Islamic History: Why Muslims should study their past – Introduction – Niyaz Ahmed


“To destroy a people, you must destroy their roots” – Alexander Saltzen

“History makes us acquainted with the conditions of past nations as they are reflected in their national character. It makes us acquainted with the biographies of the prophets and with the dynasties and policies of rulers. Whoever so desires may thus achieve the useful result of being able to imitate historical examples in religious and worldly matters” – Ibn Khaldun

From the birth of Islam conveyed by the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) to the creation of nation states after the fall of the Uthmani Khilafah, the study of Islamic History is filled with stories and lessons waiting to be explored and understood. By studying and learning about past Islamic civilisations, we gain a love for our past and most importantly our Islamic identity. In a world where Islam is undermined by many, we can look at a time when Islam was practically implemented to inspire and remind us that Islam can and will be the solution for mankind.

However, it can be argued that the study of Islamic history has taken a dramatic backstep in recent times. In the words of Muslim historians like Dr Yaqoob Ahmed and Dr Ovamir Anjum, the Ummah is suffering from a collective amnesia or dementia of Islamic history. It is slowly becoming a forgotten science, a field of study confined to the academic expert and trivial knowledge that we can use to impress our friends in conversation. We are more likely to know about the formation of the American nation or the Roman invasion of Britain than Islamic Spain or the Ottomans.

The Western education system that we are bought up in does not help. It confines us to information retention, rather than critical thinking. More emphasis is given to memorising dates and passing exams. As a result, history is seen as boring, just learning about the past with no relevance to our present. Frankly, I am not surprised. I tend to agree with students when I ask them about their views of studying history. Some find it interesting, however many more find it irrelevant. As a Muslim community, we should be aware of this mentality, but be more aware on how to resolve it. As mentioned, History seems like a subject that encompasses dates and stories. As a community, we can change that mentality by providing a clear vision of why Muslims should be more in touch with the history of Islam.

To enhance a love for the subject, we should enhance critical thinking in our youth. To facilitate that, we need ask the right questions, and we hear them all the time. Why do we need to study history? What has an event that happened hundreds of years ago got to do with me? Isn’t studying Tafsir, Fiqh or Hadith more important? These are all legitimate questions but how do we answer them? While there are so many different answers to these questions, I feel it is best to cover only some of them. In four sections, I hope to cover the core elements of studying Islamic History and why I believe every Muslim should make it a goal to reconnect and understand their history more critically.

By Niyaz Ahmed