December 08, 2004

4 Qutb I:1

The first section of Sayyid Qutb's work The Islamic Concept and Its Characteristics is an introduction, translated as "A word about the methodology," which is somewhat appropriate since I'm going to write a bit about both his methodology and mine. Since it's my blog, I get to go first.

As I go through Qutb's work, I'm going to be looking at two issues: one, the wide gap between Qutb's thought and Islamic precepts and practices; and two, the extent to which Qutb's "Islamic" concept is totalitarian in nature. As I come across them, I will point out passages that imply the need and even the morality of using violence in the Qutbian project. I should add that this may not be the only Qutb series going on at ideofact -- I might also continue the definitional series (Qutb, Sayyid 1) was the first) with a link-rich, biographical essay. (On the other hand, I might just fold some of that into this series.)

But on to Qutb's introduction, in which he modestly explains that the purpose of his slim volume is to offer to a modern audience an explanation of the Islamic concept which a Muslim needs "because it provides him with a comprehensive explanation of all that exists, on the basis of which he relates to the world." The Qutbian concept (I hesitate to call it Islamic, for reasons I will make clear in a moment; Qutbesque is a more interesting looking word; perhaps I'll switch to that) is also important because it defines a Muslim's way of life and the way of life of every aspect of the Ummah, or community of believers. Qutb then goes on to explain the method of arriving at this Islamic concept, which more or less involves thinking Islamically, that is, not using foreign philosophical concepts, not relying solely on cold reason, and dismissing entirely troublesome nuisances like, oh, say the Shi'ites.

In the past, I've noted that a consequence of Qutb's Islamist political philosophy would be a state demanding of its citizens belief in a single, uniform version of Islam, one that would be defined, presumably, by Qutb or whoever happened to be leading his vanguard -- a single interpretation which never existed historically. Historically, because of the Sunni-Shi'ite split, splits among Shi'ites and Sunnis, the emergence of Sufis, and so on, to be a member of the Muslim ummah required a kind of liberal tolerance, especially in cosmopolitan centers, which, if not codified in law, was carried out in practice. But Qutb will have none of that, and even proposes to undo history:

[A]fter the murder of 'Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), the Islamic world faced many practical problems. People began to interpret the verses of the Qur'an to suit their own purposes, giving them far-fetched meanings. Moreover, arguments were put forward for and against various sectarian views, each seeking support for its opinions from philosophy and scholastic theology. Most such arguments were biased. Consequently, such sources, biased as they are, cannot be relied upon to present the pure Islamic thought. Its characteristics and constituents must be derived from the fixed text of the Qur'an and must be free of such pollutants as the legacy fo history. Indeed, it is better to set aside this entire legacy. [emphasis added.]

'Uthman was the third of the rightly guided Caliphs; his successor was Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the nephew of the Prophet whom Shi'ites regard as the rightful heir of the Prophet. Presumably it is under Ali's rule that "people began to interpret verses of the Qur'an to suit their own purposes." We can be certain, however, that Islam "must be free of such pollutants as the legacy of history." Apparently for Qutb, there are three rightly guided Caliphs rather than four.

This is not an insignificant passage. For Shi'ites, the history of 'Ali is an ineffable component of their faith (I am perhaps not stating this well; it's getting late and I'm tired, so forgive me if I don't get this quite right). The catastrophe began when Abu Bakr became the first Caliph, chosen over 'Ali -- for a Shi'ite, in other words, it's not possible to find congruence with Sunni beliefs by limiting oneself to the first three Caliphs. (Some Shi'ites -- by no means a majority, I think -- believe that the Qur'an itself was altered in order to remove references to 'Ali being the successor to the Prophet, which I think is indicative of the depth of the split.) So Qutb's wording here is rather telling -- for him the Shi'ites simply don't exist except as people who interpret verses of the Qur'an to suit their own purposes, who are polluted by the legacy of history. If I am not mistaken, Qutb is suggesting that 'Ali and the Shi'ites be airbrushed out of the Islam, what else can "it is better to set aside this entire legacy" possibly mean?

Posted by Ideofact at December 8, 2004 12:14 AM
Comments

Bill,

You are mistaken.

You have misinterpreted Qutb's statement. That is unfortunate, but obviously will happen from time to time in dealing with human communication.

What is less understandable is the magical fantasy world of supposition and imagination that you then create based on your misunderstanding.

I don't know if perhaps you are more familiar with Shi'i sources than Sunni ones are if you are just not as familiar with Islamic thought as I had assumed.

No Sunni Muslim, including Sayyid Qutb, removes 'Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him) from the ranks of the rightly guided successors of the Prophet (saw).

