Lecture for 1st year medical students on 23rd December 2000 by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr.

3.5.5 THE RISE and FALL OF CIVILISATIONS, al dawrat al hadhariyat



The Qur’an has called for study of the history of past human experiences (p 217 3:137, 6:11, 12:109, 16:36, 22:46, 27:69, 29:20, 30:9, 30:42, 35:44, 40:21, 40:82, 47:10). This enables learning valuable lessons that are useful for the contemporary and future periods (p 217-221 3:137, 6:11, 6:42-45, 7:4-5, 7:94-95, 7:96-103, 8:52-54, 9:69-70, 10:13-14, 11:100-102, 11:120, 12:111, 14:9, 15:10-13, 16:26, 16:36, 16:63, 17:17, 18:32-44,  18:59, 19:74, 19:98, 20:128, 21:11-15, 22:45-46, 22:48, 24:34, 25:38-40, 27:69, 28:58, 29:38-40, 30:9-10, 32:26, 34:45, 35:44, 36:30-31, 37:71-73, 38:3, 39:25-26, 40:5, 40:21-22, 40:82-85, 41:13, 43:6-8, 44:37, 46:27, 47:10, 47:13, 50:36-37, 54:4-5, 53:50-55, 54:51, 64:5-6, 65:8-9, 67:18, 69:4-12).



The Qur’an mentions the civilizational cycles among communities, tilka al ayaam nudawiluha bayna al naas (3:140). Those who are strong today may weaken tomorrow and those who are weak today may become strong tomorrow. Each community or civilisation has a fixed term, ajal al umam (p 73 7:34, 7:135, 10:49) much like human life, ajal al insaan. It can die as much as a human dies. The rise and fall of civilizations follows fixed social laws. If a community does the right things Allah gives them strength for a limited time as a test. If they persist in doing good they will continue being strong. It is however part of human nature that as soon as they become strong, they relax and pick up bad behavior which leads to a downfall. Luxury and excess, taraf, are the commonest causes of civilizational decay (p 233 11:116, 17:16, 21:13, 23:33, 23:64-67, 34:34-35, 43:23, 56:45). Theoretically a community could stay in ascendancy until the last day if it followed closely Allah’s laws in building civilizations. The Qur’an has informed us that the righteous inherit the earth (p 96-97 7:100, 7:128-129, 7:137, 12:21, 14:14, 17:104, 21:105, 22:41, 24:55, 28:5-6, 33:27, 38:26, 39:74). A community changes for the good or the bad by the change of individuals in it (p 240 8:53, 13:11). Existence of laws that determine the rise and fall of civilizations does not imply historical determinism as propounded by Marxist thinkers. Events are sometimes contrary to the ordinary laws.



The climate determines where people live, what they wear, the type of house, the crops grown, the nature of economic activity, and the type of social organization. Climate affects the way people behave. Natural resources affect the location of a civilization. Rich soils allow agriculture. Coal and iron lay the basis for industrialization. A difficult environment can lead to development by forcing people to look for practical solutions that will make their daily lives more bearable. Civilizations first developed along river banks because of ease of transport and  access to water for agriculture. Civilizations grew in plains and not on mountains because of ease of transport. The mountainous terrain explains why Greeks lived in several independent city-states and not one centralized state. The Nile and the small strip of fertile land along it explains the power of the central government in Egypt because people had no where to escape if they rebelled against authority. The correlation of environmental conditions to the level of material development of a civilization is difficult and rather complex. Whereas the ease of life in the tropics has been advanced as the reason discouraging technological development, the difficulties of the cold areas of North America did not make the Amerinds any more developed.



Some environments favor easy transport and therefore spread of ideas. The open grasslands of central Asia, the desert and semi-deserts of the middle-east and North Africa encouraged land movement over long distances. The coasts and bays of Europe also enabled sea transport to link communities. The forested regions of sub-saharan Africa and South-east Asia made movement difficult; thus no great civilizations developed in these parts of the world. Ease of transport also determines the end of a civilisation. When its geographical expansion becomes so big that effective communication and control are not possible it breaks up into smaller groups or may eventually lose its distinct identity.




Human history can be divided into two distinct parts: prehistory before the development of writing and the historical period when written records are available. Different groups of people have gone through these periods at different times; there are people living on earth today in the pre-historic era. In the paleolithic pre-historic era, humans were food gatherers. They used stone tools. One of their major discoveries was the making of fire for warmth and cooking. They lived in caves and wore skins. Later they started hunting and living in villages where more permanent homes were built. Once they settled down in communities more civilizational developments occurred.



Sumeria: The Sumerian civilisation (3500-2000 BC) arose in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is the earliest known human civilization. The Sumerians learned how to control the river flooding and how to build irrigation canals to enable them grow crops. They invented the wheel and the plough. They were the first to develop writing, a form or cuneiform writing. They had a government and laws. They built cities that became city-states. They worshipped many gods. The priests grew powerful and eventually became hereditary kings. About 2400 BC the power of Sumer began to wane. Sumer was conquered by Akkadia. The Babylonians in turn conquered both Sumer and Akadia in about 1800BC.


