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"...for truth wants to be known. It exerts pressure on the knower to share his vision of it with his peers." (Isma'il R. al-Faruqi)

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The Essence of Islamic Civilization

29 min.

There can be no doubt that the essence of Islamic civilization is Islam; or that the essence of Islam is tawhid, the act of affirming Allah to be the One, absolute, transcendent Creator, Lord and Master of all that is.

These two fundamental premises are self-evident. They have never been in doubt by those belonging to this civilization or participating in it. Only in recent times have missionaries, Orientalists, and other interpreters of Islam subjected these premises to doubt. Whatever their level of education, Muslims are apodictically certain that Islamic civilization does have an essence, that this essence is knowable and capable of analysis or description, that it is tawhid1. Analysis of tawhid as essence, as first determining principle of Islamic civilization, is the object of this document.

Tawhid is that which gives Islamic civilization its identity, which binds all its constituents together and thus makes of them an integral, organic body that we call civilization. In binding disparate elements together, the essence of civilization in this case, tawhid impresses them with its own mold. It recasts them so as to harmonize with and mutually support other elements. Without necessarily changing their natures, the essence transforms the elements making up a civilization, giving them their new character as constitutive of that civilization. The range of transformation may vary from slight to radical, depending on how relevant the essence is to the different elements and their functions. This relevance stood out prominently in the minds of Muslim observers of the phenomena of civilization. That is why they took tawhid as title to their most important works, and they pressed all subjects under its aegis. They regarded tawhid as the most fundamental principle that includes or determines all other principles; and they found in it the fountainhead, the primeval source determining all phenomena of Islamic civilization.

Traditionally and simply expressed, tawhid is the conviction and witnessing that, “there is no God but God.” This negative statement, brief to the utmost limits of brevity, carries the greatest and richest meanings in the whole of Islam. Sometimes, a whole culture, a whole civilization, or a whole history lies compressed in one sentence. This certainly is the case of the kalimah (pronouncement) or shahadah (witnessing) of Islam. All the diversity, wealth and history, culture and learning, wisdom and civilization of Islam is compressed in this shortest of sentences “La ilaha illa Allah.”

Tawhid as Worldview

Tawhid is a general view of reality, of truth, of the world, of space and time, of human history. As such it comprehends the following principles:


Reality is of two generic kinds, God and non-God; Creator and creature. The first order has but one member, Allah, the Absolute and Almighty. He alone is God, eternal, Creator, transcendent. Nothing is like unto Him; He remains forever absolutely unique and devoid of partners or associates. The second is the order of space-time, of experience, of creation. It includes all creatures, the world of things, plants and animals, humans, jinn and angels, heaven and earth, paradise and hell, and all their becoming since they came into being. The two orders of Creator and creation are utterly and absolutely disparate as far as their being, or ontology, as well as their existence and careers are concerned. It is forever impossible that the one be united with, fused, con-fused or diffused into the other. Neither can the Creator be ontologically transformed so as to become the creature, nor can the creature transcend and transfigure itself so as to become in any way or sense the Creator.2 Tawhid equally contradicts the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Taoist views that run in a direction diametrically opposed to that of India. In that view, the Creator’s existence is dissolved into that of creation or the world. Whereas Egypt maintained that God is indeed Pharaoh, and the green grass blade rising from earth in the spring, and the Nile River with its water and bed, and the disc of the sun with its warmth and light. Greco-Roman antiquity maintained that God is any aspect of human nature or personality magnified to a degree that places it above nature in one sense but keeps it immanent in nature in another. In either case, the Creator is confused with His creation. Under the influence of its priesthood, Christianity separated itself from tawhid when it claimed that God incarnated Himself in the body of Jesus and as­serted that Jesus is God. It is Islam’s unique distinction that it emphasized the ultimate duality and absolute disparity of God and the world, of Creator and creature. By its clear and uncompromising stand in this matter of divine transcen­dence, Islam became the quintessence of the tradition of Semitic prophecy, occupying the golden mean between Eastern (Indian) exaggerationism, which denies nature, and Western (Greek and Egyptian) exaggerationism, which denies God as other.


