Communication and Human Development

Communication and the Rise of Early Islamic Civilization (570-632)

The rise of early Islamic civilization suggests a position that contradicts Harold Innis’ theory of the bias of communication, in which his dominant group is empowered by a monopoly of the communication resources during a given time and space. This paper argues that the communication methods used by Prophet Muhammad’s alternative social force during the early seventh century were, in fact, the main tool that organized Islamic society, helped develop its ideals, and aided the expansion and formation of one of the world’s great civilizations. This paper discusses and analyzes the reasons behind the Prophet’s communication methods and the subsequent the rise of early Islamic civilization. In the sixteenth century of our era, a visitor from Mars might well have supposed that the human world was on the verge of becoming Muslim. He would have based his judgment partly on the strategic and political advantages of the Muslims, but partly also on the vitality of their general culture. Their social and political eminence leaps to the eye.

A Challenge ... A Hypothesis

Many historians are interested in the so-called “golden age of Islam,” defined as the historical period of Islamic expansion throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe between the ninth and seventeenth centuries CE. As Marshall Hodgson notes above, not only did Islam disseminate its religious beliefs through-out this period, but it also made significant contributions in such areas as philosophy, culture, music, literature, mathematics, and architecture. Scholars are intrigued by what was behind the rise of this civilization, questioning how it could have expanded in less than one hundred years to become virtually a world empire during the age of caliphs, Muhammad’s political successors. Some argue that its rise is, in fact, a result of the struggle between the nomadic and sedentary people living in and around Madinah,2 concluding that it was merely a local process. Others, adopting a Marxist perspective, point to the economic and commercial resources that led to particular Arab merchants claiming political dominance over other tribes. This essay will explore this question through the lens of communication, particularly its role in the development process, using the following question, so aptly posed by Dudley, as its guide:

If the dominant group within an organization [i.e., a social organization such as a society during a certain period] derives its power from a monopoly of the existing communications technology [or communication resources in that society], how can an alternative form of communication [or alternative mode of communicating ideas, such as a new religion or movement] within different characteristics possibly spread?

In other words, I will examine whether Islam spread only by the sword, or used other tools to organize society, help develop its ideals, and aid in the expansion and formation of one of the world’s great civilizations. I will suggest that the reasons behind the rise of early Islam, in opposition to existing social, political, economic, and cultural status-quos in the Arabian peninsula of the early seventh century, in fact rests in what Prophet Muhammad and his followers communicated to others, as well as the communication methods used. Therefore, my main focus here will be a close investigation of Islam’s development during Muhammad’s lifetime (570-632).

The essay will start by briefly introducing the theoretical framework to be used, Hodgson’s development theory, and focusing specifically on those threads that can be applied to Islam’s rise. Then, using parallel historical evidence, I will propose a socio-historical analysis of the reasons for this rise. Finally, I will conclude with the major characterizations of the dynamics of the change/transition from the pre-Islamic period (jahiliyah5) to Islam.

Aliaa Ibrahim Dakroury is a lecturer in the Communication Program, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. She is the winner of the Van Horne Prize at the Canadian Communication Association annual conference (2005), London, Ontario.

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