November 30, 2004

4 Qutb note

I don't think any film could have done the novel justice, but there was one scene in The Name of the Rose that was more effective, I think, than the pages in the book. Brother William, the intellectually adventurous Franciscan, informally debates the venerable (and terribly orthodox) Jorge of Borges, the blind librarian, over the question of whether Christ ever laughed, and, by extension, whether it is sinful for men to laugh. (The Bible is silent on whether Christ laughed; this spawned a rigorous debate that Umberto Eco drew on in his novel.) The scene is effective, I think, because we are confronted with an absurdity of the past that is argued with conviction and, although we side with Brother William, we cannot help noticing that he eventually chooses not to press his points -- no matter what the merits of his arguments, Jorge, appealing to authority, will have the last word.

I mention all this by way of introduction to Sayyid Qutb's work, The Islamic Concept and its Characteristics, which appears to be out of print. I have read the book, and I will start blogging my impressions, chapter by chapter, starting next week, and following along at irregular intervals. But for now, I thought I'd share a bit of Qutb, from his Introduction, in which he explains how the Ummah, as it were, lost its way:

The early days of struggle for the propagation of the Faith and of jihad had given way to a period of ease and comfort. At the same time, certain political occurrences, harking back to the disputes between 'Ali and Muawiyah, had raised various thorny philosophical and religious issues and caused the contending parties to support their position by rational argument. People residing in the Islamic territories studied Greek philosophy and involved themselves in the theological issues that had plagued Christianity earlier, and which were now accessible to Muslims through translations into the Arabic language. Such involvement in metaphysical speculation, which no doubt gave intellectual pleasure to those who engaged in it during the Abbasid period and likewise in Andalusia, introduced deviations and foreign elements into the original Islamic concept, which had come to originally resuce mankind from such deviations and speculations. This all-encompassing concept was revealed to restore mankind to the dynamic and practical Islamic belief system that directs all human energies toward building and construction, sublimity and purity, and living and sharing, while protecting this human energy and intellectual power from being dissipated through meaningless pursuits in the wilderness of philosophical speculation.

Yes, yes, don't laugh, Brother William, because we are on earth not to laugh but to weep over our sins, and don't think, Ibn Rushd, because we are on earth solely to memorize and recite the Qur'an.

Posted by Ideofact at November 30, 2004 11:54 PM

This is a great idea; it will be a wonderful resource. Looking forward to reading your impressions.

Posted by: John-Paul Pagano at December 1, 2004 01:52 PM