The relation between the two orders of reality is ideational in nature. Its point of reference in man is the faculty of understanding. As organ and repository of knowledge, the understanding includes all the gnostic functions of memory, imagination, reasoning, observation, intuition, apprehension, and so on. All humans are endowed with understanding. Their endowment is strong enough to understand the will of God in either or both of the following ways: when that will is expressed in words, directly by God to man, and when the divine will is deducible through observation of creation.3 In fact, it is inseparable from prophecy, or the communication by God to man of a commandment which man is expected to obey. Nor does it rule out the possibility of communication through intellect or intuition, as when man observes the creatures, ponders their whither and why, and concludes that they must have a creator, designer, and sustainer Who deserves to be heeded. This is the avenue of ideation or reasoning. In the final analysis, it is this principle of ontic separation of God and the world that dis­tinguishes tawhid from all theories that apotheosize man or humanize God, whether Greek, Roman, Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian.


The nature of the cosmos is teleological; that is, purposive, serving a purpose of its Creator, and doing so out of design. The world has not been created in vain, or in sport.4 It is not the work of chance, a happenstance. It was created in perfect condition. Everything that exists does so in a measure proper to it and fulfils a certain universal purpose.5 The world is indeed a “cosmos,” an orderly creation, not “chaos.” In it, the will of the Creator is always realized. His patterns are fulfilled with the necessity of natural law. For they are innate in the very nature of things. No creature other than man acts or exists in a way other than what the Creator has ordained for it.6 Man is the only creature in which the will of God is actualized not necessarily, but with man’s own personal consent. The physical and psychic functions of man are integral to nature, and as such they obey the laws pertinent to them with the same necessity as all other creatures. But the spiritual functions – namely, understanding and moral action – fall outside the realm of determined nature. They depend upon their subject and follow his determination. Actualization of the divine will by them is of a qualitatively different value than necessary actualization by other creatures. Necessary fulfillment applies only to elemental or utilitarian values; free fulfillment applies to the moral. However, the moral purposes of God, His commandments to man, do have a base in the physical world, and hence there is a utilitarian aspect to them. But this is not what gives them their distinctive quality, that of being moral. It is precisely the commandments’ aspect of being fulfillable in freedom -– that is, with the possibility of being violated – that provides the special dignity we ascribe to things “moral.”Any deed that is done “by nature” is ipso facto amoral, deserving neither reward nor punishment. Exam­ples are breathing, digestion, or an act of charity or injustice entered into under coercion. It is completely otherwise with the act entered into in freedom, with the possibility of its author doing or not doing it, or doing some other act beside it.

Capacity of Man and Malleability of Nature

Since everything was created for a purpose, the realization of that purpose must be possible in space and time.7 Otherwise, there is no escape from cynicism. Creation itself and the processes of space and time would lose their meaning and significance. Without this possibility, taklif, or moral obligation, falls to the ground; and with its fall, either God’s purposiveness or His might is destroyed. Realization of the absolute, namely, the divine raison d’etre of creation must be possible in history; that is, within the process of time between creation and the Day of Judgment. As the subject of moral action, man must therefore be capable of changing himself, his fellows or society, nature or his environment, so as to actualize the divine pattern or commandment, in him as well as in them.8 As the object of moral action, man as well as his fellows and environment must all be capable of receiving the efficacious action of man, the subject. This capacity is the converse of man’s moral capacity for action as subject. Without it, man’s capacity for moral action would be impossible and the purposive nature of the universe would collapse. Again, there would be no recourse from cynicism. For creation to have a purpose — and this is a necessary assumption if God is God and His work is not a meaningless travail de singe — creation must be malleable, transformable, capable of changing its substance, structure, conditions, and relations so as to embody or concretize the human pattern or purpose. This is true of all creation, including man’s physical, psychic, and spiritual nature. All creation is capable of realization of the ought-to-be, the will or pattern of God, the absolute in this space and in this time.9

Responsibility and Judgment

If man stands under the obligation to change himself, his society, and his environment so as to conform to the divine pattern, and is capable of doing so, and if all that is object of his action is malleable and capable of receiving his action and embodying its purpose, then it follows with necessity that he is responsible. Moral obligation is impossible without responsibility or reckoning. Unless man is responsible, and unless he is accountable for his deeds, cynicism becomes once more inevitable.

Judgment, or the consummation of responsibility, is the necessary condition of moral obligation, of moral imperativeness. It flows from the very nature of being “normative”.10 It is immaterial whether reckoning takes place in space-time or at the end of it or both, but it must take place. To obey God, that is, to realize His commandments and actualize His pattern, is to achieve falah or success, happiness, and ease. Not to do so, to disobey Him, is to incur punishment, suffering, unhappiness, and the agonies of failure.

Tawhid as an Essence of Civilization

As the essence of Islamic civilization, tawhid has two aspects or dimensions: the methodology and the content. The former determines the forms of application and implementation of the first principles of the civilization; the latter determines the first principles themselves.

