Anatolia and the Balkans followed in the main the Greek Orthodox church. In addition, Jewish communities and a few pagan enclaves were scattered throughout the area.[1]

According to biblical and quranic testimony, Arabs are descendants of Shem, oldest son of Noah; hence the appellation “Semite.” The word “Arab” is traditionally said to derive from the little town of Araba in the southeast district of the Tihamah, where, according to legend, settled Ya’rab the son of biblical Joktan—the eponymous father of the original Arabs— thus imparting his name to the locality and, by extension, to the entire peninsula and its inhabitants. More appropriately, the term derives from the Semitic word root referring to “nomad.”[2]

The Arab population was divided into a number of tribes consisting of shaykh (chief), qa’id (war leader), hakam (dispute settler), free families, certain protected clients not related by blood, and slaves. Each tribe consisted of anywhere from a few hundreds to tens of thousands of members. In the settlement of disputes within a tribe, the rule of “an eye for an eye” was usually applied. For example, the killing of a camel required payment of exactly one camel, and killing a son required killing the murderer’s son. There was, however, a provision for “blood money,” a pecuniary amount the aggrieved party could accept in lieu of retribution. Longstanding customs were the law, and these rules varied among the tribes. Crimes committed against member(s) of another tribe(s) were not punishable. But it was the duty of the shaykh to avenge crimes against his own tribe.

Mecca had been a center of pilgrimage since long before Mohammad’s time. People from all over the Arabian Peninsula used to come and pray at Ka’ba. The Ka’ba in his time was a simple, nearly cubic-shaped structure of dark stone.  In one of its four corners was set a black stone, generally thought to be a meteorite remnant. The black stone is an ovoid somewhat larger than a bowling ball, now fractured into pieces and held together by a silver frame. The Ka’ba is said to have contained 360 idols, one for each day of the lunar year. Arabs had a creator god, “Allah,” which was a contraction of the word al-ilah, meaning “the God”. Near the Ka’ba, there is a well called Zamzam, which is fed by an underground spring. Every year, people from everywhere come to the Arabian Peninsula to make the hajj pilgrimage.

The Quraysh tribe controlled the Ka’ba and had pacts with other tribes to maintain its sanctity. The Quraysh also kept other tribes’ idols inside it. They in addition controlled the business of goods and services to pilgrims, a significant source of earning for them. The area for a few miles around the Ka’ba was declared “haram,” forbidden to warfare.

1 Lapidus, Ira M, A History of Islamic Societies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK), 1988, p. 7.

2 Farah, Caesar E., Islam, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY, 6th ed., 2000, pp. 18-19.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Muhammad’s life can be divided into three parts. In Mecca, he attacked polytheism and preached monotheism. But when he felt threatened, he went to Medina. In Medina he fought against the enemies of Islam and delineated Islamic principles for dealing with military conflict and other religions. Finally, after victory over the Meccans, he became head of state and formed the nucleus of the Islamic Empire.

Muhammad in Mecca

Muhammad was born in Mecca around A.D. 570 to a poor family of the Banu Hashim clan, one of the branches of the Quraysh tribe. His father died before Muhammad was born and his mother died when he was six years old. When Muhammad was about 25, he married a wealthy, 40-year-old Qurayshite widow for whom he was working. It is said that while meditating in a cave in 610, he received his first divine revelation, when he was 40.

For three years after the first revelations, Muhammad initially confined them to his friends and family members only. He preached the unity of God. His wife, Khadija, was the first to accept Islam, followed by Ali (Muhammad's cousin and future son-in-law), his slave Zayd, and his close friend Abu Bakr. Later on Ali and Abu Bakr became caliphs, the Prophet’s successors as leaders of the Muslims. Ali would eventually marry Muhammad’s daughter Fatima, and had two sons, Hasan and Husayn; he also founded the Shiite sect of Islam.

Ibn Ishaq’s account of Muhammad’s first phase of revelation is worth quoting:

“He [the Angel Gabriel] came to me,” said the apostle of God, “while I was asleep, with a coverlet of brocade whereon was some writing and said ‘Read’ three times, so I read it and he departed from me.  And I awoke from my sleep, and it was as though these words were written on my heart.”[1]

After three years of rather quiet and earnest preaching in Mecca, Muhammad succeeded in converting 30 individuals, most of them from the deprived classes.[2]

During this private period, he wrote verses that were short and simple, in marked contrast to later stages of his life when the verses and suras [series] became longer and more complex.  During the first stage of revelation, 22 suras containing 344 verses were compiled, none of which contain any language indicating he was a rasul (messenger) or nabi (messenger), and no indication that the birth of a new religion was imminent.  In the second stage, there were 26 suras with 849 verses; these, for the first time, vaguely mentioned the prophecy. Thus Muhammad shyly pronounced his mission without giving it precise form.  In the third stage he referred the disbelievers to the Final Judgement.[3] His revelations offered no major religious innovations, no revolutionary ideas, and in general nothing shocking. Consequently, there can be little doubt that “Muhammad never thought he had brought anything fundamentally new; he merely brought something new to his people.”[4]

After three years of revelations, Muhammad started spreading his monotheism publicly. This hurt the Qurayshites financially, however, because their economy was based on pilgrimage to Ka’ba by other tribes to worship their pagan gods. Because his clan was protecting him, he avoided possible retaliation, but one of his nine uncles, Abu Lahab, and his wife, Umm Jamil, mocked and harassed him constantly. Muhammad revealed this sura about his fate: “The power of Abu Lahab will perish and he will perish. His wealth and gains will not exempt him. He will be plunged into flaming fire, and his wife, the wood carrier, will have upon her neck a halter of palm fiber.” (Sura 111)[5]

Muhammad later sent some of his followers, who generally did not have any protection in Mecca, to Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia), which was ruled by a Christian king, the Negus. Muhammad’s daughter Ruqayyah and her husband, Uthman ibn Affan, were in the group of Muslims who went on this mission.

Muhammad even went knocking from door to door or following people to preach his message,[6] but his words had no effect. Then, in order to please the Quraysh, he praised their three female idols—al-Uzza, al-Manat, and al-Lat (Quran 53:19-20)—though later on he claimed that these two verses had been inspired by “Satan”. When author Salman Rushdie wrote his famous book The Satanic Verses on this incident, the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious decree, in 1989, condemning him to death.

After the death of Abu Talib, the shaykh and Muhammad’s uncle, Muhammad’s situation became desperate. Although Abu Talib had followed polytheism, he had always protected his nephew. After his death, his brother, Abu Lahab, became the shaykh, and withdrew his protection after he asked Muhammad whether his grandfather, a non-Muslim from before the Prophet’s time, was in hell, and Muhammad had said that he was.[7] The Qurayshites subsequently felt free to harass Muhammad. Once a person even threw a sheep’s uterus at him. It proved impossible for him and his few converts to defend themselves.

He then tried to move to Taif, about 60 miles east of Mecca. He went there alone, but was rejected, hooted at, and, soon after arrival, expelled from the town, lucky to escape alive.[8]

Shortly afterwards, his wife, Khadija, died. Muhammad then took another wife by the name of Sauda. At the same time, he showed affection for A’isha, who was six or nine years old, and was the young daughter of Abu Bakr.[9] He married her about three years later.

In the meantime, he met up with people from Yathrib (later called Madinat an-Nabi, the city of the Prophet, or simply Medina) who had come to Mecca on the annual pilgrimage. In Yathrib, the two largest tribes, the Banu Aws and the Banu Khazraj, had been fighting each other for a long time. They invited him there thinking that he would bring peace. In about 13 years in Mecca, he delivered 92 short suras.

