Skip to comments.“Islamic Revivalist” (A "Follow-up" To NYT Article "The Philosopher of Islamic Terror")
Posted on 03/26/2003 7:52:51 AM PST by Pyro7480
In the mid-20th century, Islamic fundamentalism emerged as a major movement in the Middle East. It had its ideological roots in the works of nineteenth century Islamic modernist thinkers such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammed Abduh, and Rashid Rida, who laid the philosophical framework for modern Islamic fundamentalist movements. These thinkers agreed that Islam was in decline, and called for change to reinvigorate their religion, and cope with the influence of the European powers that had begun to colonize traditionally Muslim lands during the first half of the century. These men attempted to strengthen the Muslim world by either reinterpreting Islam as a worldview or presenting it as a force for resistance against the West. They challenged the traditional belief that Islam is a belief system that must simply be accepted. As a result, they gave birth to two different ideological camps, one fundamentalist, and the other more secular.
The first major fundamentalist movement in the Middle East was the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin), which was first established in Egypt. A man named Hasan al-Banna founded it in 1928, and the Brotherhood aimed to apply the Islamic faith directly to politics and culture of Egypt (Abdo 2000: 6). After leading the Brotherhood for 20 years, al-Banna was assassinated. After this event, the Brotherhood was left in a state of disorder for several years. But one man soon became the chief leader and theoretician for the Brotherhood. This man was Sayyid Qutb.
Sayyid Qutb is known as the Trotsky of the modern Islamic [fundamentalist] movement. Qutb was an advocate for the radical transformation of Muslim society. The primary means of achieving this goal was through missionary activity and militant jihad, or holy struggle (Abdo 2000: 12). He is also known for being the most important and influential of the Islamic critics of the West (DSouza 2002: 21). He promoted the purging of Western influence in Islamic society, because he thought that the West [had] been reduced to
jahiliyya the condition of social chaos, moral diversity, sexual promiscuity, polytheism, unbelief, and idolatry (DSouza 2002: 21-2).
This essay will detail Sayyid Qutbs life and examine his influence in 3 key areas. The first section of the essay will be devoted to a short biography of Qutb. The following 3 sections will be devoted to his influence in religious thought, political thought, and in Islamic Fundamentalism and its many movements.
Sayyid Qutb was born in 1906 in Musha, a village in the district of Asyut in Egypt. From a very early age, Qutbs childhood was characterized by his curiosity about knowledge and love of reading (Moussalli 1992: 21). He went to the local school in his village where the Quran was taught, and at the age of ten, he had the Quran memorized (Haddad 1983:68). He did this because his mother, who was a devout Muslim, wanted to send him to al-Azhar University in Cairo, which was well known as important center for Islamic learning. In 1919, when Qutb was thirteen, his family moved to a town called Halwan, a suburb of Cairo, where he entered a school called Tajhiziyyat Dar al-Ulum. Ten years later, he joined Dar al-Ulums Teachers College. There, he earned a B.A. in Arts of Education. After graduating, he became an instructor at Dar al-Ulum (Moussalli 1992: 21).
Qutb first became well known with the publication of many articles on literary, social, and political subjects. His main literary works were published during the 1930s and 1940s. These writings consisted of poems, love stories, literary criticisms and commentaries, and other works of a nonreligious nature. At this time in his life, Qutb was a student of a famous Egyptian thinker named Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad, who became a strong influence on Qutb. Al-Aqqad and his followers were staunch advocates of Westernization (Moussalli 1992:21-23). Under the influence of al-Aqqad, Qutb wrote about the dispute between the traditionalist camp and the modernists in modern Arab language and literature. His conclusion was that the traditionalists had failed to adapt to the modern age, because of their rigid view of language and literary expression. (Abu-Rabi 1996: 96).
Qutb spoke more like an Egyptian than he does an Arab or a Muslim (Abu-Rabi 1996: 96). He argued that the Arabic language should not only adapt to the changes of the modern age, but also to the uniqueness and social needs of the Egyptian nation. Although he doesnt address the issue of Westernization of Egyptian culture in this stage of his life, he advocated a modernist attitude in the language, mental outlook, and in the cultural orientation of Egypt. (Abu-Rabi 1996: 96-97). He viewed language as a function that must continually evolve. He criticized the backwardness of traditionalist writers, and looked to the possibilities of the present and the future in Arabic literature (Abu-Rabi 1996: 97).
