January 29, 2004

2 Qutb 5b

In the second century before Christ, Polybius, a Greek who had lived among the Romans, wrote a history of the Republic in the hope of explaining to his countrymen -- of making explicable the inexplicable -- why it was, precisely, that the Romans had surpassed the Greeks, and dominated the world. Much of the work has been lost; much of the rest survives in summaries of later editors rather than in Polybius' own words, but even with those limitations, the edition that survives provides us with much useful information on Roman martial practices, diplomacy, culture and character. One passage, that survives in summary form, deals with the Roman government, noting that it combined the three main forms the merits of which Greek philosophers had debated for a few centuries -- tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. Polybius, who was an enthusiast for the Roman constitution (he mistakenly believed it would last in the form he found it for centuries; within one hundred years of his writing, a military dictatorship and then a hereditary empire replaced it), argued that the Romans had the best of all three worlds -- that its consuls, senate and assemblies of voters allowed for executive decision, the deliberation and caution of the upper classes, and responsiveness to the common citizen. The Founding Fathers (particularly Madison, as I recall) were heavily influenced by Polybius's ideas when drafting the Constitution.

I got to thinking of Polybius when reading the fifth chapter of Qutb's Milestones, largely by way of contrast. Given my limited familiarity with Qutb's works, perhaps I'm being unfair, but one of the rather surprising things about Qutb is how disinterested he seems in the mechanics of government. In Social Justice in Islam, he offers ten or twelve specific actions that governments can take to make themselves more Islamist -- some are what you might expect (making the Zakat the basis of the tax and welfare system), while others are scarcely distinguishable from the programs of Arab nationalist governments (or European, Latin American or Asian leftist governments) like nationalizing key industries and natural resources. In both Social Justice and Milestones, Qutb expresses a desire for modern Muslim societies to emulate the companions--the generation of believers who followed the Prophet--and (if I recall correctly) three of the first four rightly guided Caliphs. Oddly enough, he hardly notes how those Caliphs were chosen (by acclamation, a sort of voice vote of the faithful -- or at least the male faithful). Qutb never explains how a caliph would be chosen for the modern era -- in a single country of tens of millions of inhabitants, how would that be done? Would the caliph simply be chosen by Qutb's vanguard (which owes absolute loyalty to its leadership)? Would there be a vote, and, if so, who would vote? What about the Shoura, the council of respected leaders who act as a sort of cabinet and consultative body? Whose respect would they have to earn -- the leadership, or that of the faithful? And what about the clerics who would rule on court cases according to the sharia? Suppose the caliph promulgated a law which a cleric ruled went against the sharia -- how would that be resolved? In the passages of Qutb I've read, he seems singularly uninterested in these questions.

Perhaps I'm wrong -- perhaps somewhere in the Qutbian oeuvre there's a detailed plan for how to choose a caliph, for how to impeach a shoura member who's abused his trust, for balancing the awesome executive power of the caliph against the judicial prerogatives of the clerics, and so on. But in what I've read, it all sort of comes down to passages like this one:

'La llaha illa Allah"-"There is no deity except Allah" - is the first part the Islamic declaration of faith, meaning that there is no one to be worshipped except God; "Muhammadar Rasul Allah" - "Muhammad is the Messenger of God; - is the second part, meaning that this worship is to be carried out according to the teaching of the Prophet - peace be on him.

A believing Muslim is one into whose heart this declaration has penetrated completely, as the other pillars of Islam and articles of faith are derivatives of it. Thus, belief in angels and God's Books and God's Messengers and the life hereafter and al-Qadr (the measurement of good and evil), and al-Salat (prayers), al-Siyam (fasting), al-Zakat (poor-due) and al-Hajj (pilgrimage), and the limits set by God of permissable and forbidden things, human affairs, laws, Islamic moral teachings, and so on, are all based on the foundation of worship of God, and the source of all these teachings is the person of the Prophet- peace be on him -through whom God has revealed to us.

A Muslim community is that which is a practical interpretation of the declaration of faith and all its characteristics; and the society which does not translate into practice this faith and its characteristics is not Muslim.

Thus the declaration of faith provides the foundation for a complete system of life for the Muslim community in all its details.

I have some speculations on why this is, which I'll offer in a later post...

Posted by Ideofact at January 29, 2004 11:09 PM

I've read Milestones pretty closely and here is my impression of why Qutb blows off the importance of well designed governance.
(from the web site http://gemsofislamism.tripod.com/milestones.html )

So what political system then does Qutb favor?
"God's rule on earth" - the Shari'ah.

The way to establish God's rule on earth is not that some consecrated people - the priests - be given the authority to rule ... To establish God's rule means that His laws be enforced and that the final decision in all affairs be according to these laws. [p.58]

But God is not going to descend to earth to administer His law! Actual human beings will have to do it. How are these judges/administrators going to be chosen? How will they handle disputes over interpretation of God's law?

This, of course, is a matter of great interest in Islamist republics like Iran (and formerly Sudan) where there has been considerable and sometimes violent disagreement over just what is God's law. What does Qutb have to say? He only asserts that it won't be a problem.

God's religion is not a maze nor is its way of life a fluid thing ... It is bounded by those principles which have come from the Messenger of God ... The principles of Ijtihad and deduction are well known, and there is no vagueness or looseness in them. [p.85]

Posted by: elmer swanson at June 5, 2004 12:30 PM