Most of us have grown up reading and hearing about the glorious history of Muslims. Religious leaders and groups often refer to it, in order to motivate young people to take action in the spirit of the great Muslims before us. Politicians promise to revive that era, and authors occasionally use it to highlight the evils of the present day. However, have we ever wondered about the actual reality of the great past?
As a history student, I often ponder over which past we study; the past that exists in the books or the past that is a fickle of our imagination? Because the past that is in the books is not as great as we expect it to be. I am referring to the books that are written by Muslims, not by biased and anti-Muslim writers. So, let us take a look at how great our past actually was. I will focus only on the second century Hijri instead of reviewing the whole past. Things were not much better in the first century, or the second century (i.e. from the year 6 AH to the 7 AH) as this was the closest period to the Middle Ages since the first century. Well, whatever century you look at, the situation is the same.
When the second century Hijri began, Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz ruled over the Muslim world – who was undoubtedly a very good, talented ruler, and tried his best not to perpetuate any injustice, oppression or cruelty in his kingdom. But his tenure was very brief – just two years. All historians agree that they were poisoned by the people of their own family; the Umayyads, sincethey were not happy with their reforms and practices.
Upon his demise, the next caliph, Yazid ibn Abdul Malik, canceled all his reforms within forty days and returned to the same oppression and exploitation of the Iqaraba that he was trying to eliminate. After his tenure, the entire period of the Umayyad, (the short period of Hisham ibn Abdul Malik) was a period ofmismanagement, brutality, rebellion and anarchy. All these events are detailed in the books of prominent Muslim historians like Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Saad.
The last few years of the rule of the Umayyad family underwent intense wars with ibn Abbas. This period was a period of chaos and anarchy throughout the world, in which thousands or even millions of people died from both sides. If the Jews and Christians did not invade the world of Islam in this period of chaos, it was not because of a fear of the Muslim government, but because the Roman Empire and Jews themselves were in serious decline. They were so scattered and divided that they could not even imagine making such a daunting move.
The first Abbasid Caliph, Abdullah bin Abbas, assumed power in the year 4 AH. He was referred to as Safah – because of his barbarism and arrogance. Upon assuming power, revolts began all over the empire, and brutaltactics were used to suppress these uprisings. Once in Mosul, Abbasid soldiers, led by Ishmael Ibn Ali, raped hundreds of women. This situation was prevalent during the whole Abbasid period.
Afterwards, the Muslim world was being ruled by Jafar al-Mamun, who had assassinated his brother Amin after several years of war, and took over the government. According to Ibn Khaldun, during the period between Abdullah Safaah and Mamun, there were at least five major uprisings against various Muslim tribes and leaders, while the minor uprisings were not accounted for.
In the year 4 AH, a rebel commander, Hussein ibn Aftis, invaded Mecca and captured it. His troops entered the Ka’bah and looted everything, even the gold foil on the pillars of the mosque was taken down.Young Makkan boys failed to save the honor of their beautiful women.
Finally, after several years, Isaac bin Musa defeated Hussein ibn Aftis and restored peace to the city of Mecca.
There is a long list of events, among which I have mentioned only a few. The purpose of shedding light upon these incidents is not to imply that there was no good in the periods of Bani Umayyad and Bani Abbas, butsimply that in these periods, the life of an ordinary Muslim was just as jam packed with problems as it is today. They were exploited and persecuted just as today.The bureaucracy was just as corrupt as it is today, and with the exception of a few rulers, most were cruel and morally bankrupt like the rulers of today.
The people were just ammunition on both sides of the wars for power, and there were frequent incidents of mass adultery with women occupied by soldiers or in areas of conflict. Keep in mind that this mention is of Muslim soldiers, and of wars between Muslims only.
All the glory of this period was limited to a few cities and a certain class of people living within them. In the history we study, the achievements only of this particular class are talked of. The mention of ordinary Muslims, their plight, and the atrocities that have occurred to them is missing from these histories. The purpose of this intellectual misconduct is simply to fool the masses, especially the youth, so that they continue to fuel the interests of these politicians and the so-called religious leaders. The fact is that even if they come back to the Golden Age in some way, there will be no change in the condition of the people. The power and its benefits will remain focused in the hands of the elite, as it was then.
The time has come for us to stop looking at the past and instead, glance towards the future. Realize that all nations of the world claim their past was great. The Hindus still remember the days of Chandiagupta Maurya and Ashoka, Christians celebrate the Byzantine Empire, and the Jews are still wish to bring back the reign of Hazrat Selman. However, it is not surprising that in the past, the condition of the people was still terrible.
The magnitude of greatness of any nation or country, how many facilities are present for the people and their happiness, and (not how their past was), is the same as in today’s era. This is the only attempt to achieve greatness and whoever strives to the contrary, whoever he may be, is the enemy of the people.