Our romantic past

In my travels online recently I have been coming across a lot of romanticised and whitewashed accounts of Muslim history, a lot like this one: Why The West is terrified of Muslims reading history…

The truth is that every community has groups of people who have a vested interest in the majority not studying history — and the Muslim community is no different in this regard.

Undoubtedly Muslim civilizations had their Golden moments and periods of greatness, but there were also periods of immense darkness, cruelty and wrongdoing. Senseless violence and killing has been seen from the earliest of times; it is not purely an offshoot of European Colonialism. Extreme ideologies have taken root before. Those so-called liberal-minded philosophers and scientists were often persecuted by the religious-political elite in their times. One era’s visionaries were another’s heretics.

The colonial period has had a devastating effect on the Muslim world and its thinking, without a doubt. But romantic visions of Muslim history are also a huge problem. As much as we need to review the legacy of European Colonialism in the Muslim world, so too we need to review the legacy of the Umayyad, Abbasid or Ottoman dynasties. Every activist can enumerate the United States’ wars without end, but who dares acknowledge that the Ottoman Empire was also almost perpetually engaged in war for over 600 years from 1299 to 1923?

We could say that the partial retelling of Muslim history, which refuses to acknowledge past wrongs, is partly to blame for some of the extremisms of our age. We are off balance because we mistakenly believe that only the current era has been massively impacted by politics and violence. The reality is that faith and practice has been buffeted by the currents of politics for millennia.

We all need to study history, if we are to understand the present — however painful or heartrending that may be.

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