The Methodology Dimension

The methodological dimension includes three principles, namely, unity, rationalism, and tolerance. These determine the form of Islamic civilization, a form that pervades every one of its departments.

Unity. There is no civilization without unity. Unless the elements constituting a civilization are united, woven, and harmonized with one another, they constitute not a civilization but a hodgepodge conglomeration. A principle unifying the various elements and comprehending them within its framework is essential. Such a principle would transform the mixture of relations of the elements with one another into an orderly structure in which levels of priority or degrees of importance are perceivable. The civilization of Islam places elements in an orderly structure and governs their existence and relations according to a uniform pattern. In themselves, the elements can be of either native or foreign provenance. Indeed, there is no civilization that has not adopted some elements foreign to it. What is important is that the civilization should digest those elements, that is, it should recast their forms and relations and thus integrate them into its own system. To “in form” them with its own form is in fact to transform them into a new reality where they exist no more in themselves or in their former dependency, but as integral components of the new civilization in which they have been integrated. It is not an argument against any civilization that it contains such elements; but it is a devastating argument against any civilization when it has merely added foreign elements; when it has done so in disjointed manner, without re formation, in formation, or integration. As such, these elements merely coexist with civilization. They do not belong organically to it. But if the civilization has succeeded in transforming them and integrating them into its system, the integrating process becomes its index of vitality, of its dynamism and creativity. In any integral civilization, and certainly in Islam, the constitutive elements, whether material, structural, or relational, are all bound by one supreme principle. In Islamic civilization, this supreme principle is tawhid. It is the ultimate measuring rod of the Muslim, his guide and criterion in his encounter with other religions and civilizations, with new facts or situations. What accords with it is accepted and integrated. What does not is rejected and condemned.

Tawhid, or the doctrine of absolute unity, transcendence, and ultimacy of God, implies that only He is worthy of worship, of service. The obedient person lives his life under this principle. He seeks to have all his acts to conform to the pattern, to actualize the divine purpose. His life must therefore show the unity of his mind and will, the unique object of his service. His life will not be a series of events put together helter skelter, but will be related to a single overarching principle, bound by a single frame that integrates them together into a single unity. His life thus has a single style, an integral form in short, Islam.

Rationalism. As methodological principle, rationalism is constitutive of the essence of Islamic civilization. It consists of three rules or laws: first, rejection of all that does not correspond with reality; second, denial of ultimate contradictories; third, openness to new and/or contrary evidence. The first rule protects the Muslim against opinion, that is, against making any untested, unconfirmed claims to knowledge. The unconfirmed claim, the Qur’an declares, is an instance of zann, or deceptive knowledge, and is prohibited by God, however slight is its object.11 The Muslim is definable as the person who claims nothing but the truth. The second rule protects him against simple contradiction on one side, and paradox on the other.This Greek term has no equivalent in Arabic, which illustrates the difference between the minds behind the two languages. The Greek term refers to an irrational dogma adhered to by the Christian. Rationalism does not mean the priority of reason over revelation but the rejection of any ultimate contradiction between them.The philosophers have raised reason above revelation and have given it priority status when judging religious claims. Certainly they are wrong in doing so. The Islamic thinker is certainly capable of defining reason differently and to use his definition as premise of all other claims. The question of validity of either definition may certainly be raised, and we have no doubt regarding the philosophic viability, or reasonableness — nay, superiority! — of the Islamic definition. The definition given here, that rationalism is the rejection of ultimate self contradiction, has, in addition, the value of continuing the tradition of the righteous fathers. Rationalism studies contradictory theses over and over again, assuming that there must be an aspect that had escaped consideration and that, if taken into account, would expose the contradictory relation. Equally, rationalism leads the reader of revelation not revelation itself to another reading, lest an unobvious or unclear meaning may have escaped him that, if reconsidered, would remove the apparent contradiction. Such referral to reason or understanding would have the effect of harmonizing not revelation per se (revelation stands above any manipulation by man!) but the Muslim’s human interpretation or understanding of it. It makes his understanding of revelation agree with the cumulative evidence uncovered by reason. Acceptance of the contradictory or paradoxical, as ultimately valid, appeals only to the weak of mind. The intelligent Muslim is a rationalist as he insists on the unity of the two sources of truth, namely, revelation and reason.

The third rule, openness to new or contrary evidence, protects the Muslim against literalism, fanaticism, and stagnation causing conservatism. It inclines him to intellectual humility. It forces him to append to his affirmations and denials the phrase “Allahu a’lam“(Allah knows better!). For he is convinced that the truth is bigger than can be totally mastered by him.