In the 1940s, Qutb began his long career as a political activist. He criticized the Egyptian government, who was his employer, in numerous publications. This put him at odds with the government. He tried to resign from the Ministry of Education, in which he held the position of Inspector, but was sent instead to the Egyptian countryside to conduct research on the teaching of Arabic in public schools (Moussalli 1992: 23). In 1947, Qutb became the editor-in-chief of two journals: The Arab World (Al-Alam al-Arabi) and New Thought (Al-Fikr al-Jadid). These two positions were temporary however, for he did not last long in the former, and King Faruq closed down the latter(Moussalli 1992: 24).
In 1948, Qutb left Egypt to go to the United States. His assignment was to study modern systems of education and training (Moussalli 1992: 24). He studied at 3 different schools in the United States, including Stanford University. He received a Masters degree in Education from the University of Northern Colorado. While in the United States, a book by Qutb titled Social Justice in Islam (Al-Adalah al-Ijtimaiyyah fi al-Islam) was published. Qutb showed fundamentalist leanings in the political views that were expressed in this book, including opinions on social justice and government (Moussalli 1992: 25). This work would end up influencing many Arab and Muslim intellectuals in the period after World War II (Abu-Rabi 1996:111).
During his visit to the United States, Qutb visited a number of cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He observed the dynamics of American culture, and was shocked by the materialism, racism, and sexual permissiveness of that period. His experience in the United States would have a profound influence on his life, and would lead him to his ultimate rejection of Western culture (Moussalli 1992: 25). He also became bitter of the wide and unquestioning support of the American press for Israel and with what he felt to be the denigration of Arabs (Haddad 1983: 69). He wrote of his experience in America in his book America That I Saw (Amrika allati Raaytu), in which he laid out his criticism of America.
Qutb returned to Egypt in 1950 after brief stops in England, Switzerland, and Italy. His stay in America had made him more sympathetic to a twenty-year-old fundamentalist movement in Egypt called the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin). Two incidents, the happy and joyous American reception of the assassination of Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna in 1949, and a meeting with a British agent, who identified the Brotherhood as the only major movement that stood in the path of Western civilization in the Middle East, increased Qutbs interest in the Brotherhood (Moussalli 1992: 30).
Qutb began writing for the Brotherhoods journal, The Call (Al-Dawa) in 1951. He also resigned from his new post as Advisor to the Egyptian Ministry of Education in this year. Two years later in 1953, Qutb officially joined the Muslim Brotherhood. He soon became an advisor to the Revolutionary Council of the Brotherhood, and was also a member of the Working Committee and the Guidance Council. He became head of the propaganda section of the Brotherhood, and edited the weekly journal The Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) the Egyptian government banned it in 1954 (Moussalli 1999: 132-3).
In this year, the Egyptian government under Nasir arrested Qutb twice, first in January 1954 on the charges of conspiracy against the government. He was arrested again in October 1954 after a member of the Brotherhood tried to assassinate the leader at a public rally in Alexandria. The government executed the attempted assassin and five other Brothers, and arrested 4,000 Brotherhood activists, including Qutb (Hiro 1989: 66-7). In July 1955, Qutb was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. During his imprisonment, Qutb and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were tortured mercilessly. The poor health in which he suffered from an early age was made worse during his time in prison, and his mental health also declined during this time (Moussalli 1992:34-5).
During his time in prison, Qutb was allowed to write, and devoted much of his time to his interpretation of the Quran and to other writings, including This Religion (Hadha al-Din) and The Future Belongs to This Religion (Al-Mustaqbal li-Hadha al-Din) (Haddad 1983: 77-8). He also read and was influenced by the writings of Muhammad Assad and Abu al-Ala Mawdudi during his incarceration (Haddad 1983: 70). After serving ten years of his sentence, Qutb was released in 1964. His newfound freedom would not last long however, since the physical and mental torture meted out by prison authorities to members of the Muslim Brotherhood left scars on him (Haddad 1983: 78). After his release, Qutb wrote his most controversial book, Signposts on the Road (Maalim fi al-Tariq)(also known as Milestones), and eight months later, he found himself in jail, along with his brother and sister, and over twenty thousand other people. He was charged with destructive and terrorist activities, and encouraging sedition, and was sentenced to death. He was executed on August 29, 1966 (Moussalli 1992: 37-8).
