Commentary on Gibbon:
In the previous sections of this Essay, we pursued in detail the importance of Gibbon’s work and also his treatment of Muslims and their religion. The purpose of this exercise was not simply to highlight the conduct of a great European historian towards our Nation. In fact, to present my commentary on the subject of ‘Muslim history and Europe’, the weight of the most famous European scholar was necessary. His flaws and blunders related to our History were not exposed out of resentment. Rather, I aim to draw more valuable lessons out of this wreckage of History. Following are some of the main ideas that emerge from Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and fall”;
1- History is not False, European version is:
Edward Gibbon is considered the leading Historian of Antiquity in Europe. His impact on European mind is immense. Yet, he was not the first European who took up his pen to write about the elusive ‘Orient’ and the ‘savage’ Muslims. Indeed many treatises on this subject had previously been written by German, French and Roman authors. But Gibbon was the person who collected all that diverse and obscure mass and presented it to the modern World in a language that was both easy and accessible. He further embellished it with pithy remarks and new morals. He tweaked many false narrations which Christian Priests had later added to the accounts of their Roman predecessors. In this appraisal, he was helped by his own British Protestant faith which was contrary to Roman Catholicism and the general atmosphere of ‘Enlightenment’ or in his own words “religious Indifference” in intellectual Europe.
Alas, this discerning attitude drastically changed the moment he mentioned Muslims and Islam. The same Papal forgeries and disturbing lies that he so fervently resisted in earlier volumes were not only admitted as references but further narrated as surefire facts. The passage of three centuries and the merit of his earlier work have sadly established this brazen propaganda as true and authentic history.
The personal bias of a Christian author is understandable when he praises his robbers as heroes or when he tilts the scales ever so ingeniously in the favor of European nations. But when page after page and chapter after chapter is filled with continual misinformation or when a sober Historical book morphs into a Hollywood sham, it becomes difficult to dismiss this as a harmless bias.
The intentionally false depiction of non-European History is not just limited to Gibbon. It started as a policy of Church during Crusades to malign Muslims and inflame the spirits of European Christians. Universities of Roman Church and the official scribes of Popes invented a ‘savage fanatic with insatiate lust and cruelty’ in fact ‘a barbarian’ who dared to disbelieve Trinity and more importantly Roman Church. A Latin Quran was reproduced in which personal forgeries were added with as impunity as if it was the Gospel (re; Louis Maracci). The same version and commentary was used in Europe for as close as 18th century. With time the temporal Kingdom of Pope was reduced to the confines of Vatican but its spiritual hold stayed for a long time over all of Europe. Generations of Gibbon, Voltaire and Dante were raised in such conditions. And all these classical Giants of European Thinking humbly and most willingly submitted to Rome as the authentic source on Islam and Muslims.
This chain of false History has been perpetuated by succeeding generations with more added force and vehemence to this day. After Colonization of Muslim nations during 19th and 20th centuries, these Historical works came into the possession of Muslim students who had already forgotten their own History books. The spiritual servility which the conquerors cultivated further increased the stature of these works in the minds of natives. They were initially bewildered by such glaring contrast between their own Historical works of antiquity and these European books. This discord was also overcome by their English and French tutors who made them see their own Historical authors as of inferior quality and obscure style. This ‘reborn’ and ‘naturalized’ Muslim scholar then started propagating the same belief and thus, we reach our own times. An ordinary Muslim student of our time either believes that his ancestors were indeed ‘savage barbarians’ and ‘destroyers’ or if his inherent pride does not let him believe this , he is reduced to the conclusion that all History is false and a useless pile of rubbish. Both conclusions are equally erroneous.
But if we read this book and do research on its subjects and background the truth becomes clear, that History is not false and neither it is useless. Without the true knowledge of our past and its innumerable lessons we are indeed lost in the sea of conflicting Knowledge and misinformation. Even if we don’t read the books, Internet and Social Media is definitely teaching us and our siblings bogus History. Indeed History is essential and not false but the European version of it is most definitely false. And those European historians of Orient should be justly blamed for deviating from truth and reality.
2- Universe! Thy Name Is Europe:
“….This awful revolution may be usefully applied to the instruction of the present age. It is the duty of a patriot to prefer and promote the exclusive interest and glory of his native country: but a philosopher may be permitted to enlarge his views, and to consider Europe as one great republic, whose various inhabitants have attained almost the same level of politeness and cultivation. The balance of power will continue to fluctuate, and the prosperity of our own or the neighboring kingdoms may be alternately exalted or depressed; but these partial events cannot essentially injure our general state of happiness, the system of arts, and the laws, and manners, which so advantageously distinguish, above the rest of mankind, the Europeans and their colonies (meaning America at that time) .The savage nations of the globe are the common enemies of civilized society; and we may inquire, with anxious curiosity, whether Europe is still threatened with a repetition of those calamities which formerly oppressed the arms and institutions of Rome…..Yet this apparent security should not tempt us to forget that new enemies and unknown dangers may possibly arise from some obscure people, scarcely visible in the map of the world. The Arab or Saracens, who spread their conquest from India to Spain, had languished in poverty till Mahomet breathed into those savage bodies the soul of enthusiasm…. “
The belief, that European civilization is the only true civilization and that the Arian race is the chosen race of progress, is often imputed to Nazis in our age of ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Liberalism’ . But the above paragraph is written by Edward Gibbon who is styled as “English giant of the Enlightenment”.
