After Mohammed’s death, half the tribes of Arabia left Islam, no doubt heaving a huge sigh of relief and went back to their old religions. Unfortunately for them, Islam did not die with Mohammed. His successor, Abu Bakr, fought them in a long and bloody campaign, known as the Apostasy Wars. Using the tactics of Jihad he forced them all once again, to submit to Islam.
Once they had reconquered Arabia, this handful of poor and uneducated desert tribesmen burst out on an unsuspecting world. In just a few decades they used Jihad to conquer most of the Byzantine Empire, (which was the remnants of the Roman Empire in the East) the Persian Empire, all of North Africa and Northern India.
They also conquered Spain in the West and as far as Austria in the East. These represented the richest, most technologically and intellectually sophisticated societies on the planet at that time. The cream of the doctors, architects, scientists etc. were kept by the Muslim rulers as dhimmis. They served Islam with their knowledge and abilities.
In the early days, some of the Caliphs showed an appreciation of classical knowledge. At one point, a great many classical works were translated into Arabic, particularly by the Mutazilites who held sway in Baghdad. It has been argued that the unification of the Byzantine and Persian empires and the enforced adoption of Arabic across the area, contributed to a free flow of ideas. These factors are said to have underpinned what is known as “The Golden Age of Islam”.
This theory may have some merit. It is worth noting however, that even today, Persians (modern day Iranians) don’t speak Arabic, but Farsi. This viewpoint also ignores the fact that these societies were already the intellectual centres of the world. That they continued to be so for a time whilst under Islamic occupation doesn’t necessarily mean we owe a debt of gratitude to Islam.
This didn’t stop President Obama from making this claim in his famous Cairo Speech. In it he told his audience, “It was Islam, at places like Al-Azhar that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment”.
To understand the flaws in this line of reasoning, it is instructive to see how the Golden Age ended.
Essentially the ruling Mutazilites were overthrown by the much more dogmatic Asharites. Their reasoning was based more closely on the Islamic Doctrine of predestination, which insists that every event in the universe is directed personally by Allah.
They argued that although things generally worked the same way, that this was merely habit. The classic example given was that, “Just because the king is always seen riding through the streets on a horse, doesn’t mean that he might not one day walk through his kingdom.”
Since Allah orders every single atom in the universe there is no reason why an apple falling off a tree tomorrow might not head up instead of down. This is the opposite of the doctrine of “cause and effect” which underpins all of today’s scientific understanding.
It seems unlikely that such an idea would prevail right through to the present day without the support of Islamic Doctrine, but prevail it did. This might help explain the following facts and statistics which modern day, politically correct academics are having such a hard time understanding:
1) In the last 700 years not a single scientific invention or discovery of any significance has emerged from the entire Islamic World.
2) Each year, more books are translated into Spanish than have been translated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years.
3) Of the 1800 universities in the Islamic World, only around one sixth has a faculty member who has ever published anything.
Christianity and Judaism more than most other religions are based upon freedom of choice. There have of course been times, particularly when the Catholic Church was at the peak of its power, when the church worked to restrict free thought.
Galileo was famously imprisoned by Pope Urban VIII for demonstrating that the Sun and Stars do not actually rotate around the earth. Despite this, the idea rapidly achieved widespread acceptance, suggesting a culture which was highly receptive to logic and reason.
In contrast, when the brilliant Spanish Muslim philosopher Averoes was banished to Morocco and had many of his books burned, his work disappeared from the Islamic world. It was only when Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas rediscovered his writings, that its importance was recognized.
The freedom to think, speak, discuss and challenge orthodoxy is inherent in Christian doctrine but lacking in Islam. This (rather than any genetic superiority or military advantage) must surely have been a major factor in the explosion of scientific and technical knowledge which, from the time of the renaissance until just a few decades ago, was almost entirely a Western (Christian and Jewish) achievement.
Another problem besetting Islam was ecological degradation. North Africa was not always a desert. Both Carthage and Egypt were powerful North African empires which challenged Rome for supremacy. Empires don’t flourish in deserts but in places of abundance. Egypt was the bread basket of Europe, with its fertile soil and water from the Nile. Right across the North of Africa was productive farmland.
The Arabs were not farmers, they were goat herders. When they conquered North Africa the Muslim conquerors ran goats over the farmland of the Christian dhimmis, who were powerless to stop them.
Silt samples from the Mediterranean Sea bed suggest a rapid loss of topsoil and corresponding desertification coinciding with this event. Circumstantial evidence backs this up with signs of a rapid depopulation which would probably be consistent with mass starvation and famine.
The overall result was long slow decline for Islam and a steady growth in the power of Christian Europe. Militarily, this was not evident for some time. Islamic armies and slave raiders played havoc for centuries, particularly around the areas bordering Islamic lands.
Despite relentless attacks however, the Europeans managed to hold the Muslims at bay. With all the richest empires now conquered and the booty spent, the Muslims were left depending on the dhimmis for income. Unfortunately for them, the Islamic system is designed to steadily force the dhimmis to convert to Islam. This left a diminishing number of productive people carrying a growing mass of non-productive people.
Islam’s long decline corresponded with the rise of the Europeans. They were gradually freeing themselves from the traditional dogma of the Catholic Church and building on the power of the scientific method of the ancient Greeks. Although the Muslims supposedly brought this knowledge to Europe, you would have to wonder whether it might have made the short hop from the Middle East, even without the Muslim invasions.
Between about 1000 and 1300AD the Europeans answered a plea for help from the Leaders of the Eastern Church, which was being devastated by Jihad. One of the objectives of these “Crusades,” was to secure the Holy Land (Israel) for pilgrims to visit. Whilst the Crusades were hardly a great success, the fact that Kaffirs were able to reconquer and hold Muslim lands for a significant period of time, was an incredible humiliation for Muslims, who are still sore about it some 700 years later.
Attacks by the Turks on Eastern Europe posed a significant threat right up to the 1700s. Slave raids by the Barbary Pirates caused significant depopulation of coastal communities around Europe right up to the 1800s.
As time marched on however and European technology advanced, Islam found itself increasingly on the defensive. More and more Muslim lands were conquered by the Europeans. The death knell for Islamic global power however, came with the invention of the machine gun.
Having a large number of fanatically suicidal soldiers gives you a competitive advantage if you are fighting with swords, bows and arrows or even slow loading, single shot rifles. Once the machine gun was introduced into conflicts however, the advantage of the cavalry or infantry charge disappears completely.
This was a lesson painfully learned by all sides in WW1, but for the Muslims, the industrialization of warfare took away the advantage of all out Jihad. They were now left powerless in a new world. This world was ruled by the nations with the most sophisticated technology and the highest levels of industrial production and scientific education.
The Turkish Ottoman Empire was dismantled at the end of WW1. It was then divided mainly between the British and French victors, who would hold onto it until around 30 years later. At the end of WW2 they divided it up and returned it to Arab control. The exception was an area of mainly reclaimed swamp and desert. This area makes up around 1% of the Middle East and has no natural resources. It was given to the Jews by the UN and is today called Israel.
 Pervez Hoodbhoy, The New Atlantis 2011
 N. Fergany et al., Arab Human Development Report 2002, United Nations Development Programme
 Pervez Hoodbhoy, The New Atlantis 2011
 Bill Warner. Why we are afraid of Islam, a 1400 year history