December 30, 2004

Gauntlet

For those who care about such tedium, I've been having a lengthy exchange with a frequent commenter here on ideofact, Abu Noor al-Irlandee, who is a defender of Sayyid Qutb. In our exchange, I pointed out that it seems that he finds nothing to fault in Qutb, to which he replied,

You are correct that it may seem as if I am defending Qutb on every point you make but really it's just because I don't think you've made any valid criticisms, at least none that I've understood correctly.

Now, I've written dozens of posts on Sayyid Qutb's various works, so it would certainly be unfair of me to assume he (or anyone else, for that matter) had bothered to read them all. But this one, based on my reading of the eighth chapter of Milestones, contained a rather indefensible bit of anti-Semitism:

The statement that "Culture is the human heritage" and that it has no country, nationality or religion is correct only in relation to science and technology-as long as we do not jump the boundary of these sciences and delve into metaphysical interpretations, and start explaining the purpose of man and his historical role in philosophical terms, even explaining away art and literature and human intuition philosophically. Beyond this limited meaning, this statement about culture is one of the tricks played by world Jewry, whose purpose is to eliminate all limitations, especially the limitations imposed by faith and religion, so that the Jews may penetrate into body politic of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs. At the top of the list of these activities is usury, the aim of which is that all the wealth of mankind end up in the hands of Jewish financial institutions which run on interest.

Just curious to know whether someone who reads about, say, Narts or Nabateans, is actually fuelling world Jewry's attempt to capture all the wealth of mankind.

Posted by Ideofact at December 30, 2004 11:58 PM
Comments

now, my bias about Qutb is rather obvious given tha to him I am an apostate and his writinsg serve as the basis for perseution of Shi'a worldwide.

However, I've read all your entries on Qutb (I do mean *all* :) and I must disagree with Abu Noor in that I think you've done a case-by-case job of correctling pointing out inconsistencies of his thoughts and the broader implications of his statements. I've read many of Abu Noor's responses and in most I think that he seized upon mostly tangential issues rather than face the primary concern head on. However, I may have completely mischaracterized Abu Noor's posts simply because I dont remember them as I do your Qutb posts (though even the latter are all starting to merge in my brain as one large undifferentiated mass).

I think though that Abu Noor has a point, which is that your criticisms are not cohesive. The case by case approach is one I find valuable (you should release an Annotated version some day of Qutbs writings :) But in some ways the broader context gets obscured.

That broader context, simply put, is that Qutb's interpretation of Islam is itself an attempt to use religion for pol;itical power, and the abuse of Islam itself that he employs to make his case is the orimary flaw. This comes across in yoru critiques but is not explicit in general (though you do make the point here and there in passing).

My only point i that any discussion of Qutb must be groudned in a shared perspective on what Qutb was trying to achieve, As long as you Bill are interpreting Qutb in the context of the actions that others have done using him as their justification, whereas Abu Noor reads Qutb as a philosopher writing about theoretical issues, then there really cant be any debate or even valid disagreement - its apples and oranges.

Either Qutbs works must be taken out of the context of the modern terror era and analyzed on the basis of their Islamic validity in a vacuum (as Abu Noor would prefer) or they must be embedded firmly within the context of p[olitical control - a road map for revolution designed explicitly to be put into action (as you have been doing), for meaningful debate to occur. In the meantime however, you are talking past each other.

However, this is Bills blog, Abu Noor. Bill has the right to interpret Qutb in the context of our American recent history and the war on terror. If you want to explore Qutb from the islamic-precept angle, then why not begin your own series and blog about it? (blogger.com - three minutes to get up and running). It would be intriguing and fascinating to see how you take the same passages that Bill has analyzed thus far, and see you analyze them independent of Bill's work. I am genuinely interested in your analysis of Qutb for my own reasons - including whether Qutbs own words can be used against the interpretation of modern Wahabist extremists. I think that were you to begin a blog and address the very same Qutb writings that Bill has done, but from your perspective, it would be a massively useful undertaking.

And would be worthy of nomination to the Brass Crescent Awards, too, naturally :) (see, I had to work in that plug somewhere...)

