One of the key ideas promoted by the European Enlightenment or the Age of Reason of the 18th century is that of progress, according to which human history develops across a curve from a low point to higher and higher points. One may debate and dispute the exact nature of “higher” and “lower” points in that context. But most students of the Enlightenment agree that “progress” has two facets: material and cultural.
Material progress could be measured by such yardsticks and life expectancy, average health of the people, and better living conditions in tangible terms such as housing and the ability to cope with natural disasters. On a cultural level, progress includes literary and artistic creation, scientific and technological discoveries, participative politics and the rule of law.
But is it possible to question the very existence of a curve indicating linear progress? Isn’t it possible that human history proceeds in zigzags with “lower” and “higher” points alternating according to mysterious laws?
Applied to the “Muslim World”, the theory of progress hardly resists the challenge of the rival theory of historic zigzag.