Muhammad in Medina

Muhammad arrived in Medina on September 24, 622. This year became the first year of the Muslim calendar, A.H. 1 (After Hijra – Hijrah is an Arabic word means migration). The 150 Meccan converts who accompanied him were called the “companions”, “emigrants” or muhajirun (“those who have made the Hijra”), and the Yathrib converts were called ansar, or “helpers.”

In order to earn their livelihood, the companions started raiding Meccan caravans.  Muhammad subsequently issued Quran verse 8:41, which required that khums (an Islamic tax of one-fifth of the value of certain items a person acquires like spoils of war or profit) be given him for Allah. He prepared a document, the Constitution of Medina, which committed Jewish and Muslim tribes to mutual cooperation. Based on this apparent friendship, Muslims adopted several Jewish practices—fasting on the 10th day of the first month (the Day of Atonement), facing Jerusalem in worship, and using the trumpet to call people to prayer.

At first the apostle thought of using a trumpet like that of the Jews, who use it to summon to prayer. Afterwards, he disliked the idea and ordered a clapper to be made, so it was duly fashioned to be beaten when the Muslims should pray.[10]

The first mosque in Medina was constructed in 623 with brick, and in the northern wall facing Jerusalem it had a niche surrounded by stone marking the qibla, the direction of prayer.[11]

This custom changed when Abdullah b. Zayd suggested that a singing voice would be appropriate, and Muhammad called on Bilal, an African slave turned Muslim, to do this. But Jews continued to criticize Muhammad and his Quranic verses, claiming that these contained errors and false statements, which proved that God had not authored them.[12] In response, Muhammad claimed that Jewish and Christian scriptures contained false statements of their own and that the Quran was accurate. During this period, several Quranic verses (the second sura of the Quran, the sura of the cow) were issued dealing only with Jews and hypocrites.[13] After about 18 months in Medina, Muhammad ordered a change of qibla from Jerusalem to Mecca, toward the Ka’ba. He made this change because of a statement by Jews that, “The apostle and his followers did not know the qibla until we showed them.” Hence God revealed a verse to change the qibla.[14]

In the Battle of Badr against the Qurayshites in March 624, the Muslim army, led by Muhammad, captured 70 Meccans, including Abu Jahl, and 70 Meccans were killed.[15] Some thoughts were given to putting all prisoners to death, although Abu Bakr pressed for mercy. Thence came another message: “Leave to Muhammad the choice of either slaying them or demanding a ransom.” Abu Jahl was beheaded; Muhammad said: “The head of His enemy is better to me than the best camel in all Arabia.” Muhammad took a fifth of the booty as his share.[16]

After the Battle of Badr, Muhammad’s agreement with Jewish tribe of the Banu Qaynuqa broke down over a fight between a Jewish goldsmith and a Muslim that led to revenge killings. He then formulated verses in suras 3 and 5 against them and besieged their tribe for 15 days before they surrendered. Muhammad ordered their executions, but Abdullah ibn Ubayy appealed for mercy. They were subsequently exiled to the north, their removable assets distributed among the Muslim forces, and their land confiscated. Tabari reports that Muhammad’s fierce anger was followed in later years by the order, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.”[17]

A year later, in March 625, 3,000 Meccan men defeated 1,000 Muslims in the Battle of Uhud and killed several Muslims, including Muhammad’s uncle, Hamza. Muhammad suffered broken teeth and a face injury in the battle. When Muhammad saw the mutilated body of Hamza, he said, “If Allah gives me victory over the Qurayshiites at any time, I will mutilate 30 of their men.”[18]

Because of the number of Muslims killed in this battle, Muhammad provided guidance for dealing with the widows and orphans of the slain, the only verse that deals explicitly with polygamy. It states, “And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if you fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) …” (Quran 4:3).

To restore their confidence after the Battle of Uhud, Muhammad promulgated about 60 verses of the sura “Umran”. One went, “Allah ordained this only as a message of good cheer for you, and that thereby your hearts might be at rest. Victory cometh only from Allah, the Mighty, the Wise” (3:126). Other verses blamed some of the fighters who had abandoned their posts in order to collect valuable goods.[19]

A chief of one of Medina’s Jewish Banu Nadir tribes, Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, who was also a poet, had written erotic poetry about Muslim women and poems praising the Quraishites after the battle. Muhammad considered this a violation of the Constitution of Medina and had al-Ashraf killed. The Banu Nadir also challenged Muhammad as leader of Medina. He subsequently besieged their fortress, and after 14 days they were forced to leave the locale. With the expulsion of two Jewish tribes, the Banu Qaynuqa and the Banu Nadir, only one Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza, was left in Medina.

Muslims continued to raid tribal caravans after the Battle of Uhud. In order to crush the Muslims, the Meccans forged an alliance with five other tribes and arrived at Medina with 10,000 men to fight the Muslim force of 3,000. On the advice of Salman-al-Farisi, a Persian slave turned Muslim, Muhammad’s followers decided to dig a defensive trench around the city and fill it with water. The Meccans had not seen this type of defensive trench before and withdrew without fighting. This was known as the Battle of the Trench, or Khandak. During the siege, the Meccans had an agreement with the Banu Qurayza to attack the defenders from behind the lines. After the Meccans departed, Muhammad besieged the Banu Qurayza strongholds, and they surrendered after 25 days. On the plea of the Banu Aus, old allies of the Banu Qurayza, Muhammad agreed to appoint of one of Banu Aus’ chiefs, Sa’ad ibn Mua’dh, judge to decide the fate of the Banu Qurayza tribe; he was on the verge of death due to wounds suffered during the siege. Ibn Sa’ad’s verdict was that all male members of the tribe were to be killed and the women and children taken prisoners. That was the end of the Jews in Medina.

Although issued more than a thousand years ago in far more primitive conditions, the Prophet’s penal codes are employed today. Two more stories in this regard might prove instructive. Once a few Muslims just outside Medina absconded with a herd of camels. Muhammad sent horsemen to bring them back. They were sentenced to have both their legs and arms cut off and their eyes put out. After the sentence was carried out, Muhammad felt he had been excessive. He then issued a verse that limited punishment to cutting off the hands.[20] Because of his statement about how to treat a captured enemy, however—his order to cut off the limbs and execute en masse —we are even now in modern times witnessing horrific incidents of soldiers being mutilated and the beheading of non-Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere.

A second story concerns extramarital relations. Once an allegation was made that his wife A’isha might have committed adultery. She was traveling with Muhammad and some of his followers and, according to her, she had left in the morning to find a lost necklace and when she returned, everyone had departed. Several hours later, she arrived with a man named Safwan ibn Al-Muattal to rejoin the caravan. This led to the allegation of adultery, and Ali urged Muhammad to divorce her. In what became part of the Quran, Muhammad then confirmed her innocence and mandated that charges of adultery be supported by four eyewitnesses; that adulterers be stoned to death; and that if four witnesses were not found, the accusers be punished by 40 lashes. Because of the accusation, A’isha came to hold a grudge against Ali. This later created a split in Islam, resulting in the creation of the Shiite sect.