Posted by: Aziz at December 31, 2004 11:37 AM

Aziz,

Yeah, all the Qutb posts are clotting together in my head at this point. The problem with blogging a book page by page or section by section is that you get bogged down in specifics and lose the big picture. And while it's usually clear in my mind why I'm writing what I'm writing, I'm not surprised at all that others occasionally lose the thread.

So, before I head out for a low key New Year's Eve celebration, it's probably worth it to see if I can get some of that down in pixels....

Posted by: Bill at December 31, 2004 09:14 PM

...or not. Maybe later tonight.

Posted by: Bill at January 1, 2005 09:23 PM

First, let me say that I do think Qutb is wrong in the way he is talking about 'world jewry' here. I don't even really understand what he is saying, although I guess it has something to do with the idea that Jewish persons have been at the forefront of the drive to secularize Western civilization. While there are prominent examples, I have no idea if such an idea has any validity to it in general. It should be said, however, that Qutb was not overly kind to Christians as a generality, either, and that although it is not mentioned specifically I don't think there can be any doubt that Israel was a large part of the motivation for such a statement. This is not a justification, in fact, I think the inability of Qutb to spell out exactly what he is talking about here and resort to broad sterotypical generalizations is wrong, mistaken and blameworthy.

The concept that the value system of the makers of culture is important and that 'culture' is one of the major methods through which humans transmit culture is indeed correct, and I agree with Qutb to the extent that he is saying that one should not think that they can adopt the culture of someone else without adopting or at least being influenced by the value systems of that person. In fact, I think Qutb may not have gone far enough in examining this concept with his suggestion that the 'hard' sciences are not carriers of culture. Even the most scientific of pursuits undoubtedly can be heavily influenced by culture and values; to suggest otherwise puts too much faith in the scientist's claim of objectivity.

I always find it strange that you protest this concept quite often Bill, since I don't really think you disagree with it either. I think you are in favor of cultural exchange because you want people of different religions or ethnicities to grapple with and be influenced by the values of other peoples. And I see the attractiveness of such an idea -- and I also see the danger of it.

Qutb is by no means the only Muslim to criticize the Muslim philosophers. In fact, they are largely viewed with suspicion by Orthodox Islamic thinkers and the fact is, that their philosophy resulted in them making many statements which are simply contradictory to Orthodox Islamic belief. You may not see that as a big deal, in fact you may even see that as a positive, but that's where I suggest that you have to put yourself in the perspective of one who actually believes in revelation, etc. to see why that is troubling to an Orthodox Muslim. Troubling not, as people often like to put it, in terms of threatening our weak faith in Islam, but threatening to those who are led astray by it.


Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 2, 2005 07:34 AM

Aziz,

Interesting and thoughtful post.

I'll have more later, but first your statement that Bill is viewing Qutb through the lens of actions taken by others "using him as a justification"....

This is one major specific, that we can't lose track of...maybe you can provide what I have not seen in Bill's or any of the other voluminous writings blaming Qutb for modern day terrorism.

Is there a single perpetrator of this terrorism or violence who has claimed that Sayyid Qutb caused him to act or, as you put it, "used him as a justification."

So, that's my gauntlet. I cannot accept a discussion based on the framework that starts by assuming Qutb is responsible for all of modern terrorism when I do not see a single example where a terrorist used Qutb as a justification and nor do I find, in Qutb's works, any justification for, or call to adopt, terrorism.

So, I'm kinda stuck there.

Salaam,

Abu Noor

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 2, 2005 07:41 AM

Abu Noor,

Too much to go into here, but I'll try. First, Israel had nothing to do with Qutb's comment -- he's quite clear elsewhere in his writings condemning Zionists. I think he wrote Milestones some time after 1960, so it's not as if 1948 was an immediate stimulus.

I think Qutb is quite clear in what he's saying here. I don't think there's any ambiguity in the passage whatsoever. Again, either Qutb's words mean what they say or they don't, and in this case it's the old Nazi anti-Semitic rhetoric surfacing. Doesn't this perhaps make you regard the rest of his work somewhat suspiciously? Particularly his critiques of Western culture?

