For a thousand years, before the rise of the European empires, the two civilisations that dominated the Afro-Eurasian world were those of China and Islam. They both represented powerful examples of the criterion of balance but were very different manifestations. China was an ancient world with a continuous history stretching back millennia, where balance depended on the establishment of the just empire with the Emperor as the mediator between Heaven and Earth. The cycles of the rise and fall of empires followed a course of order, disintegration and then order once again. But each time, fundamental characteristics remained the same; the presence of the Emperor, the Chinese language and script, the continuous wisdom of Confucius and the concept of Yin and Yang ensured that in each iteration balance was re-established and maintained through the force of dynamic equilibrium.  This force guaranteed the unchanging, permanent character of the civilisation, which would be misread by the Enlightenment as stagnation. Each new dynasty had a particular character and would emphasize certain traits, but the core remained constant.

Whilst China was bound by its geography, what is known as Dār al-Islām (the Abode of Islam) had taken root from West Africa to China, binding together a myriad of different races, language groups and cultures into one civilisation. In the early 14th century a scholar from Tangiers, Ibn Battūta, spent 27 years travelling to every part of the world of Islam. Not only could he practise his profession as a qādī (judge) in India and the Maldives, he could converse with scholars in Timbuktu, Konya, Tabriz, Delhi, Malacca and Hangzhou. The Islamic system of governance, education and the sharia supported a civilisation unlike any that had appeared before. 

But let us begin with the birthplace of this new civilisation. In the early part of the 7th century, the Arabian Peninsula was strategically placed to connect into the civilised worlds of Afro-Eurasia. By land, it buffered the warring empires of Byzantium and Persia, whilst it was linked by sea both to India, which was divided into many states, and to China, which was being unified under the Tang Dynasty. To the north, the Eurasian Steppes were dominated by the Turkish nomads whose empire had stretched from Manchuria to the borders of Hungary, but was now breaking up. To the North West, Christian monks were converting the Germanic tribes that had conquered the Western Roman Empire, and far to the East, Buddhism was entering Japan. The emergence of Islam out of the deserts of Arabia would, over the following centuries, utterly transform this world. . .

You can order the complete text of Rethinking Islam & the West by Ahmed Paul Keeler here.

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