Perhaps more than any other religion in the world, Islam has put to work its less obvious sense in order to unify the peoples sharing the same belief. Through its art, its common language and its judicial system that has the Koran teachings at its base, Islam was a unifying force among the Arabic peoples of the Arabic Peninsula, Northern Africa and the Middle East.
There is a short discussion I would like to address here and that is to identify the differences between culture and civilization. This will help us see how religion LO is included in this set of concepts. From my point-of-view, religion LO can be considered an element of civilization through its cultural component. If we exclude Marxist ideology that argue that civilization is but a certain level that culture has attained and make no distinction between the two, when we refer to culture, we refer to the spiritual values of a people or a group of people. In this way, it is the spirit that gives birth to cultural manifestations and we connect culture directly to the spirit. As for civilization, this would, in my opinion, include both spiritual (that is cultural) and material values and it is a larger concept.
I have addressed this in the beginning of my essay as to draw a line between the two concepts and point out that if we can argue that all cultural activities are inherently religious (and this can certainly be argued), then we can consider that, in general, because of the material attribute that the concept of civilization shares, religion LO is but a component of this larger concept. However, if we take a closer look at our thesis regarding the Islamic civilization, we will see that, more than any other religion, the concept of religious civilization appears. We almost never talk about a religious civilization. We talk about the Buddhist culture or about the Christian culture, but we are seldom inclined to talk about the Buddhist civilization. That is because by associating the concept of materiality to that of civilization, we are inclined to separate it from the spiritual aspect, or rather include the latter. This is not the case with Islam.
I have addressed in my opening paragraph three argumentative elements that I will use in sustaining my point-of-view. These refer to Islam's unifying role through the Islamic judicial system, through Islamic art and through the common language. Islamic law plays perhaps the most important unifying role. This is mainly because it is more than a set of rules and regulations, but predicates moral principles by which the believer must abide. Substantially, the Muslim (that is "one who submits") lives face with Allah at all times and Islam is part of his everyday life.
If we compare this to Christianity, for example, laicity in the Christian world has been clearly defined and has been so for a couple of hundred years. Even in the Middle Ages, the Church and Inquisition did not execute the sentence itself, but left to the laical state. We do not have an unifying concept in Christian law: all we have is some moral commandments that are strictly religion O. And have no interpolation with LO. As pointed out in the syllabus, the Western world thought long ago the separation between Church and State and this has not changed. Referring to the law systems, in Europe, for example, they are not of religious influence, but have a clear laicity about them: most of them relate to the Napoleonic Code, from 1806, which was conceived in a period of less religiousness, following the French Revolution.
However, in Islam, this separation between State and Church has never taken place. The countries forming the Pan-Arab League (I am referring to them as a form of exemplification. I am not excluding the Islamic peoples of Malaysia or Indonesia) share a common law system, which is not the case of any the Christian states. More than this, the common law system is based on a set of moral issues that come from religion O. And on which the law system (identifiable as a manifestation religion LO) is based. In Islam we have the perfect interdependence between the two forms of religion in a law system that is followed by all believers. The difference from the Christian states is that, while in the Western world, law is an attribute of the State, in Islamic states, it is an attribute of the religious institution and of religious tradition.
While in the Western states, the different forms of law divide the states, in Islamic ones, law unites through its religious vein.
The second element I wished to address was Islamic art and the way this becomes a unifying force. If we consider again as a term of comparison, we see that we quite rarely refer to the Christian Art, and when we do it only so as to differentiate from other forms of religious art. We refer to Gothic Art, to Baroque Art, that is we identify currents with different common characteristics. We speak however of Islamic because it is a certain characteristic of Islamic spirituality.
First of all, when we address Islamic art, we must think of the fact that one of God's names is al-Jamil, which means the Beautiful. I am referring to this as an argument in favor of way culture identifies itself with religion: any beautiful creation represents a form of Godly manifestation. Just as much as he manifests himself through religion, God manifests himself through art. If we study this closer, we could think that in Islam, art is just as much a way to reach God as religion is.
Let's take a look at the sacred building of the mosque. The mosque literally means the place of prostration, specific to the Islamic religion. However, before the prostration, man stands in the mosque and this can be seen as a mean to unify people. Indeed, the concept that man is God's left-tenant on the Earth, concept that is shared by all Islamic believers, has a unifying force in itself: ALL of the Islamic believers are God's representative here on Earth. ALL of these believers are perfect believers. We have no story of damnation here, but a purifying concept of superman. Of course, in pointing out this, I am not really making a clear distinction between religion O. And religion LO, but I was referring to the role of the mosque and how this connects to Islamic concept of the perfect man. And in this sense, we can perhaps better understand some of the conflicts going on today in the world: the Islamic people believe that God has made man a perfect creature. The Christian people believe that God has damned Man and expelled him from the Garden of Eden. There is no wonder why in one case religion unifies in perfection, while in the other it caused hundreds of years of religious wars.
As one pointed out, the mosques are usually hidden from the public, usually by a bazaar or secondary buildings. This is not indeed a sign of disrespect, but the mosque is in itself a unifying force for Islamism. It is the place where, besides prayer, other activities can take place within the community. It can be a place of social gathering, a place where economic transactions take place (in or around the mosque). It is in this way that religion finds way to penetrate in every aspect of the believer's life and every Islamic believer finds a mean to join the rest of the community within the religious boundaries. In this sense, we could compare the role of the mosque in Islamic faith with the role the Church had in the Middle Ages for example. Then the Church constituted a place of schooling (if we take note of the many schools that had developed around the local churches or monasteries), a place of learning (we only have to think of the monasteries in Ireland that have kept alive much of the Roman learning spirit throughout the Dark Ages), a place of settling local disputes of the community and a place of social gathering and spectacles. It is much the same that today the mosque plays the part (and has done so for some hundreds of years now) of cement material for the Islamic community.
Symbolically, much as, in the Middle Ages, the local Cathedral was placed in the center of a city (we only have to think of cities such as Bruges, Paris, where Ile del la Cite was the center of Paris at that time or London, with Westminster), the mosque will almost always be geographically situated in the center of the Muslim city or town. The mosque is also the place from where the muehdins call out for the collective prayer, in yet another form of unity bestowed about by the mosque.