Assyria: The Assyrian  (800 BC-612 BC).  Assyrians were warriors in the upper Tigris. By 800BC they had taken control of cities and trading routes in Mesopotamia. Their power was due to a well organized army and their use of iron weapons (copied from Hittites). They were cruel; they killed and burned wherever they went. Many people surrendered without fighting. The Assyrians built a powerful empire that they divided into several provinces connected by good roads. The empire became too large to be governed effectively. Eventually the Chaldeans (Babylonians) captured the capital Nineveh in 612 BC and the Assyrian empire ceased to exist.


Babylonia: Babylon (1700-530 BC) was a powerful empire in Mesopotamia. It conquered and took over much of the Sumerian culture. Hammurabi was one of the great rulers of Babylonia. In 1720 BC Hammurabi built the empire by conquest of neighboring peoples. He extended the empire to the Mediterranean, repaired the irrigation canals, made new laws, expended trade, and improved taxation. Hammurabi's code became very famous. His reign was known as the golden age. Babylonians were skilled mathematicians. They were good farmers. They knew about irrigation, land survey, engineering, astronomy, and medicine. Babylonians developed the number system and had clocks controlled by falling water. The Assyrians briefly took ovet the empire until they were defeated by Nebuchadenezer who built a strong Chaldean empire with the capital at Babylon.


Chaldeans: Chaldeans were descendants of Hammurabi’s empire. They were warriors who conquered many people under Nebuchadnezer. They extended their power to Syria and Palestine. They built a new Babylon with more than 1 million people. The city was rich with the famous hanging gardens and the tower of Babel. Caravans came from far away lands to Baylon for purposes of trade. The city became a center of science especially astronomy. They later found it difficult to control their empire; The Persians took it over by 539 BC.



Egypt: The ancient Egyptian (3100-525 BC) civilization prospered in the Nile valley. The annual flooding of the river deposited fertile silt that supported agriculture and made them good farmers. They were protected from foreign invasions by the Mediterranean sea, the desert on both sides of the river, and the cataracts along the river.  In 3100 BC lower and upper Egypt were united into one state that was called the ancient kingdom and it lasted 500 years until 2600BC. During this time the pharaohs were priest-kings. They were respected and pyramids were built for them. Egyptians believed in many gods. They believed in the hereafter and therefore embalmed their dead. The middle kingdom started in 2300 BC when great officials expelled the pharaohs and controlled the government for 200 years. The pharaohs were later brought back but with reduced power. The Hyksos invaded Egypt in 1786 BC and brought the middle kingdom to an end. They ruled Egypt for 150 years and were overthrown in an uprising led by an Egyptian prince. In the following era, the new kingdom, Egypt became richer. Egyptians invaded neighboring countries and engaged in external trade. They also started worshipping a new god. By 1000 BC Egypt had declined. The Decline of Egypt started when the pharaoh did not like and expelled the powerful priests. The Egyptian empire was further weakened by rebellions. External wars also drained the country's resources. The Assyrians invaded Egypt in 671 BC. The Kushites invaded Egypt in the 8th century BC. The Persians invaded in the 6th century BC. The Greeks under Alexander the Great invaded in the 4th century BC and controlled Egypt for 3 centuries. The Greeks were replaced by the Romans who were eventually defeated by Muslim armies. Egyptians made many contributions to civilization: papyrus paper; the decimal number system based on 10, fractions and whole numbers; geometry; and the calendar. They made many contributions to medicine. They were the first to use splints, bandages, and compresses. They discovered treatments for indigestion and hair loss. They developed 3 types of writing one of them was called hieroglyphics. The pyramids they build stand as monuments of architectural achievement to our day yet they also are a monument to human exploitation, thousands of slaves died in their construction.



The Indus valley civilisation grew in the period 2000-1500 BC. They learned how to control the flooding of the Indus river and became good farmers. They discovered cotton for cloth making. They used fired bricks to build their cities. They had two main cities, Harapa and Mohanjodano,  which were the first planned communities in the world. By 1700 BC the Harappan civilization declined for reasons that are not known. By 1200 BC Aryan invaders had taken over the Indus valley. The Aryans moved forced the Dravidians to the south of India where their descendants continue to live today. Hinduism developed about 3000 years ago. Budhism started in about 500 BC. Alexander the great invaded India in 320 BC but did not establish a permanent presence. Thereafter the Maurya dynasty ruled India until 200 BC. Thereafter many small dynasties followed. The Gupta dynasty in northern India after 300 CE was a period of progress in many aspects of Indian life. The Muslim Mongol invaders started arriving in the 700s AD. In 1398 AD the Mongol emperor Tamerlane captured Delhi. India developed a sophisticated material civilization; cities, roads, and sewers were built. It also developed mathematics and other branches of knowledge. Early in its history, a rigid caste system was introduced in India. It still persists to this day.



