February 15, 2005

M. Qutb

The grippe's grip is weakening, but I'm not up to much tonight. Between Sunday and Monday, in a 40 hour stretch, I think I slept for 35, but never for more than two in a row. Nasty.

Today I was marginally better, well enough to read a bit. I was flipping through a book by Sayyid Qutb's brother Muhammad, who for a time was bin Laden's tutor. Charming sentiments from brother Muhammad, including this one, stuck in the midst of a discussion of whether Islam countenances electric toasters, jet planes or other forms of modern technology:

A gun, for example, is an invention which has no religion, colour or homeland but you will not be Muslim if you use it in committing aggression against others. Islam requires that a gun shall only be used in repulsing aggression or in spreading the Word of God throughout the world.

A gun is an awfully odd implement to use in spreading the Word of God throughout the world, especially if "committing aggression against others" is one of the things makes you not a Muslim. Perhaps "threatening aggression with a deadly weapon in order to spread the word of God" isn't considered such a serious offense -- provided you have a permit, a registered gun, and it's the proper season for spreading the word of God to the Infidels. Regrettably, the discussion of the permissible manners and times for using the gun as a tool of Godwordspreading is derisively brief here.

Now, back to bed for me...

Posted by Ideofact at February 15, 2005 10:42 PM


So do you feel the same way about the U.S. saying it brought freedom and democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan through the use of the gun (and tank and massive bombing)?

The idea in Islam is clear: jihad is for self-defense (repelling invasions and occupations) and jihad is for removing oppressive governments that prevent Islam from spreading or in other ways oppress their subject peoples?

It's not really that hard to understand in theory.

Of course, as with any major principle, there is much to discuss and differ with in regard to practical application.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at February 16, 2005 10:24 AM

First, I wasn't aware that democracy was a religion or that Islam was a system of government. In other words, as categories, the two aren't comparable.

Second, I think a number of Islamic scholars from varying traditions might not share your interpretation of what Jihad is (particularly the second part) which seems to me to be a phrase I have encountered often enough in Sayyid Qutb, but never directly in the Qur'an, of which, admittedly, I have a far more limited grasp than you.

For what it's worth, I recently came across a Tariq Ramadan essay in which he argues that the Qur'an insists on exactly the opposite interpretation -- that many different governments and cultures are necessary to prevent corruption, stagnation and the sort of monmaniacal dystopia that Qutb envisions. I don't think that quite lines up with Muhammad Qutb's views, or Sayyid's, for that matter.

As you often say, God knows best, but I'm betting he's not with the grim brothers Qutb on this one...

Posted by: Bill at February 16, 2005 10:51 AM

Aboo, I suppose people were marched to the voting booths with M-16's shoved into the small of their back, while hearing jets whine overhead, and smug Marines saying, "If enough of you don't vote, we'll flatten the village."

At least, that's the image that comes to mind when I hear of "democracy brought into Iraq by the gun", compared to Qutb-ian sayings about "Spreading the word of God throughout the world."

I don't have any argument with your interpretation of Jihad or the Qur'an, Aboo.

However, interpretations like Mohammed Qutb's appear to have been dominant in history. Especially in the mind of his (in)famous student, Bin Laden.

Posted by: steve h at February 16, 2005 08:02 PM

steve h,

You're simply showing your bias here.

The U.S. used far more violence in Iraq in the past 15 years than Sayyid Qutb or any of his followers ever dreamed about using.

If in fact the U.S. spread democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, to argue that they did by any means other than violence is ridiculous (okay, they did use a lot of bribery, too).

Now, this doesn't mean that the people of Afghanistan and Iraq don't want the right to choose their own leaders, of course they do.

The argument of the Islamist is that they also want to be ruled by Islam and where that is not being allowed, sometimes force may be needed to remove those oppressive forces.

I believe that the Iraqi election results support the notion that the Iraqi people want Islamic government just as much as they support the idea that the Iraqi people want democracy.

And Allaah (swt) knows best.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at February 22, 2005 03:59 PM


Your contention about Islam and Democracy being different categories really is the whole point.

Obviously this issue can and has been and will continue to be discussed for hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Of course it depends on what one thinks Islam is and what one thinks democracy is, but the short answer is: In terms of what the average American thinks democracy is and what the average Muslim thinks Islam is, there is overlap of category such that there are contradictions and tensions between the two -- meaning areas where they are part of the same category.

And, of course, for Sayyid Qutb and other Islamist thinkers they are in many ways completely contradictory, both are deens, ways of life.

Acknowledging that we cannot solve all those issues here, let me ask you this Bill, Do you really think that when Bush talks of the virtues of spreading democracy, he is just talking about a system of voting, or do you think in his mind and the minds of those supporting him and listening to him really think democracy is just a system of government or do you think democracy to them implies a lot of other things like secularism, like friendliness towards the U.S., Like friendliness towards Israel, like western attitudes about the role of women and modernity which make it a lot more complicated than the statement Islam is a religion Democracy is a system of govenrnment would imply?

