December 09, 2004

4 Qutb I:2

Just to be absolutely clear, my intention in the previous post was not to stir up sectarian arguments, it was to show the extent to which the Qutbian project depends on their being a single interpretation of Islam, to the exclusion of all others. If I were a Shi'ite, or a Sufi, or even a Sunni who didn't agree with the Qutbopian authorities on some point of doctrine or behavior, I don't think I would be in for a particularly pleasant time. Second, it was also to illustrate how Qutb regards (or disregards, as the case may be) history.

Tonight, I will begin a more systematic review Qutb's discussion of methodology in The Islamic Concpet and its Characteristics, dwelling on the particulars as I encounter them while giving some idea of his overall theme. As I noted in the previous post, Qutb's intent in writing the book is to explain to a modern audience the Islamic concept. In his introduction, he first explains the need for such an explanation: the Islamic concept accounts for all that exists; provides the individual with a complete guide for living and the society with a comprehensive framework; this society, in turn, is fated to spread the Islamic concept to the ends of the earth. Mankind requires the definition of the Islamic concept because the Islamic concept must define mankind, more or less. I don't know if a secret decoder ring is included in the bargain, but joining the Qutbian club provides the member with all kinds of benefits:

If a Muslim grasps the Islamic belief-concept and its essential constituents, he is guaranteed a role as a founding member of this dynamic ummah, with its special characteristics and distinguishing features, a member capable of leadership and grace.

Qutb then moves to a discussion of the Prophet's contemporaries and followers, contrasting this first generation of believers with those who followed: "Later generations drifted away from the Qur'an..." The zealousness of the first converts to a dynamic new faith may not be matched by that of their descendants; their descendants, by contrast, have the luxury of exploring the ideas and implications of their faith, grasping in a far more complete way what their forefathers felt in their guts. But for Qutb, the key thing is guts -- including the spilling of them and risk of having your own spilt that occurred during Islam's first and turbulent decades:

Later generations drifted away from the Qur'an, from its particular style, its guidance, and from the milieu of values and practice similar to those found in which the Qur'an was revealed. Only those living in such an atmosphere can truly understand the Qur'an and be inspired by it.

This is simply bizarre -- I suppose what Qutb is arguing is that men in calmer times are less able to appreciate the Qur'an, but how does this gibe with his contention (I'll get to it a bit later) that a pan-global caliphate run on Sharia' is the ultimate goal of Islam? If that's the case, wouldn't it necessarily drift from the Qur'an? And should it completely do away with the jahiliyyah -- that is, the pre-Islamic paganism in Arabia which Qutb unaccountably applies also to non-Arab, non-pagan Westerners like me -- how would it ever revive itself? Because it is impossible to fully appreciate the Qur'an absent the jahiliyyah:

No one can understand the Qur'an as it should be understood unless he lives amidst the toil and struggle accompanying the revival of the real Islamic way of life, with all its burdens, its sacrifices, its sorrows, and all the situations that arise in its confrontation with jahiliyyah at any given time. wait a minute...only Muslims who face the sacrifices and sorrows of confronting the likes of yours truly can truly understand the Qur'an as it should be understood, and the same Qur'an demands that they, if not kill me, at least deprive me of my own government and laws and customs and scantily clad women in Robert Palmer videos so that there is no jahiliyyah so that no one can understand the Qur'an as it should be understood so future generations can drift away from the Qur'an.


Qutb doesn't close that loop; rather, he's only interested in returning to one of his common themes: that his time and place (Nasserist Egypt, the 1950s and 1960s) is no different from the world in which the Prophet found himself in the 7th Century when the first words of the Qur'an were revealed to him. I mentioned previously that I'd offer some biographical details on Qutb, and I'll get to them, but not until the next post (sorry); suffice it to say here that part of the Qutbian project is an attempt to conjure in his followers a zealousness that he hopes will match that of the first followers of the Prophet. In the text, Qutb quotes a series of verses from the Qur'an describing how the first Muslims received the revelation, then he returns to the notion that only those who confront the jahiliyyah truly understand the Qur'an. Then he describes the process by which successive generations "drifted" from the Qur'an, and when it started:

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 disputes between 'Ali and Muawiiyah, had raised various thorny philosophical and religious issues and caused the contending parties to support their position by rational argument.

Since we began with Shi'a, perhaps it's best to end with Shi'a for now. More tomorrow...

Posted by Ideofact at December 9, 2004 12:05 AM

Qutb might be planning on setting up a dynasty that will allow people to drift away, so that it needs to be replaced by another purist a half-millennia later, so that people can re-build the pure society, which can then drift away from the truth, requiring another revolutionary...

Or he might not have his vision beyond his need to reproduce the original purity of Islam, without any thoughts about eventual drifting from that original purity.

Posted by: steve h at December 9, 2004 04:57 PM