As the affirmation of the absolute unity of God, tawhid is the affirmation of the unity of truth. For God, in Islam, is the truth. His unity is the unity of the sources of truth. God is the Creator of nature whence man derives his knowledge. The objects of knowledge are the patterns of nature that are the work of God. Certainly God knows them since He is their author; and equally certainly, He is the source of revelation. He gives man of His knowledge; and His knowledge is absolute and universal. God is no trickster, no malevolent agent whose purpose is to misguide and mislead. Nor does He change His judgment as men do when they correct their knowledge, their will, or their decision. God is perfect and omniscient. He makes no mistakes. Otherwise, He would not be the transcendent God of Islam.

Tolerance. As methodological principle, tolerance is the acceptance of the present until its falsehood has been established. Thus, it is relevant to epistemology. It is equally relevant to ethics as the principle of accepting the desired until its undesirability has been established.Evidence for this can be found in the verses questioning arbitrary prohibition, e.g., 5:90; 7:13; 66:1, as well as the usali (juristic) principle agreed upon by all that “Nothing is haram (prohibited) except by a text.” Consider also the verse, “God has indeed detailed for you what He has prohibited” (6:119, 153). The former is called sa’ah, the latter, yusr. Both protect the Muslim from self closure to the world, from deadening conservatism. Both urge him to affirm and say yea to life, to new experience. Both encourage him to address the new data with his scrutinizing reason, his constructive endeavor, and thereby to enrich his experience and life, to move his culture and civilization ever forward.

As methodological principle within the essence of Islamic civilization, tolerance is the conviction that God did not leave people without sending them a messenger from among themselves to teach them that there is no God but God and that they owe Him worship and service,12 to warn them against evil and its causes.13 In this regard, tolerance is the certainty that all men are endowed with a sensus communis, which enables them to know the true religion, to recognize God’s will and commandments. Tolerance is the conviction that the diversity of religions is due to history with all its affecting factors, its diverse conditions of space and time, its prejudices, passions, and vested interests. Behind religious diversity stands al din al hanif, the primordial religion of God with which all men are born before acculturation makes them adherents of this or that religion. Tolerance requires the Muslim to undertake a study of the history of religions with a view to discover within each the primeval endowment of God, which He sent all His apostles at all places and times to teach.14

In religion and there can hardly be anything more important in human relations tolerance transforms confrontation and reciprocal condemnations between the religions into a cooperative scholarly investigation of the genesis and development of the religions with a view to separating the historical accretions from the original given of revelation. In ethics, the next all-important field, yusr immunizes the Muslim against any life denying tendencies and assures him the minimum measure of optimism required to maintain health, balance, and a sense of proportion, despite all the tragedies and afflictions that befall human life. God has assured His creatures that “with hardship, We have ordained ease [yusr]. “ibid., 94:6. And as He commanded them to examine every claim and make certain before judging, ibid., 49:6. the usuliyyun (doctors of jurisprudence) resorted to experimentation before judging as good and evil anything desired that is not contrary to a clear divine injunction.

Both sa’ah and yusr devolve directly from tawhid as a principle of the metaphysic of ethics. God, who created man that he may prove himself worthy in the deed, has made him free and capable of positive action and affirmative movement in the world. To do so, Islam holds, is indeed man’s raison d’tre.See below.

Tawhid as First Principle of Metaphysics

To witness that there is no God but God is to hold that He alone is the Creator Who gave to everything its being, Who is the ultimate Cause of every event, and the final End of all that is, that He is the First and the Last. To enter into such witnessing in freedom and conviction, in conscious understanding of its content, is to realize that all that surrounds us, whether things or events, all that takes place in the natural, social, or psychic fields, is the action of God, the fulfillment of one or another of His purposes. Once made, such realization becomes second nature to man, inseparable from him during all his waking hours. One then lives all the moments of one’s life under its shadow. And where man recognizes God’s commandment and action in every object and event, he follows the divine initiative because it is God’s. To observe it in nature is to do natural science.15 Its insistence on the orderliness of the cosmos under God provided the atmosphere necessary for the growth of the scientific spirit. The opposite faith, namely, that nature has no constancy but is the field of action of arbitrary deities incarnated therein, or of magical forces manipulating it, can lead to no science. For the divine initiative in nature is none other than the immutable laws with which God had endowed nature.16 To observe the divine initia­tive in one’s self or in one’s society is to pursue the humanities and the social sciences.The same is true of the social sciences and the hu­manities where the object is the establishment of the laws governing or determining human behavior, individual or collective. And if the whole universe itself is really the unfolding or fulfillment of these laws of nature, which are the commandments of God and His will, then the universe is, in the eye of the Muslim, a living theater set in motion by God’s com­mand. The theater itself, as well as all that it includes, is explicable in these terms. The unity of God means therefore that He is the Cause of everything, and that none else is so.