The Chinese (1027-256 BC) built an empire in China. It had achievements in Iron, literature and the arts. The Chinese discovered paper, gunpowder, porceline, printing, and silk. Confucius was a great philosopher who lived at this time. The empire broke up due to internal quarrels. Chinese were good farmers. They built their first cities in 1766BC. They discovered how to make silk. They worshipped spirits and believed that dead ancestors affected their lives. The big gap between the rich and the poor contributed to Shang decline and could not unite to resist the Zhou invasion of 1122BC.




Hitti: The Hittites lived along river Halys in modern-day Turkey. Their civilisation (1900-1200 BC) was the first to use iron. They were weakened by rebellions.


The Persian empire (700 BC-331 BC). Persians were Aryans from the grasslands of Central Asia. In about 2000 BC they settled in the area between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian sea. In about 600 BC they were conquered by the Medes. The Medes were in turn defeated by the Persian king Cyrus who organized an army that conquered a big empire stretching from Egypt to India. Darius was one of the famous Persian kings. Persians developed a strong administration. They worshipped several gods. In about 570 BC Zoroaster taught them a new religion based on fire-worship. Persians were farmers and shepherds. They refused to be traders because it encouraged cheating and lying although they allowed their subject people to engage in trade. They built roads and opened the silk caravan route from China. They introduced the use of coins which facilitated trade. Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great in 31 BC. Later Persia fell under Roman control. A new Persian empire under the Sassanid dynasty broke away from Roman control and became strong under King Bahram (420-439 CE). This empire was brought to and end by the Islamic conquest in 643 CE.



Minoa: The Minoan civilisation grew and prospered on Crete island in the period 3000-1100 BC. It started in about 2800 BC. The Minoans were farmers and herders. They built ships and by 2000BC had become the world’s first sea-faring civilization. They liked sports. They built cities. They worshipped many gods and the rulers were priest-kings. By 1400 BC control of the sea passed to the Myceaneans. They were afflicted by a succession of earthquakes. They eventually collapsed.  It is not known exactly why the Minoans collapsed.


Mycenaeans: The Myceneans came from present-day Russia. Around 2000 BC they settled in the lowlands of Greece. They were farmers, herders, and hunters. They learned writing, ship building and navigation from the Minoans. Being warriors they replaced the Minoans by 1400 BC as a dominant power in the area. They attacked Troy and Asia Minor in the middle of the 1200s BC. Due to civil wars the Myceneans weakened and were conquered by the Dorians. A general collapse of trade in the Mediterranean followed for the next 800 years.


Greece: By 700 BC several Greek cities were established. Each had 5000-10,000 citizens and the rest of the population were servants. The Greeks lived in the southern part of what is today Greece. They constructed buildings and sculptures.  They excelled in science, poetry, drama, and philosophy. The Greek city-states had a flowering civilisation that produced intellectual giants.  like Hippocrates, Euclid, Archimedes, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates taught people to think and to ask questions. Plato was a student of Socrates who set up and taught at an Academy for 40 years. He taught order, did not like political liberty, and preferred rule by the wise and the good. He put down his ideas in a book called ‘The Republic’. Aristotle taught logic. Thales taught the scientific method. Hippocrates was a pioneer in medicine. A major contribution of Greeks to the scientific methodology was their discovery that the world was governed by natural laws. The most famous Greek city states were Sparta and Athens. By 500 BC Sparta had the strongest army. It was first ruled by a King but in 800 BC the aristocrats took over power. All citizens were members of the assembly. Land was worked by slaves and trade was left to traders. The aristocrats trained only for the army. Weak newborns were abandoned to die in the hills. Boys started rigorous military training at the age of 7 years. Sparta did not develop trade, use of money or literature; it remained a poor farming society whose only goal was military strength. Sparta was defeated in 371 BC. Athens was first ruled by Kings. By 750 BC the nobles took over and set up an oligarchy; democratic rights were expanded later. Education was encouraged. In 490 BC Athens defeated the Persian army under Darius. The Persians however returned in 480 BC and set Athens on fire; the Greeks however defeated the Persian fleet and the Persian wars were over. Athens grew stronger which made other Greek states jealous. This led to the Pelopeniusian wars that lasted for 30 years. In 404 BC Athens surrendered to Sparta and started declining after that. Other city states declined after that and all Greek city states were conquered by Philipp II of Macedonia in 338BC. The Greeks worshipped many gods. They developed sports and the theatre.


Hellenistic period: This is the period during which Greek culture spread in Asia and North Africa. Philip of Macedonia developed a standing army. He improved weapons and tactics. He was therefore able to conquer Greek city states in 338 BC and prepared to attack Persia. He died in 338 BC before accomplishing his ambitions. His son Alexander the Great completed the conquests. He crushed the Persians and subdued territory from the Nile to India. He built the city of Alexandria. He died in Persia in 323 BC at the early age of 33 years. After his death the empire broke up. Greek culture however spread. Trade grew. However due to economic decline, most Greek city states were under Roman control by 146 BC.