Sayyid Qutb contributed much to the development of Islamic fundamentalism in the 20th century. As a religious and political thinker, Qutb was one of the first modern Islamic fundamentalists to compile a comprehensive fundamentalist ideology. One of the central principles of Qutbs religious thought was the idea of the universal Islamic concept (al-mafhum al-kawni al-Islami). According to Qutb, Islam is a comprehensive way of living that encompasses all aspects of life, including the afterlife (Moussalli 1999: 133). It provides a meaning of life for Muslims. Seven characteristics make up this universal concept, according to Qutb. These characteristics are the oneness of God (tawhid), divinity (uluhiyya), fixity (thabat), comprehensiveness (shumuliyya), equilibrium (tawazun), positiveness (ijabiyya), and realism (waqiyya) (Moussalli 1999: 133-9).
Tawhid is the oneness of God, is a central tenet of the Islamic faith, and the main characteristic of the universal Islamic concept (Moussalli 1999: 133). It is a basic teaching of the three monotheistic faiths Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Islam means submission to this oneness of God. This requires following Allahs method (manhaj) in every aspect of life. One does this by submitting to the laws and order of God (Moussalli 1992: 70-1). For Qutb, the only truly Islamic way of life is organized around the concept of tawhid. His conception of tawhid is based only in the Quran and in the other holy texts of Islamic revelation. This point of view narrows Qutbs perception of human attitudes towards living into only two groups: the Islamic attitude and the chaotic (jahili) non-Islamic attitude (Moussalli 1999: 134).
The second characteristic is divinity (uluhiyyah). Uluhiyyah indicates that the universal Islamic concept is unchangeable and that it is impossible for it to develop. It also indicates that the very source of the Islamic concept is Allah (Haddad 1983: 74). While the concept is divine, its understanding is not and is subject to the conditions of the [human] interpreter and the tools of interpretation (Moussalli 1999: 136). This understanding may evolve as human beings change. But the imperfect nature of humanity causes distortion, addition to, and false interpretations of the concept. The revelation of the Islamic tradition restores the original concept free of these problems (Moussalli 1992: 79-83). The alternative universal concepts originate from the imperfect nature of humanity, which through arrogance, emotions, and other factors, create polytheistic thought and imperfect/corrupted religions (Haddad 1983: 74).
Fixity (Thabat) or constancy is the third characteristic of the universal Islamic concept. Thabat is the characteristic that describes that the concepts basis, the Holy Quran, and its everlasting truths, is constant (Moussalli 1999: 137). Thabat and the remaining characteristics originate from uluhiyyah. The universal Islamic concept, because of its constancy, neither changes nor develops. Since the concept is constant, it is protected from the imperfections of humanity, which lead to an unchecked movement away from the truth (Haddad 1983: 74-5). Qutb used Thabat to combat the growth of certain Western ideas, particularly that of the theory of evolution. Qutb also warned that if Muslims continue to proliferate these Western ideas, they would cause damage to themselves and to all people, since they would be denying the true source of constancy, Allah (Haddad 1983: 75).
The fourth characteristic of universal Islamic concept is its comprehensiveness, or shumuliyyah. Shumuliyyah also originates from uluhiyyah. Due to the divinity of Allah, the universal Islamic concept is comprehensive. Humanitys own concepts and thoughts are limited, compared to universal Islamic concept (Moussalli 1992: 107). This characteristic assures that Islam is a unity that is indivisible. This unity finds its source from the oneness (tawhid) of Allah (Haddad 1983: 76).
The fifth characteristic is equilibrium (tawazun) or balance. Tawazun is the balance between what can be perceived by human reason and that, which can only be perceived due to faith. This characteristic has preserved the unique nature of Islam (Haddad 1983: 76-7). When Muslims submit to Gods will, and faithfully accepts what is beyond their comprehension, the human mind is free to contemplate the things that are within its comprehension. The balance in the universal Islamic concept exists because it is part of reality (Moussalli 1999: 138-9).
Positiveness (ijabiyya) is the sixth characteristic of the concept. This positiveness exists in the reality of the relationship between Allah and creation. Qutb argues that Allahs oneness, or tawhid is the embodiment of positiveness (Moussalli 1992: 117). Also, Qutb argues that Islam demands an active faith, since Allahs oneness represents a positive concern about the world (Moussalli 1999: 139). The final characteristic of the universal Islamic concept is realism (waqiyya). The concept is not idealistic, but rather is grounded in the reality of life (Haddad 1983: 77). According to Qutb, Muslims must deal with this reality, and the Islamic faith helps Muslims advance a feasible order for improvement (Moussalli 1999: 139).