Of necessity, then, tawhid means the elimination of any power operative in nature beside God, whose eternal initiative are the immutable laws of nature. But this is tantamount to denying any initiative in nature by any power other than that which is innate in nature, such as magic, sorcery, spirits, and any theur­gical notion of arbitrary interference into the pro­cesses of nature by any agency. Therefore, tawhid means the profaning of the realms of nature, their secularization. And that is the absolutely first condi­tion of a science of nature. Through tawhid, there­fore, nature was separated from the gods and spirits of primitive religion. Tawhid for the first time made it possible for the religio-mythopoeic mind to outgrow itself, for the sciences of nature and civilization to develop with the blessing of a religious worldview that renounced once and for all any association of the sacred with nature. Tawhid is the opposite of super­stition or myth, the enemies of natural science and civilization. Tawhid gathers all the threads of causality and returns them to God rather than to occult forces. In so doing, the causal force operative in any event or object is organized so as to make a con­tinuous thread whose parts are causally — and hence empirically — related to one another. That the thread ultimately refers to God demands that no force out­side of it interferes with the discharge of its causal power or efficacy. This in turn presupposes the link­ages between the parts to be causal, and subjects them to empirical investigation and establishment. That the laws of nature are the inimitable patterns of God means that God operates the threads of nature through causes. Only causation by another cause that is always the same constitutes a pattern. This constancy of causation is precisely what makes its ex­amination and discovery — and hence, science — possible. Science is none other than the search for such repeated causation in nature, for the causal link­ages constitutive of the causal thread are repeated in other threads. Their establishment is the establish­ment of the laws of nature. It is the prerequisite for subjecting the causal forces of nature to control and engineering, the necessary condition for man’s usufruct of nature.

Tawhid as First Principle of Ethics

Tawhid affirms that the unique God created man in the best of forms to the end of worshipping and serving Him.17 This means that man’s whole existence on earth has as its purpose the obedience of God, the fulfillment of His command. Tawhid also affirms that this purpose consists in man’s vicegerency for God on earth.18 For, according to the Qur’an, God has invested man with His trust, a trust which heaven and earth were incapable of carrying and from which they shied away with fear.ibid., 33:72. The divine trust is the fulfillment of the ethical part of the divine will, whose very nature requires that it be realized in freedom, and man is the only creature capable of doing so. Wherever the di­vine will is realized with the necessity of natural law, the realization is not moral, but elemental or utilitarian. Only man is capable of realizing it under the possibility of doing or not doing so at all, or doing the very opposite or anything in between. It is this exercise of human freedom regarding obedience to God’s com­mandment that makes fulfillment of the command moral.

Tawhid affirms that God, being beneficent and purposive, did not create man in sport, or in vain. He endowed him with the senses, with reason and under­standing, made him perfect — indeed, breathed into him of His spirit19 — to prepare him to perform this great duty.

Such great duty is the cause for the creation of man. It is the final end of human existence, man’s definition, and the meaning of his life and existence on earth. By virtue of it, man assumes a cosmic function of tremendous importance. The cosmos would not be itself without that higher part of the divine will which is the object of human moral endeavor. And no other creature in the cosmos can substitute for man in this function. Man is the only cosmic bridge by which the moral — and hence higher — part of the divine will may enter the realm of space-time and become his­tory.

The responsibility or obligation (taklif) laid down upon man exclusively knows no bounds. It compre­hends the whole universe. All mankind is object of man’s moral action; all earth and sky are his theater, his material. He is responsible for all that takes place in the universe, in every one of its remotest corners. For man’s taklif or obligation is universal, cosmic. It comes to end only on the Day of Judgment.