Phenecia: Phoenecia extended 320 km along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians lived in Northern Canaan. They were of two groups: Canaanites (herders) and philistines (traders and ship-builders). They were great sea-farers and had established overseas colonies such as Carthage in North Africa. Phoenecians depended on trade by sea. They explored the seas guided by the stars. They developed sophisticated business methods. Phoenicians developed an alphabet that is the forerunner of the Latin alphabet used by Europeans today. They modified the Egyptian hieroglyphics system to produce their alphabet. The Greeks copied the Phoenician alphabet. The Greek alphabet eventually became the Roman alphabet used today. Phoenecians were famous for the manufacture of clothes. Phoenecia remained a collection of cities and never developed into one united state. The most important cities were: Beirut, Tyre, Byblos, and Sidon. Each city had a king. There were rivalries between cities. Carthage was a Phoencian colony in North Africa founded in 814 BC. Being trading cities, the port was the most important part of the city. The phoenecians believed in life after death. They copied the Egyptian tradition of embalming the dead. They were subsequently conquered by Assyrians, Persians, the Greeks, and finally in 64 BC by the Romans



Kush: Kush was in the present-day Sudan lying on the Nile River. Its history started in about 2000 BC. They were conquered by the Egyptian New Kingdom and were controlled for 500 years. During this period they learned the Egyptian religion, worked in copper and bronze and adapted the Egyptian hieroglyphics in about 300 BC to make their own system of writing. The Kushites worked iron and pottery. Knowledge of iron working could have spread from Kush to the rest of Africa. They built pyramids. With the decline of Egyptian power they reclaimed their independence and set up their capital at Napata on the Nile. Starting in 750 BC they invaded Egypt and controlled it for 70 years until they were driven out by the Assyrians. The Kushites learned iron smelting from the Assyrians and made tools that helped expand agriculture and trade. They remained a trading empire until they were defeated by Aksum (from Ethiopia) in about 350 AD.


Ethiopia: Aksum was a trading country along the Red Sea. Trade started in about 500 BC. By 350 CE Aksum was a powerful trading state in north-east Africa and the Red sea. Aksum mixed with and learned from Sabeans of the Arabian peninsula. They invaded and destroyed Kush. Their King Ezana converted to Christianity in 324 AD. They developed a writing system and learned how to farm on terraces. After 700 CE Aksum declined due to wars. With the rise of Islam they retreated into the interior where they lived in isolation for 1000 years and became parents of later Ethiopian civilizations. About 1300 CE Christian kings of Ethiopia who claimed descent from Queen Sheba started invading Muslim states in the region. Muslims fought back after 1400 CE. A powerful Muslim commander, Ahmad Gran, invaded Ethiopia that was saved from defeat by Portuguese intervention. Ethiopia is the longest surviving Christian civilization; it retreated into the interior in inaccessible mountains.


Nubia: Starting in 400 CE, Nuba nomads settled in the Kushitic towns. In the mid-6th century CE Christian monks arrived and started converting people. By 600 CE all the leading people had accepted Christianity.. They developed a Christian civilization that lasted over 600 years until defeated by the Ayyubids. This civilization made brilliant progress in building monasteries, churches, schools, and towns. There were many beautiful works of art. Writing was developed in both Greek and Nubian. Good relations were established with Egypt and Muslim traders. Trade prospered. The Ayyubids conquered Nubia by the 15th century CE and the whole of Nubia came under Muslim influence while Christianity disappeared.


Ghana: In 350 AD the people of Ghana learned how to smelt iron. They became middle men in the gold trade between the forest area of West Africa and North Africa. Ghana had a big army. The King was pagan but many Muslim traders lived in the capital of Koumbi Salleh that lies in modern-day Mauritania.


Zimbabwe: The Zimbabwe civilization thrived in present-day Zimbabwe. It was settled in about 300 CE by farmers, herders, and iron smelters. Towards 1100 CE they started building in stone.



Olmecs:  The Olmec civilization started in 1000BC. The Olmecs lived on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They were farmers and built stone cities. They had hieroglyphic writing and a calendar. The civilization disappeared after 900 years.


Maya: The Mayans of Central America (300 BC-900 AD) were skilled mathematicians, astronomers, and architects but did not discover the wheel. The Mayan civilization thrived in present-day Mexico and Belize where ruins can be found even today. Their empire began in 500 BC and reached a peak in 500 – 900 AD. The Mayans were farmers. They built stone cities that were linked by roads. They were great traders trading in canoes along the coast. They adopted their own hieroglyphics writing from the Olmecs. They discovered the zero and developed a counting system based on 20. Their astronomers could predict the eclipse. They developed a calendar based on that of the Olmecs. Their calendar had 365 days in the year. They manufactured cloth and paper. About 900 AD they disappeared for no known reason.