While Sayyid Qutb spent a lot of time expounding on the universal Islamic concept, he also wrote on a variety of other religious subjects. In these writings, the line between religious thought and political thought was often blurred. After his release from prison in 1964, Qutb began his last phase of writing, which was also his shortest, since it preceded his execution. The most significant work of this phase was his most controversial book, Signposts on the Road (Maalim fi al-Tariq). While this book outlined a radical plan for the transformation of Islamic society along political lines, it also outlined how this transformation was to take place along more religious lines.
The goal was the destruction of the jahili system, so Allahs system could flourish (Haddad 1983: 78). In this system, Islam would assume an exclusive role, since it is Allahs vision for humanity. Judaism and Christianity corrupted the vision of God because their leaders allowed interpretation. Because of this, Qutb called on Muslims to reject the traditions of the West because it was modeled after those of the People of the Book (Haddad 1983:79-80). Within this context, Qutb was particularly critical of the Jews, due to the influence of the Zionist movement and the creation of the state of Israel. In his essay Our Struggle With the Jews (Marakatuna Maa al-Yahud), Qutb stated that the Jews intention was Islams destruction and that natural disposition of the Jews was evil (Nettler 1987: 32-62).
Sayyid Qutb was not only a leading religious ideologue, but was an influential political philosopher. Just as there was a thread of political thought within Qutbs religious writings, there is a significant thread of religious thought within Qutbs political writings. According to Ahmad S. Moussalli, the theme that underlines Qutbs political thought is that Islam accepts only a virtuous and good society and demands absolute obedience to Gods teachings (Moussalli 1992: 147).
Qutbs political ideology can be summarized into four simple statements. The first is that the dominant sociopolitical system of the contemporary Islamic and non-Islamic world is that of al-jahiliyya [h] a condition of sinfulness, injustice, suffering, and ignorance of Islams divine guidance (Dekmejian 1995: 85). Jahiliyya was traditional interpreted to characterize the Arab tribes before the advent of Islam (DSouza 2002: 22). But Qutb popularized the conception, and it is now used in a negative fashion to refer to the state of the modern world. All societies that do not follow the universal Islamic concept are in a state of jahiliyya (Moussalli 1999: 143). A state of constant struggle exists between the universal Islamic concept and the state of jahiliyya: a struggle between faith and disbelief, faith in the one God and polytheism (Haddad 1983: 86). The only way jahiliyya can be effectively replaced is through Islam (Haddad 1983: 86-7).
The second summary statement says that it is the duty of the faithful Muslim to revive Islam in order to transform the jahili society through proselytization (dawah) and militant jihad (Dekmejian 1995: 85). This statement is Qutbs basic goal of political action, which is revolution (al-thawrah) against the state of jahiliyya in its political manifestations. Missionary activity, or dawah, is the first step in the revolution. The aim of dawah is to teach Muslims and others the true essence of Islam. Dawah is not exclusively for non-Muslim societies, but it is also an activity that is required for Muslim ones, because the absence of activism
leads society to stagnate. (Moussalli 1992: 211).
But dawah isnt the only step in the revolution. While Qutb affirmed the peaceful character of the Islamic faith in one of his books, he doesnt rule out the use of militant jihad, or holy struggle, in the battle against jahiliyya (Haddad 1983: 83-4). While jihads goal is victory over any organization that opposes Islam or stifles its free practice, it is neither suicide nor a campaign of atrocities (Moussalli 1999: 151).
Qutbs conception of jihad is complex. Jihad has four characteristics to Qutb. Serious realism is the first characteristic. In this, he rejects the traditional notion of a defensive jihad, since he believes that Islam is not defensive but is a defense of humans against aggression. Qutb also thinks that a major goal of Islam is to establish the Islamic order wherever possible and to abolish the jahili society (Moussalli 1999: 151). The second characteristic is active realism, and this means that jihad cannot be fought with words only but requires much more preparation. A continuous movement is the third characteristic of jihad, and this doesnt have a set form or procedure. The last characteristic is the regulation of the relations between the Islamic and non-Islamic societies. This has two stipulations: one is that Islam is the foundation of international affairs; and the second is the free proselytization of Islam without regulation (Moussalli 1999: 151-2).