Taklif, Islam affirms, is the basis of man’s human­ity, its meaning, and its content. Man’s acceptance of this burden puts him on a higher level than the rest of creation, indeed, than the angels. For, only he is capa­ble of accepting responsibility. It constitutes his cos­mic significance. A world of difference separates this humanism of Islam from other humanisms. Greek civ­ilization, for instance, developed a strong humanism which the West has taken as a model since the Renais­sance. Founded upon an exaggerated naturalism, Greek humanism deified man, as well as his vices. That is why the Greek was not offended by represent­ing his gods as cheating and plotting against one an­other, as committing adultery, theft, incest, aggression, jealousy and revenge, and other acts of brutality. Being part of the very stuff of which human life is made, such acts and passions were claimed to be as natural as the perfections and virtues. As nature, both were thought to be equally divine, worthy of contem­plation in their aesthetic form, of adoration — and of emulation by man of whom the gods were the apoth­eosis. Christianity, on the other hand, was in its for­mative years reacting to this very Greco-Roman hu­manism. It went to the opposite extreme of debasing man through “original sin” and declaring him a “fallen creature,” a “massa peccata“.To use the term of St. Augustine.

The degrading of man to the level of an absolute, universal, innate, and necessary state of sin from which it is impossible for any human ever to pull him­self up by his own effort was the logical prerequisite if God on High was to incarnate Himself, to suffer, and die in atonement for man’s sinfulness. In other words, if a redemption has to take place by God, there must be a predicament so absolute that only God could pull man out of it. Thus human sinfulness was absolutized in order to make it “worthy” of the Crucifixion of God. Hinduism classified mankind into castes, and assigned the majority of mankind to the nethermost classes — of “untouchables” if they are native to India, or malitcha, the religiously unclean or contaminated of the rest of the world. For the lowest as well as for the others, there is no rise to the superior, privileged caste of Brahmins in this life; such mobility is possible only after death through the transmigration of souls. In this life, man necessarily belongs to the caste in which he is born. Ethical striving is of no consequence whatever to its subject as long as he is alive in this world. Finally, Buddhism judged all human and other life in creation as endless suffering and misery. Exis­tence itself, it held, is evil and man’s only meaningful duty is to seek release from it through discipline and mental effort.

The humanism of tawhid alone is genuine. It alone respects man as man and creature, without either deification or vilification. It alone defines the worth of man in terms of his virtues, and begins its assessment of him with a positive mark for the innate endowment God has given all men in preparation for their noble task. It alone defines the virtues and ideals of human life in terms of the very contents of natural life, rather than denying them, thus making its humanism life-affirmative as well as moral.

Tawhid as First Principle of Axiology

Tawhid affirms that God has created mankind that men may prove themselves morally worthy by their deeds.20 As supreme and ultimate Judge, He warned that all men’s actions will be reckoned21; that their authors will rewarded for the good deeds and punished for the evil.ibid., 99:7?8; 101:6, 11. Tawhid further affirms that God has placed man on earth that he may colonize it22, that is, that he may strike out on its trails, eat of its fruits, enjoy its goodness and beauty, and cause it and himself to pros­per.23 This is world affirmation: to accept the world because it is innocent and good, created by God and ordered by Him for human use. Indeed, everything in the world, including the sun and the moon, is subservi­ent to man. All creation is a theater in which man is to perform his ethical action and thereby implement the higher part of the divine will. Man is responsible for satisfying his instincts and needs, and every individual is responsible for the same satisfaction for all men. Man is obliged to develop the human resources of all men to the highest possible degree, that full use may be made of all their natural endowments. He is obliged to transform the whole earth into productive orchards and beautiful gardens. He may in the process explore the sun and the moon if necessary.24 Certainly he must discover and learn the patterns of nature, of the human psyche, of society. Certainly he ought to indus­trialize and develop the world if it is eventually to become the garden where the word of God is supreme.

