June 22, 2004

2 Qutb 10b

In my last post on the tenth chapter of Milestones by Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Islamist polemicist who's been described as "the brain of Osama," I left off with a passage from Qutb asserting that Islam historically did not mix itself with jahiliyyah (traditionally the period of paganism and ignorance prior to the preaching of the Prophet, transmogrified in Qutb's reading to everything that does not conform to his novel and radical redefinition of Islam). Qutb goes on to confirm this in his next two paragraphs:

Jahiliyyah is the worship of some people by others; that is to say, some people become dominant and make laws for others, regardless of whether these laws are against God's injunctions and without caring for the use or misuse of their authority.

Islam, on the other hand, is people's worshipping God alone, and deriving concepts and beliefs, laws and regulations and values from the authority of God, and freeing themselves from servitude to God's servants. This is the very nature of Islam and the nature of its role on the earth. This point should be emphasized to anyone whomsoever we invite to Islam, whether they be Muslims or non-Muslims. [emphasis added]

I find it interesting that Muslims must be called to Islam -- presumably, if they are Muslims, by definition they have already submitted; Qutb seems to rather explicitly conflate his own political preferences with Islam.

Next, Qutb contrasts Islam with desire:

Islam cannot accept any mixing with Jahiliyyah, either in its concept or in the modes of living which are derived from this concept. Either Islam will remain, or Jahiliyyah: Islam cannot accept or agree to a situation which is half-Islam and half-Jahiliyyah. In this respect Islam's stand is very clear. It says that the truth is one and cannot be divided; if it is not the truth, then it must be falsehood. The mixing and co-existence of the truth and falsehood is impossible. Command belongs to God, or otherwise to Jahiliyyah; God's Shari'ah will prevail, or else people's desires. 

Desire is a theme which recurs throughout the tenth chapter, and Qutb's assumption throughout is that human desire is in conflict with Islam:

Islam did not come to support people's desires, which are expressed in their concepts, institutions, modes of living, and habits and traditions, whether they were prevalent at the advent of Islam or are prevalent now, both in the East and in the West. Islam does not sanction the rule of selfish desires. It has come to abolish all such concepts, laws, customs and traditions, and to replace them with a new concept of human life, to create a new world on the foundation of submission to the Creator.

This is rather interesting -- to what desires, selfish or otherwise, is Qutb referring? The ascetism that replaced martyrdom as the highest sort of piety to which a Christian could aspire after Constantine's declaration of the Christian Empire is largely foreign to Islam (indeed, in Social Justice in Islam, Qutb, either out of ignorance or for polemical purposes, argues that true Christianity demands such withdrawal from the world, and, if I'm remembering this corectly, that secular government and churchgoing citizens is a betrayal of the religion's tenets. By way of contrast, he notes that Islam is a religion of the world, to which ascetism is an alien concept.) So it is unlikely that Qutb is suggesting an Islamic monasticism or mortification of the flesh.

My suspicion is that Qutb is referring to the "selfish desires" to which he refers is the desire to live under a decent government rather than Qutb's vision of a pure Islamic theocracy, ruling with an iron fist.

Posted by Ideofact at June 22, 2004 11:31 PM


Making da'wah (or calling or inviting) Muslims to Islaam is a concept common among almost all Muslims. It does not imply being a part of any particular political viewpoint necessarily.

The group Jamaat ut Tabligh which originated on the Indian subcontinent and is entirely apolitical focuses 99% of its attention on making da'wah to Muslims.

This phenomenon is also present among Jews and all variety of Christians.

Someone may be a Muslim simply because they grew up in a Muslim family or a Muslim country and they may know little about or practice little their faith. Thus they would have to be invited to Islaam.

And all of us have things we don't know or things we don't practice and therefore we are all in need of being invited to complete submission. This is a lifelong process.

Again, the above concepts are common to Muslims across the spectrum of beliefs with regard to politics.

While Qutb may have been especially blunt about this idea in other contexts, in this context I don't think he was saying anything unusual at all.

And Allaah knows best.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at June 24, 2004 03:11 PM