Aztecs: The Aztec, warlike farmers, developed their empire starting in the 1200s CE. The Aztecs came from northern Mexico and settled at the present site of  Mexico city. They started building a capital city in 1325 AD. By 1400 they had a population of 5 million people. They went on to conquer neighboring people and built an empire. They had advanced farming, curved stones. The capital, Tenochititlan, had pyramidal temples. The Aztecs however did not discover the wheel. They worshipped a sun god and practiced human sacrifice. The empire reached its peak in the early 1500s under Montezuma. The empire was completely destroyed in 1521 CE by Spanish invaders.


Incas: The Incas were farmers and herders. In 1438 they conquered neighboring people and established the Inca Empire. They forced Inca religion and language on the conquered people. The Inca Empire stretched along the west coast of South America for 4000 kilometers and had a total population of 12 million people by the 1500s. They had paved roads and rope-suspended bridges that crossed canyons and rivers. They however developed no writing. The empire was destroyed by the Spaniards in the 1500s CE.



THE ROMAN EMPIRE, pax romana

Over-view of the Roman empire, pax romana: The Roman Empire (735 BC-475 AD) is  one of the greatest empires in history. Romans ruled almost all of Europe. Rome was a republic in 509-27 BC and an empire in 27 BC-180 CE. Romans were good administrators and law-givers. They fell because of civil wars and assassinations. The western empire was destroyed by Barbarian invaders in 476 AD. The eastern empire lasted until 1453 AD when the city of Constantinolople was conquered by Muhammad al Fatih and was renamed Istanbul. At its peak the Roman empire covered 5 million square kilometers and had 50 million citizens.


Start and rise of the Roman empire: The start of the Roman empire were legendary. The Etruscans took control of Rome in 616 BC. The Romans learned a lot from the Etruscans as they started building their empire. The Roman republic was headed by 2 consuls who had both to agree before a law was passed. The consuls were helped by a senate. Tribunes were assemblies to which citizens were elected. Roman laws were written down in 450 BC. Rome expanded and by 275 BC ruled the whole Italian peninsular. By 146 BC it ruled the whole Mediterranean. The Romans had a strong army. They fought Carthageans in what were called the punic wars. The Romans eventually subdued the Carthageans after they mastered naval warfare. The empire continued growing after that. Small farms were replaced by estates. Slavery was introduced to provide labor for the estates. People forced to migrate to the cities lived in poor conditions. The empire started to weaken due to corruption, economic collapse, and the wide gap between the rich and the poor. Attempts at reform by Tiberius and Garius were not successful. The generals eventually took control. A triumvirate was set up with Caesar as a member. Caesar became dominant and by 46 BC he was sole dictator of Rome. He tried to undertake reforms but was assassinated in 44 BC. By 31 BC the republic was ended. Augustus became the ruler and reorganized the government. There was peace and trade increased. By 125 AD Roman law was standardized. Leisure and games were developed.  However by 476 AD the empire had collapsed due to political instability, high taxation, inflation, and invaders.


Decline and fall of the Roman empire: In the late 300s AD, Huns led by Attila attacked the Goths (German tribes) and forced them to seek shelter in the Roman empire. The Goths later rebelled and defeated the Romans captured and looted in 410 AD but they moved on to conquer Spain and did not establish a permanent presence in Rome. By 550 AD the Roman empire in the west had collapsed and was replaced by several states. The eastern empire based at Constantinolople persisted. Throughout the middle ages there were attempts to recreate the European system that collapsed with the end of the Roman empire. The Franks were a Germanic people who controlled modern France and West Germany and had converted to Christianity. One of their rulers, Charles Martel, stopped the Muslim advance into France at Tours in 711 AD. Charlemagne was a powerful Frankish king who united the tribes and created a large empire by 800 AD. He was crowned emperor of the Romans by the Pope but his empire collapsed after his death in 814 AD. The Holy Roman Empire continued in Germany but as a weaker entity.



Cultural unity of Europe: Understanding of modern Europe requires careful study of the Roman empire that had united European people under one political authority. Since the collapse of the empire, the church played a role in maintaining a semblance of a European order. The Habsburg family played a role in the unity of Europe because most royals were related by blood or by marriage. Several military adventurers including Napoleon and Hitler attempted European political unity by force. Towards the end of the 20th century CE, Europe is moving voluntarily to political unity. A European common market had been established as early as 1957. Several  European institutions like the European parliament and the European Monetary Unit. Full European political unity is envisaged in the future.