Such world affirmation is truly creative of civiliza­tion. It generates the elements out of which civilizations are made, as well as the social forces necessary for its growth and progress. Tawhid is anti-monkery, anti-isolation, anti-world-denial, and anti-asceticism.25 God taught humans to pray to Him that they “may be granted advantage in this world as well as in the next” (2:201; 7:156). Moreover, He assured them that He will answer their prayers if they do the good deeds (16:30; 39:10). On the other hand, world affirmation does not mean unconditional acceptance of the world and na­ture as they are. Without a principle to check man’s implementation or realization, affirmation of the world and nature may run counter to itself by the exaggerated pursuit of any one value, element, or force, or group of them, to the exclusion of all others. Balancing and disciplining man’s pursuit so that it results in harmonious realization of all values, under the priority system properly belonging to them, rather than under any haste, passion, zeal, or blind­ness of man, is a necessary prerequisite. Without it, the pursuit may wreck itself in either tragedy or su­perficiality, or may unleash some truly demonic force. Greek civilization, for instance, exaggerated its pur­suit of the world. It asserted that all that is in nature is unconditionally good and hence worthy of pursuit and realization. Hence, it declared all that is actually de­sired, the object of a real interest, to be ipso facto good, on the grounds that desire itself, being natural, is good. That nature often contradicts itself, that and the pursuits of such desires or elements of nature may counter one another, did not have enough appeal to warrant a revision of the first assumption. The need for a supernatural principle overarching all the tend­encies and desires of nature, and in terms of their contradictions and differences may be under­stood, must be recognized. But instead of realizing this truth, Greek civilization was too intoxicated with the beauty of nature per se and regarded the tragic outcome of naturalism itself natural. Since the Renais­sance, modern Western civilization has paid the high­est regard for tragedy. Its zeal for naturalism took it to the extreme of accepting nature without morality as a supernatural condition. Since the struggle of Western man has been against the Church and all that it represents, the progress of man in science was conceived as liberation from its clutches. Hence, it was extremely hard even to conceive of world-affirmation or naturalism as attached to normative threads stretching from an a priori, noumenal, abso­lute source. Without such threads, naturalism is bound to end up in self-contradiction, in conflicts within itself that are ex hypothesi insoluble. The Olympus community could not live with itself in har­mony and had to destroy itself. Its world affirmation was in vain.

The guarantee of world-affirmation, which secures it to produce a balanced, permanent, self-redressing civilization, is morality. Indeed, true civilization is nothing but world-affirmation disciplined by an a priori, or supernatural, morality whose inner content or values are not inimical to life and the world, to time and history, to reason. Such morality is furnished by tawhid alone among the ideologies known to man.

Tawhid as First Principle of Societism

Tawhid asserts that “this ummah of yours is a single ummah whose Lord is God. Therefore, worship and serve Him.26 Tawhid means that the believers are indeed a single brotherhood, whose members mutu­ally love one another in God, who counsel one another to do justice and be patient27; who cling together without exception to the rope of God and do not sepa­rate from one another28; who reckon with one an­other, enjoining what is good and prohibiting what is evil29; who, finally, obey God and His Prophet30.

The vision of the ummah is one; so is the feeling or will, as well as the action. The ummah is an order of humans consisting of a tripartite consensus of mind, heart, and arm. There is consensus in their thought, in their decision, in their attitude and character, and in their arms. It is a universal brotherhood that knows neither color nor ethnic identity. In its purview, all men are one, measurable only in terms of piety.As the hadith said, quoting the Prophet’s farewell sermon on his last pilgrimage. By tripartite consensus, we mean the sameness of vision or mind or thinking, the agreement of will or decision and intention, and the agreement of action or human arms. If any one of its members acquires new knowledge, his duty is to teach it to the others. If anyone acquires food or comfort, his duty is to share it with others. If anyone achieves establishment, success, and prosperity, his duty is to help others do like­wise. The Prophet likened the Muslims to a well-constructed building whose parts consolidate one another; and to an organic body that reacts in its totality whenever any organ or part of it is attacked.

There is hence no tawhid without the ummah. The ummah is the medium of knowledge, of ethics, of the caliphate (vicegerency) of man, of world-affirma­tion. The ummah is a universal order comprehending even those who are not believers. It is an order of peace, a Pax Islamica, forever open to all those indi­viduals and groups who accept the principle of the freedom to convince and to be convinced of the truth, who seek a world order in which ideas, goods, wealth, or human bodies are free to move. The Pax Islamica is an international order far surpassing the United Nations, that child of yesteryear, aborted and warped by the principles of the nation-state and the dominion of the “big powers,” both of which are constitutive of it. These principles are, in turn, based upon “national sovereignty” as it has evolved in the ideological history of Europe since the Reformation and the demise of the ideal of the universal community the Church had so far half-heartedly carried. But national sover­eignty is ultimately based on axiological and ethical relativism.

The United Nations is successful if it fulfils the negative role of preventing or stopping war between the members. Even then, it is an impotent order since it has no army except when the Security Council’s “big power” members agree to provide it ad hoc. Per contra, the Pax Islamica was laid down in a permanent constitution by the Prophet in Madinah in the first days of the Hijrah. He made it inclusive of Jews of Madinah and the Christians of Najran, guaran­teeing to them their identity and their religious, so­cial, and cultural institutions. History knows of no other written constitution that has honored the mi­norities as the constitution of the Islamic state has done. The constitution of Madinah has been in force in the various Islamic states for fourteen centuries and has resisted dictators and revolutions of all kinds — including Genghis Khan and Hulagu!