For the record, Jewish literature was one (among many) of the great specimens to be studied by Renaissance humanists (Reuchlin, Pico della Mirandola and the boys), along with classical and more than a few faux ancient Egyptian texts. I'm not sure where you get the idea that Jews have been prominent in the secularizition of culture -- the word "secular" has a fairly specific Christian origin, and it would be very odd indeed if Jews were behind it. Also, just curious -- what prominent Jews who pushed the world toward secularism were you thinking of? Charles Darwin maybe? Desiderius Erasmus? Tom Paine? Jefferson?

Now, before we get to culture (by the way, I do agree entirely that culture is one of the main methods by which we transmit culture), when have I ever protested the concept you refer to in your previous paragraph? What I have argued, never quite so explicitly, is that religious faith is strong enough to survive without being put in an intellectual greenhouse, shielded from any contradictory idea. As for science, I have never denied that scientists have bias -- my only concern is that scientific research should have its own first amendment, as it were -- that without free inquiry, science won't get anywhere. (See this post for an explanation why:

Absent Darwinian theory, would there be as much paleontology, paleozoology, paleobotany? Would genetic research have advanced as far as it has (potentially providing all sorts of life-extending therapies) absent the stimulus of Darwin's theory?

As to your final point in your comment to me regarding Averroes and the other Islamic philosophers, hey -- if you want to concede them to West, we'd be happy to claim them as our own. On a more serious note, so what if they've been criticized by others besides Qutb? To paraphrase you, like all prophets, Averroes was persecuted in his own lifetime by the powers that be for his beliefs -- that, and a couple of bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Regarding one thing you raise with Aziz -- as much as I hate to do anything remotely like reporting here, I have sent out a few requests for additional information regarding the Sept. 11 hijackers, including any writings they left behind in either English or German. I'm not especially optimistic that I'll receive anything, but I'll let you know if I do. But I should probably point out that I first came across the name of Sayyid Qutb in 1999, when he was described to me as the theorist par excellence of Islamic terrorism; in 1991, Nazih Ayubi listed al-Mawdudi and Qutb as being the primary influences on the more violent Islamist groups.

As I said, if my inquiries turn anything of interest up, I'll let you know, but it still strikes me as rather telling that Osama bin Laden's tutor was Sayyid Qutb's brother. That's a pretty close connection. Unless you can persuade me that Muhammad Qutb held views that radically deviated from those of his brother (Ayubi considers Muhammad Qutb to be more or less a disciple of Sayyid), I think it's fair to assume some sort of connection.

Posted by: Bill at January 3, 2005 12:27 AM

Bill,

I told you Qutb's comments were wrong. I also happen to think you misunderstood them and read more into them than what he was saying but nonetheless his comments were wrong. I am not now going to defend comments I disagree with. I also do agree that Qutb's comments in details regarding European/American Christian or Jewish culture reflect someone who had a limited experience with those cultures and their traditions, as well as someone who viewed that experience through the lens of colonialism. So, it produced a distorted and sometimes inaccurate perception on his part of what "the West" was all about.

Although I think to argue that secularism (as a concept) has nothing to do with Jews is bizarre, I would agree that the role of Jews in pushing Christians to become secularized is complex, too much so for a discussion in a comments section. When I wrote of 'prominent examples' who I had in mind were Karl Marx as well as Trotsky and much of the Bolshevik leadership at the time of the Russian Revolution. Now if you don't think Marxism or the Russian Revolution were influential in promoting secularism in European culture than you really do need to educate me.

As to the philosophers, its not a matter of anyone claiming anyone. If Islam means anything, however, than something can be said or thought by a Muslim that is not from Islam. Just because a Muslim does something does or thinks something, it cannot mean that therefore that becomes part of Islam.

Aziz made a specific point about people using Qutb as 'justification' -- it is a point without any basis that has been presented to me. To say that people were influenced by, or that someone was a tutor of someone and that this somehow makes that person's ideas responsible for that person is a tricky type of argument. My teacher in law school was Viet Dinh, sometimes credited as the author of the Patriot Act...is he to blame for all my actions? We are all influenced by a great deal of people and ideas and even things which are very influential upon us, we do not necessarily adopt completely.