The third summary statement is the transformation of the jahili society into a genuinely Islamic polity is the task of a dedicated vanguard (taliah) of Muslims (Dekmejian 1995: 85). This vanguard, or taliah, is a significant part of activism to Qutb. Its purpose is to lead the revival of Islam (Moussalli 1992: 210). The members of the taliah would be knowledgeable of both their religion, as well as modernity (Moussalli 1992: 214). Qutbs book Signposts on the Road detailed the mission of the taliah, which was to carry out in an exclusive and uncompromising attitude with respect to all other ideologies, societies, and ways of life (Moussalli 1999: 100).
The fourth summary statement maintains that the ultimate aim of committed Muslims should be the establishment of al-Hakimiyyah the reign of Allahs sovereignty on earth to end all sin, suffering, and repression (Dekmejian 1995: 85). The two principles of al-Hakimiyyah are the sharia law and the principle of social justice. The first principle, sharia law, sets both social and political systems on broader moral order and on universal divine laws, as outline in the Quran (Moussalli 1999: 140). Sharia law is at odds with human-made law. Since Islamic law is an eternal manifestation of the divine will, sharia law is to be preferred over human law, according to Qutb. Sharia law defines the moral, social, and political order in Islam (Moussalli 1999: 140-1).
The second principle is social justice. A large part of this principle is linked to economics. In Qutbs time, communism and capitalism challenged Islam as an economic ideology. Qutb rejects capitalism because of the exploitation and injustice in the system. While socialism and Islam are in agreement on many points, Marxism/communism and Islam are in disagreement, due to Marxisms rejection of God (Moussalli 1999: 144). With both of the opposing ideologies, the issue between Islam and the other ideology is the conflict between spirituality and materialism. Qutb criticizes both capitalism and Marxism for being materialist ideologies. The alternative ideology for Qutb is Islam, in which social justice is essential. It has also stipulated equal opportunity but has made piety and morality rather than material possession the basic values of society (Moussalli 1999: 144).
When Sayyid Qutb was executed in 1966, his followers kept his memory alive. One of these followers is Qutbs brother, Muhammad Qutb. After his brothers death, Muhammad became the keeper of his brothers flame and the chief interpreter of his written works (Bergen 2001: 48). Muhammad Qutb would end up becoming an important teacher of Islamic studies for the Muslim Brotherhood. One of his pupils was Osama Bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda. Many of Qutbs books are still in print and have been translated into other languages, including English. They are still popular among university students, and are used as symbols of opposition (Abdo 2000: 13).
Qutbs writings have influenced many Islamic fundamentalist movements. In the late 1970s, the future leaders of al-Gamaa al-Islamiyaa, a militant group in Egypt, adopted the teachings of Qutb. One of the current groups that emulate Qutbs teachings is Egyptian/Palestinian group Islamic Jihad. His books are primary sources for the movement in the education and indoctrination programs. The organization sees itself as part of the Islamic vanguard Qutb wrote about in his political tracts. It also sees Qutb as a model leader, and as a true symbol of revolutionary Islam (Abu-Amr 1994: 97).
Sayyid Qutb was a significant ideologue during the development of modern Islamic fundamentalism during the 20th century. His life experiences shaped his ideology, and he would become a prolific author, writing on religious and political topics. He would become an important and influential Muslim critic of Western civilization. Even though his life was cut short by a tyrannical regime, his writings are still influential, even until this day. Sayyid Qutb has earned his place in history as one of the founders of modern Islamic fundamentalism. Both the Muslim world and the West are going to have to handle the continuing influence of his writings, as disillusionment with globalization and multiple other factors increases the popularity of fundamentalist movements.
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Abu-Amr, Ziad (1994) Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad. Bloomington, IL: Indiana University
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Dekmejian, R. Hrair (1995) Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University
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Moussalli, Ahmad S. (1992) Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Ideological and Political Discourse of Sayyid Qutb. Beirut: American University of Beirut
Moussalli, Ahmad S. (1999) Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Quest For Modernity, Legitimacy, and the Islamic State. Gainesville, FL. University Press of Florida
Nettler, Ronald L (1987) Past Trials and Present Tribulations: A Muslim Fundamentalists View of the Jews. New York: Pergamon
With the Russians we would sit down and push pawn to King four - they would respond with pawn to King four... While seeming different, both sides were chess players. With Iraq, we push pawn to king four, and they piss in the corner, then hit the chess board with an ax. Please share your insight.
Thanks for the ping.