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at February 22, 2005 04:19 PM

I don't think democracy implies secularism, but rather religion does. As I've explained to you before, secularism makes no sense unless we are constrasting it to the sacred. I won't speak for any politician, but I will speak for myself -- I suspect that democracies whose citizens are primarily Muslim will not be identical to Western democracies. I can't imagine that the first issue the Iraqi government will take up will be gay marriage, in other words, and I won't be particularly disappointed in that either.

As to women, well, I think that's up to Iraqi women and men to work out for themselves (God knows we Americans haven't figured it out yet either). Are you prepared to let that happen, or do you think that some 800 year old interpretations of some hadith and Qur'anic verses are sufficient to understand all there is to understand about the mysteries of the relations between sexes?

As for friendliness to the U.S., well, it's not like Germany or Japan or even France have been overwhelmingly friendly over the years -- why do you suspect that our policy would demand Iraq to be friendly?

Regarding Israel -- well, one last thing here. Tell me, long term, to what end hostility toward Israel is directed? What is the end goal of all this Jew hatred? Are you aiming at a state for Palestinians alongside Israel, or the destruction of Israel? Do you hope to perpetrate another diaspora? Another Holocaust? What would satisfy you? What fantasy Jewish apocalypse warms your cockles?

Just curious...

Posted by: Bill at February 23, 2005 12:30 AM


Islam does not imply secularism. In fact, Islam completely forbids secularism. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) ruled by religious law. His Rightly Guided Successors ruled by religious law.

You or someone else can come along and pretend to understand Islam or "religion" better than the Messenger of God and his companions but you will be wrong.

I don't know about which 'mysteries' of the relations of the sexes you are speaking. Certainly there are many things which humans will always question, learn, explore, write poetry about, etc. about ourselves and others. But the revelation of the Qur'an and Sunnah does provide the answers of how men and women should relate to each other in society.

I would suspect your policy would demand Iraq to be friendly because that is the whole reason the U.S. spent so much "in lives and treasure" (as they say) in this war. The U.S. government does not act in the interests of others or for noble ideals -- a quick glance around the world and post World War II U.S. foreign policy will tell you that. It acts in the interests of its own power. Now, I'm not saying that a friendly government in Iraq will necessarily result, for God is in control of this world, not the U.S. govt, but for sure that was the purpose of the U.S. and they will do everything possible to make sure they have a friendly government in Iraq.

As to Israel, what is the question? Am I a Zionist or am I a Nazi? Guess what, I am neither.

I have never really understood the self-righteousness of Americans who I don't remember offering the Zionists land in the U.S. for their state, never tiring of informing the Muslims how wicked and evil and prejudiced they are for refusing to give up our land so that they can have one on ours.

As someone born in America, I would be more than happy if Israel were to be established right here in Illinois. In fact, if one part of the U.S. were a Jewish state, I would rather live there than in the secular part. I swear by Allah that this is true.

In the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians it is the Israeli government that has said allowing refugees to return to their homes is off the table, and it is the Americans who support them in that. How dare you make it seem like it is the Muslims who want diaspora or holocaust?

As to fantasy Jewish apocalypses -- I would consult Bush's friends on the Christian right for details of those -- their preparation is the whole reason they support Israel in the first place.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at February 23, 2005 10:10 AM

Abu Noor,

First of all, as you know, when I say that secularism can only be understood in terms of religion, I think you know what I'm saying. Take Iraq -- would you prefer a Shi'ite theocracy, in which Sunnis were suppressed, in which schools taught about the hidden imam and metempsychosis, and called this Islam? Or would you prefer a school system that taught math and reading and writing and science and history, and left religion to religious authorities?

I would never dream of suggesting I know Islam better than a believer, let alone better than the Prophet.

Regarding the mysteries of the sexes and the Qur'an -- are you married? Do you ever find that a lot of things come up that aren't really covered by holy texts? Just asking.

As to Iraq, well, Saddam certainly wasn't to your taste, but you were willing to have him massacre his own people rather than have the U.S., which takes extraordinary measures to avoid casualties, topple him. Is being unfriendly to the U.S. an Islamic duty, even if U.S. intervention creates the preconditions for a government of, by and for the Iraqi people might come much closer to a Shari'ah based state than anything Saddam would put up with?

As to your diatribe against U.S. foreign policy, please name for me all the states in history that did not make acting in their own interests one of the main pillars of their relationships with the rest of the world. The U.S. has been far more altruistic than most countries.

You suggest that I am self righteous about Israel, which is an odd thing to accuse me of. Also, I wasn't aware that Israel was your land, or that you were from Palestine.

I also notice you don't answer the question I asked, which was quite simple. What is your preferred scenario for Middle East peace? Would it include a state of Israel or not?

If not, would you agree that most Jews would most likely prefer not to live under an Arab government? Wouldn't a diaspora (at the very least) be likely?

Finally, does anything I've written on ideofact suggest that I'm a fundamentalist or millenarian or other exotic type of Christian? Isn't that last question a complete non sequitur?

Posted by: Bill at February 23, 2005 05:34 PM