I don't doubt Muhammad Qutb had some influence on bin Ladin, but if it was really the reason why he did something or thought something, wouldn't you expect to find one example of him saying, "As Muhammad Qutb taught me..." or "As Sayyid Qutb writes in 'Milestones'..." It is not as if bin Laden is not a reflective person, indeed he has written and spoken several long justifications for the actions he has embarked upon. In fact, I think that the actions that you think of when you think of bin Laden and are the reason you are talking about Qutb in the first place are actions that cannot be justified by Qutb, and to the extent bin Laden has engaged in them or justified them he is breaking with the teachings of Qutb and this is why he never quotes from him in justifying them.

Call me crazy but that seems like a better argument than, well everybody says that Qutb is to blame even though I cannot show from them or otherwise a single piece of evidence to back up that conclusion.


Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 3, 2005 11:17 AM

Abu Noor,

I don't say it very enough, but I'll say it now -- thank you for answering. Frustrating as this dialogue can be for both of us, perhaps sometimes it can be valuable.

To respond to your latest -- I don't think I've ever said that bin Laden used Qutb to "justify" his actions -- why would bin Laden cite Qutb, when he can abuse the Qur'an for the same purpose? In college I knew plenty of people who had absorbed all their Marx or Hegel from other writers, but nevertheless cited Marx as if they'd read his every word. Why would we expect bin Laden to cite a lesser authority?

What I have suggested is that the bin Laden's actions follow logically from Qutb's ideas -- from the creation of a "vanguard" of believers who will restore Islam (al Qaeda) to the requirement that they take over a state (Sudan, Afghanistan) of their own, and so on -- al Qaeda has followed a Qutbian script (a good deal of which is laid down in Milestones).

Of late, Al Qaeda appears to have concentrated on killing Muslims (whether in Iraq or Saudi Arabia). I'm sure you'd agree that Islam provides a very exacting moral code, and under it, Muslims killing other Muslims is a fairly serious offense. Yet Qutb declares that Muslims who do not believe or behave precisely the way Qutb thinks they should believe or behave are in a state of ignorance -- and that those who support Muslim leaders of a secular or socialist or military junta cast have taken gods (small g) besides God and are, in essence, polytheists. I know it's more complicated than this, but I think it captures the essence: the Qur'an allows far more latitude in the use of force against polytheists than it does against Muslims. Spare the sword and spoil the polytheist, as it were. Qutb has provided a loophole and justification for al Qaeda to kill other Muslims -- it's jihad, after all.

Christians and Jews, as people of the book, are to be protected, offered treaties, and, provided treaties are honored, not attacked -- until Qutb redefined Christians and Jews as being something other than people of the book. He depicts Christians as materialists or atheists or as non-human animals (in the case of Americans like me). Jews are even worse -- devils who are bent on destroying Islam. Again, the implication is that it's perfectly all right (indeed, one's duty to protect the faith) to kill them.

Now, one doesn't have to explicitly say "Kill the Jews" in order to advance the idea that Jews are the enemy, or that Jews bear an outsized portion of blame for the state of the world. Take the examples you chose, Marx and Trotsky, as your secularizing Jews. Both were actually atheists, and pretty vocal atheists at that, but that's besides the point. What I find interesting is the way in which you present a falsehood that led to first tens of thousands and then millions of deaths -- with apparently little sense of what you are doing or suggesting. First, let me quote from Robert Wistrich's book Hitler and the Holocaust --

...the immediate consequences of [the Bolshevik] revolution were disastrous for Jews: the worst pogroms hitherto recorded in Jewish history, with more than one hundred thousand fatalities among the Russian and Ukrainian Jewish population between 1918 and 1921. Most of the atrocities were committed by the anti-Bolshevik White reactionaries and by the Ukrainian nationalist army, for whom Jews had become synonymous with the Communist Revolution. Thought this amalgam was plainly a myth, there were a disproportionate number of leading Bolsheviks of Jewish origin in key positions durint the early days of the revolution. None of these "non-Jewish" Jews identified in any way with Judaism, Jewish nationalism, or Russian Jewry. Similarly, most Russian and Ukrainian Jews did not sympathize at all with Communism, but the anti-Semitic savagery of the anti-Bolshevik pogromists eventually drove them into alliance with the Reds. The impact of the Bolshevik specter on Germany was to prove particularly fateful. After 1919 the newly created Nazi Party, along with other right-wing forces in Germany (and far beyond its borders), assiduously propagated the myth of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to destroy Germany and Western Christian civilization. This ideological fantasy was to become a central driving force of the Holocaust.

