By Gurvinder Singh
Nothing lasts forever; even big empires come and go. Let's look at some large and powerful Empires.
From 27BC to 1453 it was the multi-theist Roman Empire.
From 1299 till early 1700 it was the Islamic, Ottoman Empire.
From 1750 to 1940 it was Great Britain a Christian Empire.
From 1940 till date it has been The United States of America a secular empire.
All empires are built up by violent means, using better more powerful accurate weapons delivered with greater ferocity accompanied by the best knowledge and information of the time.
The four pillars on which empires stood have been army, governance, religion, knowledge.
For 10,000 years we were nomadic and agrarian societies, where hardly anything ever changed. No new knowledge was necessary, so the army and rudimentary government mattered most
Importing knowledge and technology from China, the horse stirrup, metallurgy, weapons system, art and science of warfare, the Islamic warriors of Central Asia overran Europe, North Africa and South Asia. They had strong and fast horses, fearless and well trained soldiers who were excellent horsemen, archers and swordsmen. Brutal but simple and effective governance followed every conquest.
This permitted them to march rapidly, annihilating anything that challenged them. Their armies were unstoppable and the Islamic empire grew rapidly from 1229 to 1565. The Ottoman Empire and Islamic Caliphate with its capital in Istanbul occupied the largest land mass empire in human history. From 1566 onwards it went into a decline and in 1923 as a defeated entity, it remained just a small part of the former empire, in what is now known as Turkey.
There are many reasons why the empire collapsed, but the primary reason was the Ottoman Empire’s failure to acquire and absorb new knowledge in many fields but most significantly in science and technology. All because of a 'Fatwa'.
About 1440 the German Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and associated technologies for type, paper and ink. This led to continuous explosions of information which rapidly disseminated across Europe. This in turn fuelled many new disruptive scientific discoveries and inventions and spread ideas, philosophies and literature.
Armies can be stopped but not an idea whose time has come. The Church also began to lose its monopoly on information and morality, hence its power and control began to wane. . A separation took place between the Church and the Government. Europe led by England grew by leaps and bounds.
The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic theocracy. Religion dominated everything army, governance and all knowledge.
The Islamic clerics led by Shaykh al-Islam of the Ulema (learned scholars) issued a Fatwa (decree) that printing was Haram (forbidden).
The Sultans and Caliphs obeyed their clerics and refused to embrace the printing press. Hence they were unable to acquire new knowledge.
For 250 years the Islamic world denied itself much of the new information and knowledge that would give Europe and Great Britain in particular a spectacular advantage over the Ottoman Empire.
Freed from the domination of the church, governments and societies of Europe industrialised, growing by leaps and bounds taking a huge and powerful lead over the rest of the world. Thus they were able to easily overpower the weakened Ottoman Empire.
The American empire emerged from the ashes of World War I and II. It now possesses the best technological, economic, commercial and military capability in the world. America continues to grow powerful because it is a knowledge society. Open, and secular, it continues to attract, assimilate, deploy the best of knowledge, talent, and capital in the world.
Today secular America is an unassailable world leader, because driven by knowledge it’s a financial powerhouse with the mightiest armed forces.
The beauty of Islam is its relative simplicity of practice.
Unfortunately purists not only in Islam but in all religions compel the faithful to follow a rigid and hard-line interpretation of the faith. They do not permit any changes to cope with and keep pace with new challenges. The people that refuse to change, to embrace and acquire new knowledge, cannot progress, and yet they also cannot afford to stand still.
Any society that forbids learning will stagnate, be exploited by others and finally be doomed to implode and collapse.
Priests and clerics dish out advice, but are not responsible for outcomes. Religion has no place in governance. Clerics have little or no idea of the various fields of economics, finance, management, technology medicine, modern governance etc. Yet they wish to preside over and pass judgement on what followers must do or not do in these fields.
This is why secularism is so important. The separation of religion from governance is not a choice but a necessity.
Countries that focus on secularism, education, gender equality, democracy, and freedom of rights are surging forward and also carrying their populations Muslim and others towards prosperity and higher quality of life. These include countries like India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Unfortunately countries like Pakistan, which have shunned secularism, are now in terminal decline.
One Fatwa finished off the Ottoman Islamic empire.
Now thousands of Fatwas are being issued by clerics who feel they are answerable only to themselves and not to the people. When there is so much power they wield and so little accountability, the results are bound to be catastrophic for the faithful and corrosive for the whole world.