The Christian Church: Christianity has played an important role in the lives of people in many continents. After the collapse of the Roman empire, the Roman Catholic Church remained as a European institution that filled the vacuum. Isa (PBUH) had 12 disciples who spread Christianity in the then Roman empire. Early Christians were persecuted until Emperor Constantine gave them freedom by the edict of Milan. Pax romana helped the spread of Christianity even when Christians were persecuted. In 312 AD Constatine I became a Christian. The next emperor made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Towards the end of the 300s AD the New Testament was accepted as a comprising the writings of Mathew, Mark, Like, John and the epistles of Paul. The Church became structured into parishes and dioceses. By 600 AD the Archbishop of Rome was called the Pope but Greek-speaking Christians followed the archbishop of Constantinople. As a result of disagreements, the church split into an eastern and a western wing in 1054 CE. The western wing was called the Roman catholic Church and the eastern wing was called the Eastern Orthodox Church.


The middle ages and feudalism: During the middle ages, a feudal society developed in Europe. It was an agrarian society based on inhuman exploitation of the serfs. There was general insecurity and disorder in Europe during the middle ages. Ignorance was wide-spread and Greek and Roman knowledge were forgotten. After the collapse of the western Roman empire, the church retreated into the monasteries. Monks working in monasteries preserved Greek and Roman knowledge during the middle ages (500 AD – 1500 AD), the period between the fall of the Roman empire and the rise of modern times. The church called for crusades which were wars to expel Muslims from Palestine and lasted 200 years. Jerusalem was captured in 1099 AD and was looted. Salahuddin al Ayyuubi recaptured the city in 1187 AD. The Church became powerful and cruel in the middle ages. Mercatile growth towards the end of the middle ages manifested as new trading cities. Merchants in Genoa, Venice and other cities became very wealthy. Professional guilds arose as the manufacturing industry developed. Europeans became jealous of the Muslim control of Asian trade. They were also under military pressure of the Muslim Osmanli state that was expanding into south and central Europe towards the end of the medieval period.


Renaissance: Towards the end of the middle ages, new ideas developed in Europe that were to lead to the renaissance. The renaissance and rediscovery of lost Greek and Roman knowledge. The rise of empiricism gave an impetus to science and technology. Renaissance started in Italian city states of Florence, Venice, and the papal states. It first spread to France and Germany. It later reached England and Spain. In 1440 CE had Gutenberg invented the printing press. This was the forerunner in the increased dissemination of knowledge and information as well as mass communication. Renaissance ideas were able to spread quickly because of mass printing of books.


Reformation: The renaissance brought many political, religious and intellectual changes. There was a lot of corruption in the medieval church and people asked for reforms which later gave rise to the protestant movement. In the 1500s CE the protestant reformation led to another split in the western church into the Catholic and several protestant churches. Since that time ecumenical movements have been trying to re-unite the church with little success. Martin Luther started the reformation movement in Germany. The Lutheran church was formed in 1524. Lutheran ideas spread to other parts of Europe resulting in the setting up of protestant churches. In response the catholic church also underwent reform. King Henry VIII took England out of the catholic church. The reformation led to religious wars that were fought between Protestants and Catholics from the late 1500s to 1648.


Age of exploration: The year 1492 CE was a momentous one in the history of the ummat because of the final expulsion of Muslims from the Iberian peninsula and the demise of the Andalusian Islamic civilization. New Christian nations, Spain and Portugal, arose on the peninsula. The Portuguese set themselves the task of outflanking Muslim traders by looking for a direct sea-route to Asia to import goods instead of middlemen in West Asia. In the late 1400s the Portuguese started the age of discovery. Under Prince Henry the navigator they made rapid progress. They reached Senegal in 1440 CE, Nigeria in 1472 CE, and River Congo in 1483. The Portuguese captain Vasco da Gama finally reached India in 1498. The Portuguese occupied trading stations on the East African coast, India, and South-east Asia. They also established themselves in what later became the Portuguese-speaking territory of Brazil. The Spanish soon followed the Portuguese in exploration. Christopher Columbus under Spain discovered America which led to Spanish conquistadors occupying and settling in Central and South America. Ferdinand Magellan flying the Spanish flag was the first to sail around the world. The French, English and Dutch sailed to North America in search for the north-western passage to Asia and in the process discovered new lands. The Portuguese and Spanish empires declined because of internal weaknesses (corruption, ignorance, cruelty, small populations) and many were taken over by the new rising powers of France, England and Holland.


Political revolutions in Europe: In 1642 a civil war broke out in England between the King and Parliament. The American colonies rebelled and declared their independence from Britain in 1776 and after a protracted war Britain surrendered in 1781. The French revolution breaking out in 1789 led to the overthrow of the monarchy and influenced political developments elsewhere in Europe. Soon Napoleon Bonaparte appeared as the strong man of the French revolution. He attempted by war to unite Europe and spread French ideas and culture. Napoleon controlled all of Europe with the exception of England and Russia. He was finally defeated in 1815 and died later in exile. The year 1848 witnessed revolutions in France and other European countries but they failed to change the established order. The second half of the 19th century saw growth of nationalism. The new nation states of Italy and Germany were formed by union of hitherto independent small states. Italian union was achieved in 1861 and German union in 1871. Nationalism and secularism replaced religion as the guiding philosophies of European society.


