TODAY, the waters of the Mediterranean Sea separate two vastly different worlds. To the north of that great sea lie the comparatively affluent, industrialized nations of Europe. To the south lie the economically poor, agricultural countries of North Africa. The contrasts between the two regions are dramatic. But many centuries ago the positions of the two areas were reversed! Why?
Arab Golden Age
The early medieval period of western European history (A.D. 500 to 1000) was a period of intellectual darkness and barbarity. It is commonly known as the Dark Ages. But few realize that while Europe lay in darkness, the Arab world was experiencing an unprecedented Golden Age! Arab genius kept alight the lamp of learning and culture. And that lamp burned brightly! This Golden Age was epitomized by the magnificence of Baghdad, the Baghdad of the well-known Arabian Nights. Capital of the vast Moslem world, Baghdad (in what is Iraq today) was the richest city on earth. But the wealth and culture it exemplified was not confined solely to the East. Virtually all provinces of the Moslem realm flourished, including North Africa. The courts of North African potentates were filled with poets and musicians, the colleges with learned men of science, mathematics, philosophy and medicine. North Africa's cities were centers of culture and learning. Some of the most beautiful monuments of Islamic art and architecture were created during this period.
What Went Wrong?
But eventually the flame died. The Golden Age of Arab culture passed into history. Today, North Africa is but a shadow of its old self. Deserted, sand-swept cities, crumbling palaces and decaying shrines and mosques are often the only relics of the civilization of medieval times. What went wrong? Many factors were involved in this decline: growing corruption, mediocre rulers, infightings and tribal wars. Among the people at large, the early vigor had degenerated into indolence and softness. Amid this picture of social decadence and degeneration we discover the beginnings of the widespread use of the drug hashish. In some respects, the use of this drug took a greater toll on society than any disease epidemic or war ever could have!
Way of Life
Hashish (hasheesh) is the Arabic name for various narcotic drug preparations of the true hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). The word means "dried herb." In Morocco and other parts of North Africa it is called kif. Hashish can be smoked, chewed, eaten in a confection or drunk for its intoxicating effects. There is no evidence in the early centuries of Islam — including the Golden Age — of the use of hashish among the population at large. Early Islamic physicians had become acquainted with its therapeutic uses, but its role was restricted to medicine. Gradually, however, the use of hashish shifted from the sphere of pharmaceutical use to that of social recreation. It came to be consumed for its pleasure-producing effects. Many began whiling away the hours in its influence, lulled into a delightful but unproductive drowsiness. Its use achieved rapid popularity. There is no direct mention of hashish in the Koran, Islam's holy book. This fact was often cited by users — and still is cited — as justification for indulging in it. Reasoning from Koranic principles, however, Islamic jurists and scholars declared that a true Moslem should avoid dependence-producing substances (khamr) that cause clouding of the mind and interfere with rational thinking. Yet the use of hashish had become well entrenched. Most users ignore the ruling. In some parts of North Africa, hashish became not just a substance to be used, but a total way of life! And in many areas, it remains so to this day. It has become part of the culture, with general social approval. In Morocco, for example, kif is grown in large quantities as a major cash crop. It is smoked by a fairly high proportion of adult males and a significant number of females as well. It is viewed as a means of relieving everyday pressure and personal cares, and as a remedy for depression and anxiety. Kif is also seen as an assertion of manliness and group spirit. This attitude toward drugs among some Arabs is also being felt abroad. Plain Truth correspondent Wolfgang Thomsen in Bonn reports that West German police are concerned by the positive. representation of drugs by foreign drug dealers. Because of the traditions in their homelands, Arabs, Turks and other dealers of foreign origin are touting drugs to German youths as useful tools for raising one's self-worth. This positive view of drugs makes it harder for authorities to contain their spread. Studies have shown that the use of hashish produces numerous detrimental effects, which most users attempt to ignore. These include a negative effect on temperament and mood, memory, time and special perception, sleeping patterns and learning ability. It also produces euphoria and a sense of carefreeness, thus tending to sap drive and vigor. It was these very effects that, in part, sapped the vitality of the great medieval Arab civilization — and that today keep many societies in a state of continual stagnation! The communities of North Africa have fallen prey to widespread drug abuse possibly to a greater extent than anywhere else in the Moslem world. A deep seated way of life, hashish use will be difficult to eradicate.
Human Government Limited
North African governments have sought to control hashish production and traffic. But that is only part of the solution. Drug abuse cannot be legislated out of existence. Laws and police action simply treat the effect, not the root cause of drug abuse. In the final analysis, human governments will not solve the problem! They simply do not have the ability to strike at its heart. A permanent solution is beyond the grasp of human agencies. The only lasting solution must involve introducing a radically new alternative way of life more attractive than the present one causing the problem — a new way of life whose fruits are genuine happiness and contentment. This is the only real answer. Human governments cannot do it. Who will bring it about? God can — and will! The soon-coming reestablishment of the government or kingdom of God on earth by Jesus Christ will bring that new way of life to the nations of this world. All nations will come under God's rule (Rev. 11:15) and man's very nature will be changed by the power of God (Ezek. 11:19)! Peace, happiness and prosperity will blanket the earth as people begin living God's way of life. No longer will they feel a need for drugs or excessive alcohol to make life bearable. That day is coming! And it may happen sooner than many might think!