Muhammad took four wives in one single year and 15 in all.[21] According to Yaqubi, an Islamic historian, the prophet took 21 or 23 wives.[22] An important incident regarding Muhammad and marriage occurred when Allah intervened to have him marry a certain woman. Zaynab, the wife of Muhammad’s adopted son Zayd, was 35 years old and very beautiful. Zayd was a Christian slave given to Muhammad by his wife Khadija. When on one occasion Muhammad went to Zayd’s house, he saw Zaynab, who was naked, from behind a thin curtain and was attracted to her. She heard Muhammad murmuring the words “Gracious Allah, good Lord who turns the heart.” Zaynab told the story to her husband. He went to Muhammad and agreed to divorce his wife for him. Muhammad, however, declined. Allah then intervened and Muhammad authored verse 33:37. It is said that when the Quranic verse about Zaynab was revealed, A’isha said to Muhammad, “Truly thy Lord makes haste to do thy pleasure.”[23] Muhammad married Zaynab after Zayd divorced her.

In 628, Muhammad decided to perform a hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, about which he had already spoken in verses 2:196-210. Muslim forces were inadequate to attack the Quraysh, but owing to declining trade the Quraysh also lacked the strength to face them in a battle. Hence, when Muhammad went with about 1,400 Muslims on hajj, the Quraysh sent emissaries to meet them outside Mecca. The result was a treaty, known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, under which they would not perform hajj that year; the two parties and their allies would desist from hostilities against each other; and Muslims were allowed to come the following year on hajj but would stay in Mecca for no more than three days.

In the meantime, Muhammad sent letters to several regional rulers, including Heraclius of the Byzantium, Chosroes of Persia, and the chief of Yemen, asking them to convert to Islam.

Muhammad’s Victory over Mecca and the Establishment of Islam

Two years after the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, the Quraysh attacked a tribe allied with Muslims that opposed the treaty. Hence, in 630, Muhammad decided to claim Mecca and assembled about 10,000 fighters to attack the town. Instead of fighting, however, the Quraysh surrendered and allowed Muhammad to claim Mecca for the Muslims. The Quraysh accepted Islam as their religion en masse, and Muhammad destroyed the idols inside the Ka’ba. Because of their experience, Muhammad appointed several Qurayshites to important positions.

After the fall of Mecca, the Thaqīf tribe of Taif, where Muhammad had been stoned about 10 years prior and barely left alive, came to fight the Muslims at Hunayn. Thereafter Muslims had unsuccessful siege of Taif, but after subsequent negotiations the Thaqīf also converted to Islam en masse. Muhammad then took the war to other neighboring areas. In one of these operations, he led 30,000 men on a one-month journey to Tubuk, a Christian settlement near Syria. As he was preparing for the raid on Tabuk, some of his men refused to join because of the heat and continuous fighting. From this occasion came verse 9:81: For those whose opinion differed from his, God promised punishment.[24]

When Muhammad reached Tabuk, its governor, Yuhana, agreed to a treaty and to paying a non-Muslim tax (jizya). Ejtehadi indicates that Tabuk was the first time the non-Muslim tax had been assigned. He adds that, besides paying the poll tax, non-Muslim subjects had to observe these 12 restrictions: [25]


  1. No malicious talk about the Quran (though the Quran was not yet a compiled book)
  2. No defaming of the Prophet
  3. No seeking after Muslim women
  4. No intentional misleading or taking possessions of Muslims
  5. No slanderous remarks about Islam
  6. No assistance to the enemies of Muslims
  7. The wearing of special clothing different from that of Muslims
  8. No building of houses near a Muslim neighborhood
  9. No sounding of church bells or reading of non-Islamic sacred books loudly in the presence of Muslims
  10. No drinking of wine in public or taking pigs into the market
  11. No praying for the dead, and burial of the dead away from the Muslim cemetery
  12. No riding of horses or carrying of weapons


The conquests of Mecca, Taif, Tabuk, and other important places in Arabia made it clear that Muhammad’s formidable army could conquer any neighbor. By sending him deputations from all directions, neighboring Arabs clearly demonstrated that they were more impressed by and apprehensive of him and his army than of his religion and the prospect of Hell.[26] Ibn Ishaq’s account corroborates this argument as to why the Arabs surrendered:

In deciding their attitude to Islam the Arabs were only waiting to see what happened to this clan of Quraysh and the apostle… and when Mecca was occupied and the Quraysh became subject to him and he subdued it to Islam, and the Arabs knew that they could not fight the apostle or display enmity towards him they entered into God’s religion in batches.[27]

On June 8, 632, Muhammad died in Medina. He had united the entire Arabian peninsula, previously fragmented by the clan system, under one religious umbrella. Within a century, his religion would create empires, spanning Spain to India.

1 Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad, The Life of Muhammad (Sirat al-Nabi), Oxford University Press, Calcutta, 1978, p. 106, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, The Emergence of Islam, Paragon House, New York, 1st Ed., 1992, pp 8-9.
2 Farah, Caesar E., op. cit., p. 41.
3 Caetani, Leone, Annali dell’ Islam, Vol. I, Milan, 1905-1907, pp. 208-210; referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 13.
4 Van Ess, Joseph and Hans, Kung, Christianity and the World Religions, Doubleday, New York, 1986, p. 13, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., pp. 13-14.
5 Vaziri, Mostafa, The Emergence of Islam, Paragon House, New York, 1st Ed., 1992, pp. 16-17.
6 Ja’farian, Rasul, Tarikh Siyasi Islam, Moassesseh Dar Rahe Hagh, Qum, 1987, pp. 37-38, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, ibid., p. 18.
7 Watt, Montgomery, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, Oxford University Press, London, 1964, p. 80, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 23.
8 Ibid., pp. 100-101, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 24.
9 Tabiri, Muhammad b. Jarir, Tarikh, IV, Rushdieh, Tehran, 1983-1985, p. 1291 and Ibn Athir, A. Ali, Al-Kamil, Vol. I, Ilmi Publisher, Tehran, n.d. 1960, p. 124 report that she was six years old; Mostaufi, Hamdollah, Tarikh Guzideh, Amir Kabir, Tehran, 1985, p. 140, says nine years., referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 24.
10 Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad, op. cit., pp. 235-236, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 32.
11 Armstrong, Karen, Muhammad A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, New York, 1992, p. 156.
12 Watt, Montgomery, What is Islam?, 2nd ed., Longman, London, 1979, p. 102, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 32.
13 Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad, op. cit., pp. 239, 247, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 33.
14 Tabiri, Muhammad, op. cit., p. 942, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 33.
15 Al-Bukhari, Sahih, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 276,
16 Muir, William, The Life of Muhammad from Original Sources, Smith & Co., London, 1894, pp. 98-100, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 34.
17 Tabiri, Muhammad, op. cit., p. 1006, Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad, op. cit., p. 369, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 35.
18 Tabari VII:133/ Ishaq:38.
19 Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 36.
20 Muir, William, The Life of Muhammad from Original Sources, Smith & Co., London, 1894, p. 141, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 37.
21 Le Bon, Gustave, Civilization Islamique (Tamadon, Islam va Arab), Islamieh Books, Tehran, n.d., pp. 122-123, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 38.
22 Ya’qubi, Ahmad b. Ali (Ibn Wa’ez), Tarikh, 5th ed., Vol. I, Entesharat Ilmi va Farhangi, Tehran, 1987, p. 452, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 38.
23 Ibn Hanbal, Ahmad, Musnad, Vol. I, p. 63, quoted by Andrae, Tor, Mohammed: The man and his faith, Harper, New York, 1960, p. 154, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 40. (The Musnad of Ibn Hanbal is probably the first of the six books of hadíth considered authentic by Sunni Muslims)
24 Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad, op. cit., p. 603; Ibn Athir, A. Ali, Al-Kamil, Vol. I, Ilmi Publisher, Tehran, n.d. 1960, p. 337; Waqidi, Muhammad b. Umar, Al Moqazi, III, Center for University Printing, Tehran, 1982-1987, pp. 778-781, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 43.
25 Ejtehadi, Abolghasem, Vaze Mali va Malieh Muslemin, Soroush Publishers, Tehran, 1984, p. 189, referenced in Mostafa Vaziri, op. cit.,  p. 44.
26 Caetani, Leone, Annali dell’ Islam, Vol. II, Milan, 1905-1907, p. 432, referenced in Mostafa Vaziri, op. cit., p. 45.
27 Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad, op. cit., p. 628, Ibn Athir, A. Ali, op. cit., p. 349, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 45.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

The Sharia is Islamic law, which is based mainly on the hadith, or sayings of Muhammad. For the first few decades, hadith were circulated by the companions of Muhammad. Later, people began fabricating them to suit their own purposes.

