Everyone stands somewhere. And that stand is ultimately a religious one. We are currently in the midst of several posts (begun here) to discover where terror organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda stand religiously. It is an “us vs. everyone else” mentality that gained popularity in the Middle East in the core, religious-political views of the Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb, an Islamist activist who books spread widely after his death by execution in Egypt in 1966.
To pick up from where we left off last time, from where Sayyid Qutb stood, he saw an unbearable crisis in the world. Whether he looked East or West or at the Soviet bloc or even at the contemporary Muslim world, everything was sliding away from the “Islamic way of life,” which Qutb believed was “the basic system ordained by God for dynamic human life,” as he wrote in Islam: The Religion of the Future (IRF). Contrary to the core message of the Christian Bible, Qutb believed that Islam was the “universal” and “everlasting” way, and “human beings draw pain and destruction upon themselves whenever they overlook it or contradict it” (IRF).
In the books of his that I have read, Qutb employs evocative images of human disintegration and the miserable state of the world that remind me of a line from Leonard Cohen’s haunting song The Future, about a time when “the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul,” therefore things will “slide in all directions.”
History’s fatal flaw. To account for what he perceived as the sorry state of the twentieth century, Qutb swept back through time to try to identify when and where the world went wrong. He located it in ancient Israel’s history, in what he said was Judaism’s reduction of God’s reign over all of life to God’s rule over ceremonial and individual moral concerns only. Qutb put it this way: the Torah “included a set of beliefs and divine laws” (the law of Moses) that the “Jews were commanded to apply … to all aspects of their lives,” but they failed to do that. Instead, they made “their Torah a basis for purely oratorial preaching” and “a basis for rituals to be slavishly performed by rote in their temples” (IRF).
According to Qutb, Judaism, now with its reductionist Torah, had lost its founding vision of God’s rule over the totality of life. In the place of God, over time, “gods” (a word Qutb uses frequently) from pagan nations had wheedled in to ancient Israel’s worldview to become organizing principles for many aspects of Jewish life. The Jews had become idolatrous (another word Qutb uses). They embraced polytheism while claiming to be monotheists.
According to Qutb, when the Jews dropped the ball on God’s total rule it set in motion in history what he called “the sacred vs. the secular dichotomy,” and that became the organizing principle of history’s God-less trajectory. This is a main theme running through IRF and Qutb often shorthands it, and its ramifications, as “the hideous schizophrenia.”
The hideous schizophrenia, to summarize his metaphor, is the fatal flaw of history, worked out in varying degrees of idolatry in every culture, including many Muslim cultures. It is the critical problem of civilization detached from God and God’s arrangement for all of life. It is the root of “the social orders, the schools of thought and the secular doctrines which have not issued from the original Divine unitary source” (IRF). And it pitted Qutb and his followers against the entire world. That part of the story we pick up with the next post.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer
Image by StormPetrel 1 (permission via Creative Commons)