June 14, 2004

2 Qutb 9

In the ninth chapter of Sayyid Qutb's work Milestones, the Egyptian Islamist sometimes referred to as the "brain of Osama" offers a series of propositions, supported with quotations from the Qur'an and one Hadith, in support of his central dichotomy. For Qutb, there is Islam -- which, he avers in Social Justice in Islam exists nowhere in the world -- and the Jahilayyah. The latter term traditionally referred to the state of the pre-Islamic Arabic tribes, which practiced polytheism; one of Qutb's innovations was to apply the term to the West and to those Muslim countries that failed to live up to his notion of a theocratic society (that is, all of them). Qutb states this in his conclusion:

The callers to Islam should not have any superficial doubts in their hearts concerning the nature of Jahiliyyah and the nature of Islam, and the characteristics of Dar-ul-Harb and of Dar-ul-Islam, for through these doubts many are led to confusion. Indeed, there is no Islam in a land where Islam is not dominant and where its Shari'ah is not established; and that place is not Dar-ul-Islam where Islam's way of life and its laws are not practiced. There is nothing beyond faith except unbelief, nothing beyond Islam except Jihiliyyah, nothing beyond the truth except falsehood.

In the first part of the chapter, Qutb begins by stating that a Muslim's nationality is Islam -- not Egyptian, or a subject of the Ottoman Empire or the Mamluk Sultans, for that matter. And Islam, for Qutb, is one thing and one thing only...

In the world there is only one party of God; all others are parties of Satan and rebellion.


There is only one way to reach God; all other ways do not lead to Him.

Of course, within Islam there are any number of parties of God -- there are variations among Sunnis, Shi'ites and Sufis, to begin with, and myriad sub-sects and schools of interpretation. If there is only one way to reach God, which way is it?

Qutb next turns to the question of children and parents, arguing that a believer owes his allegiance to Islam first. If your mother had her heart set upon your becoming a dentist, and you want to heed the call of Jihad...

Qutb makes this far more explicit further down, suggesting that if your country is ruled by someone who believes in equality for all minorities, for religious freedom, for freedom of the press and women's rights, it's perfectly okay to treat him as your enemy, even if he's a Muslim and even if your parents are grateful to live under his rule:

Any country which fights the Muslim because of his belief and prevents him from practicing his religion, and in which the Shari'ah is suspended, is Dar-ul-Harb, even though his family or his relatives or his people live in it, or his capital is invested and his trade or commerce is in that country; and any country where the Islamic faith is dominant and its Shari'ah is operative is Dar-ul-Islam, even though the Muslim's family or relatives or his people do not live there, and he does not have any commercial relations with it.

There's a shot at the Jews, then the conclusion. I imagine this was written primarily with an eye to persuading young would-be Jihadis to join the cause.

Posted by Ideofact at June 14, 2004 11:18 PM


Which "jihadi" cause exactly do you propose that Qutb was recruiting for?

Sayyid Qutb commanded no army nor no military organization.

He was part of an organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, which certainly desired to see 'regime change' in Egypt, but it was a military dictatorship after all, one which imprisoned, tortured and executed people for their political and religious beliefs.

If you read Zainab al-Ghazali's Return of the Pharoah you will see clearly that the program of the Ikhwan at that time involved training and developing mass support for the ideas of the Ikhwan about the way society should be run, with Milestones being one prominent short study text for those circles and propagation, until a large percentage of the population desired to see those ideas implemented and then to bring about that change.

As always I apologize if I am misreading you, but I fear that the use of the term 'jihadi' is some attempt to link Sayyid Qutb to the actions people attribute to 'jihadis' today which include the killing of innocents, Muslim and non-Muslim.

This of course has nothing to do with jihad or with Sayyid Qutb.

If you are arguing that Sayyid Qutb was part of some violent activity against civilians, I'd be glad to see some evidence. If not, perhaps you could make it clear what you mean when you say he was recruting jihadis to the cause.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at June 15, 2004 02:22 PM


The fact that there are different schools of thought or methodologies within Islam does not mean that there is not 'one way to reach God.'

If the differences are minor, such as those between a Hanafi and Shafi'i for example, then they are all part of the same way.

If the differences are major such as those between orthodox Sunni belief and extremist Shi'i beliefs, then I think those on both side of the debate would have to agree that one view is correct and one view is incorrect. It is silly to argue that the Shi'i imams were infallible and at the same time they were not.

The same basic argument also holds true with regards to Christians and Jews, for example. Jesus was either divine or he wasn't. Jesus and Muhammad were either prophets or they were not. This does not mean of course that one cannot deal with people of differing beliefs with the respect due to any human being, but to say that they are both correct is nonsensical. And while the idea that believing in something, even if it is not true, may be a 'way to God' may sound appetizing to the modern multicultural mind (including my own), upon deep reflection it is a disturbing one for people who take their faith seriously and literally as Qutb surely did, and as many many Muslims do today.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at June 15, 2004 02:32 PM

Regarding your second comment, Fitzgerald once wrote something to the effect that the definition of human intelligence is the ability to hold two mutually exclusive ideas about a proposition at the same time and not go mad.

Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood (sorry for jumping around), it was a many sided organization, one component of which was a paramilitary organization. In the Free Officers rebellion or revolution, which brought Nasser to power, the Brotherhood assisted the Nasserites -- a rather classic case of two groups with differing aims using one another during a coup. Nasser's side won out, and, interestingly enough, adopted a lot of the features that the Brotherhood had been advocating -- one party rule, a corporatist state, and so on. For the Brotherhood, of course, it was the wrong party that won, and many of them ended up on the gallows. That's what happens when you aim to be Stalin, but end up as Trotsky.

Qutb was imprisoned (I think initally in 1954 or 1955) in a general crackdown on the Brotherhood following an assassination attempt on Nasser. I can't remember all the ins and outs of it, but my general impression is that the numbers arrested were all out of proportion to the numbers likely involved in the plot.

While in prison, his writings become more and more radical -- he left little doubt as to the necessity of employing violence in the struggle:

It will not be achieved by teaching and preaching, for those who inflict the yoke on the necks of the people and who usurp the authority of God on earth will not conced their position through such explanation and sermonising.

I'm not sure of the extent to which Qutb was involved in the Muslim Brotherhood while he was in prison, but he was its chief ideologist and remained so until his execution.

Hey may not have personally set the timers on any bombs or ordered executions, but it's a little dishonest to suggest that he was a disinterested intellectual commenting on society, He was writing to sustain a movement that sought to violently overthrow the violent government that ruled it (and some not particularly violent governments in countries that had no history of Islam, but that's another story).

Ideas have consequences. Absent Marx's notion of the smashing of the bourgeois order, perhaps the terror famine in Ukraine might have been avoided. Qutb doesn't have anything near the number of deaths to his credit that Marx has, but then Qutb doesn't strike me as being nearly as effective a polemicist as Marx (perhaps that's merely because of cultural differences or because I'm reading Qutb in translation).

Finally, please define extremist Shi'ism relative to moderate Shi'ism, which, presumably, isn't different enough from orthodox Sunnism to be "wrong"...

Posted by: Bill at June 15, 2004 11:57 PM