Caliphate, Featured, Non-Muslims

Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ Impact on the World

This is an excerpt from the book The Divine Reality: God, Islam and the Mirage of Atheism by Hamza Andreas Tzortzis.

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was truly a mercy to mankind. This assertion is not only justified by his message and his teachings, but it also includes his unprecedented impact on our world. There are two key reasons why his teachings on a social level were so transformative: the justice and compassion of Islam.

Compassion and justice are its central values, expressed through a sincere belief in the existence and worship of one God. By singling Him out for worship and being conscious of one’s accountability, a Muslim is encouraged to act compassionately, fairly and justly. The Qur’an clearly states in this regard:

“O you who believe, be steadfast in your devotion to God and bear witness impartially: do not let the hatred of others lead you away from justice, but adhere to justice, for that is closer to being God-conscious. Be mindful of God: God is well acquainted with all that you do.”[1]

“O you who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly—if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.”[2]

“What will explain to you what the steep path is? It is to free a slave, to feed at a time of hunger an orphaned relative or a poor person in distress, and to be one of those who believe and urge one another to steadfastness and compassion.”[3]

Tolerance and coexistence

When these values were practised and internalised, the Muslims created a society that was unmatched in history. At a time when Europe was entrenched in sectarian violence, racism, tribalism and hatred, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ were a light for the world. Consider the treatment of minorities such as the Jews and the Christians. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in the treaty of Medina said:

“It is incumbent on all the Muslims to help and extend sympathetic treatment to the Jews who have entered into an agreement with us. Neither an oppression of any type should be perpetrated on them nor their enemy be helped against them.”[4]

The popular historian Karen Armstrong points out how the values of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ established an unprecedented coexistence: “The Muslims had established a system that enabled Jews, Christians, and Muslims to live in Jerusalem together for the first time.”[5]

The Jewish academic historian Amnon Cohen illustrates the practical application of Islamic values, and how the Jews of Ottoman Jerusalem were free and contributed to society:

“No one interfered with their internal organisation or their external cultural and economic activities… The Jews of Ottoman Jerusalem enjoyed religious and administrative autonomy within an Islamic state, and as a constructive, dynamic element of the local economy and society they could—and actually did—contribute to its functioning.”[6]

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the companion and student of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, granted the Christians of Palestine religious freedom, security and peace. His treaty with the Palestinian Christians stated:

“This is the protection which the servant of God, the Leader of the faithful, grants to the people of Palestine. Thus, protection is for their lives, property, church, cross, for the healthy and sick and for all their co-religionists. In this way their churches shall not be turned into dwelling houses, nor will they be pulled down, nor any injury will be done to them or to their enclosures, nor to their cross, and nor will anything be deducted from their wealth. No restrictions shall be made regarding their religious ceremonies.”[7]

In 869 CE, patriarch Theodosius of Jerusalem confirmed the Muslims’ adherence to the values of their beloved Prophet ﷺ: “The Saracens [i.e. the Muslims] show us great goodwill. They allow us to build our churches and to observe our own customs without hindrance.”[8]

These historical narratives are not historical accidents. They are grounded in the Prophet’s ﷺ timeless values of tolerance and mercy.

Safety and protection

Europe in the 7th century was in utter darkness when it came to ensuring the safety and protection of minorities and foreign people living in or visiting a particular land. However, the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ teachings ensured that minorities were protected and lived in peace:

“He who harms a person under covenant, or charges him more than he can pay, I will argue against him on the Day of Judgement.”[9]

The 13th century jurist Al-Qarafi explains the above Prophetic teachings:

“The covenant of protection imposes upon us certain obligations toward the non-Muslims under Muslim protection. They are our neighbours, under our shelter and protection upon the guarantee of God, His Messenger, and the religion of Islam. Whoever violates these obligations against any one of them by so much as an abusive word, by slandering his reputation, or by doing him some injury or assisting in it, has breached the guarantee of God, His Messenger ﷺ, and the religion of Islam.”[10]

In light of the above, it is no wonder the Qur’an describes the Prophet ﷺ as “a mercy for the worlds”[11] and that God’s mercy “encompasses all things”[12]

When the Prophet’s ﷺ teachings were realised in history, minorities were protected, experienced peace and praised the Muslim authorities. For example, Bernard the Wise, a pilgrim monk, visited Egypt and Palestine in the reign of Al-Mu’tazz (866-9 CE), and he had the following to say:

