Continued from the previous post.
According to Sayyid Qutb, as we saw here, Islam spread widely geographically during its earliest decades because Muslims implemented God’s totality rule over all of life, but when they became idolaters, or impure, Muslims lost God’s favor and were no longer able to implement God’s totality rule. In Milestones, Qutb is quite clear that the solution is first and foremost individual renewal, by which he meant the rise of a new breed of Muslim leadership – purified and cleansed of idolatry. The “vanguard” (his word) movement would then have God’s favor to fight the flood of idolatry, both in Islam and in the wider world, and implement “the religion of God,” by with he meant “the Islamic way of life,” as he wrote in Islam: The Religion of the Future.
In Milestones, Qutb writes: “It is necessary to revive that Muslim community which is buried under the debris of man-made traditions…, and which is crushed under the weight of those false laws and customs which are not even remotely related to the Islamic teachings.”
For this revival to occur, the vanguard must not simply strap on the ammo and rush into battle. It must be held back to be cleansed by studying the Qur’an, and only the Qur’an, for guidance. Only afterward will it be ready to prevail. Spiritual purity first; the geographic spread of Islam seconds (by war if necessary); social justice third. That was Qutb’s perceived pattern of the original vision of Islam. He insisted that the vanguard follow it.
“Only such a revivalist movement will eventually attain the status of world leadership,” he writes in Milestones. “It is essential for mankind to have new leadership…. Without doubt, we possess this new thing which is perfect to the highest degree, a thing which mankind does not know about and is not capable of ‘producing.’”
A purified vanguard would then first set things right by taking concrete form in a nation: “If Islam is again to play the role of the leader of mankind, then it is necessary that the Muslim community be restored to its original form…. In order to bring this about, we need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Muslim country. Only such a revival will eventually attain to the status of world leadership. How is it possible to start the task of reviving Islam? It is necessary that there should be a vanguard which sets out with this determination and then keeps walking on the path, marching through the vast ocean of [idolatry] which has encompassed the entire world…. I have written ‘Milestones’ for this vanguard.”
Until the Taliban and al Qaeda were driven from power in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, the signs seemed pretty clear that they had been steadily implementing Qutb’s unusual view of Islamic revival in that Muslim country. Apparently the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria, which now claims itself to be an Islamic state, albeit illegitimately, has similar designs.
In Milestones, Qutb frequently reminds his readers of the practical nature of his vision “to wipe out tyranny, and to introduce true freedom to mankind,” and he is quite clear that this may need to occur militarily:
“The method of this religion is very practical…. [It] uses the methods of preaching and persuasion for reforming ideas and beliefs; and it uses physical power and Jihaad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili [idolatrous] system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs but forces them to obey their erroneous ways and make them serve human lords instead of the Almighty Lord…. [It] is a practical movement which progresses stage by stage, and at every stage it provides resources according to the practical needs of the situation and prepares the ground for the next one.”
Also in Milestones, Qutb describes his unusual view of jihad as moving inevitably from individual renewal, to transforming Muslim societies, to surging into nations, to eventually conforming peoples everywhere to Islamic law. Olivier Roy, a scholar of political Islam, writes in Globalized Islam that radicals since Qutb “explicitly consider jihad a permanent and individual duty…. This is probably the best criterion with which to draw a line between conservative neofundamentalists and radical ones…. Among the few writings of Osama bin Laden, the definition of jihad as a permanent and personal duty holds a central place.”
For Qutb, then, it seems that there is no pick-and-choose jihad. Jihad is one; it is a continuum. It begins with the struggle to personal purity, then goes to its next phase, of taking over a Muslim country, whether by persuasion or by war, in order to implement social justice. In the next post we will look at what Qutb meant by social justice.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer
Image by Sunova Surfboard (permission via Creative Commons)