Then let me ask, what does it mean when you write of "the role of Jews in pushing Christians to become secularized?" Are Marx and Trotsky, both of whom rejected Judaism, acting as Jews in pushing their misguided theories? Does Marx's work, which drew mostly from Hegel and Darwin and Marx's own readings of British economic statistics and gentile historians and economists, specifically Jewish in character? Should Jews be blamed for the acts of a lapsed Jew?

Look, I'm not trying to beat you down, or score cheap rhetorical points. You and I would both insist that Osama bin Laden's crimes are his crimes alone, and Muslims in general bear no responsibility, nor can his actions be justified by Islam. In the same way, I think you would agree that connecting "Marx" or "Trotsky" to Jews -- whether you mean all Jews or just 'non-Jewish Jews' -- is just as wrong.

Posted by: Bill at January 3, 2005 11:54 PM

Bill,

Let me make this clear before attempting any point by point explanation.

It is not my fault, nor was it my invention that the term 'Jewish' has both a religious and a ethnic connotation. Most Jewish people use the term that way, and as far as I know, when the state of Israel created a state for "Jews" it explicitly included in that persons of Jewish ethnicity who did not practice or even believe in the religion.

It is strange to me how you think Qutb can only have evil designs (i.e. to set up a justification for murder) in his contention that certain beliefs or actions are not consistent with Islam and could therefore make a person no longer a Muslim but you see the absolute necessity when it comes to the Jewish religion of saying that people who do not accept its tenets should not be ascribed to it simply because of their ethnic background.

I am not trying to libel Jewish people in any way. Actually, and this is something I can't really justify but its certainly true, I feel a great deal of affection and affinity especially for strictly observant Jewish people and have since I was a non observant non believing Catholic.

The fact that ethnic Jews were heavily involved in Communism and at the high echelons of the Bolshevik party and that Marx came from a family of rabbis are facts. This does not, to me, indicate any kind of Jewish conspiracy so I apologize if that was the implication. It's just interesting to note since Jews were in general not the dominant force in Russia and would soon become an oppressed ethnic minority again in Russia.

As for less extreme forms of secularism, then it is obvious that many Jewish people are involved due to their own secularism (i.e. non practice or belief in religion) and/or because of their experiences/status as a minority religious group.

The key relation of Qutb to all this is that, in Qutb's view, and he tries to show, in the view of the Qur'aan, there is really no difference beween someone like Marx who declares there to be no God and someone like Saddam Hussein or Abdul-Nasser who says there is a God and says they believe in the Qur'an but they do not apply the Qur'an in their own lives nor in the life of their societies and instead look for guidance on how to rule from other peoples, whether they be socialist atheists or social democrats or Frenchmen or American churchgoing flag wavers.


Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 4, 2005 11:01 AM

Bill,

Let me also say that one of the great pitfalls alongside the possible benefits of these discussions is that the back and forth nature along with time pressures and the lack of personal contact can result in a certain defensiveness that makes it more difficult to learn and think based on the discussion rather than just become more entrenched in one's own position.

I think that you've raised some serious allegations in several of your posts about the positions I am putting forth which almost necessarily generate a certain defensiveness in me. Couple that with the fact that you represent the view that holds power in the society we live in and it can result in me taking on a kind of siege mentality which is unhealthy to productive discussion.

I have always recognized that tendency and I have fought it within my own responses but I'm sure that the issue is nonetheless apparent to others. I think that I or thoughts typical of those I might share are basically being labelled as communist, fascist, theocratic, genocidal, power seeking and selfish, not to mention simplistic and lacking in any humanistic values all at the same time. If someone said that to or about anyone (and I understand you may think I have levelled serious allegations against you as well) then the tendency to get defensive and combative would probably emerge. Even if they weren't a lawyer like myself.

All of this is in the way of saying that I appreciate the way in which you tried to proceed the implication of your last post with some kindness. I took it as intending to say: "Look, I know you don't know you're being an anti-Semitic genocidal Nazi conspiracy theorist, but you are."

