Comments: 2 Qutb 3

It actually would make sense if viewed from a Shi'a perspective. The Imam is understood to be part of a direct hierarchy of authority, tracing back to the Prophet SAW and upwards to God. From a Sunni perspective, there isnt any such lineage, so the Imam-equivalent would have to be chosen by concensus (which is how the first three Caliphs took the leadership after Muhammad SAW). Alternatively, you could argue that any man suffiuciently motivated and pious to achieve and attain the Caliphate was divinely meant to have done so, I believe but may be wrong that this is analogous to the Pope's claim to divine authority in interpreting the religion.

In any sense, I can see that the submitting to the "true Muslim" leadership would be symbolicly submitting to Allah (and the very submission of which Islam itself as a word means). So the argument sounds contradictory but is actually consistent. Keep in mind that "Jahilliya" is the word used to describe the pagans in Arabia prior to Islam, the word means "ignorant" - so Christians and Jews don't qualify as jahil, they have been made aware of God's message. I suspect that Qutb classifies secular states as jahil because they explicitly reject the command of God (in his view).

Posted by Aziz at January 9, 2004 02:02 PM

I should really slow down when I'm writing these things.

I might be misreading it, but Qutb seems to extend Jahilliya to, well, to any society that does not conform to his vision of an Islamic society (i.e. -- all of them). Otherwise, why would he advise the follower of the new leadership to disassociate himself from the jahili society? Qutb isn't addressing Muslims living in the West, but rather (and particularly) Muslims living in the various Arab socialist and monarchical states in the 1950s.

I see your point about Shi'a Islam (Qutb had a fairly ambiguous view of Shi'ism -- a great deal of praise for Ali, little sympathy for the Umayyads who usurped him, but as far as I can tell, not much sympathy for Shi'ite practice or theology), and the Caliphs as well.

I think what I'm trying to get at here will become clear in future posts, but then again, maybe not -- I'll give it a shot...

Posted by Bill at January 9, 2004 05:25 PM

Alternatively, you could argue that any man suffiuciently motivated and pious to achieve and attain the Caliphate was divinely meant to have done so, I believe but may be wrong that this is analogous to the Pope's claim to divine authority in interpreting the religion.

Not exactly, there have certainly been any number of bad popes in history. Catholic belief is basically that while an individual pope may be immoral or evil at times that God will protect the Church from doctrinal error - the belief in the indefectibility of the papacy that stems from (among other things) Jesus's promise to St. Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church in Matthew. The Sunni Islamic requirements for the Imam-equivalent, at least as I understand them, are somewhat different.

Posted by Dan Darling at January 10, 2004 12:48 PM

Hi Bill, Dan, Aziz, Abu, et al:

I am fascinated by the recent dialogue between Bill and Abu Noor al-Irlandee. What struck me is that it is precisely the kind of civil discussion of deep matters that would be rendered illegitimate within Qutbism, except possibly as a tactic to expose an unbeliever to the legal ramifications of Islamic Law (as Qutb sees it). But I don't, for a moment, doubt Qutb's sincerity, or even his good intentions. I don't think he set out to give birth to Totalitarianism 3.x. Far from it.

A couple of quick points though, just to introduce myself. One involves that huge consequences of minor angular deflections, and the other involves the concept of federalism as it applies to monastic life:

1. Marx was not far wrong. At point of origin in the mid-nineteenth century, when Capitalism was virtually synonymous with mercantilism and child labor rampant, his diagnosis of the problem (the "primitive" or false accumulation of capital) did have a certain analytical appeal. But a small angle of error at the source becomes a larger and a larger amplitude of error the farther we move from the origin.

The same could be said of religions, even though the assertion of the believer would be that no error occurred, or was even possible, at the origin. The problem is not with the convictions and understanding of the Companions, or the Apostles, or whoever. The problem is that the interpretation of their testimony or acts is fraught with problems, problems that can really only be overcome with humility regarding the assumptions of "right interpretation" by subsequent leaders in the faith.

Thus, we arrive at a situation where the primary qualification for leaders (a Caliph, for instance) is not his correctness in terms of doctrine, because mistakes are inevitable, but his ability to see through his own vanities and limitations. And, at least according to the Christian view, it is this qualification that outweighs all others in determining leadership. But as a practical matter, we have few resources at our disposal to aid us it making judgments about such qualifications for charismatic leaders.

We have a few, however, but I'll leave that to a later discussion.

2. The severe requirements of submission to God's will often, or usually, create conflict with the requirements of whatever social system the believer happens to be under. In most Christian communities these severe requirements can be met by a retreat to a monastic life. The Shakers represent such a severe, and nonetheless very successful, community within the Christian West (notwithstanding their inability under the strictures to reproduce).

And this represents a kind of federalism of the faith in which individuals can retreat from the larger society to join like-minded people of faith, and by doing so to live a life of submission that conforms as closely as possible to God's will. The ultimate resolution regarding the rectitude of this sacrifice or judgment is deferred to the afterlife, or to a day of judgment. Thus the primary plea to the believer is to make a voluntary submission to God, and the whole "federalist" structure is oriented toward the individual's sovereign choice. A coerced choice has comparatively little value. One might as well be a robot.

But it appears that Islam has no such resolution, at least in the Qutbist version. What the Umma or Allah requires is writ-large submission of the entire human community, no exceptions (although the time frame may allow some latitude). And the imperative allows, or even encourages, coercion (appropriately justified by interpretations of scripture).

What I'd like to know, from anyone with requisite knowledge, is whether there are any provisions within either traditional Islam, or Qutbism, for such a federalist solution to the problem of individual sovereignty? If not, I don't see how Islam can be compatible with liberalism, or for that matter with voluntary, uncoerced submission.

Posted by Scott at January 11, 2004 04:14 PM

Scott, you make interesting points. Too bad you're trying to apply ideas and problems of Christianity to Islam. Try telling this to a Muslim scholar, he will nicely explain to you how those ideas fall flat on their face in Islam, we just don't have the same kinds of problems.


Muslims have a concept of Ijtehad, where we reanalyze and reapply Islamic doctrine in light of modern thought. Muslims examine how to deal with modern times, and have been doing so since the time of the Caliphs. You'll find that muslims aren't as monolithic as you think, there are many different opinions on a topic, and a Muslim is individually free to adhere to any of the rulings, whether conservative or liberal.


If you want to see an interesting application of Islam in government, go check out the Constitution of Iran. Both Islamic and representative democratic.

Posted by Sulayman at January 19, 2004 04:59 AM

I would hardly call the Constitution of Iran, which allows an unelected, unaccountable and corrupt group of Mullahs to thwart the will of the people, to be representative or democratic.

Posted by Bill at January 20, 2004 10:15 PM

While my fundamental disagreements with Shi'ism prevent me from endorsing the Iranian constitution, I do think it is, as Sulayman suggests interesting to consider.

Of course the obvious retort to Bill's question is Does he consider the United States to be representative or democratic?

In the U.S. system, some people's votes count more than others, the people are not trusted to directly elect the President and sometimes a candidate with less votes beats a candidate with more votes and most obviously

Federal Court judges, including supreme court judges which are unelected and specifically asked to be unaccountable, (I won't go into the 'corrupt' question), can and do routinely thwart the will of the people.

IF the people of a country declare the Qur'aan and Sunnah to be the Constitution of the country and declare any law passed contrary to those sources to be unconstitutional exactly why is that not democratic or representative, if the U.S. model of constitutional republicanism is?

Abu Noor al-Irlandee

Sorry for the grammar and formatting of the above, I thought it more important to get the comment out than to take the time to word it correctly.

Posted by Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 21, 2004 06:44 PM