Technological Revolutions

The Agricultural revolution started in the 1750s. Improved methods of cultivation produced more food to feed the growing populations. The scientific revolution started with renaissance and reformation. New methods of scientific thinking and investigation were developed. Empiricism developed and replaced the previous concepts based on speculation and not empirical research. The industrial revolution had its beginnings in the 1850s. It started in England and spread to Belgium, France, and Germany. New machines, new forms of energy, and new means of transportation  were discovered. There was an immediate and profound social impact. The growth of new cities with migration of many people from the rural areas led to social problems that in their turn called for social reform movements. The factories soon started producing more than what the domestic market could absorb. Competition became very acute leading to industrial depression. Attempts to impose high tariffs to keep out outside competition were not enough to solve the problems.


Economic and political imperialism: Industrial revolution and industrial capitalism directly led to imperialism. The new factories needed raw materials. Markets had to be found overseas for their products. Some Europeans wanted to get colonies overseas to raise the glory of their nation and satisfy nationalistic yearnings. A few had a vague idea of mission civilicatrice, the duty of Europe to bring civilization to backward races (the white man’s burden). Some Europeans worried about the cost of military operations that would be needed to establish colonies; they were however reassured by European superiority in military technology and tactics. Few questioned the morality of imperialism. It was generally justified on a racist basis that it was the right of the advanced Europeans to control and exploit the non-whites and perhaps in the process transfer civilization to them. The concept of colony also changed from a colony of settlement (European immigrants settled and colonized America and Australia) to one of a colony of exploitation. European financiers who had investments in Africa and Asia also exerted pressure on their governments to impose colonial rule in order to protect their interests. Starting in 1884 there was a European scramble for Africa; by 1914 only Ethiopia and Liberia remained as independent countries in Africa. After the failure of the Indian rebellion in 1857, the British government took over direct control of the whole of India. Britain acquired Hong Kong after the Chinese defeat in the opium wars. By 1901 China was under European control and its independence was nominal. The French occupied Cochin in China, Kampuchea, and Laos and formed their Indo-Chinese colony. They also occupied Tahiti. Britain occupied Fiji, Solomon islands, Gilbert island, New Guinea, and Borneo. By the close of the 19th century most Latin American territories were at least nominally independent but European culture and economic interests spread.


Cultural imperialism: Europeans soon discovered that military and political means were not sufficient to control the colonies. They therefore made efforts to introduce their religion, culture, education, law, and ways of life with the aim of creating a native Europeanized class that would help them establish effective control. The French were the most active cultural imperialists. Their policy of assimilation aimed at producing French-men with black or brown skins who would think and act as the French thus serving and protecting the interests of France. In the end cultural imperialism was more successful since it enabled Europeans to secure their economic interests even after giving political independence to their former colonies. Thus cultural imperialism did not only facilitate political control but laid the ground for neo-colonialism. By 1990 most Asian, African, and Caribbean territories had won at least nominal independence but their economic resources and political destinies were tightly controlled by American and European interests. This control is more sophisticated that that under direct colonial rule. It is mediated through nationals of the countries who were educated and molded for their roles in western institutions and who returned to take positions of political leadership.


The World Wars and aftermath: the first world war (1914-1918) and the second world war (1939-1945) were in essence European civil wars but came to be considered world wars because Europeans were controlling so much of the world that many non-Europeans were involved in the conflicts. The post-war years witnessed a lot of social reform programs and more industrial development. These wars weakened Europe so much that it was forced to give up its overseas territories. By 1990 virtually all former colonies were once again independent. In 1949 NATO was formed. The European Community was formed in 1957. European nations are fast moving towards political unity. These moves however can not mask the weaknesses that are manifesting as break-down of the family, falling populations, addiction to drugs, lack of purpose, and vigor among the youths.



Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinolople in 330 AD. When the western empire collapsed a century later, the eastern one persisted and prospered for another 1000 years. Constantinolople was an important trade center and had a good defence system. The Justinian law code prevailed. The Church was prominent. Monasteries provided social services. Arguments eventually led to a break between eastern and western Christianity in 1054 AD. The empire later declined due to military weakness and invaders. In the early period of the Prophet’s dawa mission in Makka, there was a military encounter between the then-superpowers of West Asia, Byzantium and Persia. The Qur’an describes the differring sentiments of the Muslims and the non-Muslims in Makka. The non-Muslims hoped for a Persian victory because Persians like pre-Islamic Arabs were idolators. The Muslims hoped for a Byzantine victory. Abubakr made a wager with a non-Muslim and the Qur’an was revealed about the initial defeat of the Byzantines and their eventual victory (p 516 30:2).  The fortunes of Byzantium began to change for the worse wit the rise of the Muslim state. Its territories in Syria and Palestine were opened to Islam and it retreated to Anatolia. Its Anatolian territories were gradually chipped away by the Seljuk and Osmanli states until it was It was eventually conquered by the great Muslim commander Sultan Muhammad al Fatih in 1453 AD.