Let me just say Bill (or anyone else reading at this point....Aziz? Anyone....Anyone...Buehler?)
that I actually don't disagreee with anything in your last post (although I do disagree with your contention that my previous posts contradict it and do see some contradiction to other attitudes of yours which I spelled out in my just prior post.)

Phew! Done.

Peace.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 4, 2005 12:02 PM

Bill,

As to your more substantive point...I think we really have hit on to something here.

Qutb does question whether certain actions or attitudes are consistent with Islam as expressed in the Qur'an and Sunnah (way of the Prophet (saw)).

You and some other observers, based either on their own understanding of religous history or on the actions of certain groups in the Muslim world whom they attribute to Qutb, assume that the natural and obvious implication of the idea that someone is not really a Muslim or is part of the Jahilliya (Ignorance) is that one should or can kill those people.

I do not think Qutb understood it that way, I do not understand Qutb that way, the vast majority of people who read and admire Qutb do not understand him that way. These are the main points I think can be gained from this discussion. In fact, many other Islamic thinkers and I would assume many other religious teachers adopt a similar style of address which has a different motivation.

It is meant to ask the reader to look into his own soul, his own attitudes, his own actions and ask "Am I really a Muslim? Have I submitted completely to God? Am I determined to follow the way of the Prophet (saw) over any other way?" If not, then I have to work on improving myself.

Wouldn't a Christian teacher ask his followers/students/flock to look at their own lives and their own hearts in the light of the Bible, in the light of Jesus's life and teachings and ask Are we really Christians. Catholic history and theology scholar Dominic Crossan published a recent book on how Paul used Jesus's teachings to oppose the Roman Empire and called people to choose Jesus over Rome. He then said in response to a question by an interviewer that if Paul or Jesus viewed our one society they would undoubtedly say that we are much more Roman than Christian? Do I couple that with the Crusades or the Conquest of the Americas and then say "I suspect Dominic Crossan is trying to prepare the people for Christians to go out and massacre Americans because they are not true Christians." No, everyone understands that Mr. Crossan or any Christian teacher is saying such a thing out of a desire to see change and improvement in our own selves and our society. I don't think Qutb condemned the state of other Muslims in order so that someone could come along and kill them. I think he did so so that they could change their ways and come back to Islam, which he viewed as a liberating and merciful force in the face of tyranny and oppression. I agree with him.

Is it possible that some people then misunderstood or deliberately misused his teachings to not question themselves and their own society but to simply lash out at other Muslims or at other societies? Yes, this is the ever present challenge of religious faith. The line between trying to be righteous and becoming self-righteous. But one should not blame the sincere religious teacher for the misdeeds of those who follow him. It is especially unconscionable when these "followers" are people who never met or studied directly with him, never quote him, and engage explicitly in actions which contradict what he taught.

I actually write that with the hope that you might agree with some of it Bill. Please don't disappoint me. :)

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 4, 2005 12:17 PM

Abu Noor, your observation that Qutb is drawing no distinction between an atheist and a secularist is a keen insight, but also remember that lmped in with the atheist and the secularist are the orthodox muslims who adhere to madhabs which Qutb does not look favorably upon - namely, the Shi'a. Since I am Shi'a I suppose Qutb's writins engender within me the same defensiveness that you apoke of. For me though it is a matter of life and death - imagine what it is like to have to practice dissumulation within the heart of Islamic lands for a mslim who believes in the Deen such as myself. It is heart breaking.

I think the primary problem here, as I mentioned in my coment, is that your analyses are not best categorized alongside Bill's writings. You really are approaching Qutb from different perspectives.

I highly encourage you to start a blog as I suggested earlier as I know I would be a devoted reader, regardless f my issue-specific agreement or disagreement. I want to know more about how you view Qutbs writings, but in comments to bills blog your views will simply not be able to stand on their own.

Posted by: Aziz at January 4, 2005 01:18 PM

As salaamu 'alaykum Aziz,

I don't disagree with you, and I know I should start my own blog but since I wouldn't want to start a blog that I didn't add to -- I need to make sure I'm ready for the time commitment and that I can justify that time commitment in my own realm of priorities. Having said that, you're right that it doesn't make sense spending the same time trying to fit my views into responses to others' writing and facing the risk of having them be off topic or not helpful. Just so you and Bill know, I do really intend my comments to be helpful to Bill's questions and investigations.

