Civilization is generally defined as an advanced state of the development and organization of human society, encompassing culture, science, technology, industry, government and urban development.
The concept of civilization, and attempts to precisely define it, kept changing throughout history (as man was getting more and more advanced and civilized).
It is still used in several ways, signifying different things to different people, as a result of additional socio-politico-economic characteristics that people started associating civilization with and wanted them to be included as part of the criteria for defining civilization. Human history, by and large, is seen as an upward movement from primitive conditions to civilization.
Undoubtedly, this perception is an upshot of the theory of evolution by natural selection, whose framework has been adopted as the foundation for a cumulative understanding of the majority of sciences, especially life sciences and their numerous branches. Evolution is regarded as the greatest unifying theory in most of those sciences.
According to the same theory, man, too, originated from apelike ancestors over a period of approximately six million years. Human civilization was the net result of the whole process, which, nonetheless, keeps evolving in response to the dynamic forces of the infinite development of human society and its organization and function.
However, some scientists believe that human species has reached its biological pinnacle and is no longer capable of changing. Controversial as it is, the view entails that both culture and civilization will be greatly affected thereby. In the worse scenario, their development will also grind to a halt. In terms of life quality, this is the best it is going to get.
Others, on the other hand, argue that evolution is ongoing and that humans as well as their civilizations are still being influenced by powerful evolutionary forces. Evolutionary events are unpredictable. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next and where we are headed.
In contrast, Islam holds that man is created by Almighty Allah. There was no such thing as Godless evolution, as put forth by the proponents of the above view. Man is created as an honorable being. He is God’s vicegerent on earth to whom and whose services everything in the heavens and on the earth had been subjected and made subservient. Man is tasked with such a noble mission that it, if properly carried out, can elevate man to degrees higher than those of angels.
It follows that man is created civilized, or at least with a propensity to become civilized, for civilization is not solely concerned about a state of the material development and organization of human society. Surely, civilization is more consequential, meaningful and holistic than that.
Every person in every time and space is born with essentially the same foremost physical, intellectual, spiritual and moral capacities and qualities. Everyone’s task is to cultivate those abilities and merits, and put them in the service of God as well as humanity.
As a being endowed with a remarkable heavenly mission, man is to be judged only in terms of his successful implementation – or otherwise – of the same. The inclusive legacy that man generates in the process of discharging his vicegerency mission is what Islam recognizes as civilization.
It goes without saying, therefore, that at the heart of civilization, both as a concept and sensory reality, stands man with his principled mission, dignity and total wellbeing. Civilization is not about material things, assets and possessions, unless they are generated and employed only to serve the former. They are but civilizational means; the former is the civilizational aim.
A good civilization means a definite testimony to, and evidence of, a community’s ontological success story. Every community’s failure to produce such a successful narrative, inscribed on the pages and various aspects of its civilizational output, connotes ontological primitiveness and backwardness, irrespective of where and when such a failure occurred. That means that the earliest communities on earth could be as civilized as the most contemporary ones could be backward and primitive.
In other words, genuine civilization signifies heavenly success and the attaining of Almighty Allah’s pleasure in this world and the Hereafter. Similarly, primitiveness signifies heavenly failure and the incurring of Allah’s wrath in this world and the Hereafter.
It is on account of this, for example, that all Muslims regard Prophet Muhammad and the first and most exemplary generation of Muslims as most civilized who lived most civilized lives, in that they were best people and most successful with regard to the fulfillment of their earthly mission. They are now in the most sublime companionship of the Hereafter, enjoying the fruits of their efforts and struggles. And that is exactly what every Muslim’s ultimate aspiration is: to succeed and become thus civilized.
On that note, a community’s material progress, which is marred by its people’s epidemic spiritual and moral decadence, will alone never genuinely appeal to a true Muslim.
Read Part 2.