“…the Christians and the Pagans [i.e. Muslims] have this kind of peace between them there that if I was going on a journey, and on the way the camel or donkey which bore my poor luggage were to die, and I was to abandon all my goods without any guardian, and go to the city for another pack animal, when I came back I would find all my property uninjured: such is the peace there.”[13]

The unprecedented impact and effect of Islamic values made people prefer the mercy and tolerance of Islam. Reinhart Dozy, an authority on early Islamic Spain, explains:

“…the unbounded tolerance of the Arabs must also be taken into account. In religious matters they put pressure on no man… Christians preferred their rule to that of the Franks.”[14]

Professor Thomas Arnold, commenting on an Islamic source, states that Christians were happy and at peace with Islam to the point where they “called down blessings on the heads of the Muslims.”[15]

Freedom of belief

During a time when freedom of belief was a relatively alien concept, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ created a society that never forced anyone to convert to Islam. Forced conversion is utterly forbidden in Islam. This is due to the following Qur’anic verse:

“There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error….”[16]

Michael Bonner, an authority on the history of early Islam, explains the historical manifestation of the verse above:

“To begin with, there was no forced conversion, no choice between ‘Islam and the Sword’. Islamic law, following a clear Qur’anic principle (2:256), prohibited any such things: dhimmis [non-Muslims under Muslim protection] must be allowed to practice their religion.”[17]

Economic liberation

The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ caused the economic liberation of people under his leadership. Taxes were low and anyone who could not afford to pay their taxes would not have to pay anything.[18]

It was incumbent on the authorities to ensure that everyone, including non-Muslim citizens, had enough to feed their families and maintain a decent standard of living. For example, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, one of the Muslim leaders, wrote to his agent in Iraq: “Search for the people of the covenant in your area who may have grown old, and are unable to earn, and provide them with regular stipends from the treasury to take care of their needs.”[19]

A practical manifestation of the Prophet’s ﷺ teachings can be found in the following letter written by a rabbi in 1453. He was urging his co-religionists to travel to Muslim lands after Europe’s persecution of the Jews, and that they were economically emancipated: “Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We possess great fortunes; much gold and silver are in our hands. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes and our commerce is free and unhindered. Rich are the fruits of the Earth. Everything is cheap and every one of us lives in peace and freedom….”[20]

Inter-racial co-operation

Far from being a source of racial conflict, the Prophet ﷺ offered a viable model of inter-racial cooperation. The Qur’an eloquently states:

“People, we created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another. In God’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware.”[21]

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ made it clear that racism has no place in Islam: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor has a black any superiority over a white, except by piety and good action.”[22]

As Hamilton A. R. Gibb, a historian on Orientalism, stated:

“But Islam has a still further service to render to the cause of humanity. It stands after all nearer to the real East than Europe does, and it possesses a magnificent tradition of interracial understanding and co-operation. No other society has such a record of success uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity, and of endeavour so many and so various races of mankind… Islam has still the power to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements of race and tradition. If ever the opposition of the great societies of East and West is to be replaced by co-operation, the mediation of Islam is an indispensable condition. In its hands lies very largely the solution of the problem with which Europe is faced in its relation with East. If they unite, the hope of a peaceful issue is immeasurably enhanced— but if Europe, by rejecting the co-operation of Islam, throws it into the arms of its rivals, the issue can only be disastrous for both.”[23]

The respected historian A. J. Toynbee also confirms: “The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue….”[24]

Scientific progress

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the bearer of the message of the Qur’an, both in word and deed. His message and teachings created the much-needed tranquillity, tolerance and peace that facilitated one of the most successful civilisations in history. While Europe was plunged in the darkness of ignorance, the Islamic civilisation inspired by the Prophet ﷺ produced a society that was a beacon of light for the entire world. Historian of science Victor Robinson succinctly summarises the contrast between medieval Europe and Islamic Spain:

“Europe was darkened at sunset, Cordova shone with public lamps; Europe was dirty, Cordova built a thousand baths; Europe was covered with vermin, Cordova changed its undergarments daily; Europe lay in mud, Cordova’s streets were paved; Europe’s palaces had smoke-holes in the ceiling, Cordova’s arabesques were exquisite; Europe’s nobility could not sign its name, Cordova’s children went to school; Europe’s monks could not read the baptismal service, Cordova’s teachers created a library of Alexandrian dimensions.”[25]

Islamic civilisation produced advances in mathematics, medicine, astronomy and chemistry. Consider the mathematician Al-Khawarizmi, who played a significant role in the development of algebra. He also developed the idea of algorithms, which has earned him the title of the grandfather of computer science, because without algorithms there would be no computers. Abu al-Qasim Az- Zahrawi has been described as the greatest medieval surgeon because of his inventions in surgical procedures and instruments.

