February 03, 2004

2 Qutb 7b

I suppose I shouldn't be flip, and suggest that, in the seventh chapter of Sayyid Qutb's work Milestones, the theorist of Islamism argues that the institution of Shariah is essential to save the world from the twin scourges of flirting and stewardesses. I'm getting way ahead of myself, though, so let me begin with the beginning -- actually, with a few quotes from previous chapters.

In the fifth chapter, Qutb tells us,

The jahili society is any society other than the Muslim society; and if we want a more specific definition, we may say that any society is a jahili society which does not dedicate itself to submission to God alone, in its beliefs and ideas in its observances of worship, and in its legal regulations.

According to this definition, all the societies existing in the world today are jahili.

Rhetorically, this is a fairly useful device for Qutb: his ideology cannot be blamed for any of the failures -- political, military, economic or cultural -- of the Islamic world. And really, until the accession to power in Iran of the Islamists of the Ayatollah Khomeini (it's worth noting that Qutb speaks highly of the politicization of the Imams of 1950s Iran in Social Justice in Islam), Qutb's system was untried. That it hasn't been a spectacular success in Iran doesn't seem to deter too many of Qutb's supporters. Perhaps that's because, as Qutb tells us in the sixth chapter,

Man cannot understand all the laws of the universe, nor can he comprehend the unity of this system; he cannot even understand the laws which govern his own person, from which he cannot deviate by a hair's breadth.

So if Iranian women are showing a bit too much hair under their headscarfs, all is lost...

In the seventh chapter of Milestones, Qutb tells us that Islam is the real civilization, and goes on to explain why. It is this explanation that I alluded to above, but before we get to that, there is Qutb's preamble -- yet another denunciation of jahili societies (that is, all of them).

He rejects societies organized on a materialist basis, according to scientific socialism. I suspect he's referring to the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc here, but scientific socialism also enjoyed a modest vogue in the brief period when Arab nationalism held sway. He also rejects the secular/sacred division of the west; he writes (oddly)

In this society, people are permitted to go to mosques, churches and synagogues; yet it does not tolerate people's demanding that the Shari'ah of God be applied in their daily affairs. Thus, such a society denies or suspends God's sovereignty on earth, while God says plainly:

"It is He Who is Sovereign in the heavens and Sovereign in the earth." (43:84)

You too might have missed the clamor for Shari'ah from California to the New York Island. I suspect that Qutb is here referring either to countries like Lebanon, which was a fairly tolerant place when he was writing, or to the Arab nationalist states, which based their calls to hegemony on the Arab ethnic identity, seeking to co-opt Christian Arabs into the mix.

That Qutb is not referring to secular Europe or the United States seems clear; he later writes,

A society which places the highest value on the 'humanity' of man and honors the noble 'human' characteristics is truly civilized. If materialism, no matter in what form, is given the highest value, whether it be in the form of a 'theory', such as in the Marxist interpretation of history, or in the form of material production, as is the case with the United States and European countries, and all other human values are sacrificed at its altar, then such a society is a backward one, or, in Islamic terminology, is a 'jahili society'.

Qutb goes on to explain some of the noble "human" characteristics of the Islamist state, which will be the subject of the next post in this series...

Posted by Ideofact at February 3, 2004 11:50 PM