From the 8th to the 15th century AD, Islam went through a three-cornered struggle between the Faith Party (Ulema), Mysticism Party (Sufis) and Reason party (Falasifa). The Golden Age of Islam extended from the 8th to 13th centuries. It was but natural that the Reason Party was strong among the three Parties of Islam during early and major part of Golden Age which was inclusive, secular and tolerant in spirit and practice. These positive attributes of Reason Party helped in bringing huge body of knowledge from Greek, Latin, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism to Islam. Mu’tazila school of Islamic theology which flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad during the 8th to 10th centuries also helped the Reason Party to a great extent.
Though the Golden Age terminated with the invasion of Baghdad by Mongols during AD 1258, Islam’s tilt towards the Faith Party was waxing and waning with time from the 8th century but started to establish it as a defining force with the coming of Islam’s greatest theologian Al Ghazali in 12th century AD. It must be remembered that all Muslim luminaries of Golden Age were criticized as apostates or Kafr or hypocrites by the leaders of Faith Party of that time. Mysticism Party was engaged in its own field in subtle manner and maintained an equal distance from other two parties.
Al Ghazali was instrumental in bringing and establishing the Epistemological (a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge) course of Islamic theology. This gradually made Islam exclusive, orthodox and intolerant. Thereafter Muhammad bin Abd al Wahhab, (1703-1791) brought in the “return” to the pure and orthodox practice of the “fundamentals” of Islam, as embodied in the Quran and in the life of the Prophet Muhammad. This shift in Islam gave severe body blow to Mysticism Party and Reason Party and helped Faith Party in consolidating its grip on Islam.
Two centuries later, Hassan al-Banna of Egypt and Abul A’la Maududi of India (and later of Pakistan) brought the political Islam and Jihad in the forefront of the Islam during 20th century and there was no looking back for Faith Party since then. The Mysticism Party could maintain its influence in some places but Reason Party gradually went into oblivion.
Renaissance came in Europe during 14th century deriving knowledge and ideas from the works of Reason Party of Islam. This brought in philosophical, political, scientific, cultural and artistic revolution in the Christian world which gradually blossomed in the form of scientific progress, individual rights, individual freedom, individual dignity and rule of laws, secularism and democracy.
All those human and intellectual progress in Europe ushered in the “Modern Era” in Europe. By that time, the Reason Party of Islam was long dead. Thereafter persecution of the Mysticism Party by Muslims gradually became a commonplace with the coming of 21st century. The Golden Age of Islam became a history and the religion mainly became a slave of the Faith Party only. Muslims around the world now boast of the Islamic Golden Age but cannot dare to cultivate the attributes of that age like inclusiveness, secularism, tolerance and open mindedness to non-Islamic world.
– The author, Bhaskar, is a freelance writer.