When Sayyid Qutb (may Allaah have mercy on him) says that various sectarian and biased views sprung forward after the assasination of 'Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) it is a great leap to say that this is blaming or accusing 'Ali (ra) himself. In fact it is not. It is well known to anyone who has studied the history of Islamic thought that it was during this period that groups such as the Shi'a and the Khawarij emerged which had particular biases and views contrary to the vast majority of Muslims and who consequently (again, according to the vast majority of Muslims) distorted and or fabricated arguments to justify their views.

No Sunni blames 'Ali for the Shi'a. 'Ali pledged his allegiance to each of the first three successors of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) and always spoke highly of each. Their families were intermarried with each other.

In short, the fact that these phenomenon occurred during the time of Ali (ra) is well known. We (as Sunnis) do not blame 'Ali for this however.

One time a man came to 'Ali (ra) and raised this criticism, asking How come during the time of Abu Bakr and 'Umar we were united and we were opening up lands to Islam and during your time we have all these conflicts and controversies? 'Ali (ra) told the man, Because when Abu Bakr and 'Umar we're ruling they were ruling over people like me, and I am ruling over people like you"

For Shi'a who believe as you have suggested, that someone like Abu Bakr (ra) unjustly took the reins of leadership over 'Ali (ra) it is true that there will be no congruence with the thought of any Sunni Muslim. For a Shi'a (or anyone else) who believes that the Qur'an has been changed, there is no congruence between that and Islamic belief. By consensus of the Sunni scholars, Abu Bakr and 'Umar were the best human beings ever after the Prophets. There is no congruence between that belief and belief that these people somehow conspired to steal authority from the one the Prophet (saw), whom they had dedicated all their lives and wealth to, had told them to give it.

So you are right, for a Shi'a who believes as you have suggested they are far away from what the vast majority of all Muslims have always believed and their beliefs are unacceptable to a Sunni Muslim. This has nothing to do with Sayyid Qutb, nor with 'Ali ibn Abu Talib (ra).

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at December 8, 2004 10:05 AM

Abu Noor,

Re-read your comment. It's running in a circle.

It doesn't matter that Sunnis don't blame 'Ali for Shi'a (awfully gracious of them) -- that's not the point. The point is implied in your last two paragraphs, more or less. The Shi'a are just as sincere in their belief that they are the followers of true Islam as the Sunni. In the Qutbian project, which demands a single interpretation of Islam, which seeks to erase history. The Islamic concept "must be free of such pollutants as the legacy of history" -- what is Shi'ism without history; for that matter, what are Sunni beliefes without history?

Please advise.

Posted by: Bill at December 8, 2004 10:33 AM

Abu Noor, Im not prone to sectarian discussions online, but consider that this story:

One time a man came to 'Ali (ra) and raised this criticism, asking How come during the time of Abu Bakr and 'Umar we were united and we were opening up lands to Islam and during your time we have all these conflicts and controversies? 'Ali (ra) told the man, Because when Abu Bakr and 'Umar we're ruling they were ruling over people like me, and I am ruling over people like you"

is definitely not immune to this point of Qutb's:

People began to interpret the verses of the Qur'an to suit their own purposes, giving them far-fetched meanings. Moreover, arguments were put forward for and against various sectarian views, each seeking support for its opinions from philosophy and scholastic theology. Most such arguments were biased. Consequently, such sources, biased as they are, cannot be relied upon

To say that I disagree with the contention that Ali AS ever said any such thing would be an understatement.

I'm recusing myself from the debate here - its not my intention to drag Bill into sectarian disputes. I will see if I get a chance to comment at CoB later..

no offense was intended, or taken.

Posted by: Aziz at December 8, 2004 12:02 PM

Just reading Qutb leaves me with a large question:

Where do we stop "de-polluting" our legacy of history?

How do we use "most such arguments were biased" to bring about the implication "all such arguments are unreliable" ?

There are several leaps of logic there that I can't follow (even if I desired to have the correct form of Islam).

Posted by: steve h at December 8, 2004 01:48 PM

Often people forget the deep influence of Marxism-Leninism on modern-day jihadism.

In many senses, Qutb has a relativistic interpretation of History, some sort of crude Hegellianism close to the one permeating Stalin's late theoretical works (think about his view on national identity and its dialectical relationship with class-consciousness...)

The legacy of History as a polluant of "the fixed text of the Qur'an" is a sentence that would have made uncle Josef proud... and Roger Garaudy as well!

Posted by: Juan A. Hervada at December 8, 2004 06:56 PM