An effort was started to collect hadith and eliminate dubious ones using certain verification processes in the 7th century. Sunni Muslims consider there to be six major collections. Out of these six, the Sahih (The Verified) of al-Bukhari is considered most reliable.

Al-Bukhari was born in Bukhara, present day Uzbekistan, in year 194 of the Hejira (A.D. 816) and died in year 248 of the Hejira (A.D. 870). An eminent scholar, he traveled throughout the Islamic world to Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and the Hijaz, a region west of Saudi Arabia having Mecca and Medina. He was able to interview 1,080 persons and to collect 600,000 hadith. [1] Out of some 200,000, not counting additional thousands that he rejected without examination, he selected only 7,300 as authentic. His works consist of 97 books divided by subject of interest into 3,450 chapters. Even so, Muslims kept many of the rejected hadith in circulation. They eventually boiled down to 2,762 in all.[2]

Muhammad continued most pre-Islamic Arabian traditions. Shahrastani (d. 1153), a 12th century historian, in his Al Milal wal-Nihal documents interesting traditions with respect to monotheism, resurrection, and certain specific rituals of pre-Islamic Arabia that were identical to those of the Islamic period. The customs of proclaiming divorce thrice to end a marriage, of washing after sexual intercourse, of ghusl (washing the cadaver before burial), and of the general cleaning of the body were all practiced in pre-Islamic Arabia.[3]

Muhammad also perpetuated the old legal system—“an eye for an eye.” Because there was no police or prison system, the only punishment given to a criminal was equivalent to the crime he committed. Nevertheless, Muhammad did foster the individualism that was beginning to appear in Arabia; thus, the Quran decrees that a murdered man’s relatives can punish only his murderer, not just any member of his tribe, as in the old system.[4]

1 Mernissi, Fatima, The Veil and the Male Elite, Perseus Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991, p. 44.

2 Gibb, H.A.R., Muhammadenism, Oxford University Press, London, 1949-1950, p. 79, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 50.

3 Shahrastani, Muhammad b. Abdulkarim b. Ahmed, Al Milal wal-Nihal, Vol II, 2nd ed., Offset Co., Tehran, 1979, p. 373-416, referenced in Vaziri, Mostafa, op. cit., p. 14-15.

4 Watt, Montgomery W., Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, 1956, p. 268, referenced in Armstrong, Karen, op. cit., p.  230.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Madhahib, Islamic schools of thought (sing. madhhab), wrote the sunnah (Muhammad’s way of life) for followers to emulate. There are four madhahib: Hanafite, Malikite, Shafi’i and Hanbalite.

(1) Hanafite:  This is the oldest and the most liberal of the four Sunni schools of legal thought. It was developed in Iraq by Abu Hanifah (699-767) and put more emphasis on ra’y—private opinion or human reason. It is dominant in Turkey, Albania, Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Indian subcontinent, and Iraq.

(2) Malikite: This school is based on the works of a judge of Medina, Malik ibn Anas (715-795). Apart from the hadith and ijma (consensus of the scholars), it used citizens of Medina as a source also. It is dominant in North and West Africa.

(3) Shafi’i: The third important school was that founded by Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i (767-820), who was a disciple of Malik. It is more conservative than the Hanafite and Malikite schools. Although it accepts the authority of four sources of jurisprudence (the Quran, hadith, ijma, and qiyas, or analogy), it downgraded provisions for ra’y, private judgment.  It is dominant in Egypt, some parts of India, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Malaysia.

(4) Hanbalite: This school, founded by Ahmad ibn-Hanbal (780-855), is the most conservative of the four. It accepts only those traditions that are in accordance with the Quran and hadith, and insists on following religious duties and responsibilities as defined by the Sharia. It was dominant in Iraq and Syria in the 14th century, and was revived again in the 18th century with the rise of Wahhabism in Arabia.

Wahhabism, founded by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (1703–1792), is based on the teachings of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbalite school, and Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328). He advocated observing the original teachings of the Quran and hadith, and was against any innovations. Because of his views, he was forced out of his birthplace, the ancient oasis town of Uyaynah, now part of Saudi Arabia. He then settled in Dir’iyah, capital of Najd (present-day Saudi Arabia), ruled by Muhammad ibn Sa’ud, who converted to Wahhabism. Ibn Hanbal opposed worshipping saints and the construction of shrines and mausoleums, and considered these acts worthy of the death penalty.

As part of the evolution of Islam, special schools, called madrassas in Arabic, began to be established in the 11th century to teach legal studies or a particular madhhab. A madrassa usually consisted of a building for study, residences for teachers and students, and a library. The Quran and hadith were common subjects in all madrassas. Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (780-850 AD), the father of Algebra, studied and taught at the madrasas at Bukhara and Khiva in Central Asia, and was also a member of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad during the rule of Caliph al-Ma’mun. His book Al-Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabala provided symbolic operations for the systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations. The word ‘algebra’ is derived from al-Jabr. The Latin translation of his book on the Indian numerals introduced the decimal and zero to the Western world in the 12th century. The word ‘algorithm’ (a definite list of well-defined instructions for completing a task) is a corrupted form of his name, which is derived from algoritmi, the Latinization of his name.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Jihad in Arabic means “struggle,” or “striving.” In the Quran, it usually means “striving on the path of God” and is of two types: Greater Jihad and Lesser Jihad. The jihad described in the Mecca suras, revealed prior to the hijra to Medina, concerns moral striving and fighting against one’s lower tendencies; these are examples of the Greater Jihad. This compares with jihad as described in the Medina suras, which concerns fighting the enemies of Islam and is an example of the Lesser Jihad. Medina, a place where Muslim law prevails, is known as “Abode of Islam” (dar al-Islam), while the rest of world is known as “Abode of Unbelief/Idolatry/War” (dar al-kufr/shirk/harb), or generally simply “House of War,” dar al-harb. The presumption is that the duty of jihad will continue, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule.  Those who fight in the jihad qualify for rewards in both worlds—booty in this one, paradise in the next.[1]

1  Lewis, Bernard, The Crisis of Islam, The Modern Library, New York, 2003, pp. 31-32.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Islam comprises more than one dozen sects, but two, Sunni and Shiite, dominate.

(1) Sunni: Sunnis constitute about 90 percent of the Muslim population worldwide. The word Sunni comes from the Arabic word Sunnah, meaning the words and actions of Muhammad. They believe in the caliphate of Abu Bakr and the Caliphate system, caliph being chosen by Shurah, an Arabic word for consultation or council. They believe in the Quran, Sunnah (Muhammad’s way of life) and hadith. They also follow one of the four madhahib, i.e. Maliki, Shafii, Hanafi, or Hanbali.