The open disdain towards all other civilizations besides European civilization is a theme that is recurrent among all great European writers of literature and philosophy.
Those among them who wrote of Europe and about European people can be excused on the feeble doubt of ignorance. But when their ‘Oriental’ scholars like Gibbon whose profession was to study other Nations of the world and their civilizations hold such views than Nazis don’t seem a mutation. Adolf Hitler loses the bearings of a ‘solitary mad man’ and instead takes the form of consummation of a European ideal long contemplated by their philosophers, historians and poets.
In the above paragraph, is hidden the seeds of both European Nationalism and a Eurocentric world. Indeed, when a modern European Scholar stresses vehemently on the virtues of ‘Globalization’ and a ‘universal set of values’ be assured that in his dream of Globalization you will be wearing his garb and following his laws. Need I say that the ‘universal values’ will be European in nature? They will talk of meeting halfway but it can only be probable if they forsake notions of their Gibbon, their Voltaire and their Dante and admit the equality of other civilizations and nations of the earth. The war games of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa reveal the truth of my remarks. The ability and empathy requisite to acknowledge the customs and laws of Non Europeans without resorting to Arms and destruction is lacking in the minds of most if not all Europeans.
‘Islamophobia’ is another famous term used in contemporary media and Universities. I don’t agree with the epithet of ‘-phobia’, which is uniquely unequal to the task of describing the sentiment of pure hatred against the person of Muslims or anything related to Islam. It is alleged that this sentiment arose from more ignorant Europeans and Americans. This is once again not true entirely. This sentiment is neither new nor product of the narrow minds of uneducated people. We have established beyond doubt that this flame of hatred was kindled by the ancestors of our ‘benevolent looking Popes’ and many prominent ‘Giants’ of ‘enlightenment’ put their ample share in the ‘noble cause’. The ignorant farmer of Southern America might be excused due to his lack of knowledge, what excuse can absolve these learned men? Their barbs are more bristling and hurtful for they are the perversion of truth, which in my opinion is a more serious crime than ignorant foam.
3- Is Western Ideal Universal?
The political and economical ascendancy of Western hemisphere for the last two centuries have facilitated the parallel spread of western Literature and Philosophy. The legacy of our Colonial past has further endeared to us the novels of Charles Dickens, the satire of Voltaire, the philosophy of Nietzsche and Marx. This enormous export of Western thought and Ideals has convinced many of us that they hold universal values which are true and equally applicable everywhere. I hold a different doctrine. In my opinion all of these works might have enormous literary value but they are restricted to the place and society which gave birth to them. Further, these ideals and moral dogmas cannot be instituted in their entirety in the climates of East. During last century, after Muslim nationals were partially released from political and military servitude, their educated classes were already ‘naturalized’ and subdued. In search of identity many of them, in intelligentsia and ruling classes, tried transplanting European philosophical and political systems into their native soils. Their abject failures further strengthen my remarks.
Every great author writes from his own Social experience. His ‘universal human’ is the one he is accustomed with. His ‘morality’ is laced with the values of his native country. The only people outside his society with whom he can commune without any insurmountable barrier are those with whom his ancestors shared a common social code, read religion. Europe and its progeny America share a similar social and political organization with minor changes. Their intellectuals have never had any difficulty to comprehend each other. Their problems and solutions are amicably shared among each other without any inflammation. Its parallel in our History were the Islamic ‘truly free nations’ before colonization, ranging from ‘India to Spain’. They shared even in decline a similar social code and common customs with minor differences. The common languages of Arabian, Persian, Turkish, and towards the very end Urdu strengthened their commune. Philosopher of Spain was understood in India, and stories of Arabian story-tellers were told to children in Samarkand. This Community was lost after European invasion. The subjugators went back to their continents but left behind the rigid borders and ‘naturalized elites’ thus making impossible resumption of the old Custom.
When our westernized intellectual in the zeal of a follower, tries to ascend or descend to similar social equation, he fails miserably again and again. Western democracy morphs into a morally bankrupt jumble, Western justice ideals give way from sheer pressure and sleek economical models fail to deliver.
Baffled and exasperated, he starts blaming the incompetence of his fellow countrymen. Divorced from his own history and civilization before colonization, he leaves eventually for colder climates of Europe or corrupts himself in the same deluge of failure.
Here I would like to delineate the Russian literary figures that came before the Red revolution. In the writings of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky one often recognizes a similar strain of resistance against European ideas of ‘enlightenment’ and ‘religious indifference’. These refreshing drops are in my thinking the doing of Greek Church which survived in Russia (contrary to Roman Church). Their philosophy was the last stand of religious faith against the Europeanism in the extremist clothes of Bolshevik atheism. But even a good man like Dostoyevsky when describes a universal brotherhood he means a European Brotherhood.