Moscow was a small principality that grew into an empire. One of the rulers, Ivan the Great, married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor and thought of himself as a successor to Byzantium adopting many Byzantine ideas. Russia was in turmoil following the death of Ivan the terrible who died in 1584. In 1613 the Romanov dynasty took over and ruled until 1917. Peter the Great who ascended the throne in 1648 started modernizing Russia along West European lines. The Russian empire spread to include many territories in Asia. The 19th century was a time of much discontent because of the oppressive serfdom system. An attempted revolution in 1825 failed however in 1862 Czar Alexander freed the serfs but they had no land of their own and had to become tenant farmers. Another uprising in 1905 was put down. Russia entered the first world war and its people suffered a lot of deprivations. This led to the successful 1917 revolt that overthrew the Czar and established a communist government under Lenin. The new government took Russia out of the war but soon a civil war broke out, 1918-1920, between monarchists and communists. By 1921 the communists were victorious and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed in 1922. Lenin died in 1924 and after a period of power struggles, Stalin asserted himself in 1928 as the new leader. He pushed industrialization and collectivization which changed Russia from a backward country to an industrial and military power.



The Japanese empire was short-lived because it was based on narrow and extreme nationalism and racism. Japan had resisted European influence until the Meiji restoration in 1868 when it opened its doors to European trade, knowledge and technology. By the end of the 19th century Japan was fully industrialized but managed to keep its independence. The need for land and raw materials set Japan on a war of conquest in Formosa, Manchuria, Korea and parts of Russia. Later the whole of south-east Asia was overrun. Japanese rule was cruel and very exploitative. Japan was defeated and occupied by popular rebellion and military action of the western allies led by the USA towards the end of the World War II and it was forced to give up conquered territory.



The Chinese empire has expanded mostly within the borders of modern China. Although many Chinese migrated to live outside China, no overseas territories have been established.


BRITISH EMPIRE, pax brittanica

Pax Britannica (1600s- 1770s CE). Angles, Saxons, and Vikings were early invaders of England. The Romans occupied England in 53 BC and left in 400 AD. The Normans came in 1066 AD, defeated the Anglo-Saxons and started the English culture. They also set up a feudal system. In 1255 AD the magna carta signed by the King guaranteed rule of law. In the 16th century England started building a strong navy that made it a superpower in the subsequent 2-3 centuries. Britain became the richest and most powerful nation during the long reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). At the peak of its power, Britain had an empire over which the sun could not set. In the late 1800s the British empire was 41 square kilometers and had 500 million subjects. The first and second world wars weakened Britain a lot. By 1970 Britain had given up most of its overseas possessions. The British were largely economic imperialists. They controlled territories to the extent that their commerce was facilitated. They preferred tact and diplomacy to force whenever that was possible to secure their commercial interests. They made a long-term investment when they selected children of the local elites and trained them to take over government after the end of direct rule. This ensured continuation of the commercial benefits in the neo-colonial period.


THE AMERICAN EMPIRE, pax americana

The first British settlements in colonial America were at Jamestown in 1607 CE. By 1733 there were 13 colonies along the Atlantic coast. Many of the native Indians died from wars and new diseases introduced from Europe. The British were successful over the French and the Spanish in the struggle for land in North America. High taxation of Americans by the British provoked the war of independence that started in 1775 and was won by the Americans in 1781. In 1783 Britain recognized the independence of its American colonies. A constitution was promulgated in 1789. Westward expansion occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries with more migration from Europe (voluntary) and Africa (involuntary). About 28 million migrated to America in the period 1830-1910 AD. The US survived the civil war of 1861-1864 that was fought over slavery. After world war 1 the US became a world power, a status it continues to enjoy today. America has a strong economy, a simple and aggressive culture, and a youthful and vigorous population being replenished on a continuous basis by migration.




Innovation and dynamism

Courage, adventurism and risk-taking

Internal freedom

Law and Order

Outward-looking vs narrow ethno-centricism

Group feeling, ‘asabiyyat

Big population

Natural resources



Intellectual stagnation


Demographic contraction

Economic contraction



No civilization can be eternal

Once a civilization collapses it can not return (22:95)

Only the Islamic civilization can be revived after collapse



With the fall of communism, the world become uni-polar being dominated by America and its European allies. China is a rising power with all the characteristics needed to become a controlling world power. Other Asian countries have some economic development but have no matching military power. Sub-Saharan Africa has many resources and people which are not exploited. Europe and America have now entered a period of civilizational decay that they refer to as post-modernism. They still however have a long time as a power. They have managed to spread their culture and languages to many other parts of the world such that they make up by cultural domination what they lack in military and economic domination. They have made their culture and way of life the standard that many people in the world look up to. It is only Islam which at the moment can offer a credible opposition to Western cultural hegemony. 


Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. December 2000