(2) Shiites: Shiites form the second largest sect, constituting about 10 percent of all Muslims but a majority in Iran and Iraq. They believe in the teachings of Muhammad and in the religious guidance of his family members or descendants, known as imams. They are the followers of Ali, the fourth caliph and Muhammad’s son-in-law, and recognize imams who were direct descendants of Ali, claiming that he had inherited his spirituality from the Prophet. According to Shiites, other caliphs lacked spiritual authority. For Shiites, the imam is an infallible teacher and a source of religious guidance. When the 12th imam mysteriously disappeared in 878 in the cave of the great mosque at Samarra without leaving any heir, Shiites nominated the ayatollah (sign of God) as chief until the return of the 12th imam, who is not dead and is going to reappear as the Mahdi, the Muslim messiah, which will lead to an era of true Islam.

Shiites annually commemorate the Battle of Karbala, which occurred on Muharram 10, A.H. 61 (October 9 or 10, A.D. 680) at Karbala, Iraq. This is a very sad occasion for them, since during the battle several relatives of Prophet Muhammad, including his grandson and the son of the fourth caliph, Ali, Husayn ibn Ali, were killed by the forces of Yazid I, the caliph of Umayyad.

(3) Other sects: Sufis, Isma’lis, Qarmatians, Assassins, Druzes, Nusayris, Matawilah, Zaydis, Ahmadiyah, and Baha’i.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

The caliphate is the head of the Islamic state or civilization. After the death of Muhammad, Abu Bakr was chosen as his successor, or first caliph. The caliphate ended in 1924, when it was abolished by Kemal Ataturk in Turkey. The first four caliphs, who were among the companions of Muhammad, are considered to be Rashidun (Rightly Guided) caliphs (in sequence): Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Abi Talib. They lived simple lives. Abu Bakr was caliph for two years (632-634) and Umar for 10 years (634-644). Umar was assassinated by a non-Muslim slave for purposes of revenge. Uthman was caliph for 11 years (644-656). He was killed by a group of Muslims who were not happy with the way he governed. His murder started the first fitna, or civil war, among Muslims. The fourth caliph, Ali, was chosen in 656 in the middle of the civil war. A’isha took a leadership role in challenging his authority and fought with him the Battle of the Camel in Basra within a year of his assuming the caliphate. She was defeated in that battle.

Immediately after the Battle of the Camel, Ali had to fight with Mu’awiya, governor of Syria, who was angry with Ali for not punishing the killers of ‘Uthman. Mu’awiya and ‘Uthman belonged to same clan, the Umayyads. Although neither side won the battle, Ali’s power was reduced and Mu’awiya won the caliphate by rigging the arbitration. One faction, which refused to accept the arbitration, formed the Shiite faction among the Muslims, and recognized Ali as caliph and later on his descendants, the imams. In addition, an extremist group known as the Kharijites wanted to kill both Ali and Mu’awiya. They were successful in killing only Ali, however, though Mu’awiya was wounded.

After the first four caliphs, the caliphate became based on dynasties: the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Ottomans, and for short period of time, other dynasties in al-Andalus, Northern Africa, and in Egypt, who also claimed the caliphate.

Mu’awiya made the caliphate hereditary and started the dynasty of the Umayyad (661-750). The dynasty was based in Damascus, and enjoyed the benefits of this life and its material enrichments. With it the caliphate became more a form of kingship and lost much of its spiritual orientation. This materialistic orientation notwithstanding, the Umayyad caliphs were careful to safeguard the temporal interests of the Muslim community and to organize it formally into a state administered by an expanding bureaucratic machinery that reflected the strong influences of the assimilated conquered peoples and their traditions of government.[1]

The Abbasids (750-1258), based in Baghdad, forcefully appropriated the caliphate from the Umayyads under the pretext of restoring the pure and pious traditions of the Prophet to caliphal rule. Under the influence of Persian advisers and courtiers, they began to emulate Persian ways and their love of pomp and splendor, familiar to the reader of the tales popularized by the Arabian Nights. The caliph no longer regarded himself as the primus inter pares of the community, the imam who led the faithful by personal example along the righteous path. He was now an absolute sovereign empowered by all the prerogatives due a despot; he was beyond reach of the public; unlimited powers were at his disposal, and he was fully capable of exercising such powers at will.[2]

The bureaucracy, started during the Umayyad dynasty, usurped most of the powers once held by the caliph. An imam led the Friday prayer and delivered the important khutbah (sermon); a qadi (judge) dispensed justice as decreed by the Quran and embodied in the Shariah; an amil was in charge of gathering taxes; and an emir commanded the army and often the administration in the various far-flung provinces of the caliphate. The numerous decrees issued in the name of the caliph were drawn up by kuttab al-sirr (scribes, secretaries) constantly multiplying in numbers. With the Abbasids, the institution of the vizierate entered the scene, and the vizier, who enjoyed no special function at first other than that of a general aide-de-camp and confidant to the caliph, now took charge of a whole hierarchy of viziers and began to exercise powers like those of the modern cabinet system.[3]

The power of the caliph was gradually reduced as non-Arabs, especially Turks, gained influence, and sultans (possessor of supreme authority) and emirs grew in power. In North Africa, the Fatimid dynasty, which claimed descendancy from Muhammad through his daughter, claimed the title of caliph in 909. They conquered Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. The Abbasids were able to confine the Fatimids to Egypt only, however, and the Fatimid dynasty ended in 1171. The Umayyad dynasty briefly ruled in Cordova (Spain) and claimed the title of caliph from 929 to 1031, when they were ousted.

In 1258, Mongol forces attacked Baghdad and executed the Abassid caliph Al-Musta'sim and all his sons except one, who was taken as a prisoner to Mongolia. In 1261, a surviving member of the Abbasid dynasty was installed as caliph in Cairo under the patronage of the Mamluk sultanate, but this line of caliphs was in name only, and served only a ceremonial function. Historians call them the Shadow Caliphate.

Mehmed II (sultan 1432-1481) was the first ruler of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922) who started to claim the title of caliph. After Ottomans conquered most Arab lands and defeated the Mamluk sultanate in 1517, they brought the last Abbasid caliph, al-Mutawakkil III, as prisoner to their capital, İstanbul, where he surrendered the office of the caliphate to the Ottomans. Ottoman rulers usually used the title “sultan,” however. Their empire was one of the largest political structures created after the Roman Empire. It ruled over eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, several of these areas for as many as 600 years.

1 Farah, Caesar E., Islam, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY, 6th ed., 2000, p. 152.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., pp. 152-153.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

During the rule of the second caliph, Umar (634-644), Muslim forces captured Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Armenia, and North Africa from the Byzantines, and Mesopotamia and parts of Persia from the Sassanids. Most important of all, they captured Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam. During the rule of the next caliph, Uthman (644-656), they extended the regime to Morocco in the west, Pakistan in the east, and Azerbaijan in the north. Initially, they abstained from trying to convert the people in conquered areas since they considered Islam to be the religion of the Arabs; they also wanted to avoid granting privileges enjoyed by Muslims to others. Instead, they allowed Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians to practice their religions provided they paid tribute.

