January 04, 2005

4 Qutb 1:1

It's interesting to see, when reading Sayyid Qutb, whom he chooses to rely on for his information. In fact, one of the more interesting things about The Islamic Concept and its Characteristics is the extent to which Qutb quotes Westerners in his arguments. In his first chapter, Qutb describes that "trackless wilderness without a guide, devoid of guidance and light, and devoid of rest and certainty" in which "man was groping helplessly and hopelessly to understand his God and God's attributes, man's relationship with the universe, the ultimate purpose of the universe, the ultimate purpose of his existence, the way to attain his purpose, and in particular, the connection between God man" -- that is, the world before (and, oddly enough, after) Islamic Revelation.

The translation of the chapter's title, "The Wilderness and the Intellectual Rubbish," is not quite satisfying, since there's very little of the intellect involved. Qutb quotes Biblical passages and Qur'anic verses on the story of the golden calf, on the general perfidy of Jews (on which much more in the next post) before moving on to Christians. Qutb relies on John William Draper, a scientist rather hostile to Christianity, rather dramatically so...

Draper, with no footnotes or references cannot even claim to give an illusion of scholarship. Colin Russell, in a recent summary of the historiography of the alleged warfare sums up the views of modern scholarship, saying “Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. ..."

Draper doesn't take many pains to hide his biases either:

The antagonism we thus witness between Religion and Science is the continuation of a struggle that commenced when Christianity began to attain political power. A divine revelation must necessarily be intolerant of contradiction; it must repudiate all improvement in itself, and view with disdain that arising from the progressive intellectual development of man. But our opinions on every subject are continually liable to modification, from the irresistible advance of human knowledge.

Can we exaggerate the importance of a contention in which every thoughtful person must take part whether he will or not? In a matter so solemn as that of religion, all men, whose temporal interests are not involved in existing institutions, earnestly desire to find the truth. They seek information as to the subjects in dispute, and as to the conduct of the disputants.

The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.

No one has hitherto treated the subject from this point of view. Yet from this point it presents itself to us as a living issue -- in fact, as the most important of all living issues.


In speaking of Christianity, reference is generally made to the Roman Church, partly because its adherents compose the majority of Christendom, partly because its demands are the most pretentious, and partly because it has commonly sought to enforce those demands by the civil power. None of the Protestant Churches has ever occupied a position so imperious -- none has ever had such wide-spread political influence. For the most part they have been averse to constraint, and except in very few instances their opposition has not passed beyond the exciting of theological odium.

As to Science, she has never sought to ally herself to civil power. She has never attempted to throw odium or inflict social ruin on any human being. She has never subjected any one to mental torment, physical torture, least of all to death, for the purpose of upholding or promoting her ideas. She presents herself unstained by cruelties and crimes. But in the Vatican -- we have only to recall the Inquisition -- the hands that are now raised in appeals to the Most Merciful are crimsoned. They have been steeped in blood!

Interestingly, Qutb doesn't quote Draper on the struggle between science and religion (although that was a constant theme in his writings on European society -- Qutb obviously absorbed quite a bit of Draper's quackery), but rather quotes three passages describing the early history of Christianity, the first suggesting that the rise to dominance of Christianity in the fourth century A.D. was accomplished by pagans seeking "place, power, profit," and that "crowds of worldly persons who cared nothing about its religious ideas became its warmest supporters." Then we learn that Christianity was never able to destroy paganism, and that paganism overwhelmed Christianity (perhaps Draper is referring to the devotion to classical literature of the likes of St. Jerome and St. Augustine). And finally, that the emporers were not sincere Christians, and Christians didn't seem to much care.

That Qutb would find Draper useful is not surprising. He confirms two prejudices of Qutb's -- that Christianity is a sham and that science is utterly hostile to religion.

Posted by Ideofact at January 4, 2005 11:57 PM

the extent to which Qutb quotes Westerners in his arguments.

I have found this sort of thing quite common among some people. On the one hand, they condemn the West and secularism so much but at the same time they have no problem using an atheist's work against religion as fodder in their anti-Christianity (or other religion) crusade.

Similarly, I have had Muslim commenters on my blog who are completely rigid and literalist regarding Islam but very post-modern about the theory of evolution, for example.

Posted by: Zack at January 7, 2005 01:33 AM