Why Does Islamic History Begin with the Migration?

Ali Shariati
According to historical tradition, history begins with the birth of a religion or the leader of a movement or a decisive victory. However, Muslims accept neither the birth of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), nor the conquest of Mecca (a turning point in Islamic history), nor the first revelation of the Quran as the beginning of the calendar.

According to historical sources, the date to be chosen as the beginning of Islamic history was first taken up during the reign of Umar. This topic was discussed among the sahaba and, accepting the Migration as the beginning of the calendar, the Hijra calendar was created. The Migration being chosen as the beginning of the calendar undoubtedly stems from its being an important turning point in the history of Muslims and Islamic history within the framework of historical circumstances. However, this choice of the sahaba is also meaningful in relation to the other meanings of the concept of “migration.”

We will share with you interpretation on this subject from the broad perspective of Iranian Muslim sociologist, activist and thinker, Ali Shariati.


The basic factor that determines whether societies or religions are closed or open from their beginning until now is their (individual-society) relationship with the land. Just as this factor enables a religion, society or worldview to be closed, it is also the factor that determines the reasons for stagnation and a static state.

A society squeezed in the framework of its own narrow patterns will naturally be closed and will remain deprived of advancement, development and change.

Tied to this, what a society contains -intelligence, emotion, thought, science, technology, culture, religion, and worldview- either remain fixed and stagnant or decay and die. Behind the closed fortress of the Middle Ages, the West knew the center of the world to be Europe and the religion of the world to be Catholicism. Since it knew humanity to be “white-skinned, blond and blue-eyed,” it knew all others as infidels to be herded as a flock. There was darkness to the east of Genoa and lands where strange and barbarian people lived. Beyond Lisbon -the West- was covered with oceans or, in other words, there was nothing… This was the reason it lived in closed fortresses for a thousand years. The Crusades suddenly opened the fortress door towards the East. The fortress opened to the East. Christianity, not having seen any other religion, opened its eyes to Islam. Millions of people poured out from the closed fortresses of the West. They saw that there were other people, other societies and another world beyond the Alps. While brand new horizons were unfolding before their eyes, the world increased two-fold in their memories. They met “the other” and “other places.” Then dark chateaus lit up. Perspectives and horizons expanded. Strong, conservative ties became undone. Innumerable molds were broken and merrymaking began. Expressed in sociological terms, the hand of “social time” which had been stuck in a dormant and closed state since 395 A.D. became active and began advancing every moment.

The new awareness that spread the backward ties which existed before the Crusades over a broad base introduced the world to Westerners with very broad and different dimensions and aroused in them the desire to turn towards the world. With great curiosity, people began to investigate and discover new regions and new horizons in the world. New routes were discovered for traveling the world from east to west. For this reason, geographical discoveries, new trade routes and efforts to travel around the world reached a peak during the 15th and 16th centuries. Activities like carrying symbols and legends from Asia and Africa in the East and discovering new land in America in the West made this mandatory for Europe: Changing their worldview into a form that was great and flexible, to build great Western civilization on the foundation of this worldview… For this reason, historians and sociologists accept that travel around the world via the Crusades (Western masses migrating to the East) and geographical discoveries (migration to America, Africa and Asia) was the first reason for the awakening of Europe and that these migrations were the basic factor influencing the birth of contemporary Europe civilization.

In my opinion, studying open and closed societies and civilizations throughout history will bring a sociological opinion to scientific truth, because migration -a society’s ties being torn from the land- gains man an active, flexible and broad worldview. It shatters frozen social, intellectual, emotional and religious patterns. A static society gains acceleration and dynamism. Migration is itself a factor of human dynamism and change. It first achieves activity for perspectives and then society. Pulling the society from its frozen framework, it takes it to advanced points and dimensions of perfection.

Therefore, a migration factor lies under the face of every civilization. Every great social legend or story attributed to history describes a migration. For this reason, what is said in the Quran and Islamic history about the Prophet’s migration is not just a concrete event -as it is often presented to be- but a social foundation. If we look carefully at this structure of Islam, we can easily discern this mission of migration.

Both migrations to Abyssinia took place at the command of the Prophet. For the first time the settled Arab people migrated from Mecca which was surrounded by valleys by traveling over the sea to another place, a foreign country. They met a new country, a new religion, a new social life and a new piece of land. After that the great migration was made to Medina. While Medina’s closed doors were opening, the Meccan immigrants were getting to know a new environment and new social conditions. The policy the Prophet followed in Medina… Constant relations with surrounding tribes… Expansion of the population circle… Extension to the farthest possible points… People pouring into Medina from every place…

Missionaries and ambassadors reaching everywhere, in fact, the most distant points of the peninsula… Relations with Persia, Eastern Rome, Egypt and Yemen… The desire to reach every point, near and far, of the world at that time… These are not proof that the Prophet had a desire to turn the Arab society into an open society. At the same time, migration in the Prophet’s words and in verses of the Quran is the clearest indication that it is interpreted, in particular, as a great and sacred foundation, in fact, as a human responsibility, for migration of the mind and belief. “Those who believed and those who suffered exile and fought (and strove and struggled) in the path of Allah – they have the hope of the Mercy of Allah: And Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”(Al-Baqara 218)

In the Quran the word “migration” is used in its general and absolute sense. In social linguistics literature the concept of migration (migrating from one point to another) in regard to degrees of meaning was placed at very high places from the earth, high stations of the spirit, the top of the spiritual and moral sphere, and the peak of thought revolutions. For this reason, with “migration” we face a word carrying profound meanings and essence. At every point the concept reached and can reach it is possible to comprehend a different dimension of the breadth and depth of migration. A Quranic Muslim (different from current Muslims) finds himself facing internal and external migration after faith and before jihad with a true essence and a clear command… Migration on the earth… Migration to the depths of the soul… Leaving the place that can no longer be inhabited… Leaving a condition that is no longer worthy and valuable… Migration is not just leaving one’s place of birth; at the same time it is leaving one’s own essence… For this reason, Islam becomes active so as not to allow society or the individual to become static again. It calls man to external motion and internal revolution. Only in this case can man be saved from stagnation, degeneration and inanimation and turn towards motion, ascension and constant revolution. And this can be realized with the scientific miracle of migration. Migration to new horizons… Migration to the soul…

25/08/2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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