Conversions to Islam started to occur a century later in and around the Muslim garrison centers in conquered territories, and Islam was no longer an exclusively Arab religion. Outside the garrison centers, however, people still followed their own faiths. By the end of the Umayyad period (in the middle years of the 2nd Islamic and A.D. 8th centuries ), less than 10 percent of the populations of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Spain was Muslim, although the proportion must have been much greater in the Arabian peninsula. Neither pressure nor positive incentive for others to convert was in evidence. Converts lived for the most part in or near the main urban centers of Arab population and power.[1]

In the first half of the 9th century, the caliph Ma’mun had to march an army from Iraq to Egypt to suppress an uprising of tribesmen and Copts. Instead of fighting non-Muslims in conquered lands, however, they opted to convert them to Islam. The first mass conversion to Islam took place in the eastern delta of the river Nile and parts of upper Egypt in the middle of the 9th century, though the people in the western delta region remained Christian.

By the end of the 4th Islamic century, or 10th century A.D., a large part of the population in the conquered territories, both urban and rural, had become Muslim because the distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim had become clearly defined. Now non-Muslims were second-class citizens: They paid a special tax; they were not supposed to wear certain colors; they could not marry Muslim women; their evidence was not accepted against that of Muslims in the courts; their houses and places of worship could not be ostentatious; and they were excluded from positions of power (although in various places Jews and Christians worked as secretaries or financial officials for Muslim rulers). How seriously such rules were applied depended on local conditions.[2]

The conversion of the Inner Asian Turkish peoples, including the Tatars, Uzbeks, and Kazaks, to Islam began in the 10th century through converted Turkish traders who had come in contact with Muslims via the caravan trade. This was followed by the conversion efforts of Sufi and Muslim missionaries. The conversion of people in Anatolia (modern Turkey) and the Balkans in southeast Europe occurred during the rule of the Saljuq and Ottoman empires, from the 11th to the 14th centuries. These latter conversions occurred because of the incentives to be Muslim, since, once again, non-Muslims were treated like second-class citizens. In addition, a substantial number of Turkish Muslims went to Anatolia to live and uprooted the local people, who were mostly Christians.

The introduction of Islam into India was similar to that into Anatolia and the Balkans. Afghan and Turkish Muslims established the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526) and, later on, the Mughal Empire (1526-1857). Like the early Middle Eastern, Balkan, and Anatolian peoples, Indians converted to Islam because of the privileges gained by being Muslim. Most converts were from the lower Hindu castes and had been mistreated by the higher castes. Islam had no caste system, however, and everyone was equal, at least Muslims. Akbar (1556-1605), the third ruler of the Mughal Empire, made an attempt to integrate Islam into India by starting a new religion, Din-i-Ilahi, which was a mixture of Hinduism and Islam. His great-grandson, Aurangzeb, however, was an extremely conservative emperor. He destroyed hundreds of Hindu temples, replacing them with mosques, and imposed a poll tax on non-Muslims. This resulted in several wars and eventually the disintegration of the empire after his death.

Islam was introduced into Malaysia and Indonesia by traders and Sufis from Arabia and India in the 13th century. Traders also propagated Islam in several parts of East and West Africa.

1 Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, MJF Books, New York, 1991, pp. 46-47.

2 Ibid., p. 47.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

As mentioned earlier while Islam was enjoying its golden age from the 7th to the 14th century, Europe was undergoing its dark ages. At the end of this period, in the 14th century, the bubonic plague, or “Black Death,” ravaged the entire continent, killing anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of the population. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Islam comprised three empires: the Ottoman (eastern Europe, western Asia, and most of the Maghrib, the region of North Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea), the Safavid (Persia, or modern Iran), and the Mughal (the Indian subcontinent). During this period, the Ottomans formed alliances with European nations against common enemies. For example, they entered into a military alliance with France, England, and the Netherlands against Hapsburg Spain and Hapsburg Austria, and they granted France the right of trade within their empire. In addition, the major European powers established embassies and consulates in the empire, and the Ottomans eventually sent missions to those countries.

Until the middle of the 18th century, the Ottoman army was in a position to defeat any one European country in war. But after the rise of European naval power and the introduction of new technology beginning in the 18th century, the empire declined vis-à-vis the Europeans. European economies were thriving, and a few Europeans countries, especially Britain, France, and the Netherlands, had colonized parts of Asia and Africa. The new technology and new wealth from their colonies allowed Europe to surpass the Ottomans, who lagged behind in technology. As a result, their military power became weaker in relative terms as well. In 1798, Napoleon occupied Egypt for three years. Although he was ousted after this time, the Ottomans could accomplish this only through an alliance with the British. This was the first incident when they had to take the help of a European power to oust someone from a Muslim state.

The population of Europe increased by about 50 percent between 1800 and 1850.  London became the world’s largest city, with a population of two and a half million by 1850; other capital cities also grew, and there emerged a new kind of industrial city dominated by offices and factories. By the middle of the century, more than half the population of England was urban. This concentration in cities provided manpower for industry and the military, as well as a growing domestic market for the products of factories. Between the 1830s and the 1860s, regular steamship lines connected ports of the southern and eastern Mediterranean like Marseille and Trieste with London and Liverpool. Textiles and metal goods found a wide and growing market, and British exports to the eastern Mediterranean increased 800 percent in value between 1815 and 1850; by that time even Bedouin nomads in the Syrian desert were wearing shirts made of Lancashire cotton. At the same time, Europe’s need for raw materials for the factories and food for the population that worked in them encouraged the production of crops for sale and export. The export of grain continued, although this became less important as Russian grain exports grew; Tunisian olive oil was in demand for the making of soap, Lebanese silk for the factories of Lyon, and above all Egyptian cotton for the mills of Lancashire.[1]

On the other hand, the economies as well as the populations of Arab countries were stagnant. They had not yet entered the railway age, except for small beginnings in Egypt and Algeria, internal communications were bad, and famine could still occur. Populations changed little in size during the first half of the 19th century, and though Egypt’s population increased from 4 million in 1800 to 5.5 million in 1860, in most other countries it remained stationary, and in Algeria, for special reasons, it went down considerably, from 3 million in 1830 to 2.5 million in 1860. Some of the coastal ports grew in size, particularly Alexandria, the main port for the export of Egyptian cotton, which increased from some 10,000 persons in 1800 to 100,000 by 1850. Otherwise, most cities’ populations remained roughly the same size. Apart from areas that produced crops for export, agricultural production remained at subsistence level, and so insufficient to lead to an accumulation of capital for productive investment.[2]

From the 1850s onwards, because of the need for money for the army, the administration, and public works, the Ottoman government started borrowing from European banks, which had come into being as institutions with the purpose of investing accumulated European capital globally. Between 1854 and 1879, the Ottoman government borrowed on a large scale and on unfavorable terms; of a nominal amount of 256 million Turkish pounds it received only 139 million, the remainder being discounted. By 1875, it was unable to carry the burden of interest and repayment, and in 1881 a Public Debt Administration representing foreign creditors was set up; it was given control of a large part of the revenues, and in that way had virtual control over acts of government that had financial implications. Between 1862 and 1873, Egypt borrowed 68 million British pounds but received only two-thirds of that, the rest being discounted. In spite of efforts to increase its resources, including the sale of its shares in the Suez Canal, which was built in 1869 mainly with French and Egyptian capital and Egyptian labor, to the British government, by 1876 it was unable to meet its obligations, and a few years later Anglo-French financial control was imposed. Then the British invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882.[3]

European occupation of Muslim areas was started by France, which occupied Algiers in 1830 and made Algeria a French colony. In 1839, the British occupied the port of Aden in the Arab peninsula.