Muslims and Arab scientists who understood and internalised Islamic values were also pioneers in dealing with mental and psychological disorders. For example, in the 8th century, the physician Razi built the first psychiatric ward in Baghdad. The 11th century physician Ibn Sina (known in the West as Avicenna—the founder of modern medicine) understood that most mental illness is physiologically based.[26]

Interestingly, Abu Zayd al-Balkhi, a 9th century physician, wrote a book on what is now known as cognitive behavioural therapy. His book, Sustenance of the Soul, was probably the first written account to distinguish between endogenous and reactive depression.[27]

These pioneers and Muslim intellectuals were directly influenced by the values of Islam. These include the words of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that encourage seeking the cure for illnesses: “There is no disease that God has sent down except that He also has sent down its treatment.”[28]

The Qur’an encourages reading, acquiring knowledge, reflection, and the empirical sciences. It is a book that mentions knowledge over 100 times and makes us reflect upon ourselves, and the world around us:

“The example of this worldly life is but like rain which We have sent down from the sky that the plants of the Earth absorb—those from which men and livestock eat—until, when the Earth has taken on its adornment and is beautified and its people suppose that they have capability over it, there comes to it Our command by night or by day, and We make it as a harvest, as if it had not flourished yesterday. Thus do We explain in detail the signs for a people who give thought.”[29]

“Read! In the name of your Lord who created: He created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by [means of] the pen, who taught man what he did not know.”[30]

“Say, ‘How can those who know be equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who have understanding will take heed.”[31]

“Then do they not look at the camels—how they are created? And at the sky—how it is raised? And at the mountains—how they are erected? And at the Earth—how it is spread out?”[32]

“There truly are signs in the creation of the heavens and Earth, and in the alternation of night and day, for those with understanding, who remember God standing, sitting and lying down, who reflect on the creation of the heavens and Earth….”[33]

The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ not only created an environment conducive to scientific progress, but also helped shaped the intellectual growth of a very important man in the history of science. His name was Ibn al-Haytham, and he is considered one of the world’s first scientists.[34]

According to many historians of science, such as David C. Lindberg, Ibn al-Haytham is considered to be amongst the first to have formalised the scientific method with emphasis on systematic experimentation.[35]

Ibn al-Haytham wrote The Book of Optics, which had a huge impact on Europe. Without his formalisation of the scientific method, it could be argued that we would not be enjoying the scientific advancements that we enjoy today.

Ibn al-Haytham was also a student of theology and the Qur’an. He clearly cites the Qur’an as his inspiration to study science and the natural world: “I decided to discover what it is that brings us closer to God, what pleases Him most, and what makes us submissive to His ineluctable Will.”[36]

Many academics recognise Europe’s indebtedness to Islam.[37]

Professor George Saliba argues, “There is hardly a book on Islamic civilization, or on the general history of science, that does not at least pretend to recognize the importance of the Islamic scientific tradition and the role this tradition played in the development of human civilisation in general.”[38]

Professor Thomas Arnold was of the view that Islamic Spain facilitated the European Renaissance: “…Muslim Spain had written one of the brightest pages in the history of Medieval Europe… bringing into birth a new poetry and a new culture, and it was from her that Christian scholars received what of Greek philosophy and science they had to stimulate their mental activity up to the time of the Renaissance.”[39]

Perhaps one of the most poignant summaries of the greatness of the civilisation that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ created is in a speech by the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, Carly Fiorina:

“There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world. It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins. One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known.

“And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration. Its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic.

“When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others. While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.

“Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership. And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions. This kind of enlightened leadership—leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage—led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.”[40]

The key reason the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was able to directly influence such tolerant and compassionate societies was because affirming the Oneness of God, pleasing and worshipping Him, was the spiritual and moral basis of his life and the lives of those who loved and followed him. This provided timeless, objective moral grounding to achieve what the 18th century economist Adam Smith claimed was the first nation: “…under which the world enjoyed that degree of tranquillity which the cultivation of the sciences requires….”[41]

The Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ trustworthiness, high moral character and the impact he has had on the world establishes a strong case for his being the final messenger of God. Studying his life and understanding his teachings in a holistic and nuanced way will lead to only one conclusion: he was a mercy to the world and the one chosen by God to lead the world into Divine guidance and light.