Obviously my own blog may provide a better realm for me to engage with you regarding some of the issues you raise. I don't think Qutb was very focused on the Shi'a issue, although I understand why you are focused on the ways in which his thoughts may be relevant to Shi'ism or Shi'ites.

In general, as I am sure you know, out of the pool of people who take Islamic Theology and Law seriously, Islamists in general are less critical of Shi'a than other thinkers such as the "Salafi" or Ashari/Maturdi Madhab "Traditional Islam" people.

I do think there is a deep problem for people who take the beliefs of Islam seriously in the areas where at least some Shi'a (I do not claim to have studied Shi'ism) differ with Sunni beliefs. They are significant issues which indicate a completely different view of the deen which cannot be simply papered over by ignoring them or saying "We are all Muslims."

It is a big hurt to my heart whenever I think about this division and if wishing it would make it go away or not be important believe me I would do nothing else. At the same time that is not the case but inshAllah we can pick up that discussion when I open my blog. I have to come up with a cool name though, first.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 4, 2005 02:21 PM

how about "al-Irlandee" ? :)

Posted by: Aziz at January 4, 2005 03:40 PM

There's a lot here, and I'm not sure I know how to respond to everything, or even what everything means. Like this paragraph:

It is strange to me how you think Qutb can only have evil designs (i.e. to set up a justification for murder) in his contention that certain beliefs or actions are not consistent with Islam and could therefore make a person no longer a Muslim but you see the absolute necessity when it comes to the Jewish religion of saying that people who do not accept its tenets should not be ascribed to it simply because of their ethnic background.

I'm just not sure what you mean. I think there is a difference between, say, a man who says, "I am an atheist," and another man who says, "You are an atheist, and he is an atheist, and those hundreds of millions whom I do not know are atheists."

I certainly understand why you write the following,

...in Qutb's view, and he tries to show, in the view of the Qur'aan, there is really no difference beween someone like Marx who declares there to be no God and someone like Saddam Hussein or Abdul-Nasser who says there is a God and says they believe in the Qur'an but they do not apply the Qur'an in their own lives nor in the life of their societies and instead look for guidance on how to rule from other peoples, whether they be socialist atheists or social democrats or Frenchmen or American churchgoing flag wavers.

...but that's largely what I've disputed when it comes to Qutb -- not so much what he believes the Qur'an demands of society, but rather, what it precludes. The Qur'an has very little in the way of political content -- very little to say about the structure of government. Qutb's enthusiasm for dictatorship and despots isn't demanded by the Qur'an.

To this paragraph...

have always recognized that tendency and I have fought it within my own responses but I'm sure that the issue is nonetheless apparent to others. I think that I or thoughts typical of those I might share are basically being labelled as communist, fascist, theocratic, genocidal, power seeking and selfish, not to mention simplistic and lacking in any humanistic values all at the same time. If someone said that to or about anyone (and I understand you may think I have levelled serious allegations against you as well) then the tendency to get defensive and combative would probably emerge. Even if they weren't a lawyer like myself.

...I can only reply that one of the things I wanted to look at in Qutb was whether he drew ideas from Western thinkers, political movements and so on, and if so, what those ideas were. If I found Qutb writing that, say, all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, well, I'd be sure to credit it. You might disagree with me and argue that there is no resemblance between this idea from Qutb and that from Lenin or whomever, and that's fine, but I don't think I'm saying that you are a communist or a fascist or are guilty of genocidal tendencies.

As to this...

All of this is in the way of saying that I appreciate the way in which you tried to proceed the implication of your last post with some kindness. I took it as intending to say: "Look, I know you don't know you're being an anti-Semitic genocidal Nazi conspiracy theorist, but you are."

...well, it is what it is. You chose the example, I merely pointed out that it had some historic significance.

In a further comment, you write,

You and some other observers, based either on their own understanding of religous history or on the actions of certain groups in the Muslim world whom they attribute to Qutb, assume that the natural and obvious implication of the idea that someone is not really a Muslim or is part of the Jahilliya (Ignorance) is that one should or can kill those people.