During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire fought alongside Germany and Austria and lost to Britain, France, and the U.S. After the war, the empire was dissolved on August 10, 1920, under the Treaty of Sèvres. This treaty was rejected, however, by the Turkish National Movement, led by Mustafa Kemal, a military commander. Kemal led the movement to victory over occupying Greek, Italian, and French forces, and signed the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 for the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, which brought the Ottoman Empire to an end. The sultan was exiled, and the caliphate later abolished.

Kemal changed Turkey from an Islamic caliphate into a secular democratic country overnight. Women were given equal civil rights and the entire educational system up to university level was made co-educational. Women were also given voting rights. It is worth noting that at that time women were denied the right to vote in several European countries, including France. In addition, the hold of Islam was sharply reduced. The Shariat courts were banned, and the new legal system was based on Swiss, Italian, and German models. People were asked to use the Latin script instead of the Arabic script, which was banned. The fez, a felt cap in the shape of a flat-topped cone, usually red with a black tassel hanging from the crown, worn by men, was banned. The headscarf worn by Muslim women was banned from public institutions. Kemal abolished polygamy and gave equal rights to women in divorce, custody, and inheritance. He made these drastic changes within two to three years of signing the Treaty of Lausanne, and was given the surname “Ataturk” (Father of the Turks).

1 Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, MJF Books, New York, 1991, p. 267.

2 Ibid., pp. 267-268.

3 Ibid., pp. 281-283.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

In pre-Islamic Arabia, the condition of women was terrible. The Quran elevated the status and rights of women in 7th century Arabia, but these seem too restrictive now, in the 21st century. In the ancient environment where women were so devalued that female infanticide was a common and tolerated practice, the Quran introduced reforms that prohibited it, permitted women to inherit, restricted the practice of polygamy, curbed abuses of divorce by husbands, and gave women the ownership of the dowry, which had previously been paid to the bride’s father. As the thrust of the Quranic reforms regarding women’s status was an ameliorative one, it seems reasonable to conclude, as did Fazlur Rahman, an eminent liberal scholar of Islam, that “the principle aim of the Quran was the removal of certain abuses to which women were subjected.”[1]

For some modern Islamic militants, the enrollment of women in a traditional profession like teaching is too much, however. Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, in his sermons and writing both before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, spoke with great anger of the inevitable immorality that, he said, would result from women teaching adolescent boys.[2] The most quoted hadith against woman is recorded by al-Bukhari: According to ‘Abdallah Ibn ‘Umar, the Prophet said, “I took a look at paradise, and I noted that the majority of the people there were poor people. I took a look at hell, and I noted that there women were the majority.”[3]

Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk took exactly the opposite view. In a series of speeches delivered in the early 1920s, he argued eloquently for the full emancipation of women in the Turkish state and society. Our most urgent present task, he repeatedly told his people, is to catch up with the modern world; we shall not catch up if we only modernize half the population.[4]

Women’s Right of Inheritance

In the pre-Islamic tradition, women had no assured right of inheritance, which in any case was a matter between men, the men of the husband’s clan or her own relations:

Before Islam, when a man lost his father, brother, or son, and that person left a widow, the heir, taking advantage of the privileges of the dowry paid by the dead man, hastened to the widow, covered her with his cloak, and thus arrogated to himself the exclusive right to marry her. When he married her, he deprived her of her right to the part of the inheritance constituted by the dowry. But if the widow succeeded in getting to her own clan before the arrival of the heir, he lost his rights over her in favor of her own clan.[5]

In Arabia it was customary for a man to give a mahl, a dowry, to his bride. This had usually been absorbed by the woman’s male relatives. In Islam, the dowry is to be given directly to the woman herself, so in the event of divorce, a man is not allowed to reclaim the mahl, and a woman’s security is assured (suras 2:225-40; 65:1-70).[6]

Inequality was evident in the laws of inheritance also, derived by the Sharia from the Quran. A man is allowed to bequeath not more than one-third of his property as he wishes to persons or purposes that would not otherwise inherit from him. The remainder must be divided according to strict rules. His wife will receive at most one-third. If he leaves sons and daughters, a daughter would inherit only half the share of a son; if he leaves only daughters, each would receive a certain proportion of his property, but the remainder would go to his male relations. (This is Sunni law; in Shiite law, daughters inherit everything if there are no sons.) The provision that daughters receive only half as much as sons echoes another stipulation of the Sharia: In a legal case, the testimony of a woman has only half the weight of a man’s.[7]

In questions of heritage, the Quran tells us that male children should inherit twice the portion of female children:

A male shall inherit twice as much as a female. If there be more than two girls, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance, but if there be one only, she shall inherit the half. Parents shall inherit a sixth each, if the deceased have a child; but if he leave no child and his parents be his heirs, his mother shall have a third. If he have brothers, his mother shall have a sixth after payment of any legacy he may have bequeathed or any debt he may have owed (Quran 4:11-12).[8]

To justify this inequality, Muslim authors lean heavily on the fact that a woman receives a dowry and has the right to maintenance from her husband.[9]

Women—Unfit to Govern

There is a famous hadith frequently used by Muslim men to debar women from positions of power. During the Battle of the Camel between A’isha and ‘Ali, A’isha contacted a wealthy companion in Basra, Abu Bakra, to help her in the battle. Abu Bakra told her that he was against civil war. After the battle, he is supposed to have said to her:

It is true that you are our umm [mother, alluding to her title of ‘Mother of Believers,’ which the Prophet bestowed on his wives]; it is true that as such you have rights over us. But I heard the Prophet say: “Those who entrust power [mulk] to a woman will never know prosperity.”[10]

This was reported in al-‘Asqalani’s 13th volume, where he quotes al-Bukhari’s Sahih, which contains the traditions that al-Bukhari classified as authentic after a rigorous process of selection, verification, and counter-verification.[11]

Women have recently become political leaders in Muslim-majority countries: Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Sheikh Hashina and Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh, and Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia. A fundamentalist nation like Saudi Arabia, however, uses hadith to debar women from politics and even refuses them voting rights.

1 Mayer, Ann Elizabeth, Islam and Human Rights, pp. 97-98, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1999; Fazlur Rahman, “The Status of Women in the Qur’an,” in Women and Revolution in Iran, ed. Guity Nashat, Westview Press, Boulder, 1983, p. 38.

2 Lewis, Bernard, What went Wrong?, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, p. 72 and references therein.

3 Al-Bukhari, Al-Sahih (Collection of Authentic Hadith), Dar al-Ma’rifa, Beirut, 1978, Vol. 4, p. 137, referenced in Mernissi, Fatima, op. cit., p. 76.

4 Lewis, Bernard, What went Wrong?, op. cit., p. 72.

5 Al-Tabari, Tafsir, Dar al-Fikr edn., vol. 8, p. 107, referenced in Mernissi, Fatima, op. cit., pp. 120-121.

6 Armstrong, Karen, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, New York, 1992, pp. 190-191.

7 Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, MJF Books, New York, 1991, pp. 121-122.

8 Warraq, Ibn, “Islam Supports Gender Inequality,” in Islam Opposing Viewpoints, edited by Hurley, Jennifer A., Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2001, p. 89. (Originally published in Free Inquiry, vol. 17, no. 4, Fall 1997)

9 Ibid.

10 Asqalani, Fath al-bari, Al-Matba’a al-Bahiya al-Misriya, Cairo, n.d., vol. 13, p. 46, referenced in Mernissi, Fatima, The Veil and the Male Elite, Perseus Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991, pp. 56-57.