The ummah then is a world order in addition to being a social order. It is the basis of Islamic civilization, its sine qua non. In their representation of human reason in the person and career of Hayy ibn Yaqzan, philosophers had discovered that Hayy had by his own effort grown to the point of discovering the truth of Islam, and of tawhid, its essence. But having done so, Hayy had to invent or discover the ummah. He therefore made for himself a canoe out of a hol­lowed trunk and set forth on the unknown ocean, to discover the ummah without which all of his knowl­edge would not cohere with the truth. Tawhid is, in short, ummatism.

Cite this article as: Ismail Faruqi Online, "The Essence of Islamic Civilization," in Ismail Faruqi Online, August 9, 2012,
  1. See our refutation of the Orientalists who raise doubt that Islam has an essence or that it is known or knowable, in “The Essence of Religious Experience in Islam,” Numen, 20 (1973), pp. 186 – 201. ??
  2. In this regard, tawhid distinguishes itself from Sufism and some sects of Hinduism, where the reality of the world is dissolved into God, and God becomes the only reality, the only existent. In this view, nothing really exists except God. Everything is an illusion, and its existence is unreal. ??
  3. This principle points to the absolute ontological sepa­ration of God and man, to the impossibility of their union through incarnation, deification or fusion. The principle, however, does not deny the possibility of communication between them. ??
  4. As the verses of the Qur’an 3:191 and 23:116 indicate. ??
  5. As contained in the verses of the Qur’an 7:15; 10:5; 13:9; 15:29; 25:2; 32:9; 38:72; 41:10; 54:49; 65:3; 75:4, 38; 80:19. 82:7; 87:2-3. ??
  6. Qur’an 17:77; 33:62; 35:43; 48:23; 65:3. ??
  7. This is attested by the verses that speak of the perfec­tion of God’s creation (see notes 4, 5 above), and those that stress man’s moral obligation and responsibility. The latter are too numerous to count. ??
  8. This is the meaning implied in the verses that speak of the subservience of creation to man, namely, 13:2; 14:32 ?33; 16:12, 14; 22:36-37, 65; 29:61; 31:20, 29; 35:13; 38:18; 39:5; 43:13; 45:11-12. ??
  9. As the ubiquitous emphases of moral obligation in the Qur’an indicate. ??
  10. The verses dealing with the Final judgment are very numerous, and there is no need to cite them all; some exam­ples: man will not be left alone without reckoning (75:36), but will be brought to account by God (88:26, 4:85) ??
  11. God prohibited man from doubting his fellows in 4:156; 6:116, 148; 10:26, 66; 49:12; 53:23, 28. ??
  12. Qur’an 6:42; 12:109; 13:40; 14:4; 15:9; 16:43; 17:77; 21:7, 25; 23:44; 25:20; 30:47; 37:72; 40:70. ??
  13. ibid., 4:162; 35:23. “We have sent before you [Muhammad] no prophet but We revealed to him that there is no God other than Me. Adore and serve Me.” ??
  14. ibid., 30:30. ??
  15. The natural sciences did not develop until the princi­ple was accepted that natural events constantly follow the same immutable laws. That is precisely what Islam has contributed to the development of natural science among its adherents. ??
  16. Unlike history, which studies a particular event and analyzes it into its individual constituents and establishes their mutual relations, the natural sciences are concerned with the general pattern, the universal law applicable to all particulars of a given class, or to all members of a class, or to all classes. ??
  17. In accordance with the verse, “And I have not cre­ated jinn or humans but to worship and serve Me” (Qur’an 51:56). ??
  18. As in ibid., 2:30; 6:165; 10:14. ??
  19. As in ibid., 15:29; 21:91; 38:72; 66:12. ??
  20. Qur’an 11:7; 18:7; 47:31; 67:2. ??
  21. ibid., 9:95, 106. ??
  22. ibid., 11:61. ??
  23. ibid., 2:57, 172; 5:90; 7:31, 159; 20:81; 67:15;92:10. ??
  24. As God had said in the Qur’an, “You may penetrate the regions of heaven and earth if you can. You will not do so except with power and authority” (55:33). ??
  25. Qur’an 57:27. Indeed, we stand under the divine commandment, “And do not forsake your share of this world” (28:77). ??
  26. Qur’an 21:92; 23:53. ??
  27. As Surah Al ‘Asr (103) indicates. See also 49:10. ??
  28. ibid., 3:103. ??
  29. ibid., 3:110; 5:82; 9:113; 20:54, 128. ??
  30. As God has commanded in verses 3:32, 132; 4:58; 5:95; 24:54; 47:33; 64:12. ??