I don't assume anything of the sort. Qutb notes that the Prophet was commanded to fight polytheists until they accepted Islam and Christians and Jews who refused to pay jizyah. He then applies the lesson to the present day:

No political system or material power should put hindrances in the way of preaching Islam. It should leave every individual free to accept or reject it, and if someone wants to accept it, it should not prevent him or fight against him. If someone does this, then it is the duty of Islam to fight him until either he is killed or until he declares his submission.

This seems to endorse killing poeple, including those who run political systems of which Qutb isn't fond. (it's from Ch. 4 of Milestones).

As for the self-awareness stuff, Qutb is quite explicit that this is NOT the way he understood Jihad -- Jihad was war against everyone, including Eskimoes and Estonians, until their governments had been smashed and a shari'ah state was imposed upon them.

Posted by: Bill at January 4, 2005 10:04 PM

Bill,

I'll just deal with the really central issue.

Your contention that the Qur'an has little to say about government is wrong.

It may not lay out the specific detailed mechanics of government but then neither does Qutb.

It is your assumption (based on what I am truly not sure) that Qutb is fond of 'dictatorships'. As far as I know he spent (and sacrificed) his life fighting a dictatorship and spoke out against others.

Whether the sunnah specifies certain aspects of government is much more debatable but what is not debatable if one takes either the Qur'an or the Sunnah seriously (and I take both seriously) is that one must establish a system of government which applies the Sharee'ah as the law of the land. And this is just a term that is used to say that the Qur'an and the Sunnah specify that the Qur'an and the Sunnah must be the basis of government if one wishes to call themselves a believer.

Of course, because we humans have faults and weaknesses the practice of this has always been problematic but the theoretical concept has never been contested by Islamic scholars until very recently. In fact, even now, I don't really believe it is contested by true scholars of Islam but maybe by some Muslims who are academics.

And this is the bones of the argument. I've already mentioned that in the details of Qutb's assessment of the "West" he may be wrong or even at times look silly in the way he uses certain sources. He looks, as far as I can tell, much like the thousands of people writing and talking abous Islam in the American public sphere who don't even know Arabic. Their access to actual Muslim thinkers and writers is limited and so they tend to seize on what they happened to be exposed to and think it represents everything out there. This is the problem with the free lance lay scholar and I think we can stipulate to the fact that Qutb was not a scholar of European history or culture such that I would really seek his opinion.

Qutb was a scholar of Arabic literature and he was someone who spent a lifetime trying to understand the Qur'an. He wrote a record of his interaction with the Qur'an that has become the most widely read and studied modern commentary of the Qur'an in the Muslim world. Neither his understanding of the basic Qur'anic message nor his application of it to current conditions is really seriously contested among practicing Muslims. Much of what groups which are considered to be offshoots of groups which studied his book have done has been controversial, but as I've said many times before the link of their actions to Qutb is tendentious in my view.

The basic message of the Qur'an for Qutb is:

God created us with a purpose and that purpose is to worship God.

Worshipping God does not just involve prayer, fasting or other rituals but involves implementing every aspect of God's guidance for our lives as societies and individuals.

Therefore, any Muslim society must be governed according to the law of God.

All people should become Muslim. Islam is the truth and is a benefical and liberating force.

Any rule other than that of Islam is oppression and tyranny.

Muslims should strive to end oppression and tyranny wherever they occur. The methodology in doing this involves various methods, including both completely nonviolent (not even responding in self defense) up to and including engaging in 'offensive' wars to remove governments which do not allow for the propagation of Islam.

None of these ideas are controversial in classical Islamic scholarship.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 5, 2005 02:03 PM

Salaam
Aziz, if you look at the works and sayings of individuals such as Ayatollah Khomenei and others like him it is littered with praise for individuals like Syed Qutb and his intellectual contemporary Maulana Mawdudi. Iran even has a special stamp commemorating Syed Qutb's sacrifice against tyranny. I will expand on this later.
Peace

Posted by: Akbar at January 16, 2005 11:03 PM

I've read a fair amount of Khomeini, and my recollection is that while he praised Qutb's political ideas (totalitarians tend to travel in packs), he wasn't overly fond of Qutb's religious interpretations, or at least thought that Qutb as a primarily political interpreter of the Qur'an didn't capture its religious flavor.

Posted by: Bill at January 17, 2005 12:18 AM