[1] The Qur’an, Chapter 5, Verse 8.

[2] The Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 135.

[3] The Qur’an, Chapter 90, Verses 12 to 18.

[4] Ibn Hisham, A. (1955) as-Sira an-Nabawiyya. Cairo: Mustafa Al-Halabi & Sons. Vol 1, pp.501-504.

[5] Armstrong, K. (1997) A History of Jerusalem: One City Three Faiths. New York: Ballantine Books, p. 245.

[6] Cohen, A. (1994) A World Within: Jewish Life as Reflected in Muslim Court Documents from the Sijill of Jerusalem (XVIth Century). Part One. Philadelphia: The Center for Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania, pp. 22-23.

[7] Tabari, M, S. (1967) Tarikh Tabari: Tarikh ar-Rusul wal- Muluk. Edited by Muhammad Ibrahim. Vol 3. 3rd Edition. Cairo, Dar al-Ma’aarif, p. 609. On online copy can be accessed at: [Accessed 1st October 2016].

[8] Cited in Walker, C. J. (2005). Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilisations. Gloucester: Sutton Publishing, p. 17.

[9] Narrated by Yahya b. Adam in the book of al-Kharaaj.

[10] Al-Qaraafi, A. (1998) Al-Furuq. Vol 3. 1st Edition. Edited by Khalil Al-Mansur. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, p. 29. An online copy can be accessed at: [Accessed 1st October 2016].

[11] The Qur’an, Chapter 21, Verse 107.

[12] The Qur’an, Chapter 7, Verse 156.

[13] Cited in Walker, C. J. (2005) Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilisations, p. 17.

[14] Dozy, R. (1913). A History of Muslims in Spain. London: Chatto & Windus, p. 235.

[15] Arnold, T. (1896) The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., p. 56.

[16] The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 256.

[17] Bonner, M. (2006) Jihad in Islamic History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 89-90.

[18] Hallaq, W. B. (2009). Sharia: Theory, Practice and Transformations. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 332.

[19] Ibn Zanjawiyah, H, S. (1986) Kitab al-Amwaal. Edited by Shakir Fiyadh. Makkah: Markaz al-Malik Faisal, pp. 169-170.

[20] Mansel, P. (1995). Constantinople: City of the World’s desire, 1453-1924. London: Penguin Books, p. 15.

[21] The Qur’an, Chapter 49, Verse 13.

[22] Hafiz ibn Hibban reported in al-Sahih, via his isnad, from Fadalah ibn Ubayd and Baihaqi.

[23] Gibb, H. A. R. (2012) Whither Islam? A Survey of Modern Movements in the Moslem World. Abingdon: Routledge, p. 379.

[24] Toynbee, A. J. (1948) Civilization on Trial. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 205.

[25] Robinson, V. (1936). The Story of Medicine. New York: Tudor Publishing Company, p. 164.

[26] Sabry, W. M., & Vohra, A. (2013). Role of Islam in the management of Psychiatric disorders. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 55(Suppl 2), S205–S214.

[27] Badri, M. (2013). Abu Zayd Al-Balkhi’s Sustenance of the Soul: The Cognitive Behavior Therapy of a Ninth Century Physician. Surrey: International Institute of Islamic Thought.

[28] Narrated by Bukhari.

[29] The Qur’an, Chapter 10, Verse 24.

[30] The Qur’an, Chapter 96, Verses 1 to 5.

[31] The Qur’an, Chapter 39, Verse 9.

[32] The Qur’an, Chapter 88, Verses 17 to 20.

[33] The Qur’an, Chapter 3, Verses 190 and 191.

[34] See Steffens, B. (2007) Ibn Al-Haytham: First Scientist. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

[35] Lindberg, David C. (1992). The Beginnings of Western Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 362-363.

[36] Steffens, B. (2007) Ibn Al-Haytham: First Scientist, p. 27.

[37] For details see Al-Djazairi, S. E. (2005) The Hidden Debt to Islamic Civilisation. Oxford: Bayt Al-Hikma Press; Saliba, G. (2007) Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

[38] Saliba, G. (2007) Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance. Massachusetts: MIT Press, p. 1.

[39] Arnold, T. (1896) The Preaching of Islam, p. 112.

[40] Hewlett Packard. Carly Fiorina Speeches. Technology, Business and Our Way of Life: What’s Next. (2001). Available at: [Accessed 10th September 2016].

[41] Smith, A. (1869). The Essays of Adam Smith. London: Alex Murray, p. 353.