Rafed English

Ancient Iran

The Arabian peninsula of that time was bounded by four powerful, strong and civilised nations with rather well established governments. Of these four countries, two could be rated as first class and the other two as second class powers. One of the first group was Iran which extended on one side as far as the Tigris and Euphrates and Shatt-al-Arab, namely upto the middle of the present day Iraq and included the Caucasus and the present Iran itself; and on another flank included Turkestan, Afghanistan, a part of Pakistan as far as the Hindus (Sind) River valley. In these regions there lived a people with a long and civilised past which had undergone many tribulations and change, and were regarded as the great neighbours of the Arabian peninsula. The fact is that if we wish to speak on the basis of common usage, Arabian peninsula was just a stretch of desert to which no one paid any attention, and the use of the word 'neighbour' could hardly apply to Iran with its immense size and grandeur as compared with Arabia. But here the discussion is not about great or small but only to become familiar with the geographic neighbours of Arabia.

The second great neighbour was Rome which also neighboured Iran. It was a great power including northern Iraq, present day Turkey and the Balkans, and was known as Eastern Rome. When we mention Rome in this discussion it implies the Eastern Roman empire, since western Rome with its seat in Italy neither remained a great power at that time, nor had any relation with Islam. Of course western Rome of that time included Italy, a portion of Yugoslavia, Albania, some part of Spain and even a part of France, thus Europe of that time was only one country under Rome. Other peoples living beyond its limits were called Berbers. 17 Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire possessed such greatness at that time that it was far above comparison with the other Rome. Western Rome rose to greatness after the Muslims had overthrown Eastern Rome, and the caliphs, namely the Ottoman rulers and kings, had captured the city of Islambol or Constantinople. It was then that in the 15th century A.D. learned men of Eastern Rome fled to Western Rome and became instrumental in causing the Renaissance and provided the base for the present civilisation of Europe and the western world, because during the period which we are discussing, Western Rome was hardly great and indeed was regarded as a second rate power.

These were the great neighbours of the Arabian peninsula. The other two second-rate neighbours were, firstly, Egypt which included the present day Egypt, Libya, Tunis and some part of Sudan. Although this country held some importance from Islam's viewpoint, yet it was not considered a great power such as Iran and Rome.

The next neighbouring country was Abyssinia which included the present day Abyssinia and some part of the Sudan, In this region, too, there was no powerful government, though in Islam's times it was an empire with a considerable past having a civilisation and characterised by noteworthy social and religious freedom. 18

As is evident while surveying these countries, only two other regions remained in the entire civilised world, namely China and India, and beyond these two we do not find any other place in the world which could be termed civilised, This detail has been mentioned here because certain people, especially among the educated class whether in Iran or here in Germany raise the question whether the prophet brought Islam as a universal religion, and if so, how much did he know about the world outside the Arabian peninsula? The answer is: firstly, that we do not call a person 'prophet' on account of his having been formally educated or having studied books and maps etc. A prophet to us is a person who acquires all the necessary knowledge through divine revelation, and this is without bounds or limits. Secondly, the Prophet (a.s.) in his own time, had sent communications to the rulers of these regions and hence the question whether the Prophet was aware of the other non Arab nations and their basic needs would seem to be a childish question. History has recorded that the Prophet (a.s.), in the third year of his ordainment, was commanded by God to make his call to Islam public and declare it to all his neighbours, relatives and the Quraish. For this purpose he issued an open invitation inviting all to his house, and declared that they would soon have a religious code which would open the gates of the palaces of (Khusrow, the Emperor of Iran) and of caesar and other rulers. Also in the sixth year of his ordainment, he sent letters to the rulers of the three small regions of Hira, Ghassan and Yemen; first to Bazan king of Yemen, then to Khusrow Parviz emperor of Iran, then to the emperor of Eastern Rome, then to the ruler of Egypt (Maquqass), and next to Najashi (Negus) king of Abyssinia. All these letters have been recorded in history, and there is no doubt or question about them. What remains to be said is whether the Prophet of Islam knew of such places as India and China or not.

Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Arab's history would know that one of the principal occupations of life for Arab merchants was the transportation of goods. There they carried from China and India via the Sea of Oman and Hejaz to Europe, i.e. Rome. Thus, not only the prophet but Arab traders as well were familiar with India and China and even their products such as spices, perfumes, handicrafts and China ware which were the industrial and agricultural products of India and China at that time. Trade in such commodities was a part of the commercial pre-occupation of the Arabs of that time. Therefore in discussions should someone raise the question whether the Prophet of Islam was aware of human civilisations existing in the world or not, becomes quite irrelevant. It is likely someone may ask Prophet knew of the inhabited regions of the earth, though we could not possibly answer this question, since we do not believe that he know everything but rather that whatever he needed to know was provided to him through revelation. I really cannot imagine if the Prophet (a.s.) needed to know about all these places in those times.

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16. This house was preserved for a long time, but I don't know whether it has survived as an important historical monument.

17. At first the Greeks applied the title 'Berber' to all non-Greeks, using it to mean wild, uneducated and coarse. The Romans used it for all nations outside Greco-Roman culture. Brukhaus Encyclepedia; Wil Durant's History of Civilisation, Vol. 4, p. 30.

18. In subsequent discussion, it will become apparent that Abyssinia played a noteworthy role in the history of Islam in that period.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

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