June 08, 2004

2 Qutb 8f

If this post seems repetitive (the previous one is here), it's only because the eighth chapter of Sayyid Qutb's work Milestones is itself rather repetitive. Qutb cites a series of Qur'anic verses and one Hadith to justify his contention that a "Muslim cannot combine these two sources-the source of Divine guidance and the source of Jahiliyyah - for his education" -- the interesting thing to me is how he couches it:

God Most High says in general terms concerning the ultimate aims of the Jews and Christians against Muslims:

"Many among the People of the Book wish to turn you back from your faith toward unbelief, due to their envy, even after the truth has been known to them; but forgive and excuse them until God brings about His decision. Indeed, God has power over everything." (2:109)

"The Jews and Christians will not be pleased with you unless you follow their way. Say: "Indeed, God's guidance is the true guidance'. And if, after this knowledge has come to you, you follow their desires, then you will find no helper or friend against God." (2:120)

"O you who believe! If you follow a party of the People of the Book, they will return you to the state of unbelief after you have believed." (3:100)

As reported by Hafiz Abu Y'ala, the Messenger of God- peace be on him- said: "Do not ask the People of the Book about anything. They will not guide you, In fact, they are themselves misguided. If you listen to them, you might end up accepting some falsehood or denying some truth. By God, If Moses had been alive among you, he would not be permitted (by God) anything except to follow me."

After this warning to the Muslims from God concerning the ultimate designs of the Jews and Christians, it would be extremely short-sighted of us to fall into the illusion that when the Jews and Christians discuss Islamic beliefs or Islamic history, or when they make proposals concerning Muslim society or Muslim politics or economics, they will be doing it with good intentions, or with the welfare of the Muslims at heart, or in order to seek guidance and light. People who, after this clear statement from God, still think this way are indeed deluded.

Yet these quotations are hardly on point -- if you go to the context of the passages themselves, it's fairly clear that the injunctions not to follow Christians or Jews refers to matters of religion, and not, say, politics or economics. Regarding the latter, neither the Qur'an nor the life of the Prophet offers any clue as to how to proceed -- the Prophet named no heir, nor did he specify a means for choosing one. And certainly, regarding metaphysical speculation and free inquiry into the sciences, Qutb is merely offering his (usual) reactionary, xenophobic opinion, which was not shared through much of Islam's history or among contemporary Islamic thinkers. God Most High's general terms are the best Qutb can offer, but, as Erasmus said in an extremely different context, "The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible, and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters." An Izetbegovic sees no conflict between the metaphysics of Aristotle, the novels of Herman Hesse or the Reformation's emphasis on individual conscience with Islam; Qutb rejects all these things.

In ending the eighth chapter, Qutb again returns to Europe:

There is a strong relationship between faith and all those sciences which deal with the universe and natural laws, such as astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry and geology. All these sciences lead man toward God, unless they are perverted by personal opinions and speculations, and presented devoid of the concept of God. Such a regrettable situation actually occurred in Europe. In fact, there came a time in European history when very painful and hateful differences arose between scientists and the oppressive Church; consequently the entire scientific movement in Europe started with Godlessness. This movement affected all aspects of life very deeply; in fact, it changed the entire character of European thought. The effect of this hostility of the scientific community toward the Church did not remain limited to the Church or to its beliefs, but was directed against all religion, so much so that all sciences turned against religion, whether they were speculative philosophy or technical or abstract sciences having nothing to do with religion [ Refer to the chapter, "Al-Fisam al-Nakad", in the book The Future Belongs to This Religion.]

The Western ways of thought and all the sciences started on the foundation of these poisonous influences with an enmity toward all religion, and in particular with greater hostility toward Islam. This enmity toward Islam is especially pronounced and many times is the result of a well-thought-out scheme, the object of which is first to shake the foundations of Islamic beliefs and then gradually to demolish the structure of Muslim society.

There is one fairly obvious answer to this -- science is verifiable. The laws of thermodynamics are as binding on Muslims as they are on Infidels, and an atheist's experiments can be repeated by any Taoist with the proper equipment. Theories are open to speculation and debate -- I think of the rich trove of scientific literature spawned by Darwin -- and they rise or fall as new evidence is accumulated.

One note to end on: It's odd that Qutb thinks a good deal of this is directed at Islam -- by the 19th Century, Islam was eclipsed as a political power, and most of the scientific-religious controversies concerned Christianity. The Qur'an, for example, wasn't part of the closing arguments of the Scopes Monkey Trial. I've noted as well that Qutb and a few other Islamist authors regard Voltaire, who was quite scathing in his writings on Christianity in particular but also wrote (comparitively few) nasty things about Islam as being especially an enemy of Islam. I suppose claiming pride of place as the target of the enemies of religion must salve some wound, but it always rings incredibly false to me.

Sorry this has been so rambling, but I've probably spent too much time with Qutb's eighth chapter. On to chapter 9...

Posted by Ideofact at June 8, 2004 11:50 PM


Your comment that the Qur'aan and Sunnah "offer no guidance" as to how to proceed with regard to politics and economics is simply completely, utterly and bone jarringly false.

There are certainly things that are specified by God and things which are left open to human choice.

This is the essential point of this whole argument. By separating 'religion' from all other spheres of life you are making a distinction that will fall down in many places.

Just as Qutb's distinction between the hard sciences and the social sciences or arts or philosophy, etc may also fall down as well.

I prefer, to both Qutb's and your way of phrasing this issue of what has been ordained by God and what has not, to simply state that a Muslim should be careful about any endeavor that he engages in, that it is consistent with the supreme belief in God and in the revelation that comes from God.

Revelation is a higher source of knowledge than either physical observation or the vaunted scientific methodic and certainly higher than the intellectual musings of philosophers or logicians, of whatever religion those people may be.


Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at June 9, 2004 11:13 AM

Sorry -- I shouldn't have included economics there, but I think the reference to politics holds up pretty well.

I actually regard the latter as a strength, not a weakness, by the way.

Posted by: Bill at June 9, 2004 12:48 PM