I am not stating that a true “universal brotherhood” is impossible to achieve. But it cannot and will not be a remnant of Roman Church. Real ‘globalization’ will occur only when Europe will first let other Nations solve their own problems and enjoy the fruit of their own labor. And after that there must be an agreement and settlements of common points and old wounds must be recompensed. Otherwise, ‘world peace’ and ‘world domination’ will hold similar meaning.
After discussing the major themes that I could extract from this subject, question arises; ‘what to do now?’ What can we do to stem the tide of Time and possibly change its course for a better prospect?
It’s the logical end to this long essay. The answer to it is easy to say but difficult to achieve in our present corrupted state. But following things can be understood and acted upon;
1- Know Your Self by Yourself:
Without knowing our roots and our fountain of social and moral life, we cannot solve any of our problems. History is a treasure of indigenous morals that cannot be substituted by any other burrowed philosophy. It is not a mere chronicle of our long dead Kings and Princes. It is a living record of the problems and difficulties that our ancestors experienced. They left behind their hard earned lessons for the benefit of their ungrateful progeny. It is incumbent upon us to remove the dust from our own books and with the scalpel of unflinching honesty and unbiased reason glean those true words of wisdom.
We have to wake up from our lethargy, and stop trusting Gibbon or Voltaire or Maracci for the Philosophy and History of our own forefathers. Their malice and hate is evident for everything that is ours. In recent years, an even more dangerous phenomenon I have observed among my countrymen and most possibly in other Muslim countries too i.e. Books of the Prophet S.A.W. and His holy Companions R.A. and Mothers of our Nation R.A. , are being written by European Christians or atheists. They are openly sold in bookshops and read by our youth without a thought to the dangerous lies and allegations insinuated against the basis of our Religion and moral Life. This new folly must be discouraged before these forgeries also become authentic sources of Islamic History.
The natural curiosity to know about the early days of Islam and its rise are natural instincts among every young Muslim. And there are abundant books of Seerah of Prophet PBUH and His companions’ r.a., in Urdu, Persian and Arabic. They must be translated in every language, encouraged and made easily accessible for our youth.
2- Departments of Historical Research:
It’s a matter of national shame that there are ‘oriental studies’ departments in Oxford and German Universities, yet in our universities there is no department for Historical Research. The rudimentary paper of Islamic Studies in degree classes does not even include Islamic History. It is the need of the hour to establish such institutes in which critical research is done on Islamic Sources of History. The purpose of this endeavor should not be to satisfy the European minds. Its focus should solely stay on our own population.
Registered Islamic Seminaries should be subsidized by Government to install such departments in them. It will help them transform into a huge repository of ‘Islamic Humanities’. Eastern languages and dialects can be taught to our teen-agers in the intervals of their school vacations without much extra funds. This will help our new generations to keep a close personal contact with their Past without the encumbrance of Translations.
3-Finding our own Answers and Questions:
A Western born or Western educated Philosopher or Historian when tries to study the Islamic world, he assumes certain questions in his mind, which he tries to answer according to the depth of his knowledge or prejudice. But just because he lives thousand miles away in a different civilization, or he has attained his knowledge in the spirit of native Europeans, that alone disqualifies him to judge accurately the real questions or impulses arising from the East. For example, the leading question which is hotly debated nowadays is the rise of ‘Extremism’ in Islamic Countries. If one happens to follow the papers published in England or US they are filled with this subject. And yet, those of us who happen to have been living in these lands know that this question is inherently wrong and self serving. It still confirms the earlier imagery of ‘a blind savage fanatic Muslim’ invented in the Roman Church.
This inability to recognize Muslims as equal humans with invaluable lives, invested with dreams and feelings, is too ingrained in the westernized philosopher. Their only crime is that they adhere to a social and political System which is contrary to the European Model. This alone cannot be forgiven by the European ‘free-thinker’ who dreams of ‘universal brotherhood’ and ‘world peace’.
It is time for Muslims to make up their mind about how their future should look like? We have to break completely from our Colonial vestiges and embark on a journey of self realization and fulfillment. It is a journey of each individual and the whole Nation. The social and moral questions should arise from the body of our own people, not exported from the other side of the Mediterranean and Atlantic. It’s also important to recognize among our bygone thinkers those who were led astray by the same mirage of European solution. Their failures should act as a dire warning. And our present day ‘Muslim strangers’ and ‘wanderers’ should be exhorted to return to the fold and upon their probable denial they should be left to their own devices. For they have chosen a miserable empty quest which leads to nowhere.
I will conclude my essay on these lines of Saadi which Sultan Muhammad Fa’teh recited when he stepped into the ruins of a palace of Caesars in Constantinople:
“The spider weaves the curtains in the palaces of Caesars;
The owl calls the watches in the towers of Afrasiab.”