11 Mernissi, Fatima, The Veil and the Male Elite, Perseus Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991, p. 3, and references therein.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Ancient Arabia probably suffered a shortage of men because of frequent tribal warfare, leaving a surplus of unmarried women, who were often badly exploited. The Quran is most concerned about this problem and resorted to polygamy as a way of dealing with it.[1]

The Sharia, basing itself upon the Quran and the example of the Prophet, allowed a man to have more than one wife, to a limit of four provided he could treat them all with justice and did not neglect his conjugal duty to any of them. He could also have slave concubines to any number, without their having any rights over him.[2] Of note, these particular codes were revealed after the loss of several Muslim men in the battle of Uhud.

Those who have referred to Muhammad’s plural marriages as evidence of his sensual nature make little mention of the fact that in the prime of his youth and adult years, Muhammad remained thoroughly devoted to Khadija, his wife, and would have no one else as his consort. This was in an age that looked upon plural marriages with favor and in a society that in pre-biblical and post-biblical days considered polygamy an essential feature of social existence.[3] The Bible also records polygamy: King David had six wives and numerous concubines; King Solomon was said to have had as many as 700 wives and 300 concubines; and Solomon’s son Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines.[4]

A woman was unable divorce her husband in pre-Islamic Arabia, but the Quran gave her this right under limited conditions. According to the Sharia, while a wife can divorce her husband only for good reason (impotence, madness, denial of her rights) and only by recourse to a qadi (judge) or by mutual consent, a husband can repudiate his wife without giving any reason by a simple formula uttered three times in the presence of witnesses. A marriage contract can provide some protection against this if it stipulates that part of the dowry, the so-called “postponed” part, should be paid by the husband only if and when he repudiates his wife. A wife can also hope for support from her male relations, and if repudiated, she can return with her property to her family home. She will have custody of the children and the duty of bringing them up until they reach a certain age, defined differently in the various legal codes; after that, the father or the ex-husband’s family obtains custody.[5] The custom of proclaiming divorce thrice to end a marriage was, incidentally, practiced in pre-Islamic Arabia, and is not original to Islam.[6]

1 Armstrong, Karen, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, New York, 1992, p. 190.

2 Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, MJF Books, New York, 1991, p. 121.

3 Farah, Caesar E., Islam, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY, 6th ed., 2000, p. 67.

4 Ibid. and references therein.

5 Hourani, Albert, op. cit., p. 121.

6 Vaziri, Mostafa, The Emergence of Islam, Paragon House, New York, 1st Ed., 1992, p. 15.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Feminists frequently condemn Islam for the custom of female circumcision. This is despite the fact that it is really an African practice. It is never mentioned in the Quran, is not prescribed by three of the four main schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and was only absorbed into the fourth school in North Africa where it was a fact of life.[1]

1 Armstrong, Karen, Muhammad A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, New York, 1992, pp. 12-3.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

On the eve of the Arab-Muslim conquest, the clash of two great empires—Sassanian Persia and Byzantium—had spread war throughout Asia Minor, where Christianity was emerging from paganism by fire and sword. Under ecclesiastical pressure, a considerable amount of discrimination affecting Jews was introduced into Byzantine law.  Jews were killed periodically, and synagogues expropriated or burned down.[1]

In Visigoth Spain, after King Reccared converted from Arianism to Catholicism in 587, the state gave force of law to the anti-Jewish canons of the Councils of Toledo from 613 to 694.  In 613 and again in 633 and 638, Jews were subject to expulsion or baptism.  The 12th Council of Toledo (680) adopted King Erwige’s edicts that Jews renounce Judaism within a year, that forced baptism be administered on pain of confiscation of property, and that those resisting be punished by head-shaving, accompanied by 100 strokes of the rod and exile.[2] This anti-Jewish policy, which was opposed by some members of the clergy and the nobility, pushed King Egica (687-702) to impose his authority by hardening his stance. The 16th Council of Toledo (693) ordered that the property of Jews be confiscated and their taxes increased.  A proclamation by the 17th Council (694) ordered all Jews to be made slaves and dispersed over the kingdom; their families were to be broken up, and their children from the age of seven taken from them and brought up in the Christian faith.[3]

Pope Gregory IX added the following decrees in 1227: Muslims and Jews must wear distinctive clothing; they must not appear on the streets during Christian festivals or hold public office in Christian countries; and the muezzin was forbidden to offend Christian ears by summoning the Muslims to prayer in the traditional way.[4]

Muhammad thus lived in an era of violent inter-religious clashes and forcible conversions. We therefore see similar provisions in the Quran for how Muslims should treat non-Muslims, and many of these are in effect today. The 12 terms of treaty (described previously in this chapter) between Muhammad and the governor of Tabuk are still considered by Muslims to be the basis of dealing with non-Muslims, for example. Until early last century, Jews in Yemen were forced to wear clothes and shoes of a particular color. In Afghanistan, fundamentalist Talibans forced Hindus to put a 2-meter yellow cloth on their houses. In the Ottoman Empire, Christians and Jews paid personal taxes (jizya) while Muslims did not on a regular basis.[5] In the Mughal Empire, fundamentalist Muslim rulers like Aurangzeb forced only Hindus to pay personal taxes.

The Quran discusses rules and laws in the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam), but is silent on how Muslims should live where non-Muslim infidels rule or how they should live in the House of War (Dar al-Harb). The presumption is that it is the duty of Muslims to continue fighting infidels in the House of War, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule.

In Islamic law, conversion from Islam is apostasy—a capital offense for both the one who is misled and the one who misleads him. On this question, the law is clear and unequivocal.  If a Muslim renounces Islam, even if a new convert reverts to his previous faith, the penalty is death.  In modern times, the concept and practice of takfir, recognizing and denouncing apostasy, has been greatly widened.  It is not unusual in extremist and fundamentalist circles to decree that some policy, action, or even utterance by a professing Muslim is tantamount to apostasy, and to pronounce a death sentence on the offender.  This was the principle invoked in the fatwas (religious decrees) against Salman Rushdie, in the murder of President Sadat, and against many others.[6]

1 Marcel Simon, Versus Israel: A Study of the Relations between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire (AD 135-425), trans. From French by H. McKeating (Oxford, 1986), p. 226; referenced in Ye’or, Bat, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, translated from French by Miriam Kochan and David Littman, Associated University Press, 2002, p. 34.

2 Juster, Jean, “La Condition Legale des Juifs sous les sous Rois Visigoths,” in Etudes d’Histoire Juridique Offertes by Paul F. Girarad, Paris, 1912-1913, pp. 289-295, referenced in Ye’or, Bat, op. cit., p. 34.

3 Ye’or, Bat, op. cit., p. 34.

4 Armstrong, Karen, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, New York, 1992, p. 28.

5 Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, MJF Books, New York, 1991, p. 217.

6 Lewis Lewis, Bernard, The Crisis of Islam, The Modern Library, New York, 2003, pp. 55-56.

Dr. Susmit Kumar

Muslims are a majority in 47 countries. They are the following, according to their form of government, percent Muslim population, and other data (from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s The World Factbook at CIA website, July 2009):

(i) Democracy:



Muslim (% of Population)

Area (sq km)










Sierra Leone









(ii) Emerging Democracy:



























(iii) Limited Democracy:










Burkina Faso

































































(iv) Authoritarian:











(v) Monarchy:






























Saudi Arabia









(vi) Theocracy:







(vii) Transitional:























(viii) No Functional Government:










Additional information